Monday, April 27, 2009

Positioning vs. Branding. What's the diff?

At left, a taco with a fallout problem.

The way people talk about branding and positioning, it's hard to tell if they mean the same thing or if they're talking about two different elements of selling. Some people use them interchangeably. And indeed, they are related. But they're different.

Is "branding" simply creating a neat logo for a company or product? Or perhaps an "identity package" consisting of the logo applied to stationery, product package, Web site and print ads? Sometimes, it's the first thing a graphic design company or ad agency proposes.

A smart advertiser will know that the "branding" actually is the last step in the journey to market. The first step is "positioning," which is based on the promise the company makes to the consumer. Branding, meaning a logo, ad designs and all other physical identifications of a company, product or service must spring naturally from a clear definition of the company's positioning.

To discover the most effective positioning, you begin with one basic question:

"What is the compelling thing that you do or provide that no one else can or does promote in their advertising?"

The answer is the promise. It is the Unique Selling Proposition, the brainchild of the revered Rosser Reeves, author of "Reality in Advertising." By "revered," I mean that if there were a Mount Rushmore of advertising, Rosser Reeves would be on it.

By determining the USP, you're close to discovering the positioning of the product, service, or company. As touched upon above, you're not positioning in a vacuum. You're positioning against your competitors. So naturally, you have to identify them and figure out their positioning. Let's assume the market research is done already. So here's the way Reeves breaks out the USP statement:

Unique: No one else can or does use your claim.
Selling: It must give the consumer a compelling reason to buy.
Proposition: It must make a promise to the consumer: "If you buy Product X, you will get (fill in unique benefit here)."

Now, here's a unique proposition, but is it compelling?

"SquareDogs are the only hot dogs that won't roll off your plate."

Frankly, so to speak, I can't imagine that statement compelling anyone but extreme neat freaks -- a miniscule market segment at best -- to buy SquareDogs. When choosing hot dogs, people probably consider taste first, value second. But squareness? Completely off the radar.

On the other hand, squareness can be a USP -- for taco shells. A TV spot I saw recently showed a little child filling his taco shell as it stood squarely on its flat bottom on his plate. Wow! That's positively revolutionary! And showing the small child dealing successfully with it emphasizes that with this product, even a kid can keep a taco together. There's a great product idea that solves a problem for Moms all over the country, and it can be sold simply with a visual demonstration of its benefit. Your USP might be:

Unique: The only flat-bottom taco shell you can buy.
Selling: It stands up straight on your plate while you fill it.
Proposition: If you buy "Flat-Bottom Taco Shells," your tacos won't fall over and make a mess.

That's an easy one because it has a clear, unique benefit. Unfortunately, we don't often get revolutionary, problem-solving products or services to advertise. In the case of parity products or services, the need for a strong USP is even more urgent. It just takes more work to develop.

How do you differentiate your dish detergent from every other? Toothpaste? Insurance? If your product has no compelling difference to tout, Rosser Reeves advises suggesting the manufacturer add some innovative feature. Their doing that is about as likely as their traveling to Mars via hot air balloon. But you can at least suggest it before resorting to image advertising, which is never as compelling as USP-based, specific-benefit-oriented advertising. The exceptions are ads for beer, wine, liquor, perfume, fashion, and luxury cars -- products that convey a certain image for the person who buys them. For example, there are those Captain Morgan commercials. Not to criticize what may be a successful campaign, but at first, I thought the guys with "a little Captain in them" were impersonating dogs watering a tree. But I digress.

The USP as stated above, of course, is not the final headline or tagline. It is the bare-bones description of what the product offers versus the competition. It's the job of the copywriter to transform the USP into a succinct, catchy statement that people will remember next time they're cruising the grocery store.

Only when the positioning is defined does the art director or designer go to work. Armed with knowledge of the USP, the positioning, the target audience and the competition's packaging on the shelf, s/he will come up with a logo and design treatment that fits the product's promise like a glove. The colors, the fonts, the logo, the pictures and overall design will sell the product off the shelf in a print ad, on TV, on the Web or on a billboard.

