Change your Words. Change your World.

Power of WordsThis is not a post about what headlines work better than others, or what power words you need to use, or how many syllables in the subject line of an email creates more interest. Rather this post has to do with something that every company needs to revisit since there will LOTS of marketing dollars put into play for 2016.  Specifically, this is about the need to change the words that your company may be using, in some cases for far, far too long, in order to change how the company wants to be seen by their customers.

You’re probably saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ve heard that before. What else do you have?”  Well here’s the deal: so many marketing folks are hung up on using words and saying things that are either “ways we describe our product” or are industry-speak that they sound un-interesting, un-inviting and more times than not, just like their competitors…which isn’t a good place to be.  In turn, you’re valuable marketing dollars are wasted.

Over the course of my business career, I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with a number of really good copywriters. If you’ve ever spent any time in a marketing or advertising agency, you know just how critically important it is to have fantastic copywriters who know how to craft messaging so that in addition to being imaginative, original and fresh, the copy is so interesting that people want to buy the product. Unfortunately, and we all know this to be the case, many companies waste budgetary dollars on trying to convey an idea, a value proposition, or a reason for buying, with below par messaging that the prospective customer won’t even give second thought to.  I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have seen an ad or commercial where we’ve looked an one another and said “What the heck was that?” You have as well…I know you have.

And let’s not forget about online…like websites for example. Visiting websites with bad copywriting can be cringe-worthy as well as just plain boring!  Product stories without a conclusion, meaningless purpose statements and yawning lists of statistics are a few other reasons prospects will click out of a poorly-written website. What a waste of money from the creation of the idea to the production to the media cost, right?

Well here’s something I learned over my 30+ years helping companies…from Fortune 100 to mom-pop’s alike… copy is not valued, and I mean really good copy, as it should be.  It’s primarily because of two reasons: First, people are becoming more and more visual in today’s world and second, Mar-com folks have done so much writing that they’ve devalued copy in favor of other advertising or marketing messaging components such as accompanying visuals, click-throughs, QR-codes, etc.

So as you take another look at your marketing materials, and I would suggest all of your marketing materials, here are 5 simple things to have your messaging be acted upon:

  1. The human brain is wired to react to words that inspire action and conjure up positive images or emotions. Three things happen when you do this:  You stand out.  You attract the right audience. You create stronger connections.
  2. Don’t use jargon — language that just dresses up the message with self-importance. In fact, you should use jargon in your copy less often than swear words, i.e. pretty much never. I saw a story online not too long ago about a tax recovery firm that referred to their service as “sales tax recovery,” which all the firms in their industry did as well.  They were told to change that to “sales tax refund.” Monthly searches for each of the two terms: 170 for “sales tax recovery” and 5400 for “sales tax refund”…all by changing ONE word.
  3. Take notes from the companies that know how to do it. They’re not hard to recognize.  Look at companies that are in similar businesses and take particular notice of how their getting their message across. The successful companies are probably saying it differently in tone and style which is something you can learn from.
  4. You may need to contact an outside advertising or marketing firm to help. They do this day-in and day-out, capturing people’s attention so that they want to find out more about what you can do for them. In short, they speak to people in ways that people want to be spoken to. And while we all think we can write scintillating copy, the fact is that professional copywriters are just like a plumber, electrician, or brain surgeon, in that they’re more of an expert at what they do than you are.
  5. Choose the biggest problem that you’re solving for your target audience and stick with it. Now take this one step deeper and determine the deeper benefit of your product or service. In other words, how does your product or service solve their biggest problem? And, why would they want that? This all goes toward keeping your message focused on your product without muddying up the waters with lots of other things you want to stuff into copy.

The big finish: You may have already seen this video. It’s been recreated in a number of different languages around the world and speaks to the connecting point between a blind beggar and those who pass him by. I find inspiration every time I see the video and think you may find the same as it serves to illustrate the power that your choice of words can have in marketing your products, your services and your business.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Looking Back to the Future

looking back
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  – Soren Kierkegaard

The last quarter of 2015 is almost history and as we stand poised to welcome 2016 in less than 2 months, we hope for a future that is successful, rewarding and where your dreams will be realized. Having seen the start of more than a few “new business years” during my career, I’ve learned that you can do one of two things in preparation for the coming year. You can yet again try to create a brand new marketing strategy for the coming year or you can pause, look back and do some serious reflecting, resolving to change, or improve some aspect about how you will initiate your future marketing campaigns. For some people, looking back over the past year may be something better left in the rearview mirror; on the other hand, burying your head in the sand can be seen as the primary ingredient in a recipe for another disappointing year…and you know how much the CEO/President/Owner /Founder loves that kind of thinking. So before one celebrates the dawn of a new year…take time to ask yourself what are you going to do to change? What does success in 2016 look like to you and your executive management team?

