The 10 most abused words by Marketers

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On a daily basis I hear Marketing buzz words bantered about and it becomes obvious people say them and don’t really even know what they mean. I think people use the sacred marketing words like relevant, equity or insights, because they figure no one will challenge them. Of course, everyone puts “strategic thinker” on their Linked In profile. The problem I see is that a generation of Brand Leaders have not been properly trained and it’s starting to show. For the past 20 years, companies have said “on the job” training is good enough. But now the lack of training is starting to show up. The mis-use of these words can be linked to the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of marketing.

Here are the 10 words mis-used and even abused by Marketers.

1. Relevant

When I was running the marketing department at J&J, I jokingly banned this word “relevant” because it was so abused. I found that when a marketer would say “we need to make sure it’s relevant”, the room would go silent. Then there’s a pause and someone would add their own brilliance “yeah, we have to be relevant”. The room went silent again. So then I would usually ask a simple question “so what do you mean relevant?” and sadly that question seemed to stump most of my marketers. Relevant has become the marketing equivalent of the word “nice”, because people say it so much now, they have no clue what they mean by it. My mom and my new iPhone speakers are both “nice”. Yes, of course, marketing should be relevant. But what exactly do YOU mean when YOU say the word relevant? When you answer the question, you likely just wrote down something better. So use that instead of just blindly saying “we need to be relevant”.

2. Awareness

Just like the word relevant, you’re just forcing me to ask, “so when we get awareness, what do we get then”. Once you spend money, you should be able to get awareness–it’s just a question of how much money you spend. Jeb Bush just spent $130 Million–everyone knew he was running. No one voted for him and his awareness did very little for him. In brand terms, we don’t make any money from awareness–we only begin to make money as we are able to move our consumer through the consideration-search-purchase stage.  So, let’s save the word “Awareness” for the lazy brains.

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3. Brand equity

The term was first coined in the 1980s, as part of the RJR Nabisco take-over when they couldn’t explain why they were willing to pay a higher price than the pure book value of the assets. The word has strayed since in two different directions–those like Brand Finance and Interbrand who still use it to correctly attribute it to the VALUE of the brand and those who mis-use the word when they attribute to the HEALTH of the brand. Where it gets abused is when it has become  a catch-all statement for the “unexplainable”. They’ll say “the final scene of the TV ad is really emotional and should really drive the equity of this brand”. We look at Brand Health and Brand Wealth separately and then use the model to predict future success of the brand. As Brand Leaders, it’s actually important to keep them separate so that the actions you take hit the right spot on keeping your brand healthy and wealthy. But Brand Equity is about the wealth side, linked to Value.

There are 8 ways to drive Brand Wealth: premium pricing, trading the consumer up or down, reducing both product costs and marketing costs, stealing other users or getting current users to use more, entering new categories and creating new uses for your brand. Those are not ambiguous at all.

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4. Target market

I’m in shock at how Marketers list out their target market on the creative brief. I once read a brief with a target that said “aged 18-65, new customers, current customers and even employees”. That pretty much covers everyone but prisoners and tourists. A well-defined target should be a combination of demographics (age, income level, male/female) and psychographics (attitude, beliefs and behaviors). I actually try to put an age demographic on every brief. Call me old-fashioned or just realistic. The media you buy, the talent you put in the ad, the stores you choose to sell to, or even the claims you make are likely going to have an age component, so you’re just kiddng yourself by saying “we are more about psychographics than demographics”. When it comes to age, I try to push for a maximum of a 5 year gap. This doesn’t mean you won’t sell to people outside of this target, but it does help give focus to you.

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5. Alienate

This word drives me bonkers and it seems to be growing or at least I keep hearing it. The best brands have focus, the worst don’t. The best marketing programs also have focus, and the worst don’t. If you want to be a great marketer, you must have focus–defined target, positioning, strategies and  execution. Stop being worried and cautious that you alienate older consumers or your current consumers, that you water down your marketing programs to a degree that we have no clue who you’re talking to or what you’re even saying. As long as you are staying consistent and true to the brand, no one should be alienated by what you have to say and who you say it to.

6. Benefits

There’s an old selling expression: “features tell and benefits sell”. But I’m seeing that Marketers have become so obsessed with shouting their message as loud as they can, most brand communication is wall-to-wall claims about how great you are. Brand Leaders should be organizing their Customer Value Proposition into rational and emotional benefits. What I recommend you do is list out the brand features and put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and ask “what do I get?” (for rational benefits) and “how does that make me feel?” (for the emotional benefits). Your brand’s communication should be a combination of the two.

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7. Brief

It’s called a brief, because it’s…BRIEF.  I saw a creative brief last year that was 8 pages long. And even that length, I couldn’t find one benefit or one consumer insight. Every brief should be one page maximum. I’ve done a 1000 briefs at this point, and it is pretty easy to nail the one page brief.

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8. Brand

Too many companies have now separate Brand from Product marketing, especially on the Master Brand type companies. The “Brand” department handles PR, brand advertising, websites and events. The “product” department handles new products, pricing, distribution, and product-oriented or promotion-oriented advertising. Brand and Product should NEVER be separated. It’s crazy. Our definition of a brand: “A Brand is a unique idea, perceived in the minds and hearts of the consumer, consistently delivered by the experience, creating a bond, power and profit, beyond what the product itself could achieve.” To have a successful brand, you need to connect with consumers based on a BIG IDEA for your brand and then line up the 5 connectors (promise, story, innovation, purchase moment and experience)

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9. New Media

New Media has been around 15-20 years old now. I’m not sure I hear the term “new media” on Mad Men when they talk TV ads, but that’s how crazy it sounds at this point. A better way to look at today’s Media is to manage all 5 types: Paid, Earned, Search, Social and Home media. Paid is what we think of the traditional media (TV, Print, OOH, Radio and Digital options). With EARNED media, you need to create and manage the news cycle with mainstream news, expert reviews and blogs. SEARCH Engine Optimization balances earned, key words and paid search. SOCIAL is about engaging users where they are expressing themselves through sharing and influencing. HOME media is where you host your website where you can use as a source of information, influence or even closing the sale.

10. Strategic

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first. Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections. Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in the delays of thinking. They think doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They are frustrated by strategic thinkers. But to be a great marketer, you must be a bit of a chameleon. While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action. And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff we need done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. You must be able to talk with both types, at one minute debating investment choices and then be at a voice recording deciding on option A or B. You need to make tough choices but you also have to inspire all those non-strategic thinkers to be great on your brand instead of being great on someone else’s brand.

It is OK to use these words. Just make sure you use them properly.

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at graham@beloved-brands.com or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

5 thoughts on “The 10 most abused words by Marketers”

  1. Hi, i’m a brand manager and I love reading your posts – super helpful!

    Do you think you could do a piece on the importance of sampling? what are the right platforms for it, how to measure effectiveness etc?

    Thanks!!

  2. About 35 years ago, I was promoted to the position of Marketing Rep and vividly recall the first thing our VP of Marketing taught us about decision-making. He trained us to always ask ourselves if the particular item or action was “relevant” or “interesting.” It appears wisdom is eternal.

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