By the way, if you are a designer reading this, please, when designing billboards, remember this: the billboard may look terrific on your Mac monitor, but you need to view it at the size people will see it as they drive by at 60 or 70 m.p.h. Teensy words and minute logos can cause a pileup on the highway, as people strain to read your masterpiece. Good design communicates ideas clearly. Thank you!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Looking for a fluorescent beagle?

Oh, the wonders of science. Go here and see more pix of the first transgenic dog: a beagle pup that glows pink in daylight and red under blacklight. Weird, but maybe helpful in medicine, if the cost is not too high.

I just hope we don't see "Blacklight Beagles" being sold at PetSmart.

Why am I posting this on a writing blog? 'Cause I am a science nerd. There. I've said it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Volvo TV spot mystery

Why an optically challenged actor?

I've been seeing Volvo XC60 TV spots recently that feature a brief appearance by a "Volvo spokesman." A middle-aged, blonde man who says something in Swedish to a young couple, then, "Welcome to your new car."

The spots are well-done and feature music most people seem to like. But one thing nags at me: Why is the "spokesman" a person with one inward-turning eye? It's troubling. Is he a top exec at Volvo? Is that why they had to feature him? Or, if he is an actor, is he the only Swede they could find?

I am not down on physically challenged people, but I question casting any actor who will draw attention to himself or herself and distract attention from the product. An abnormal eye, even though it's seen only for a fraction of a second, can do that.

If anybody knows anything about this spokesman and why he appears in the spots (I've seen two different ones so far), please let me know. It's just buggin' me. Y'know?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ads get in your eyes

In a more romantic era, it was said that "smoke gets in your eyes" when you're in love. These more mercenary days, ads get in your eyes when you're selling a movie. Or rather, in the eyes of handsome young men, in the form of contact lenses advertising "Twilight."

When you get close, you see that the weird contacts read, "Twilight DVD."

Weird. But pretty tame, compared with pictures I've seen of eyeball tattoos. EWWWww!

HELLO, Advertisers -- Boomers have bucks

At right, a Target billboard in Times Square featuring (gasp!) a woman with gray hair.

As a Boomer, I am puzzled as to how so many of the TV shows I watch are sprinkled with ads aimed at 18-24-year-old males. Ads featuring sexpots taking huge juicy bites out of huge juicy burgers while hiking up their skirts tantalizingly, so you can *almost* see their panties, or lack thereof. Car ads featuring 18-24s bombing around in the desert, screaming with excitement, or bounding free-spiritedly up a mountain. Hey, that's not me. Even when I was 18-24.

For a long time, I attributed this psychographic and demographic disconnect to the fact that most ad agency creatives are in their 20s. So how can they possibly speak my language? Actually, they can't. And sometimes, when they try, poor babies, they end up perpetuating insulting stereotypes about "old" (over 40) people. The only commercials aimed at my generation seem to be for denture paste, laxatives and blood pressure medicine. Yuck. But my theory doesn't hold much water: young creatives must sell their ideas to presumably more mature people on the client side. How have so many advertisers drunk the "youthful focus" Kool-Aid (or Vitamin Water)?

Now, at last, some advertisers are recognizing who has the bucks: Boomers. Especially in a lousy economy like this one. Target, for one, has started featuring Boomers in their ads. Say, before long, we might be treated as the age we feel we are. Like, 35.

Who ever thought of THAT?

The Most Ridiculous Patents of the Past Decade

A cow wearing a contraption that turns it into a gas factory? A gerbil shirt that lets your friends admire your furry friend as it scampers through plastic tunnels on the outside of the shirt? Then there's the "Dad Saddle," which allows an older child to stand up in stirrups around Dad's waist and be carried around. These are only a few of the most ridiculous patents of the last 10 years. A slideshow here (or is it a sideshow?) features many more, including "Baby Bottom Art" (pictured above). You dip your baby's derriere into paint and plop it down on canvas. Something to embarrass your kid for years to come!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who needs a manual to write real good?

In a perverse tribute to the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White's classic, "The Elements of Style," writer Marc Acito attempts to violate every one of the elements. A good job is done by him, too, I opine. Acito is the author of two books, How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People.

All Things Considered, April 16, 2009

Today marks the 50th anniversary of William Strunk and E.B. White's Elements of Style, the grammar manual used by millions of students, including commentator Marc Acito.