Speaking for myself and our firm, the end of each year is met with a healthy dose of optimism for the coming year. We see 2016 through a lens of hopefulness, that things will continue to get better. Is that just us or will you and your organization also view the coming year with a level of anticipation that you haven’t had for a few years? Hey, it’s been tough for most everyone out there but let’s remember that at least a few organizations — perhaps some of your own competitors — have fared better than most despite these trying times. So what have they done to plot a course for a more optimistic and profitable path for success in 2015?

Depending on marketplace factors coupled with how well you were able to strategically position and market your company, the past year was either seen as a success or another year of same-old, or even a disappointment.  The question that begs to be asked here is, how much of last year’s growth or lack thereof was because of something you had no control over, such as good or bad luck, and how much was because of something you specifically chose to do or not do?  I’ve found through personal experience this is the time to be totally honest with yourself.  As Sigmund Freud said, “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Hey, I’m all for a bit of luck but you probably don’t want to continue betting future success on lucky things happening in the coming year.  With this in mind, here are a few questions to ask yourself as thought starters as you begin the process of looking in the rearview mirror to last year and through your windshield to the next:

  • What marketing activities worked for you and which ones didn’t in 2015?
  • What 2 or 3 trends did you notice have taken place in your industry and outside of it that you need to incorporate into 2016 activities?
  • What 5 pieces of really good customer feedback did you receive this past year that you need to take deliberate action on?
  • Is there one part of your marketing activities that if it got more attention could yield better results?
  • What are the 2 mission-critical initiatives that absolutely need to be accomplished by June 30th 2016?
  • What are the top 3-5 problem areas that could impact your bottom line or stunt the growth of your brand if you don’t tackle them now?
  • What are the 3-5 opportunities that could grow your bottom line, brand visibility and preference?
  • How did your marketing (from strategy to execution) match up with your competitors? Was it “beige”- boring or was it “full of color”- impactful?
  • What do you produce, offer or do that excites your audience and makes them think “Wow!”

As marketers, one thing we know for sure is that change will not stop in 2016. The economy will continue to shift on us —hopefully with less drama. But by reflecting back on 2015, taking control of your marketing activities rather than being tossed around by the waves in the marketplace, along with thinking optimistically about what 2016 can hold, 2016 might actually be a year worth celebrating.  It will be for us and hopefully will be for you as well.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Why Hope is NOT a Marketing Strategy.

crossYourFingers1I think we would all agree that having hope in one’s life, personal or business, matters a lot. Without hope (or dreams) whatever the positive outcome is that you’re looking to achieve, there is nothing to plan or look forward to and therefore no reason to put forth an effort. So while hope is important, basing the success of your marketing efforts on hope, like in “Well, we’re going to try this out and hope for the best,” is probably not something you want to bet your job or the sustainability of the company on.

You see, while hope may fill your heart… in marketing, Hope is not a Strategy. It never has been and it won’t be in this growing and increasingly competitive marketplace. Hoping people will register for a loyalty program or hoping the 5000 direct mail pieces you sent out will generate some leads or hoping that word-of-mouth on the new product introduction will open up some doors is all nice but without strategic thinking coupled with creativity (in the delivery of the message and how it’s delivered) your hope is nothing but a pipe-dream. In short, if there is no marketing strategy to match the business goals all you are doing is relying on luck to drive the business. In football, they call this the “Hail Mary”!

Speaking with the number of Marketing Directors that I have, you’d be surprised at how many of them and their teams use the word ”hope” to describe their marketing efforts. The reasons most of these folks live on hope has as much to do with human nature as anything else. Most people prefer the path of least resistance – the easiest track.  You see, having a grasp of what your current customers and prospects are looking for and how you fit that need requires an understanding that takes work and resources. Oh, and let’s not forget that if you look too close, you might uncover some truths that you might not want to know existed.  And rarely does one budget time or money for testing to learn what will have the best chance of success. For the “hope group,” it seems it’s easier to just create the marketing program and run with it rather than invest the resources and thinking to at least have some confidence in the outcome.

Here are a few things that “Hope Marketing” does and doesn’t do…

…Built around tactics and not strategy:

Hope Marketing people focus on the newest and sexiest marketing tactic du jour without any appreciation for how it fits in an overall marketing strategy. I’ve also seen entire marketing plans that consist of nothing but a series of tactics strung together one after the next without an over-arching marketing strategy. It’s easy to start with the “how” but if you haven’t identified the “what,” you may find yourself spending a lot of time executing tactics that don’t take you where you want to go and in so doing, you’ll be wasting time, resources and losing out on sales-producing opportunities.

…Based on an “insight-out” view of the world and not an “outside-in”:

Inside-Out thinking means the company is less sensitive to how the customer is interfacing with the market. Hope Marketing has slipped into thinking it’s “all about us and what we sell.” Inside-Out companies are surprised by poor sales results.  They don’t feel threatened when a new competitor enters the market. They’re out of touch with what value they really bring – or don’t bring – to their customers.  In short, their Hope Marketing mindset is “Here are our products and services and this is how we help you.”  The problem with this approach is that it relies on your customers having to work to find a place for your solutions in their lives.  Alternatively, “Outside-In” focuses on the customers’ point-of-view.  These companies stand in the customer’s shoes and view everything the company does through the customer’s eyes. They depend on marketing to increase the conversation they have with their customers which in turn allows them to seize on business-building opportunities. They ask their customers what their upcoming needs are and then figure out how to give it to them. These companies don’t wait around for change to happen but rather they create change by seeing their world through their customers’ eyes, allowing them to more quickly meet the customers’ needs.

