Why do we wear Red Shoes (and what does that have to do with your business)?

Red Shoes D2BD 2There’s a traditional Japanese proverb that says “The nail that stands out is quickly hammered down.” For generations, conformity has been a societal standard in Japan.

The funny thing is, it’s not that different in American business. More companies, large and small, are comfortable looking like all the others and doing things the way they’ve always been done. Breaking away from tradition is something one dare not do for risk of offending someone, or making the folks in the back offices uncomfortable.

To that, I say, Poppycock, balderdash, bull-pucky!

Every once in a great while, I’ll see some marketing effort that is truly exceptional, even edgy – and I’ll contact the marketer and ask about the results. Almost all tell me that the effort was successful and helped them stand out in their marketplace.

Do they get complaints? Yes, some…but mostly they get new business, so it’s worth the risk. And this has also been our experience. When an advertiser Dares to be Different, they get noticed, and sales commonly start to follow. Which is why our own motto, Dare to be Different, has been on our lips since we began in the 1990s.

And the funny thing is, it doesn’t take much to be different and get noticed.

Take our Red Shoes, which we always wear to conventions. You might say it’s our walking trademark, but really, it’s just our putting our own philosophy where our feet are.

People we’ve never met, never spoken with, stop us as we walk down the aisles wanting to know about our red shoes. When we walk along the booths, we’re always noticing how people’s eyes suddenly dart downward to our shoes and they smile. Friends will see us all the way across the hall because our red shoes stand out, even in a crowd. We even had one guy tell us, “I’ve now seen you walking down this aisle four times – but I never noticed anyone else!”

All this from just wearing a pair of red shoes. What does that tell you?

Different is visible. Different is memorable. Different is interesting.

So, the question is… will you Dare to be Different to capture attention and get new business? Or is your own comfort zone holding you back? As I always like to say, if you don’t know the answer to this, your audience certainly does.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

Why most billboards fail…and what to do about it.

Board Bad 3ALiving in Los Angeles, you can’t avoid lengthy commutes, and with lengthy commutes comes lots of opportunities to see billboards.  Oh, we’ve got lots of ‘em…of all sizes…pitching everything from auto lube centers to Hollywood blockbusters.  Yes, even funeral homes and law firms use this tried-and-true medium, which as it turns out, is a great vehicle (no pun intended) for local advertising.  After all, done right, billboards can stand out.  If you’re stuck in traffic, you’re a captive audience.  They’re a great “reminder” medium supporting other marketing efforts.  And they can be located strategically, even across the street from a competitor!

Outdoor advertising, which includes billboards, bus benches, bus sides, bus shelters, subway panels and even entire sides of buildings, can be hugely effective if the creative is done correctly.  That’s the rub, because there’s a whole lot of outdoor that just sucks and the marketers don’t even know it.  Their messages are practically invisible, even if positioned at the best intersections of the city.

Yet doing it right isn’t all that difficult as long as one follows some basic guidelines.  Here are a few pointers that can lead to much more effective outdoor advertising.

Interestingly, the same pointers also apply to just about any medium that is either small or a quick read, such as online banners, yellow page ads or tee-shirts.

To start with, respect the medium.  It’s only big when you’re standing right next to it.  But in your car, it’s barely the size of your own thumb when you hold your hand at arm’s length.  And at 45 – 65 miles per hour, it’s only in view for about 5 seconds!

So a good way to test your billboard is to print it out on a sheet of paper and stand far enough back so your thumb can block it out.  Then look at it for 5 seconds.  If you can’t read the message for that tiny amount of time, redesign the artwork so you can.  That’s your litmus test.

Focus on one single, simple message. Don’t make the viewer have to work for it.  Have one thing you want to say, say it well, say it quickly and say it simply. And the same goes with any photo or artwork.  If someone has to figure out the picture in the few seconds they have, it will be a lost cause.

At the same time, don’t bury your product or brand. When all’s said and done, people must know who or what is being advertised. I see plenty of boards that only after I’ve driven past them a number of times do I know who’s the sponsor.  If your brand isn’t Coke or Target or MacDonald’s, make the logo or product a major element.

And finally, billboards are a great reminder medium.  They’re a great branding medium.  But unless you have a really simple vanity phone number or super-simple and memorable URL, don’t rely on your billboards to generate immediate action if someone has to write down a number or website while driving.

