Posts Tagged ‘message platform


Hotel Web Sites: Too Checked Out for Branded Messaging.

As travellers know, hotel Web sites are among the most functional e-commerce sites around. Yes, most of them feature the ubiquitous marquee, but that’s as close to any kind of high-level messaging you’re liable to see. And that messaging is itself ultimately offer-driven.

Can anyone tell the difference between Sheraton and Ramada? Not online. Between the input boxes and those tidy little retouched jpegs of the rooms, the only thing you have to go on is the logo. Yes, they use different color schemes and, yes, different fonts. But this ladies and gentlemen, is not branding.

A brand, after all, is a promise. Yet the only contract any of the hospitality giants makes with consumers is:

“We’re a hotel. With rooms. Which you can stay in. For a fee. Pick a date and enter your credit card number. Don’t keep us waiting.”

Keeping in mind that many business travelers stay at hotels prescribed by their companies, some differentiated attributes ought to be selling these hotels to whomever’s in charge of hotel bookings at XYZ Corp. And, of course, you might reasonably expect that leisure travellers would like to feel they’ve chosen a hotel chain for a reason.

Especially, that is, if they’re planning a stay in a major US city where the options are all over the map in terms of price, features, location, etc., etc. But by remaining so blank, these Web sites are not only tarnishing their brand’s image, they’re damaging the image of the entire industry.

“Who cares where I stay?” is the question anyone would be tempted to ask after visiting these sites. “All hotels are the same. Same disappointing “Continental Breakfast,” same stodgy furniture, same prohibitive minibar. Same iffy cable service.

Offline, on it. Online, off it.
Ironically, one of the few travel-related brands to have an advertising concept is Yet, as memorable as the Captain Obvious campaign is, it has nothing to do with the service the Web site provides. Even if I stretch my imagination and conclude that the message is, “ is the obvious choice for travel reservations,” the concept spoils itself by simultaneously making the obvious look ridiculous., at least in TV spots, is much more convincing, even if their Amy Schumerish play on their name’s phonetic similarity to an indelicate word is a bit limiting. More successful is their other play on their name, “Booking.Yeah,” which effectively uses something approaching millennial diction to hippify a boring topic.

Offline, these two brands have done something to transmit a message, a promise, a statement of purpose. But there’s no trace of that messaging on the Web site, which might as well be a site for Orbitz or Travelocity for all anyone would notice—logos aside.

Where, I can’t stop wondering, did anyone get the idea that “Buy Now” is a brand identity? On the other hand, you may wonder why I find this so irritating.

Schlock and loaded with clichés.
Despite having survived for over a century in one form or another, through many ups and downs, advertising and marketing are fragile things, whose immortality you cannot take for granted. Mail boxes, airwaves and screens crammed edge-to-edge with schlock are as deadly to the psychological ecosystem of sales as CO2 is to the lungs. Every year that we crank out crap is another year we erode our audience.

Meanwhile, gloom and doom analysts continue to have a field day at the supposed demise of the traditional :30 TV spot. But the real reason people click away is that TV spots and all of traditional advertising went into an accelerating decline after the ’60s. A TV spot today is, with few exceptions, a dreary landscape of tedious clichés. No wonder people reach for the zapper.

Let no one think, however, that digital advertising is “inherently” better. Sites like these from the travel industry, which are only the tip of the iceberg in the schlockification of the Web, will inevitably have the same effect on digital space.

The issue is not the medium, but every bit the message. Remember: the bad work you post today is the baseline you’ll struggle to rise above tomorrow. Because if this trend continues, the much-vaunted “impact of digital media” will be the fond memory of a few archeologists, only a couple of dozen years from now.


Tease, Tell, Lead, Compel

One obstacle faced by advertising copywriters is widespread, passionate disagreement about what the job entails. Within the same agency, from team to team, or week to week, copywriters are asked to uphold any number of conflicting standards. That they must also obey a long-standing edict to write “poppy” headlines and “snappy” copy, makes this a challenge worthy of Rumpelstiltskin himself.

Why? Because neither of these adjectives has intrinsic meaning. It’s a case of:

You say promotional,
     And I say interruptive!
You say authentic,
     And I say too soft!

Let’s call the approval process off!

Action words…
Now, assuming they can squeeze a concise definition of these attributes out of their colleagues, copywriters must still reconcile such abstract standards with the task of communicating to a new generation—who see classic 1960s advertising lingo as a dead language.

Besides, copywriting isn’t about adjectives—or fundamentally about words. A copywriter’s job is to instill motivation through a coherent thought process that can be articulated in immediate, emotional terms. As such, it’s a tough, acrobatic feat requiring maximum flexibility. Restrain a copywriter with arbitrary rules of style and you might as well ask a trapeze artist to execute a straddle whip in an evening gown.

In fact, great copy is much more than a string of words leading up to a codified call to action. Great copy is, itself, a call to action and anything conspiring to drown out that call impedes communication with your audience. Instead of focusing on rules, adjectives or magic headline formulas, copywriters need to focus on the answer to a basic question at the start of each project:

how do we get x to do y?

Everything else is a distraction, born of the absurd notion that certain hypnotic phrases have the power to overcome human will—leaving aside the question of whether that’s an ethical pursuit.

But there’s another delusion, snuggled inside that one, that works just as hard against your prospects for success: The idea that the goal of every communication is necessarily to sell something on the spot. While it may make sense from an ROI perspective, this kind of thinking ignores human nature.

 …and the Art of Seduction.
That’s because human nature thrives on seduction—especially when it’s formulated as an affirmation that we’re special, unique and endowed with our own private chip off the block of divine beauty. So unless you’re banking your entire brand strategy on a Crazy-Eddie-style discount marketing scheme, you’ll need to introduce the art of seduction into your practice.

Keep in mind, however, that what qualifies as seduction changes with time and context. In the 1980s, for example, Crazy Eddie’s campaign succeeded despite the odds by having it both ways.

On one level, the announcer’s manic delivery could be read as an engaging parody of a promotional style that sophisticated shoppers abhor and abjure. As such, it flattered more than a few thousand metropolitan egos. On another level, of course, it worked as pure snake-oil marketing. The point is, an approach like that isn’t written, but conceived from one seamless thought process.

You start with a clear picture of what you want consumers to do and, just as important, how you want them to be affected by your presentation. You may want to:

Tease—because you want consumers to grasp your brand value as part of a larger marketing ecosystem. This has made Apple billions.

Tell—to build the case for a new way of accomplishing a goal that may have nothing to do with commerce, as in a political campaign.

Lead—consumers to reshape their perception of a product, say, from “extravagant” to “essential,” an equation anyone who bought an SUV built like a Bradley armored vehicle in the 1990s is familiar with.

Compel—by creating inescapable emotional appeal, especially in, but not limited to, cause marketing.

By identifying a communication strategy based on clear creative goals, you now have a yardstick against which to measure the copy emerging from it.

This approach takes pressure off individual phrases—whether headlines or bullets—to drive the selling message home. It also scrapes away generations of encrusted marketing-speak. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. In 2013, advertising isn’t about selling either the steak or the sizzle, but the positive frame of mind that sharing a steak with friends can bring to everyday life.

Try doing that with a roomful of balloons—or a headline announcing your prices are INSANE. Instead, put your dog-eared Marketing 101 phrase book in a drawer and let your creative team earn trust, loyalty and brand advocacy over the long term, by letting a coherent messaging strategy take precedence over vague generalities about copy style.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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