Posts Tagged ‘message strategy

06
Jul
15

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 hotels.com. 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, “Hotels.com is the obvious choice for travel reservations,” the concept spoils itself by simultaneously making the obvious look ridiculous.

Booking.com, 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 Booking.com 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.

07
Jun
15

The Dysconfusitorial Process of Tidy Marketing

Of all the ways a great creative concept can be watered down, debased or, often enough, eviscerated, there’s nothing more deadly than the threat of Tidy Marketing.

Tidy Marketing is the coming together of two things: an unrequited lust for mechanical consistency and the firm belief that no member of the human species is capable of rational thought. Or at most, if Tidy Marketers concede that if we do sometimes think, they believe it tends to give us a headache.

The products of Tidy Marketing are everywhere, but nowhere more evidently as when promotional headlines flatten both levels of the communication into one of which:

Your [LIFE_ACTIVITY] is complicated. Your [PRODUCT_OR_SERVICE] shouldn’t be.

…is a prime example. It’s tidy! That fact that it says absolutely nothing beyond “complicated,” is beside the point to a Tidy Marketer. After all, no one got confused.

Metaphor? Whatever for?
What image accompanies a Tidy headline? One, of course, that makes a tidy match between the action implied and the action seen. But wait, what about metaphors, with their ancient and venerable tradition of making things memorable?

You must be joking. Metaphors introduce ambiguity. That’s not tidy at all. What if someone thinks your metaphor about “your dreams taking flight” makes a consumer think a home improvement loan program also handles air travel? Yikes! Better to make things match. I know, how about this:

Get a great rate and celebrate your new gate!

…accompanied, of course by a homeowner smiling at a contractor over the newly installed front door. The homeowner lives in a gated community, so it’s OK to say “gate.” Phew.

Come on, Guys, everything has to match. We need a bullet-proof rationale for everything we do because what in the name of Best Practice would we do if the client didn’t like it?

Now, according to the hype spread everywhere in modern agency life, a good idea can come from anywhere. Anywhere, that is, except the creative department. To prove my point, try talking a gaggle Tidy Marketers down from their anxiety-drenched ledge.

Needing the guarantee of a guaranteed guarantee.
“How can you guarantee the consumer will [open the envelope, click the button, call the number]? Look, the call to action doesn’t even have a call to action to read the call to action. We’ll also need a call to action to alert consumers that there’s an action they’ll be called to and a call to action to call if they don’t understand the call to action. We also need this list of mandatory bullets. Otherwise, have fun with it!”

It’s an impenetrable wall of emotion that the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry can’t make a dent in. And I have a sinking feeling I know why:

“What if we sold so many really great anti-anxiety drugs that we actually cured anxiety forever and then who would buy our anti-anxiety drugs? You have to look at this holistically. Sorry. Here’s a link to look up holistically. You may have to scroll, so I hope that’s OK.”

The pervasiveness of this particular form of insanity is so vast, I’m surprised I haven’t already seen more extreme manifestations.

This is a computer:

computer

You will soon read a list of its benefits to you, the consumer. Below this sentence is the list. Read it now.

• Fast
• Easy
• Convenient
• Sends e-mails
• Gets e-mails
• Has a screen for reading
• Has a keyboard for typing and entering keyboard commands, which you enter with the keyboard

If you are now convinced, call 1-800-MORINFO for more information about buying it with your credit card. A credit card is that shiny plastic thing you have in your wallet with your name on it that’s not your driver’s license.

If you have questions, call 1-800-MORINFO to have them answered. Calling is that thing you do with your phone, where you tap numbers on the phone’s keypad and then a friendly voice comes out of the part next to your ear. Then you talk.

It’s that simple.

Computer Computers. Simply the best computers, period.

See? No confusing metaphors, no “concept” to make people wonder if you’re really talking about computers. And no people, so no one will think the computer is either only for men, only for women, only for children, only for more than one person at a time, or only for one person at a time.

