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3 Strategies to defeat bland marketing and take smarter risks

3 Strategies to defeat bland marketing and take smarter risks

Consumer attention spans have never been shorter—marketers have about as much time to win a buyer’s heart as it takes them to sneeze, and most marketers have no idea how to go about getting it. According to our recent report, 48% of buyers say funny ads the best way to get their attention, but only 8% of marketers say they use them.

We sat down with three of the smartest people in marketing: Dorie Clark of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (and author of the award-winning book Stand Out), Jeremy Benhammou from The Clorox Company, and leading consumer marketer Katelyn Watson of IfOnly to talk about how to create messages that stand out—and decide which ones are worth the risk.

Check out our full webinar, “How to avoid bland marketing: The risk-taker’s guide to campaigns that stand out”, for their full set of insights and best tips. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at three key themes that came across in the conversation.

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Establish a differentiated space for your brand


If your product is the only thing like it on the market, that’s a great break! Unfortunately, most of marketers don’t have that advantage. In the webinar, Dorie lays out four ways that you can create unique marketing messages that break through the noise:

1) Merge disciplines. Even incredible products will have a tough time standing out if the industry is crowded. BUT, you can sometimes achieve the same sense of innovation by taking two established established fields and bringing them together in a new way.

“Most strategy isn’t that hard or that complicated. The failure is in the execution because you get ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ and it gets muddled. If you can be decisive and you understand your customer intimately, then that's the message you should go with.”

Dorie’s example for this category? The broadway musical Hamilton. Broadway has been around for a long time. Hip hop has been around for a long time. But the combination is totally new. If you’re a marketer in a saturated industry, think about the types of partnerships that might surprise people, or make them do a double take. That’s your opportunity.

2) Own a niche. Find the things that make your brand truly and totally unique—no matter how random. The shoes company Allbirds found success by being the only sneaker made out of wool. What’s your “only” claim?

3) Create great original content. In the past few years, content marketing has gotten attention for a reason. Truly high quality content means making headlines and ranking in searches for topics close to your audience’s heart. Our ultimate guide to using surveys in content marketing can give you the ingredients you need to make content and thought leadership that sets your brand apart.

4) Have a vision. Dorie points to the (currently contentious) visionary Elon Musk as an example of how a well-spoken leader can create an audience for a brand. Do you have a theory about the way the world will change? Put it out there. Getting people listening to you is the first step toward winning them over.

Dorie explains each of these concepts at length in her book, Stand Out. She also has one key tip for choosing an angle when you’re in doubt:

“Most strategy isn’t that hard or that complicated. The failure is in the execution because you get ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ and it gets muddled. If you can be decisive and you understand your customer intimately, then that's the message you should go with.”

“Testing ideas often is a good way to address risk. But come to the table with a clear idea of what you need to ask—there’s no substitute for local knowledge. We use our framework to ask the most important questions. You can never eliminate risk, but if have good answers for all the above, we can usually feel pretty confident that we’ve done what we can to minimize the chances of a marketing fail.“

Test your idea

When you have a marketing idea that you think is great, you need to be able to validate it before you launch it to the broader public. (And avoid potential backlash like Pepsi faced for its controversial ad starring Kendall Jenner.) That boils down to two things: evaluate ideas internally and test them (at small scale) externally.

At Clorox, Jeremy uses a carefully crafted marketing claims framework to make sure that claims make sense, address customers’ real pain points, and actually map back to the company’s goals. (You can learn how to use Jeremy’s framework through our guide.)

“Testing ideas often is a good way to address risk. But come to the table with a clear idea of what you need to ask—there’s no substitute for local knowledge. We use our framework to ask the most important questions. You can never eliminate risk, but if have good answers for all the above, we can usually feel pretty confident that we’ve done what we can to minimize the chances of a marketing fail.“

Here are some of the questions Jeremy asks internally: What’s the price of entry into our category?

  • What makes us different?
  • Where will people see this idea?
  • Is it communicated clearly?
  • Is it true?
  • Can it work across platforms?

When you’re confident in what you have internally, it’s time to ask an objective audience. Katelyn recommends testing concepts with a small group of your customers (incentivized with discounts!) or with a sample of the market audience. She also suggest using Facebook as a (relatively inexpensive) testing ground for small audiences before you go for the big push.

Market research helps overcome groupthink within your company, exposes potential problems, and tells you what real customers think and care about.  If you’re stuck on how to get the best sample of respondents, our product Audience lets you get real-time feedback, choose the number of respondents you need, and refine them by the demographics you’re most interested in.

“Test your ideas at tiny scale. Get data that backs your success—prove your ideas will work. Then, ask for permission when you have a strong case that your marketing will be a success.”

Make a case for risk

When you’re going for a truly unique campaign, that usually means that you’re taking a bigger risk—which usually means that you’re fighting more of an uphill battle when it comes to getting it approved. Our panel had a few key pieces of advice for winning over skeptical execs.

According to Katelyn, data tells the strongest story: “Test your ideas at tiny scale. Get data that backs your success—prove your ideas will work. Then, ask for permission when you have a strong case that your marketing will be a success.”

Having proof points makes a much easier sell, and that’s where the market research that you did will really pay off. One way to accomplish that is to use our TechValidate solution to get feedback from customers and use their voices to create authentic content that can help you make your case.

At Clorox, Jeremy has invested in bringing in experts from different fields to speak to his team of executives (speakers ranging from doctors to aromatherapists have paid their offices a visit before new initiatives.) The idea is to look at marketing from a fresh perspective, and to really focus on what’s best for the customers.

Whether it’s through an appeal to data or to experts or both, getting stakeholder buy in is key. Offer to run a pilot program first, if there’s hesitancy about committing the resources up front. As Dorie puts it: “You need to understand what will give you credibility in the eyes of others and seek to maximize it.”

Hungry for more? Check out the full webinar to hear our panel cover critical marketing topics like:

  • Tips and tricks for creating and evaluating standout ideas
  • Using customer testimonials as “social proof”
  • How to use competitor research to strengthen your marketing programs
  • Frameworks for making tough marketing decisions
  • The differences between planning for B2B and B2C marketing, and how to use the right channels for each

Intrigued? You can also check out our other marketing webinars:

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