How To Cut Through The Crap

We published the following piece seven years ago this week, way back in January 2011, just as things were starting to get very weird and confusing in the world of advertising and marketing, with all kinds of charlatans and bullshit artists spewing nonsense about what advertising was about or was going to be about. It's interesting to see how many of these things still hold true today (click to make it bigger, or the copy is reproduced below)...
Marketing and communication in 2011.

How to cut through the crap.

SO HERE WE ARE IN 2011. Never has there been a more competitive time to be in the business of marketing. There have never been more ways of spending budgets. There has never been more pressure on budgets. Or, come to that, more theories about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. What is clear is that whilst many are waffling on about this trend and that development, some are simply getting on with doing things that get results. We are some of those people. And this is some of how we do it.

Creativity and craft are more important than ever. Marketing has never been more sophisticated than it is today. As marketers, we have the ability to instantly track results and gauge responses. Marketing is no longer a dark art practised by individuals, going on instinct alone. Today’s marketers are smarter, have more tools at their disposal, and more effort goes into finding the right strategy and
approach than ever before.

So why, when almost all marketing is produced in this professional and exacting way, does so much fall flat, or not meet expectations, or fail to inspire?

Well, people have never been bombarded with more messages, communication and conversations than they are today.

Today’s consumers are so attuned to it that they are far more adept at filtering information, communication and messages, regardless of channel or platform, than any generation before them. And it’s as true for newer conversational or interactive media as it is in conventional broadcast media.

The answer to this problem is as old as the hills, but more relevant and crucial than ever before. Simply, creativity and the craft skills of writing, art direction, design, typography and direction, are the vital ingredients that make the difference between the easily missable and the compelling. Between the whatever and the astounding. The unsuccessful and the successful. Between a campaign that doesn’t meet its targets and one that massively exceeds them.

Creativity and craft are the key things that can make two campaigns that have very similar, very robust strategies perform very differently. Why one captures the imagination, communicates, involves, stimulates, entertains, excites, whilst the other fails to do so. The difference is how that robust, well thought-through strategy is brought to life.

That’s why, even in an era when marketing is so thoroughly planned and interrogated, creativity and craft is more important than ever to business. 

Make sure that you are working with people who have the ability to bring your strategies to life more interestingly, more compellingly, and more entertainingly than your competitors.

Because even if what you are doing
is spot-on, it will live or die, fail or
succeed, by the way you do it.

The best communication is still about people. How times have changed in the last fifty years. Technology, the speed of living, hairstyles. New media and technology, and the possibilities they offer, are very exciting. But it’s easy to be seduced by
the technology and forget the fundamental truth about marketing.
After all, although a lot of things have changed drastically, one thing hasn’t. Human nature. We are all still driven
by the same basic needs and desires as our parents, grandparents, and their great-grandparents.

The truth is, the very best, most powerful marketing is still about understanding and connecting with people. Finding out genuinely how your brand or product fits into peoples’ lives (or doesn’t), and why. Knowing how and why they choose what they choose. And working out how to influence that decision.

Focus your communication on changing behaviour, not just changing attitude. A lot of communication today has as its goal small shifts in perception or attitude. Ultimately, the hope is that this will influence people’s decision-making when it comes to selecting a brand or choosing a product. But attitude change is a relatively small ambition when it comes to communication.

Incremental shifts in perception that may or may not pay off in the long run might be fine if you are a market leader, established for generations, or willing to wait ten years for payback. But for most companies, to copy this behaviour is to drastically under exploit the potential of communication. Communication which has the aim of actually getting people to do something, or change
the way they do something, is a
more robust way to build a brand.

And there’s no reason why this kind of communication can’t also leave people with the same positive feelings towards a brand as communication that only attempts to generate positive feelings. (For how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above.)

Be different in the category.
This sounds like a huge generalisation. It is. But, it’s a generalisation that is generally very true. Isn’t it odd, given that marketing and advertising is such a dynamic branch of business, that in almost every category, brands act and communicate very similarly to each other? It’s not surprising really. People see the most successful brand in the category and think “let’s do that”. And over time it just becomes the standard way of communicating. 

But the power of simply acting differently in your category is immense.
Suddenly, everything you do stands
out. Suddenly, everyone else in your category looks like ‘everyone else’.
You become the interesting one.
The one people want to be with.

Think of some of the brands who have dared to be different in their category, (Apple, Virgin, Cadbury, Innocent or Fentimans, for example) it reads like
a who’s who of successful brands.
This is not simply coincidence.

And the best thing about being different in the category is that it’s FREE. It doesn’t cost any more than not being different in the category (and in fact it can make it seem like your budget is
going a lot further).

Don’t spend all your time and money talking to fans of your brand. It’s very tempting in this ‘conversation age’ to spend valuable energy and marketing budget talking to fans or advocates of your brand. After all, who doesn’t like to have a chat with people who already like you?
However, the single best way to turn users of your brand into advocates and fans is to always provide them with a product and service that continues to meet and exceed their expectations (also, include a little added value fun into the experience for them now
and again). 

It is important for brands to have fans and advocates. But the best way of creating them is to get more people using your product or service.

Marketing budget is very precious, and the focus of it should be on adding value to the business. The fact is, your biggest fans will choose you anyway.

This means that to make the most of your budget, your activity should be communicating with occasional users, lapsed users, or potential new customers.

Oh, and by the way, all of your communication should also make your current users or fans feel good about choosing your brand. Which means making communication that’s always charming and interesting (for how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above).

Be impatient and ambitious with your targets. No one ever blew the world away by aiming low. Ambition is infectious. If you’re in
a hurry to achieve things quickly,
and ambitious with your targets,
your agencies will be too.