…Not really understanding who your customer is:

It’s safe to say that it’s probably been a while since a Hope Marketer has actually taken a close look at who they should be reaching/their customer, to produce sales. When was the last time a customer profile was established? What are the best channels nowadays to reach these people? When was the last time the company spent real, quality time doing research – surveys, interviews or even focus groups.

…Not clearly knowing what customers or prospects think of you:

On the subject of research, there’s no excuse for not doing it. Yes, I know that budgets are tight, but if you’re spending money reaching an audience that may not think of you as they did in the past, then the money spent Hope Marketing is money wasted. Hope Marketing believes that nothing much has changed and if it has, it’s not affecting the company’s sales/preference/etc.  Maybe…and maybe not.  Doing research online or on social media to see what customers or people are saying about you doesn’t take soooo much effort.  Sending out a survey to current customers on a variety of different subjects isn’t an overwhelming project. You might not love what you hear but you’ll be better knowing it than guessing why marketing activities are not succeeding.

…Not understanding what makes your company and what it offers unique:

It’s not unusual to hear in organizations that engage in Hope Marketing differing answers to questions about what defines them or makes them unique in the marketplace. As a result, the marketing reflects that they’re trying to be all things to all people.  At closer look you see that messaging is different from one marketing channel and marketing initiative to the next. “We do it all” is more or less the message but in doing so, no real value proposition is ever delivered. Without a good USP you’re dead!  If you can’t very quickly describe what makes you, your product, your service or your company truly special in the eyes of the customer, don’t expect your customer to do it for you.  By default, they’ll just put you on the shelf called “commodity,” and there you’ll stay.

So, if you still want to hope for things to look forward to…great. I’m all with you.  Hope for a better tomorrow; hope for a cure to Alzheimers; or hope for anything else that you can’t directly control. But please don’t hope your marketing programs work.  If you don’t know or believe the marketing will succeed, you are not setting your efforts up for success. Time to stop crossing your fingers.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Being your own best marketing teacher

I’ve been out of school for (mumble mumble) years but I still consider myself a student.

I’m constantly learning about marketing and new ways to engage prospective customers.  The absolute best way to learn about marketing is to watch other people – your spouse, your kids, your friends – and pay attention when they react to an ad or a mailer or a referral.  For instance, I watch my wife at night, when she’s sorting through the stack of mail, to see what she tears open and what she trashes without first opening it.  I listen to my kids when they tell me about a cool new app or commercial they’ve seen.  As long as I don’t influence them with my opinions coloring theirs, they teach me a lot.

The second best way to learn about marketing is to catch myself in the act of responding to someone else’s marketing efforts.  I do it all the time.

Let’s say the mail has just arrived and I grab the newest magazines.  As I sit at my desk, feet up, I occasionally find myself reading an ad without thinking – and then I stop for a second and wonder why.  What caught my attention?  What stopped me from turning the page?  Was it a topic I was already interested in?  Was it a surprising photo or clever headline?  What exactly was the trigger?  And then, did the ad actually make me interested in knowing more about its subject?  Did it influence me to consider calling or clicking or writing down a note?  All these are the questions I ask myself only after I have been caught up in the ad – not before, or the “data” is invalid.

The same goes for when I mindlessly watch TV and catch myself actually focused on a commercial.  Usually, commercials are just background noise.  But then, something occasionally pulls me in and when I notice that I’ve been hooked, I stop to analyze what just happened.  OK, sure, I’m always attracted by a sexy model, but hardly ever enough to really listen to the sales pitch.  Yet, every once in a while a commercial sinks in without my intentionally intending for it to do so.  That’s when I go from being a viewer to being a student and thinking about it analytically.  I make a mental note of what happened…what hooked me and what drew me in.  On the occasions in which I actually find myself seeking out the product afterward, I again rewind to learn what made me react the way the advertiser wanted me to.

Often, the answer isn’t as simple as how effective the ad or commercial or website was.  Often, it’s a combination of things, including some desire or disposition I had already brought to the party; perhaps having seen other ads or commercials for the same or similar thing before but now, I suddenly noticed it; something other people have said about the product or brand recently that gave the ad new context; some news or article or review I may have read about it; and most potently, an immediate need that was answered by the ad or commercial or web page.

Whatever the influencers, this I know:  I wouldn’t have been moved to act, having just seen the ad, without having seen it to begin with.  Woody Allen has said that 80 percent of success is just showing up!  So you gotta show up.  I also know that clever creative isn’t the end-all, but I more regularly notice ads, billboards, direct mail, radio spots and TV commercials that have some imagination and freshness – on top of a strong selling message, and I most typically ignore anything and everything that seems old or familiar.  And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much more by paying attention to my own unintentional behaviors, as I learn by watching those around me.