Me and a friend was talking about using proper grammar. And he says to I, "Today is the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White's Elements of Style." (1)

So I got me a copy and totally mesmerized this vast suppository of information. For instance, Strunk and White says, "Write with nouns and verbs." (2) Myself, for one, is relieved to know this, as I have been trying to write with macaroni and cheese.

[Read more or listen here.]

KFC takes a grilling

First, Kentucky Fried Chicken gave up the word, "Fried" by changing its name to KFC. A nod to the healthy-eating sensibilities of prospective customers. Now, in a further step toward wholesomeness, KFC has added grilled chicken to its offerings. Can the name change to "KGC" be far behind? Naah, it sounds too much like the Russian CIA.

The new bucketful is surprisingly good, say the taste-testers at Epicurious. They compared grilled chicken from several purveyors and found that KFC's version rules the roost.

Great. But I wonder: would the Colonel approve?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Burger King makes a big oopsie

Where were the adults while the children at Crispin Porter & Bogusky were creating a Burger King ad campaign even more idiotic than the usual? The scary, plastic-faced King is esthetically bad. But dissing Hispanics is offensively bad. And dumb, marketing-wise. Why would a fast-food chain buy into a negative stereotype and alienate so many potential customers? The stupid... it HURTS.

The current and soon-to-be-pulled campaign features a tall, gringo cowboy and his sidekick, a short, squat Hispanic wrestler hombre wearing a costume that resembles a Mexican flag.

How this politically incorrect campaign ever saw the light of day is a mystery. The premise, that BK makes burgers that have "a little Mexican," hardly excuses the use of a dwarf Hispanic wrestler to make the point. The agency that spawned it may have used creative from their London office, where, one might assume, there is less exposure to anti-Hispanic rhetoric than there is this side of the Pond. And it's playing only in Europe, so maybe they thought it didn't matter. But hey, there are Hispanic people in Europe, too.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Business etiquette for the clueless

Here's an article I wrote a few months ago and just rewrote. Hope you like it.

Things not to do with your mouth in a meeting
by Liz Craig

The young man was lounging on a park bench, arms draped casually across the top. Just as I walked by, he opened his mouth wide and enjoyed a leisurely yawn right in my face. My reaction: disgust and annoyance. My opinion of that young man: low. Was the young man being intentionally crude, or was he just plain ignorant? All I knew of him was how his tongue and teeth looked, but his manner of showing them to me gave me the impression that he was rude and uneducated.

Isn’t it unfair to judge a person’s character by one inconsiderate act? Perhaps. But we do it all the time. At the grocery store, on the phone, and especially, at work -- where the consequences of inconsiderate or offensive behavior, a.k.a. poor etiquette, can have serious repercussions.

Lately, it has become clear that the rules of common etiquette are not commonly known, particularly among people under 40. As a result, companies and grad schools have begun training younger people how to act civilly and politely in meetings, presentations, and client lunches and dinners.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when training films titled "How to Have a Family Dinner" advised adults and children of the basics: no unwashed hands, no elbows on the table, no unpleasant or controversial conversational topics while dining, no talking with your mouth full, no curling your left arm prison-style around your dinner plate while madly shoveling large chunks of food into your mouth as if you were in a county fair eating contest.

The problem is that Americans scorn rules that inhibit their natural behavior. Why the heck should I have to cover my mouth when I yawn? And why shouldn't I rest my elbows on the table? In the first case, because nobody wants a view of your uvula, and in the second, because in client dinners, it tags you as a classless bumpkin.

As Paula Williams says on the Ravenwerks website, etiquette is more than just selecting the right fork to eat the salad. "Being relaxed, friendly and considerate is what etiquette is all about."

While “relaxed” is a subjective term that easily can be misinterpreted, the "considerate" part is a good one to take to heart. If you are considerate of other people's sensitivities, you probably won't remove a gob of gristly meat from your mouth and place it on the edge of your plate unless you shield the process from view with your napkin. You won't pick your teeth at the table. You won't gulp your water with audible "glugs." You won't talk over another table companion or start an argument that might upset digestive processes. Or kill a business relationship.