In the end, the old K I S S rule applies – keep it simple.  But also, don’t forget to make it powerful too.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

What Trump has taught us about the new rules of Marketing

Alternate PhotoWhether you love Donald Trump or you hate him, there’s one thing you’ll have to agree on:  He broke every rule of presidential politics…and won!  The guy has said things, the guy has done things that every pundit said would lose him the election.  And he won!!!

So what’s going on here?  What’s the message that a company like yours must take away from the last year and a half?

It’s that all the traditional rules and all the conventional thinking about marketing no longer matter – in fact they might actually work against you.  The climate in the country is CHANGE.

IN with bold.  IN with audacious.  IN with clean sweeps.  And OUT with the Status Quo!

We’ve all heard the phrase, maybe within your organization or department, “That’s not the way we do it here.”  In the case of now-President Trump, he certainly didn’t buy into that line. This phrase is used to defend against change. It’s the easy way of avoiding having to change or embrace better alternatives. But the problem with defending “the way we’ve always done it” is it keeps us from doing something new. It keeps us from having to change.

Change forces us to take a position. Taking positions expose us to potential criticism and critique and that makes us uncomfortable. So, to keep from being criticized and being uncomfortable we do the “same old stuff.”  But Trump has changed all that.  The new rules in this post-election world are: Dare to go on the offensive.  Dare to do things differently.  Dare to look forward.  Dare to be audacious.  Dare to risk failure.

In fact, Donald Trump stole a line right out of our hymn book: “Dare to be Different,” and now he’s sitting in the oval office.  The Status Quo is over, whether you like it or not.  And if you’re not ready to change, well, ask Hilary Clinton how it feels to be on the outside of the White House looking in.

The rules are being re-written even as we speak.  So I’m breaking one of my own and putting our agency pitch video right here at the end – because it’s all about change.

I’m Rolf Gutknecht and I approve this message!

Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Discovering the disconnect between Strategy and Success


Tracks 2I can remember it like it was yesterday: I and some others from my agency team along with the client’s CMO were sitting in the office of the CEO for a Fortune 100 company presenting the advertising campaign for the year.  The CEO looked at us and pointedly said, “Strategy is results!”  What he meant was that the strategy doesn’t matter as long as you are producing results.  This CEO saw: strategy = analysis and execution = getting things done, and he attributed more value to doing than to analyzing. Strategy statements like “Being the brand of choice in the vertical markets we serve” and similar statements were not for him. And frankly, I’m not a fan of them either.

But, any seasoned marketer knows that a marketing strategy is about the series of choices you make on where to play and how to win to maximize long-term value. Execution is producing results in the context of those choices. Therefore, you can’t have good implementation without having good strategy. Most everyone would agree that you just can’t achieve good results without having good execution; similarly, most would agree that having a good strategy alone is no guarantee for success. But, too many jump to the wrong conclusion that this makes execution or implementation more important than strategy. OK, so let’s look at that for a moment.

It’s pretty obvious to all that creating “The Strategy” is cool…it’s sexy. And who wouldn’t want to be part of the team that developed “The Strategy,” right?  But actually creating it right requires thought, knowledge, and understanding of the audience and marketplace, and creativity.  Look at any university setting and you’ll see that MBA courses stress strategy.  We worry about social media strategies, mobile marketing strategies, strategies for enhancing customer engagement or customer experience, advertising strategies, SEO strategies, lead generation marketing strategies, sales strategies, and on and on.

You’ll get no argument for me when saying that a well-thought-out and written strategy is critically important to business success.  But here’s something that a lot of marketing people don’t always consider to the extent they should: the soft underbelly of strategy is implementation. Without implementation, even the most brilliant strategy is just words, a hope, an untested premise. We all know this intellectually, of course, but we don’t necessarily follow through on that knowledge and make it the priority it should be.  Implementation is generally left to some coordinator or least experienced member of the team.  Or even to an automated program.