I encourage you to be your own best marketing teacher in the same way.  Every time you buy a new brand of paper towel, or call a new plumber, or visit a new doctor, or make an online purchase, stop, rewind and consider all the factors that drove you to that specific buying decision.  Every time you inadvertently find yourself paying attention to an ad or commercial or recall a billboard you passed, stop, rewind and reflect on what was it that grabbed you and pulled you in.  Once you’ve gone through the day’s mail, notice which unsolicited mail you didn’t throw out and critically think about why.

Then take what you’re learning and measure that against the marketing your firm is doing.

There are a ton of books on marketing and lots of marketing theory classes at the local colleges, but you can acquire a great deal of knowledge on your own by simply watching yourself and others around you reacting in the real world…just like your prospective customers do every day.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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The “Man in the Chair”…Yesterday and Today.

Do prospects have a clue who your company really is?

mcgraw-hill-adOver 55 years ago, specifically in 1958, a powerhouse publishing organization, McGraw-Hill, ran an ad in their magazines that became known as the “Man in the Chair” ad and you’ve probably come across it because it’s become iconic. The ad showed a stern faced, balding,  middle-aged executive wearing a bowtie and a brown suit, sitting in an office chair, hands clasped together and looking intently at the reader as if the reader was a salesperson. To the left of his picture were a list of 7 very direct “I Don’t Know” assertions, followed by even more pointed question:

I don’t know who you are.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know company’s reputation.

Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?

I think it would be safe to say that the importance of being able to addressed these questions are as important today as they were 1958. Crazy how things don’t change. These questions are timeless not just for B2B marketing, but all types of marketing and for all individuals responsible for communicating on behalf of their respective organizations. And one could probably argue that in today’s digital and social media world, it’s maybe even more powerful. (Click on the video at the bottom to see what I mean.)   It remains a clear outline of fundamental sales and marketing questions every organization must be able to answer. How your people and marketing efforts address these seven “I don’t know’s” might very well determine if you get the new business…or not.

I don’t know who you are

When was the last time you made a major purchase without knowing anything about the company? Yeah, me too. Every sale requires a knowledge base or understanding with the brand or a person prior to a sales taking place. Now, however, salespeople spend less time on cold-calling, so that familiarity has to come from somewhere else. What is that “somewhere else” for your organization?

I don’t know your company

B2B buyer behavior has changed a lot… in even the past five years. The main change is that if a buyer needed to get information on a certain solution, they needed to go to the vendor. Now the buyer has lots of sources of information.  In fact, the buyer probably doesn’t want to talk to the vendor because they’re the least credible source of information. So the buyer goes around and does all their research…without talking to a vendor as long as possible.  Sales opportunities for a company may die depending on how easy it is for the buyer to find your info and say, “I’ve heard of you.”  So the implication is that if you do any B2B marketing, you’re going to have to produce stuff or give them reasons to interact with you. And the only way you can do that is by producing really amazing, useful, relevant content that a prospect is happy to engage with, happy to consume and happy to share. How strong is your presence in the digital and social media space?

I don’t know your company’s product

Personal selling is still an important part of having people know something about you, but not in the way it used to be. Word-of-mouth was always important, and it’s ten times easier to get word-of-mouth advice today as a result of the all the online resources available.  People want the information right away, and if it’s not available or where they think it should be, they’ll look somewhere else, and you won’t even know that they looked. Another prospective sale — which could have led to numerous repeat sales — goes to a competitor. Your making sure that product features and benefits are clearly known beforehand will be the difference between speaking to a prospect or not.

I don’t know what your company stands for 

Whether you call it a USP or value proposition, without it, without a good one, you’re dead!  If you can’t very quickly describe what makes you, your service or your company truly special in the eyes of the customer, don’t expect your customer to do it for you.  By default, they’ll just put you on the shelf called “commodity,” and there you’ll stay. To have a lasting, profitable business with another business, building both brand awareness and credibility is job-one in B2B marketing. After all, it is much easier to open doors when the potential customer inside knows who you are, what you’re about and why you might be a better alternative than the next guy who knocks on the door.

I don’t know your company’s customers 

In the past, referrals were personal, or references were checked personally. A Google search can find referrals quickly, especially the ones than you’d prefer not be found. In today’s world, the majority of prospective customers, both B2B and B2C, spend time researching online or through social media before they buy. They depend more than ever on word-of-mouth references from people who have used those brands or products – whether those references are in the form of anonymous reviews or client testimonials.  Think Angie’s List, Buzzillions or Yelp.  In fact, according to a the marketing group, ODM, about 90% of consumers trust the word of people they know and 70% of consumers trust the word of people they don’t know.  Just look at how we shop online: one of the first things we do is check the customer rating number on the product. And then we typically read the actual customer reviews to see why someone gave that product 1 star and why others gave the same product 5.