Of course, there is much more to good business etiquette than table manners. There is phone etiquette, day-to-day etiquette to practice with colleagues, and etiquette when dealing with people of other genders and nationalities. That’s just for starters.

There are many technical things to learn about business etiquette, probably too many to remember at all times. But if we can keep "consideration" top of mind, we won't go far wrong. If you feel insecure about what to do and not to do in public, you can consult a wealth of etiquette resources at the bookstore, at the library, or on the Web (See titles of three recommended books below). While reading, you may discover interesting sidelights, such as this: the reason knives are set on the table with their blades toward the plate is that in this way, Medieval diners let their companions know they did not plan to stab them to death. Oh, by the way, stabbing dinner partners is considered poor form. But you probably knew that.

To learn more, try these books, available at

Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work by Jacqueline Whitmore (also available on audio)

Business Etiquette For Dummies by Sue Fox

The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success by Beverly Langford

©2009 Liz Craig

Friday, April 10, 2009

Look, up in the sky -- it's a Flogo

Ever think of putting your company's logo up in the sky? Not as a banner trailing an airplane, but in the form of helium bubbles?

Read more about Flogos here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Conficker worm on the move

Conficker worm is on the move.
To see if your machine is infected, go to .

This notice is from Paul Myers at
Conficker, considered to be potentially one of the nastiest
worms to hit the Internet in quite a while, has finally woken
up. It's downloading updates, which security analysts suspect
to be keyloggers or other code designed to steal information
from infected machines.

To see if your machine is infected, go to

It's an extremely simple test. Load the page and see if you get
all 6 pictures. If you do, you're unlikely to be infected. The
explanation is VERY short, and included on the page.

Feel free to pass that URL around to anyone you like. The more
people know if their systems are infected, the better.

If you find that you're are likely to have the worm on your
machine, immediately disconnect from the Internet. Find a
machine that isn't infected, and get a copy of Microsoft's
Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Do not reconnect to the Internet until you've run that on the
infected machine.
Here's an article with more about the worm.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Magnetic Movie produced at NASA - WOW

Go here to see an amazing, award-winning film produced in NASA's Space Labs. Magnetic fields are the stars, and the patterns they make will drive your eyes crazy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Everything you always wanted to know about smart freelancing

As a freelancer, I'm always interested in tips about how to get work, how to charge, and all that concerns life as an independent contractor.

This article isn't deep, but it does give you some useful tips. I was especially interested in the part about things we forget to charge for. And also, in the encouraging report that companies are going to be outsourcing more work in a shrinking economy.
The secrets of smart freelancers: 5 Questions for Michelle Goodman


The freelance marketplace is a cauldron of activity. Those of us who have been at it for years are finding work from the very employers who have been showing employees the door. And many of those exiting employees are realizing that it's about time to acquire some freelancing skills -- whether for short-term survival or long-term livelihood.

When it comes to dispensing smart advice about freelancing, there is no greater guide than Michelle Goodman, author of the books, The "Anti 9-to-5 Guide" and "My So-Called Freelance Life." Not only does Goodman have the answers to the most vexing questions about freelancing, she is also a vocal advocate for the rights of freelancers, and for reminding independent workers to speak up for ourselves. Below is Goodman's wisdom on how to survive and thrive as a freelancer today.

Shine: Freelancing must be more competitive than ever with all the formerly employed folks now in the game -- is there enough to go around?

There’s still a ton of freelance work out there for those willing to hustle hard and diversify. CareerBuilder recently reported that to save their beans, almost a third of U.S. companies planned to hire freelancers and contractors this year. (We’re cheaper than employees because we’re short-term and we buy our own benefits.) And while more people are freelancing now, they won’t all be your competition. Different writers, designers, programmers, marketers, and business consultants have different niches -- meaning you’re not all vying for the same jobs.

Shine: Have you seen freelancers develop any creative arrangements to improve their opportunities in this competitive environment?

More and more freelancers are collaborating on project bids to boost their odds of getting work and to chase down more lucrative gigs. Instead of vying for three big contracts in one month, a copywriter who teams up with a web designer or project manager can perhaps shoot for half a dozen contracts or more in a month.

Shine: How do you land that first client?