Okay, we all know that the implementation and all the hard work that goes along with putting a strategy into the marketplace has to be done by someone.  Initiatives don’t get completed by stating them on paper; they require action, management and follow up. And from my experience working with organizations of various sizes, I’d say that no VP of Marketing or CMO can – or should – try to do everything.  But in the same breath, we can’t just assume that everyone who is diligently working on the tactics is actually supporting the overall marketing and business strategy that was created.  Implementing different pieces of the program is not the same as true implementation to achieve the organization’s business objectives.  Poor tactics, poor coordination, and poor implementation of even a great strategy have led to as many flops as a poorly created strategy.

Here’s a quick real life example: An athletic shoe manufacturer sent me email after email telling me to stop by their upcoming trade show booth, and by turning in a printed copy of the email, I would receive a certificate for significant savings off their athletic shoes. Guess what happened when I showed up at the booth? No one, and I mean NO ONE at the booth knew anything about the offer. “Don’t know what this is all about,” or “No one told us about this,” were all anyone there could say.

So, at the risk of being overly obvious, the heart of the implementation of a marketing plan is the execution, the actual doing of the planned marketing activities. Successful marketing implementation requires:

  • Attention to detail
  • Staying on top of “who’s doing what”
  • Accountability of those involved…no passing the buck
  • No waiting till tomorrow. No procrastination!

Mere implementation is not always that difficult. The hard part is implementing things in an organized way. And, it’s the cohesiveness of the strategy’s implementation tactics where the revenues (the results that the Fortune 100 company CEO talked about) will be generated.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Looking Back to the Future

looking back“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  – Soren Kierkegaard

The last quarter of 2016 is almost history and as we stand poised to welcome 2017 in less than 2 weeks, we hope for a future that is successful, rewarding and where your dreams will be realized. Having seen the start of more than a few “new business years” during my career, I’ve learned that you can do one of two things in preparation for the coming year. You can yet again try to create a brand new marketing strategy for the coming year or you can pause, look back and do some serious reflecting, resolving to change, or improve some aspect about how you will initiate your future marketing campaigns. For some people, looking back over the past year may be something better left in the rearview mirror; on the other hand, burying your head in the sand can be seen as the primary ingredient in a recipe for another disappointing year…and you know how much the CEO/President/Owner/Founder loves that kind of thinking. So, before one celebrates the dawn of a new year…take time to ask yourself what are you going to do to change? What does success in 2017 look like to you and your executive management team?

Speaking for myself and our firm, the end of each year is met with a healthy dose of optimism for the coming year. We see 2017 through a lens of hopefulness, that things will continue to get better. Is that just us or will you and your organization also view the coming year with a level of anticipation that you haven’t had for a few years? Hey, it’s been tough for most everyone out there but let’s remember that at least a few organizations — perhaps some of your own competitors — have fared better than most despite these trying times. So what have they done to plot a course for a more optimistic and profitable path for success in 2017?

Depending on marketplace factors coupled with how well you were able to strategically position and market your company, the past year was either seen as a success or another year of same-old, or even a disappointment.  The question that begs to be asked here is, how much of last year’s growth or lack thereof was because of something you had no control over, such as good or bad luck, and how much was because of something you specifically chose to do or not do?  I’ve found through personal experience this is the time to be totally honest with yourself.  As Sigmund Freud said, “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Hey, I’m all for a bit of luck but you probably don’t want to continue betting future success on lucky things happening in the coming year.  With this in mind, here are a few questions to ask yourself as thought starters as you begin the process of looking in the rearview mirror at this past year and through your windshield to the next:

  • What marketing activities worked for you and which ones didn’t in 2016?
  • What 2 or 3 trends did you notice have taken place in your industry and outside of it that you need to incorporate into 2017 activities?
  • What 5 pieces of really good customer feedback did you receive this past year that you need to take deliberate action on?
  • Is there one part of your marketing activities that if it got more attention could yield better results?
  • What are the 2 mission-critical initiatives that absolutely need to be accomplished by June 30th 2017?
  • What are the top 3-5 problem areas that could impact your bottom line or stunt the growth of your brand if you don’t tackle them now?
  • What are the 3-5 opportunities that could grow your bottom line, brand visibility and preference?
  • How did your marketing (from strategy to execution) match up with your competitors? Was it “beige”- boring or was it “full of color”- impactful?
  • What do you produce, offer or do that excites your audience and makes them think “Wow!”