I don’t know your company’s record

Letting prospects know your company’s track record is easier today than it used to be. There are channels upon channels – from your website to social media to e-newsletters and email blasts to press releases – that can be used to ensure that the message is delivered in a consistent manner. Buyers want to have some comfort in knowing that you’re a company with a record of achievement and innovation, a company that has won awards for products or service or operation, an organization that’s been around for a while, one who isn’t caught up in multiple lawsuits, etc.

I Don’t Know Your Company’s Reputation.

We’re talking about your company’s standing…status…character. Things that boil down to “can they trust you?” Will people find out that you do what you say you’ll do? Act with integrity? Do you come across as thought leaders in the industry? Is the company aligned with other organizations that have good reputations? You get the idea. Buyers cast verdicts on reputation with their pocketbooks, withholding business from companies they believe are ethically deficient and rewarding those with good reputations. And, it doesn’t take long for judgments to spread. Will prospects see a company that values its customers or a company that people have no problem calling out in social media?

Now, What Was It You Wanted To Sell Me?

The original “Man in the Chair” ad was published long before Twitter, blogs, discussion boards, web 2.0, etc. We’re in a new era. We’re all learning new ways to connect with prospects.  But as things look like they have changed in the ways that we engage, inform and become known to our markets, the basic message behind the ad is just as relevant today as it ever was. Being visible to our prospects and winning credibility in word and deed is still critical. Today it takes new ways of thinking and new ways of engaging in our markets and conversations as well as reframing some of the old ways that we went about it before.

As we know, sales start before a salesperson makes contact.  Times change, markets change, technologies and approaches change…but marketing fundamentals and human nature don’t. What would be said if the next sales conversation your company had, over the phone or even in person, was with the “the man in the chair?”

Click on the video and see a comparison of the original “Man in the Chair” with how that would play out in a modernized version for today’s world.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Caution – Curves Ahead    

Curve aheadI met a woman at social event last weekend and turns out she’s the president of a well-known company  here in Southern California. During our conversation, she said that right now, the company  — and she specifically called out her Marketing Department – is probably not doing all that it could to stay ahead of the curve. We talked about all the different things that “staying ahead of the curve” might mean to an organization, from keeping the company positioned as a leader to keeping one’s eyes open for change before it happens and before it’s too late to implement innovations. In short, we agreed that getting ahead of the curve provided three primary benefits: it would take advantage of opportunities that otherwise might be missed; it would, as much as possible, stop calamities from happening; and it would allow the company to be better prepared for the future.  I can’t imagine that any decision maker or Marketing Department, especially in this new world of business, wants to be seen as a victim of events, caught unaware and therefore scrambling from one initiative to another. Right?

Unfortunately, too many companies wait too long to begin the process of change and do so only when the writing is on the wall. Alternatively, the really successful companies, the one who people see as operating from a position of strength, change before they must. There is no denying that high performing companies sense the need for market changes early, and act accordingly.

So then, what are some things that a Marketing Department could do to stay ahead of the curve and in doing so give the organization a leg up from others.

Quitting Not Allowed

I’ve seen this on more than one occasion, and the successful companies know this to be the case, which is not to quit when everybody else does. That’s how you go from successful to crazy successful, and that’s how you dominate your industry no matter what it is. You develop or take on a great product that’s different, or you take an idea further. Dominate by putting out one idea after another after another… Dominate by not quitting. Dominate by trying, failing, trying again. Take your good ideas and make them better, take them further, show everybody how it’s done… get ahead the curve and stay well out ahead of the curve.

Don’t follow Others

In business, you always want to be ahead.  Ahead of the competition…ahead of the trends…ahead of creative ideas. That said, staying ahead of the competition doesn’t always mean you need to worry about what they’re doing. Instead it’s better to do things to move your own business ahead rather than engaging your competitors in any sort of fight.  It’s critical to know your competition, but don’t follow their every move or duplicate everything they try. Trust your instincts. Be original. Be different. Be creative. Do your own research, try new strategies and new product or service offerings that you believe in. While studying competitors can be shortcut to learning what works, it can also be a waste of time. At the same time, what’s working for you today will probably be imitated by your competitors tomorrow so  it’s critical that you continue to innovate, invent, think differently, and stay ahead of the curve, including your own.

Let’s be Partners

Consider forming a strategic partnership with a noncompetitive business to grow market share and visibility. Brands are judged by the partners they keep so innovative partnerships can make brands seem cooler, more modern, more distinctive, more interesting, and more noteworthy. Innovative partnerships serve several strategic purposes such as enhancing the images of each, combining resources (financial and marketing) which result in synergistically higher levels of brand awareness for both. Not only will you have access to a completely new “Rolodex” of buyers, but you can share things like marketing, advertising, product development, sales, and branding.

Look Outward

Stay ahead of the curve by seeing what companies outside your industry are doing; understand how that idea or model might apply in your industry and be the first to apply it. Look internationally as well. How many times have you read about an interesting product that was launched in another country?  Lots of times, right? In short, be curious and ask yourself why certain companies are now doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re seeing something that you can use for your own business. And let’s not forget about just keeping your ears and eyes open as you go about your daily business. Don’t wear blinders as you live your life.