It’s tidier this way. Otherwise, it gets confusing. Confusing is a word for something that makes you confused, like when you don’t understand something.

01
Apr
15

The Marquee of Indecision

As petty nobility goes, the Marquee of Indecision is about as petty as it gets. Here’s a routine Web site feature that’s now at least 12 years old—and it still insists on claiming pride of place on sites from Juneau to Honolulu.

What, you might ask, is the source of this arrogance? It’s the slavish devotion of the Marquee’s subjects, a realm of lazy marketers who’d rather endure His Lordship’s insufferable posturing, than decide on a unified, branded focal point for their Web presence.

The Marquee to the rescue. Why slug it out around a conference table when a revolving slide show can, apparently, offer something for everyone?

It’s so easy! None of that headache-inducing thought. OK, check that, you do have to pick the slides. Fortunately, it’s more often a matter of pick-up from existing materials, which the Marquee of Indecision is happy to re-skin for you out of aristocratic largesse. He’ll even let you select a devilishly poppy headline for each slide from his personal poppy fields.

No wonder everyone looks the other way when the Marquee fails to win more than a smattering of new business for your brand every quarter. The “Learn More” buttons he provides are simply to die for.

Of course, there’s always that dissenting rabble. Not everyone is happy with the current regime.

Clueless about messaging.
Aside from the clunky incompetence of most marquee design—which typically gives no thought to how or whether the slides interrelate—my concern is with the absence of focus. What, for example, is the unifying message behind the goings on at Dairy Queen.com?

The premise, I assume, is that the tiny tagline jammed under the logo is enough to unify this wasteland of disconnected thoughts. “Fan Food, Not Fast Food” reads the tag. But in what way does the marquee reinforce that message, let alone define it? Does the brand mean to say that junk food’s not junky if enough people like it?

Meanwhile, the product shots tell us what most Americans already know: Dairy Queen sells soft ice cream and related products. Unless you’re under the age of 12 and have never had dessert, these slow moving slides deliver absolutely no value.

In fact, there’s nothing here to tell me how “DQ” is any different from Carvel, except perhaps that the latter site has slightly better photography and features “Fudgie,” an androgynous transition object who may or may not be a whale.

The issue is whether something as prominent as a 840 x 1500 pixel marquee should be used solely to push product-level promotions. Seriously, this is the best way I know to squander the resources of digital space available to promote, clarify and evolve your brand message.

In this case, the extent to which the unexamined use of a home page marquee makes Dairy Queen and Carvel indistinguishable is a simple example of how harmful this ubiquitous device can be.

What should be elementary to “Watson.”
And yet, even for companies savvy enough to know better, the Marquee of Indecision’s scintillating banter continues to prove irresistible. At IBM.com, a company that would like to be known for its path- breaking innovation in, among other things, digital know-how, we’re treated to a slightly more upscale slide-show that is, nonetheless, just as empty of a unifying theme. In its place are three rather watery attempts to frame the company as a thought-leader, which rise no higher than the level of a community bulletin board.

Don’t get me wrong: Community bulletin boards serve a useful purpose. But the average organization behind one isn’t trying to be seen as a globe-spanning “solution provider” for business and industry.

Surprisingly, even a company as brand-conscious as Apple serves up the same kind of comfort-food casserole, showing an even more disparate range of images than Dairy Queen. Self-referential, with no outreach to consumers, this marquee contributes to a home page completely dependent on the company’s promotions in other media.

What I object to in all of these cases is the treatment of digital space as if it were simply an electronic convenience. You know, a print ad without the printing costs, nudge, nudge. Or a TV spot without the fuss—especially if it’s a recycled TV spot you can load into a content management system, press PUBLISH and then treat yourself to a nice lunch.

As a closing thought, have a look at Hertz.com and ask yourself, “Who the…rental car…is Hertz?” I mean, aren’t they the ones who try harder—or is that the other guy?




Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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