As marketers, one thing we know for sure is that change will not stop in 2017. The marketplace will continue to shift on us, and so will the economy. But by reflecting back on 2016, taking control of your marketing activities rather than being tossed around by the waves in the market, along with thinking optimistically about what 2017 can hold, this New Year might actually be a year worth celebrating.  It will be for us and hopefully will be for you as well.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Marketing Lessons learned from “The Voice”

Voice ChairOver the years, there’s one TV show that I make a point of watching and it’s “The Voice.”  It has nothing to do with me fashioning myself as a singer and secretly wishing I was up there performing. In fact, I’m not a good singer at all. When our family goes to our annual vacation spot and the karaoke machine comes out, and I do my couple of songs, people just wince at how bad I am. Not to put too fine a point on it but when I was a kid, I was asked to leave (read: kicked out) of the kid’s church choir. Yeah, I’m that bad.

Anyway, as I was watching the show last week, I started wondering why I had come to like the show as I have. Was it the way that show was setup – from blind audition to knock-out rounds, or was it that the judges could steal a singer that was dropped by another coach, or was it the celebrity coaches, or the singers themselves, or something else.  And in doing so, out of the blue it occurred to me that there’s a few things that as marketers we could all learn and begin to apply to our individual marketing activities.

  1. The coaches’ (or prospective customers’) chairs turn around for a number of reasons, but the main one being that they’re listening for something that’s new, different and genuinely moves them. They’re looking to be fascinated with what they hear in order to push their button (buy the product). Alternatively, the singers (the product) don’t get to reveal themselves (the packaging) and only have their voice and song (message) to get the coaches to say to themselves “I like what I’m hearing.”
  2. The contestants/singers (the product), the one’s that get chosen to move ahead from the blind auditions forward, perform (do things) and have that “it” factor from the unchosen . They don’t sing similarly to the other contestants (the competitors). No siree… they have their own exclusive sound…voice …style…message. It’s distinctive…captivating… and sometimes magical.
  3. The best singers have a confidence that grabs the audience by the lapels and says, “listen to me” (my message). They show their range (their product line) by singing different types of genre’s to broaden their audience appeal. They want to be chosen (get the order) and they make sure you know that they want it. There’s a distinctive attitude with how they deliver the song that draws you to them like bees to honey. Their attitude.. their creativity… well, you’re almost envious of it.
  4. As well, these very talented individuals present their song (the message) with a high level of energy. They’re not timid nor do go through the motions. No, instead they use the stage (the channel/medium) to go for it!  They want the judges and the voting public to care about them.  They sing (present) from their hearts and guts so you can feeeeel them!
  5. And lastly, these singers have an amazing voice (the product attribute). It’s real…it’s who they are at their core…it resonates with their audience (their customers). There’s no pretense about what kind of singer they are or want to become.

So what lessons are to be learned in order to connect with your audience:

  1. When you make the pitch for people to hear your voice, it has to be impressive. It needs to make people stand up and take notice that you’re not like all the competitors. This can take place in creating marketing that is first rate….not as an after-thought. Marketing programs that are interconnected and build off one another. Messaging that makes people say “I’ve not heard that before,” or “Now that’s what I want to hear!” because it’s important to them.
  2. Connect in ways that shows your company understands what the customers want to hear. Make them want to listen to more of message in ways or through channels they haven’t in the past. How are you getting them to tell others about you? Is your social media presence what it should be to help them do that? Is your content (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) interesting, informative, or creatively communicated so that people will want to share within their own network’s network, i.e. your fan’s friends?
  3. Know that getting someone to initially like your “voice” is just the beginning. Reward these new fans by providing them with new offerings (products, services, information) that they don’t see or hear from your competitors. It takes more time, effort and financial resources to find a new fan than it does to keep them. So, to turn that new relationship into a lasting one, you must continuously remind them why they turned their chair and cast their vote for your brand in the first place.

While I can’t tell you who will win this season’s competition, I can tell you that the singers who have strategically given thought to the songs that they should sing and how they should perform those songs, will likely be the last ones standing. They understand that in order for people to buy into who they are and what they can become, they need to connect with the coaches and audiences in ways more powerful and moving than those they’re competing against. WOWing them is a must.