Flex with the Times

Flexible strategies based on customer need are more successful than sticking to a plan and holding course the whole way. Adapting plans to suit the market is an essential part of getting you closer to what really resonates with the consumer. That doesn’t mean that you’re so open-minded that your brains fall out, but rather that you at least consider what the market wants and how that could be something the organization should put resources against.  If people want what you make in a different color, quantity or package, or provide your service in a different time frame or product bundle, the response can’t be “Oh, no. We just don’t do it that way.” Or, don’t be surprised when a competitor says “Sure. We can do that!”  Also, stretch your mind to learn new skills and explore new approaches. Look for learning in post-project reviews, customer meetings, research and yes, even in mistakes. Think quickly and react decisively is critical to success of business, and its hallmark for staying ahead of the curve.

The course of business is rarely, rarely ever like a desert highway where things don’t change or if they do, you can see if from a mile away. Instead, the path of business in today’s new normal will continue to be more curvy than a mountain road. Instead of driving the curves, look to take a more aerial view. It’s amazing what you’ll be able to see down the road.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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There’s no room for thin skin in successful marketing

Last week, we got a copy of a readership survey related to a trade ad we ran for a client.  In the survey, the ad was among the top-ranked when it came to the most seen, most remembered and most read.  But what was absolutely fascinating was how widely the readers’ reactions varied when asked their impressions of the ad. Their verbatim responses ranged from “Tacky” to “Perfect 10/10.”  One reader commented “Poor taste, undignified, a true turn-off.”  Another reader said “I clipped it out and it is on my refrigerator now. The whole idea of standing out in a crowd is extremely important to me if your business wants to be noticed.”  Several said they were “shocked at first” but then got the message and completely agreed with the point.

Healthcare seminar ad

In fact, I’ll say nearly 25% generally disapproved of the ad and maybe another 5% very strongly disliked it.  On the other hand, the number of respondents who liked the ad and got its message was exceedingly high. And the turnout was successful.

What’s my point?  Well I have three points to be precise.

The first is, we begin by acknowledging that we’re not right for everybody.  In fact, we believe that as a marketing agency, we’re probably right for just a few percent of business operators, those who are strongly marketing-oriented and know that traditional advertising doesn’t get the attention of a disinterested public. The ad, therefore, is self-qualifying and will provoke a certain number of negative responses. That’s just fine, since again, we’re not right for everybody.  Neither should you try to be all things to all people.  Those that attempt such alchemy are doomed to blend in with all their competitors.  Be different and proud of it.  Not everybody is a Mac user.  Not everybody likes Starbucks coffee. These hugely successful companies know who their market is and they don’t try to please everybody.

My second point is, it’s so damned tempting to knee-jerk to negative responses.  One of my favorite quotes is “Everybody likes it until somebody doesn’t,” meaning the one or two negative voices often seem to drown out all the positive voices.  It’s human nature to want universal approval.  But it’s smart marketing to realize that no matter how hard you try, there will always – ALWAYS – be dissenters and not to let that veer you off course. (Just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean they’re right or speak for the majority.) I’ve had clients who chose to kill a good campaign because they got a couple of negative calls and missed the tidal wave of silent support.  People seldom call in to express their acclaim about an ad they like; they voice it at the sales counter.  The trick is to start by knowing who you are and who you’re most right for (going back to my previous point), and reconcile that against the overall trend in audience feedback.

My third point is that when you commit to being really visible, you are choosing to declare your difference and necessarily you are stepping out on a limb. Strong, memorable, provocative advertising is risky stuff, not for the meek or conservative.  One has to be willing to suffer a few arrows.  Even to fall off that limb once in a while.  But in a society that’s over-saturated with commercial messages, you have to stand apart to be noticed – that is unless your budget allows brute force bombardment.  We don’t have that kind of money.  Do you?

We’re very happy to have clients who like our unique direction, and must be satisfied that most of the industry is more conservative in approach than we are.  Hey, Jaguar has to live with the fact that more people choose Hondas.

The fact that you’re reading our blogs, and have read this far in today’s post demonstrates that you’re within the segment who has the opportunity and vision to succeed against your more conservative competitors.

You just can’t do it with thin skin.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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De Niro, Taxi Driver and Marketing

Taxi1It’s one of the more iconic moments in film over the last three decades.  Robert De Niro plays taxi driver Travis Bickle, who in one chilling scene looks at himself in the mirror, a pistol up his sleeve, and says to an imaginary adversary, “Are you talkin’ to me?  You talkin’ to me?”

What’s this have to do with marketing?  Well, as consumers we’re actually all asking this question whether we think about it or not.  Because the only marketing that breaks through the clutter is that in which the message undeniably speaks directly to the reader/viewer/listener/user from his or her own perspective.  The reader/viewer/listener/user knows for certain, “You’re talkin’ to me!”

