The End of ‘Advertising.’

Accountable direct response ad sellers would often say “Selling is like shaving: if you don’t do some of it every day, you’re a bum.” It was a handy way for DR sellers to contrast their work with that of the ad sellers out there peddling branding – which they dismissed as no more than a con.

But today the slogan takes on a deeper meaning for all ad sellers, publishers, tech and marketing service providers. The jig is up, the news is out, the fatted calf has been picked clean. For generations, we’ve organized our businesses and revenue models around helping advertisers and their legion of agencies spend their money… perhaps a little more accountably, responsibly, efficiently or viewably than the next guy. We’ve all been citizens of ‘the Capital-A-Ad Business,’ and we spoke its language and observed its customs. But no more.

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Fundamental change doesn’t always break down the door. Often it creeps in on tiny cat feet. And while we were busy arguing and negotiating over how much of that big pile of ad money would go to digital or TV or something else, marketers have been under siege from direct-to-consumer competitors, a collapsing retail channel, online shopping and more. In the face of this existential crisis, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising.

Well… to put a finer point on it, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising for the sake of advertising.

Which leads me back to the new premise. Today we must all help the marketer sell – we must attach ourselves to business outcomes, become co-marketers…lest we be dismissed as bums. To survive and thrive in what used to be called the ad sales business we must all go back to school and become fluent in the language and customs of marketing. Someday soon our talk of rating points, viewability and attribution will sound as anachronistic as the Latin mass.

The 21st century ad seller is a business problem solver. She doesn’t wait for budgets, she helps create them. She avoids the watering hole where the herd gathers for RFPs and planning cycles. She hunts alone. She knows more about how the client’s business works – how he sells his products, who he sells them through and what gets them bought – than anyone but the client.

She sells. Every day. But she doesn’t sell ads. She helps the customer sell product.

Lightly edited, this post originally ran in 2017. Perhaps more relevant still today.

Marketing Trigger Words.

In workshops and coaching with sellers, I see a recurring language pattern that’s shutting down the client conversation before it even truly gets under way.  With all the best intentions, sales reps toss off careless simplifications of their client’s business and marketing needs.  In uttering or typing these Marketing Trigger Words, the seller ends up with no idea of the damage they have caused.  They know only that the sales call and the relationship have gone sideways, but they don’t know why.

There are several Trigger Words – and Phrases – but there are a couple of threads that tie them together:  predictability and lack of specificity.  In terms of the predictable, it’s almost as if we’ve passed around a book called “Stuff Reps Say”…. Lazy casual phrases that are tossed into emails and conversations with no real research or understanding.  And even when the seller does have a clue about what their client might need, they talk about it so generally that it ends up falling flat with the customer. A few examples:

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“Reach.”  This is a very real thing, of course…just not in the way most reps refer to it.  “This customer really needs to reach millennials!”  Yeah, maybe.  But they don’t necessarily need you to help them do it. Reach is a math problem they can solve lots of other ways.  What are you really bringing to the table?  The ability to tell the audience a better story?  Insights to help the marketer connect with that customer?  But if you open with “reach,” you’ll never really get a fair hearing on what you can really offer.

“You compete with…”  This is a swing and miss for so many reps.   Not because it’s a bad idea to bring up the client’s competitor…no, that’s a great idea!  It’s just that the seller tosses out the most simplistically obvious one.  Ford/Chevy, Coke/Pepsi, Samsung/Apple, Verizon/AT&T and so on.  To make the competitive dynamic meaningful, you must make it specific.  Don’t mention five different competitors; pick one.   Don’t leave it at the corporate or brand level; say which specific products, car models or cell plans are in competition.  Speaking specifically about your customers fight is your first chance to show them how much you know and care.  Don’t half-ass it.

“Branding.”  This might be the mac-daddy of them all.  Sellers who are diligent (or lucky) enough to get face time with marketers will then casually toss out the B-Word.  “Our company can help you build your brand in the eyes of our audience!”  If the advertiser is able to get past the feeling of condescension in that statement, they will then realize that the rep has little idea about what goes into building a brand – or how customers are moved along the scale from awareness to association to preference to intent.  Good rule of thumb:  If you can’t explain it, don’t say it.

You and your company have a lot of great things to offer to marketers and agencies.  How tragic, then, that it often goes wrong so early.  Take care with your words and you’ll find yourself in the deeper, more productive conversations that both you and your customers crave.

“The B Word” Revisited

Over the past decade, the word “branding” has been negatively defined by those playing the direct response/direct action card. “Branding” was once the tallest tent pole within the marketing big top. But it’s gone through years of erosion and withering attack. Those who traffic in cost-per-action pricing, couponing, trade discounts, promotions and other “accountable” marketing practices have tarred branding with the brush of wastefulness, caprice and lack of accountability.

A fair characterization? Of course not. But who said life was fair? And as long as we let the term “branding” hang out there in the breeze with no real definition, it’s going to continue to take a pounding. And far too many media sales people continue to feed the stereotype by casually tossing out the “B Word” to marketers and agencies that either aren’t really sure what it means anymore, or who don’t really care.

And as long as we let the term “branding” hang out there in the breeze with no real definition, it’s going to continue to take a pounding. And far too many media sales people continue to feed the stereotype by casually tossing out the “B Word” to marketers and agencies that either aren’t really sure what it means anymore, or who don’t really care.

It’s time for some new language. Walk away from “branding” as a descriptor of marketing value. Instead, speak to marketers in very concrete terms about the qualities that are inherent in branding. The conversation might go something like this:

“Do you feel that customers need to remember the name of your product?”

“Well… of course!” (Raw awareness)

“Would it be a good idea to connect the brand to positive qualities in the mind of the consumer?”

“Yeah… sure…” (Brand Association)

“Could it be helpful to explain the product to the consumer? I mean, if they understand what it does aren’t they more likely to buy it?”

“Uh… well… yes, I think so…” (Knowledge of product attributes and benefits.)

“And if we can move them along and make them more likely to buy… would that be helpful?”

“Oh, yeah… absolutely!” (Purchase Intent)

“Oh, one final question: Can I interest you in some branding today?”

“God no! Are you kidding? We’re accountable marketers here, and don’t you forget it!”

It’s not right or fair that the term branding has been damaged beyond repair. But that’s the reality of the situation. And we can ball up our fists or cry or have lengthy philosophical arguments about it… or we can adjust.

Those of us in the interactive space are particularly vulnerable. The dutiful, hardworking nebbishes of pay-per-click and cost-per-action are omnipresent in our world. But if we continue to cling to the “B Word,” we have no one but ourselves to blame. Instead, let’s get serious and specific about the elements of branding, even as we consign the term to the ideological scrap heap. Every aspect of what we used to call branding can be measured… and they can be measured thoroughly, quickly and inexpensively online. If each of us is willing to really understand the process and speak about it in specific terms, we might just help today’s marketers come to terms with their dormant inner brand builders.

This post originally appeared in June of 2005.  It seems to remain a hot button issue in our business.  Do you think so?