Because at the end of the day, what you tell prospective customers has to fascinate and captivate them – in a way that keeps them engaged and wanting to know more about you, which will lead to increased sales and revenue.  As advertising legend, Bill Bernbach, said: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting until you say and do things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”  (NOTE: Now read it again but this time insert the name of your company every time you come to the words “you.”)

Those who always wish to sing will find a song.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

LA ads Client Rose Hills Memorial Park Honored With 2016 ACE Award – Cited America’s Best Cemetery

cem-dec-2016-coverWhittier, CA – LA ads client Rose Hills Memorial Park has been selected as this year’s winner of the prestigious ACE (American Cemetery Excellence) Award. The award, presented by American Cemetery & Cremation Magazine, one of the leading publications serving the funeral and cemetery industry, recognizes the most outstanding cemeteries both within the United States and abroad.

This year’s award honors the largest memorial park in North America, whose history spans 102 years, and reflects one of the most culturally diverse communities anywhere in the nation.  While Rose Hills provides approximately 9,000 burials annually, its commitment to caring, individualized service has remained its hallmark since its opening.  The cemetery has been acclaimed nationally for its cultural diversity, its social responsibility and its community involvement, including a massive water reclamation project that began well before California’s drought crisis, and the effort to literally reshape itself to offer aesthetically and spiritually exceptional spaces for burial and remembrance within in the principles of Feng Shui, reflecting its growing Asian community.  Throughout the year, Rose Hills hosts numerous religious, cultural and veterans’ events, drawing many thousands of attendees from across Southern California.

“We are extremely proud to be the recipient of this significant award,” said Rose Hills president and CEO, Patrick Monroe. “To be officially recognized as the best cemetery in the nation acknowledges our mission to serve our entire community with passion and excellence.”

In addition to its spectacular grounds and exceptional family service, Rose Hills was cited for being at the digital forefront, developing multiple websites, specialized landing pages, Facebook pages and other key social media platforms that speak to its many different audiences in their respective languages and cultures. Most recently, the cemetery launched a light-hearted series of YouTube videos (“Short Takes”) that answer questions people often want to know about cemeteries and funerals…but were afraid to ask.

From Cemetery & Cremation magazine: To help these groups feel “included,” Rose Hills has sought out multiple marketing agencies that specialize in selected populations. Today, three agencies serve Rose Hills: LA ads, responsible for English-language and “general” audiences and lead agency for creating the messaging strategy for all agencies; ARAS for Latino (Mexican) and other Spanish-speaking families; and InterTrend for reaching Asian communities, notably Chinese but also Korean, Vietnamese and others.

“People tend to think that a cemetery is about honoring preserving the past.  We feel here that Rose Hills is just as much about looking forward to the Future,” added Mr. Monroe.

Former ACE winners include Curlew Memory Gardens in Palm Harbor, Florida; Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York; Springvale Botanical Cemetery in Victoria, Australia; and East Lawn Memorial Parks in Sacramento, California.

About Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary

Founded in 1914, Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary, #FD970, has since grown to be the largest memorial park in North America. It is a full-service memorial facility with a modern mortuary, flower shop, reception center, and premiere cemetery property to serve the community in both pre-need and at-need situations. It serves 10,000 families a year. Rose Hills is located in Whittier, California, with approximately 1,400 acres of property for current use or future development and is considered to be the largest single-operated cemetery in the world. Although it is purposely secluded, Rose Hills is only minutes away from any point in the Greater Los Angeles or Orange County area, and offers a full range of cemetery and funeral services to meet the memorialization needs of Southern California families. For information, visit

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Six Marketing Lessons from the Election

political-adI’m so glad it’s over. Probably like you, my home phone was being called at an increasing rate the closer that we got to Election Day. Candidates’ faces and names were everywhere and on everything from direct mail to lawn signs and outdoor boards to TV and radio commercials.  As annoying as it was, there were a number of messaging strategies and tactics that caught my attention because they were executed exceedingly well, which, as marketers, we should consider adding to our communication toolkits for use tomorrow, next week or next month. For as we all know, your customer and prospects are still being bombarded with marketing messages each and every day by both you and your competitors.

So let me share with you some strategies and tactics used by politicians leading up to November 8th that are worth remembering today.