Here’s what I mean:

Recently, we saw an ad for mortgage company with a photo of a man dressed in a business suit leaning backwards like an acrobat.  The headline said “Can your mortgage broker do this?”  On the surface, you might say that’s a humorous, attention-getting ad.   But really, it’s just showing a visual pun without telling any compelling story about what flexibility means to the reader. It’s just saying so and nothing more.  Compare that to another mortgage company’s ad that showed one of those toy labyrinths where the steel ball might drop through one of a dozen holes in the maze at any turn, and the headline says “We know just how you feel about refinancing your house.”   The first ad speaks from the company’s point of view, the second speaks from the reader’s.  There’s no question that in the second ad, the reader knows “You’re talkin’ to me!”

If you want your audience to connect with your message, it has to be based on their real experiences and what’s in it for them, instead of all the features you have to offer.

It’s ridiculous that I have to say this but the memo has not reached the desk of many marketers, so here goes: “It’s not about what your company wants to say but rather about what the customer wants to hear.” (I feel better having said it.) Look, if you want to market based on your personal preferences without regard for what works best with your prospects, that’s your prerogative.  But I’d suggest that your company’s marketing not be so self-absorbed. Remember, you don’t buy from you, others buy from you and they don’t care about your business and your troubles nearly as much as you do. Most people are tuned into Radio Station W.I.I.F.M. —“What’s In It For Me!” If your marketing message is all about you, then your customers won’t notice what you’re saying.  Please begin to “tune” into your customers, find out what they really want and focus your message on them.

We recently conducted a webinar about exhibiting at a major trade show that one of our client’s exhibits at.  It’s tragic how many booths fail to attract traffic simply because they don’t design their exhibits from the audience’s perspective.  They’re loaded with too much feature-based content and lack a simple benefits-oriented message.  No one passing by would stop and say “You’re talking to me!”

A shift in perspective from speaking about yourself to speaking from the audience’s point of view can be remarkably effective.  Witness a beautiful commercial for a British online content company featuring a blind man whose original cardboard sign talks about himself,
“I’m blind.  Please help.”   But when a caring passer-by changes the words to be more audience-focused, something powerful happens.  As marketers, the symbolism of what you or your firm can offer the organization, is front and center.

No matter what you sell, manufacture or service, it’s critical that you change your marketing message’s perspective from talking at your audience to talking to them, causing them subconsciously to acknowledge, yes, “You’re talkin’ to me!”


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Tag – you’re IT!  The importance of having the right tagline

Nike SloganOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them stand out in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things!”?  Would Nike be as successful if it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great shoes?” How would BMW’s vision change if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” became “Our cars are fun to drive!” My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a themeline or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable? Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Imagine you owned a small piece of your buyers’ brains. And every time they thought about making a purchase where your product or service could be considered as an option, the brand or company name came to mind. For example if they were thirsty, they thought, “This Buds for you, “ or if they wanted a burger they thought, “Have it your way!” or if they when were tired and looking for a lodging for the night they remembered “We’ll leave the light on for ya!” That’s what the marketing slogans from Budweiser, Burger King and Motel 6 do, they help people remember a product and increase their propensity to buy.  And that’s what a good marketing slogan can do for you. Unlike your company tagline or marketing message, your marketing slogan may change regularly or you may have more than one. For example American Express has: “Membership has its privileges.” And “ Don’t leave home without it.”

The taglines that work the hardest are not puns or rhymes, but ones that present many layers of meaning, where one layer can speak to the product while another speaks to value or even a brand a brand belief.  It can manifest itself in any number of ways…online or offline. In ads and as a social media hashtag. On promotional products and product packaging. Most everywhere.

So what does a good tagline do? At its best, a good tagline conveys a singular value, loud and clear, on what a brand stands for. Remember, powerful words are powerful things. It also connects across all generations, geographies and markets, and becomes relevant for the consumer in his or her own personal way. And the right tagline doesn’t work for competitors because it’s only unique to your brand/company.  Unfortunately, far, far, far too many taglines are generic and meaningless. In this time of technology disruption and increasing competition, clear positioning is valuable. Problems occur when the company and its messaging doesn’t have a focus, or the tagline could apply just as easily to other companies. In the marketplace, taglines are used to quickly communicate company differentiation.  That said, taglines aren’t developed for customers alone. They’re also important for internal audiences as they can align an organization around a common cause and vision.

With that in mind, there are plenty of taglines out there that don’t work because they fail to connect. They’re easily overlooked, dismissed as “every day,” they lack originality or even mistaken for another brand.  This usually happens when one of these mistakes happens:

  • It’s full of “BLAH” so there’s no reason for anyone to remember it
  • They’re arrogant— i.e. “Largest in the World”
  • Hard to say, no rhythm
  • Saying what everyone else has said
  • Stating the year founded (e.g., “Since 1925”) – only says you’ve managed to exist

Alternatively, good taglines have a number of hard-working qualities to them. They’re:

  • Memorable. You hear it, memorize it quickly, and repeat it with ease.
  • Short. There’s no set number but best in 5 words or less.
  • Express a brand’s point of difference. It sets your brand apart from others and wouldn’t work for competitors.
  • Meaningful. A message your audience will care about and understand.
  • Original. It also needs to be believable and unique.

