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Ensuring Your Company is More Than Your Campaign

A lot of companies beat a dead horse for years on end. Once a business finds just the right catchphrase or image to get people interested in their brand, they flog that image. (This seems to happen a lot with companies that use animals as their public faces.) Remember the Energizer bunny? What about Spuds MacKenzie, the dog that made Bud Light look cool? And let’s not overlook Taco Bell’s hyperactive Chihuahua, endlessly screaming “Yo quiero Taco Bell!”

What do all of these mascots have in common? They’ve retired to Animal Marketing Heaven, where tired campaigns go to die. There was nothing inherently wrong with these campaigns; the problem started when the creator companies failed to distance themselves from these one-dimensional images.

Why Being a One-Trick Pony is Dangerous

The Energizer bunny push was initially a stroke of genius. This fuzzy pink bunny with shades and a drum kit set Energizer apart from their competition; it lent them separation in a crowded market. However, the bunny appeared in commercials that ran for years, leading people to ask, “Does that bunny ever stop?” People want to see a brand evolve, and instead, the bunny rested on his laurels.

It’s not just easy to get stuck on what a company or product is known for – it’s just as easy to get stuck on something that’s worked in the past. Many companies make the argument that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but today’s consumers appreciate new approaches. They want to buy from people who find interesting, compelling ways to talk to them. If you’re not constantly reinventing yourself, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant because your competitors certainly are tapping into their inner chameleons.

A great example of disrupting standard marketing can be found in Dollar Shave Club. Dollar Shave Club is the only company I can remember that used the F-word in its initial product advertising. Throw that approach at any Madison Avenue executive and he’d run the other way, intimidated by its aggressiveness. But Dollar Shave Club knew their audience and didn’t want to be everything to everybody. They were okay addressing a niche, and they created an experience, all the way to sending a package in the mail with a card offering a free beer. Their first plug was fresh and spoke directly to the only consumers they cared about, leaving them lots of room to grow.

How to Adjust Your Strategy

Finding your way out of a marketing funk is all about strategy. Stick to the basics, and then craft a sense of imagination and vision. If you stay in a safe place, you’ll get safe and conservative results. If you want to create something memorable, you really have to be willing to push it. Many people mistake pushing it with being offensive. You don’t have to shock your audience to get buy-in. You simply need to do the unexpected. Consumers are hit with so many different impressions today that you have to clearly separate yourself from everyone else in your space.

In selling our hybrid mattress, my company opted to make a rap video about innersprings. Nobody expected a 130-year-old business to make a rap video. There were two specialty sleep manufacturers taking cheap shots at innerspring mattresses, so we needed to address that and try to make mattresses made with innersprings cool again. We turned to Second City Communications for some help and scored big with Get Hybrid. On the surface, it looked like it wouldn’t work: a funny rap video directed at old white guys? But what made it counterintuitive also made it novel, and it was harder for people to criticize it immediately. We did the unexpected, and it paid off.

How to Make It Last

Your strategy needs to be solid and able to endure many changes.If you’re imagining a one-year campaign for a product, that’s probably not the best way to approach it. You need to start with the yearlong campaign and then ask how it evolves. What legs does it have? Where else can you take it? You have to anticipate the second and third moves on the chessboard unless you want a tired Spuds MacKenzie on your hands.

Data and testing will tell you where to go next. Interest will start deteriorating on either the product sales or customer reaction sides if your campaign theme is growing stale (even in the B2B space where we play). It makes logical sense to borrow from a successful existing idea and build upon it; if you can make it new enough that it will increase engagement, by all means, do so.

If you can’t make the leap to something long-term, retire the campaign and do something different. Companies are scared of the idea of moving away from a thoroughbred of a campaign, but the fact of the matter is that every racehorse has to hang up his saddle sometime. If your campaign is getting tired, figure out your exit strategy and get the next great thing ready for launch. Riding a horse too long will end badly for everyone (especially the horse).

People love authenticity, so poke some fun at your current campaign and kill it off in a clever way, or just let it ride off into the sunset. With too many businesses quick to cover a problem or a failure, people are much more likely to bet on your horse in a race. (If the animal thing won’t work for you, try talking babies; they seem to hit the mark.)