Nothing gets talented people excited like a real need to accomplish something through their work. You’ll find that agencies and creative people tend to do their best work on the most
ambitious accounts.

If you want to get the best out of the people you work with, make sure to
let them know that you’re in a hurry
to achieve something.

Repetition. Repetition.
Repetition. Come back, we’re not advocating some 1950’s style bludgeoning of the public with banal messages. However, have you noticed how few brands stick with an idea or theme for very long these days? 

Marketing departments, boardrooms and advertising agencies tend to get bored with things long before people
in the real world ever do.

Strong brands find a strong, long-term communication idea and stick with it. 

note. You do need to keep things interesting. It’s no good just repeating exactly the same thing over and over and expecting great things, you have to keep people surprised and interested (for how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above).

Be wary of those professing about ‘the future of
advertising, marketing
AND communication.’ You could probably power a small republic with the valuable energy that is wasted every week in the industry by people theorising about what may or may
not happen next year, in five years,
or in ten years time.

Whole conferences pontificate about it. Whole forests of trees are felled to provide for people writing about it.

But, without wanting to go all Yoda-like, you will never be marketing in
the future, you will always be marketing right now. The things that you are doing right now are the things that are most important to your business.

Focus your energy on doing the most valuable things that you can be doing for your brand right now. The best ways of reaching your prospects right now. The best ways of interesting them, exciting and converting them right now. 

In ten years time, focus on the most valuable things to be doing then.
Value is created by doing things,
not theorising. 

Done well, TV is still the short-cut to success. Even after all that has been said over the last few years about emerging media channels, conversation versus interruption, and other such buzzword-ridden tomfoolery, facts show that the power of television advertising is still the best short-cut to success for most consumer brands.

That’s not to say that other media can’t work really hard for you (they work very hard for some of our clients), it’s just that TV still has the power to change fortunes more quickly than
any other media or channel.

And these days, TV is no longer the
preserve of the big consumer brand. 

With digital and online channels, and the ability to target and buy audiences very tightly, the barriers to entry have come down considerably. Bringing the most powerful communication medium of the age within the grasp of almost anybody with a marketing budget.

We have worked with clients of varying sizes who have put their faith into TV, and they have all been very happy with the results of their marketing efforts.

And yes, we did say ‘done well’ - a lot of TV advertising just doesn’t make the most of the medium. It’s this lack of skill in execution that makes a lot of TV advertising underperform, and feel underwhelming.

You need to make sure that you’re working with people who have the skill and talent to make the best use of the most powerful medium (and again,
this comes back to the subject of
Creativity and Craft above).

Don’t scrimp on your
production budgets. Yes, we just said that. We know, everyone is telling you that everything can be done cheaper. But that’s because they care mainly about just getting your business. Rather than making your business as successful as possible. 

It’s true that as technology develops,
it’s becoming possible to make things much more quickly and more cheaply than ever before. This is great because that means the barriers to creating
great stuff are lower.

One side effect is that it encourages some people to look for big savings in all aspects of production. Which is okay, everyone wants to feel like they are getting a good deal. But we are going to stick our necks out here and say this: not all savings are positive savings.

The difference between successful and unsuccessful work often hinges on how well it is executed. This is the inconvenient truth of marketing. You can have exactly the right message, in exactly
the right channel, but if no one noticed, you might as well have said nothing.

Think about all the campaigns, ads and communication over the last couple of years that you’ve been most impressed with. Most probably, they were all executed very well. They stood out above their competitors, not only because they were right, but because of how they were put together, finished and crafted.

You can’t achieve that if you price good people or processes out of your productions. Savings in the wrong places can seem like good value in the short term, but are poor value in the long-term. 

Look for savings in the right places,
but encourage the best possible outcomes by being prepared to pay for
the things that make the big difference.
It will help you to stand out in the marketplace more than almost anything else.

Halve your production
budget. That’s almost the opposite
of what we just said above. You see what we did there? But bear with us
for a moment. 

Sometimes, the best way to inspire a new way of thinking about a problem is to break people out of their conventional paths.

Drastically cutting a production budget is one way to do this. Suddenly people can’t rely on clever effects, or famous faces. The problem has to be solved with guile and wit. 

Action. Not Words. There are 2,462 words on this page, but in themselves they are useless. We wrote them only in an attempt to be helpful.

Time spent talking about stuff rather than doing stuff is time wasted.
Time you could have been out there connecting with your audience,
making a difference.

Understandably, especially in these
pressurised times, everyone wants to
be properly prepared, and that’s
important. But month after endless month are often spent in rounds of meetings, gathered around charts
and descriptions, tinkering away.

Why do small brands often run rings around the big guys? Because they get to the doing quicker. Big companies are often hamstrung by process and over-examination. Don’t fall into the trap
of thinking that to be right, something has to take a long time to get to.

No matter how many meetings you have, you can never be certain that what you are proposing is perfect.
Better to be out there competing,
and fine-tuning as you go along.

Act like a challenger. Take action.

Sell! Sell! is an independent company based in London. 
If we existed fifty years ago we might have been called an ad agency, or ten years ago maybe a creative agency. Today those titles don’t seem broad enough somehow.

Suffice to say, our clients come to us
for big ideas that help to make their businesses more successful, and for
excellence in creativity and craft that helps their organisations meet and
exceed their goals. 

Copyright 2011. Sell! Sell! Ltd. London.



  1. "65% of managers add zero or negative net value to the company" - Jordan Peterson

  2. The new Nike ad is great, will it shift things along? Hope so!


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