The process of developing a fresh, original and imaginative tagline is no easy task. From competitive research and brainstorming to paring down the list of options to more brainstorming, the process can take more time than you think …not to mention the back-and-forth given the stakeholders who are involved. And even then, the tagline may not be “all that.” That said, here’s how powerful a tagline can be – after 50+ years!  Avis Rent-A-Car built its business with “We Try Harder” (which they finally put out to pasture just a few years ago). How the phrase came to be sounds like something out of Mad Men. The tagline was created in 1962 and actually came about in the response that Bill Bernbach, the co-founder of DDB, received from company management when asking why anyone ever rents a car from them. “We try harder” was the answer.  Within a year, Avis turned a profit for the first time in over a decade and the rest is history.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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Dead Veep Walking – the Marketing Director

VP TombThe life of a hummingbird rarely exceeds four years.  The life expectancy of a Marketing Director (or CMO or VP of Sales & Marketing) at any given company is even less than that. The typical tenure these days is a little more than 3 years and this is up from about 26 months in 2004.  In fact, as you stroll through the offices at many companies, it’s an easy bet which executive is a dead man (or woman) walking: the Marketing Director.

What are some of the reasons causing such a short tenure? What are some things a Marketing Director can do to be successful? How much of that is on the company and how much is brought on by the individual?

  • It starts before the hire is made. It’s been said that over 60% of companies don’t know what they’re looking for when they recruit a Marketing Director.  In many cases, these companies can’t spell out coherently what the person would be accountable for.  Are you and the President/CEO on the same page? I’ve heard it more than once: “I was brought in to drive change, but the organization wasn’t aligned behind the change agenda.” Whose fault is that?!?
  • There are sky-high expectations surrounding what a Marketing Director can and should do.  The best Marketing Director can’t turn poorly made or poorly priced products into marketplace winners every time, nor by themselves create a culture of innovation to make sure new, exciting products are always being developed.
  • As I written about previously, everyone in the organization thinks that they know how to do that “marketing thing,” so they have no compunction in second-guessing the marketing strategy or the creative. Everyone’s an expert even though they’re not.
  • There is an impatience in the effectiveness of marketing. People want results right away and it is probably because the economy has been in the toilet for a few years.  So there is a pressure on reporting how marketing is working for a brand and the CEO/President is looking for a more immediate payoff.  It doesn’t help that chief executives and chief marketers often have very different imperatives.
  • Some companies are finally realizing it is time to ramp things up and yet there are too many Marketing Directors ‘hiding under the table,’ relying on the same old people…internally as well as their external marketing “partners”. Think: Different horses for different courses.
  • As more is written about different ways to seize on new business revenue, you have a Marketing Director who is being forced by a company President/CEO to incorporate these “must haves” into the organization’s marketing activities.  As important as social media platforms are, for example, they are not necessarily of equal worth or equally effective for all businesses and all products.  But it is a brave and daring CMO who can resist CEO pressure to devote scarce resources in chasing what “everyone knows” is today’s “marketing must.”
  • There is more confusion than there should be between sales and marketing roles, what they can do, and how they must work together.

Ok, so how much of this is do you see or experience in the world that you live in? If you’re like the vast majority of Marketing Directors in this country, you see any of these issues popping up on a fairly regular basis. Here are a few things to consider in order to make sure you’re not having to call your executive recruiter anytime soon.

  • Do not become stale in the way that you market, from the strategy to the creative to the channels to your thinking. The status quo is a communicable disease that will infect everything you touch if you let it.
  • Become the voice of the customer. And what’s important is not just understanding the customer ….but the end user.
  • Be personally inquisitive about new technology and new markets and the social implications of new technology.
  • Be responsible and accountable for nurturing, growing and protecting the brand. Successful marketers truly must understand the convergence of product, brand promise and experience and get the company to understand that convergence as well.
  • Listen to align the rest of the organization around the need to build “our change agenda” not “my change agenda.”
  • Continue to make an investment in your own education to keep yourself exposed to things out of your comfort zone. From books and seminars to online webinars and articles you find on your LinkedIn groups. There are so many invaluable resources!
  • I would suggest, too little effort is made to educate and promote the marketing role within the organization.  It is the Marketing Director’s job (another one) not merely to develop and define strategy but to explain it – not only to customers and prospects but to employees and other senior level executives.
  • And, the need for a strategic marketing partner is imperative. Now and in the coming years, it will be more important than ever to partner with an agency that doesn’t simply fulfill projects for you, but one that offers you the advantage of broad strategic experience in the trenches. One thing is certain about the years to come: companies will have to stay nimble and adjust strategies on the fly.  Who you choose to have on your team is going to mean everything.

While the marketing landscape changes so quickly, the good news is that a Marketing Director can succeed in the face of headwinds no matter which way he/she faces. It may be more challenging than it should be, but stand true to your brand, be current and always in the know, and be bold enough to make a difference….otherwise, chances are, you might be dusting off that resume.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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