: If you have an empty portfolio or client list, you can remedy that by volunteering your services to a pet non-profit or community group for a project or two, or by bartering with a self-employed pal. If you already have work samples and client testimonials, but don't have a website, a couple of social media profiles and an email out to everyone you know saying you’re open for business, it's time to get cracking. Other ways to find paying clients: Contact outsourcing agencies. Befriend other freelancers though Freelancers Union meetups and sites like Biznik; some may need subcontractors, others may have leads to pass on. Also, be flexible. Sometimes you can land that first client by taking a last-minute rush job or by agreeing to do a small, paid segment of a larger project (e.g., editing a chapter of a book) as a test run.

How do you find legitimate work-from-home opportunities?

Goodman: Steer clear of Google ads; most are scams. Instead, see the site Rat Race Rebellion, well-known for its scam-free at-home job listings. Some freelancers swear by sites like Elance, many of which have checks in place to ensure you don’t get ripped off. Be prepared to give Elance a cut of your fees though. Finally, if using Craigslist, don’t waste time on ads that don’t list a company name or URL, or any startup that offers to pay you in promotion only – unless you need portfolio samples.

Shine: What are the most common mistakes that freelancers make?

Goodman: Not charging enough. When setting prices, some newbies forget to account for health insurance, vacation and sick days, the self-employment tax, and the fact that we don’t get paid for our admin work and business development. An easy formula is to double the market rate for a salaried worker at your experience level, in your industry and geographic location. (Here’s a more precise formula.) Being afraid to negotiate is another big mistake new freelancers make. Not asking for what you know you’re worth because the economy’s bad or because you don’t want to offend the client is ludicrous. This will only lead to you working extra hours so you can afford to live, doing shoddier work in your rush to finish, and driving down the rates for the rest of your field. It’s important to remember that you’re running a business, not hosting a dinner party.

[Read more here.]

Twittering Leaders You Should Follow

Far from being a silly time-waster where people advise you what they had for lunch, or how much fur they combed from their cat, Twitter is fast becoming a potent marketing tool. Here's how some industry leaders and others use Twitter to build their brands.

Twittering Leaders To Learn From

Washington Post - 4/2/09

If you haven't at least heard of the social networking tool Twitter by now, you might want to crawl out from under the rock where you've been living and check it out. The site -- which allows users to update other people ("followers" in Twitter speak) on their whereabouts, share links to articles and pictures, and pass along any other information they can squeeze into 140 characters or less -- has been growing at a feverish pace (since it launched in 2006) and, although the site does not yet have a viable business plan itself, Twitter has become a prime way to monitor breaking news, keep up with friends and promote brands.

As an avid Twitterer (Twit? Tweeter?) myself, I thought it would be interesting to look at leading CEOs and thought leaders who use Twitter to make their everyday life more accessible and transparent. For those leaders out there who haven't been bitten by the Twitter bug yet, take a hint from the following five Twittering CEOs and set up your own Twitter account you update yourself (and yes, we can tell when you have someone else update it for you).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Breaking Bad" Wins Peabody Award

"Breaking Bad" has been on my must-see list since I stumbled upon it last year on AMC. Bryan Cranston, who previously displayed a gift for wacky humor as the father of "Malcolm in the Middle," now plays Walt, a dying and desperate man, with convincing gravitas. He also directs the series.

You can view episodes 1 and 2 from Season 2 (this season) on the "Breaking Bad" website, in case you've missed them on Sundays at 9 p.m. CDT. And Season 1 is now available on DVD. Put the series on your must-see list, too. Yes, it's dark, but also intriguing.

I believe the story, the acting and the writing are excellent, and now the Peabody Award people have confirmed it:
The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications announced today that Breaking Bad has been selected to receive a Peabody Award. This year's eclectic list of 36 recipients, ranging from ABC's Lost to the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, represents what the University calls "the best in electronic media."

"Bleak, harrowing, sometimes improbably funny," the presenters said of Vince Gilligan's "thorny" AMC drama, "the series chronicled the consequences of a mild-mannered, dying science teacher's decision to secure his family's future by cooking methamphetamine."

The award will be presented at a ceremony in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on May 18.