1)      Understand the takeaway

Truth is, these folks do have some things to teach us marketers, particularly regarding messaging. They see the world a bit differently than we do, and use techniques most people didn’t learn in school or on the job, such as: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear. You can have the best message in the world, but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, preconceptions, prejudices, and existing beliefs. We focus too much of our energy on finding the best way to sell our message, and too little on understanding the filters consumers have as we deliver it. Political marketers care more about takeaways than inputs.

2)     Make it look good

Did you see the biographic videos produced by the two Presidential candidates? They were extraordinarily well done. A number of other political ads were also well done from a storytelling and video perspective. They stayed on message concentrating on the one critical point (not 4 or 5 points) that they wanted to make sure was communicated. The videos were shot and narrated well. They didn’t hire amateurs to do their work but had expert writers and producers creating the content. Like with your business, there’s too much at stake to do cheap stuff because everyone knows what cheap means. People interpret what your company or brand stands for based on the quality of creative and the media channel it’s presented on. Don’t go out until you look good.

3)     Be the genuine article

Business marketing sometimes seems to stretch the truth a bit too much. When marketing messages are sufficiently visible and sufficiently wrong, the press will get wind and call you on the truth of your marketing. Transparency of your brand could never be more important. It is less about giving the appearance of perfection and more about being genuine and human as we build relationships. While it’s critically important to craft your story and advocate for the benefits of your product or service, it’s not fine to lie about them. My mom use to tell me “Lies have short legs,” meaning you can’t outrun the truth …so don’t stretch.

4)     You are who you say you are

In the world of politics, I would argue that there’s nothing as important as branding and having people recognize what the brand stands for. Brand consistency is always maintained.  Unlike politicians, too many companies struggle with this, swinging wildly from one branding concept to another. In political ads, everything from the taglines to the logos to the visuals has been choreographed beautifully. Get your branding figured out right now. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if your branding is clear:

  • Could your customers tell you what your tagline is?
  • Could company employees draw your logo?
  • Can any employee explain in 10-15 seconds why your company can do it better than the competition?

5)     Be social…not antisocial

Politicians don’t just post stuff to their respective Twitter or Facebook accounts and hope people will read it. Rather, they actually engage with their social media audience. They post images and video. They have their immediate families and supporters use social media regularly. How is your company using social media to spread the good word about your company? I’ll be the first to say that spending a lot of time, money and resources on social media is not right for every company, maybe not even yours, but without some presence, you’re letting the competition become more visible and be seen as a legitimate business partner at your expense.

6)     Tell the story again and again

Why are most political ads annoying? Some of it is the content, but I think most of the annoyance is the sheer quantity of political advertising as elections draw near. But politicians know one thing: without a communications budget that allows you to be out in the market in a way that shows you’re a player, you won’t get the job done. Far too many companies who do “invisible marketing” base their companies short and long term success on thinking that customers will pick them over a brand that’s actively marketing and better known. The takeaway is that repetition is key …but too much repetition annoys.

As I said earlier, I’m glad the madness of the political advertising season is over. But I’m grateful to have observed it from a marketer’s perspective, because it’s a reminder that each and every day customers and prospects are voting who they want to do business with.  Let the winner be you.

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Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

Settle for so-so or battle for brilliance?

business armyOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them standout in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things!”?  Would Nike be as successful if it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great shoes”? How would BMW’s vision change if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” became “Our cars are fun to drive!” My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a themeline or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable? Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Let’s face it, we have a tendency to settle. It’s almost human nature. We settle for something that’s not just quite right, an outfit that isn’t our best look, a job that doesn’t maximize our talents or an ad or website page that’s okay or just “good enough.” While the act of compromise in life, relationships and particularly conflict is an admirable trait, compromise or “settling for” in marketing is a death knell.

You see, the whole point of your marketing activities is to get noticed; get engaged with your audience; and have your work be acted upon to bring in the business.  Alternatively, anonymity, swimming in the center of a school of other fish, may be a good survival tactic if you are an anchovy, but it is not a good survival tactic for business.  So you have to wonder why so much marketing – and so many marketers – feel the need to play “follow the leader” with respect to marketing trends.

The logic is that if others have done something successfully, you just need to do the same thing. Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.  As we all know, breakthrough products and breakthrough marketing campaigns are not achieved through conformity. Note the word “break” in breakthrough.  These are the products and campaigns that break the rules.  These are the products and campaigns that use insight, intuition, experience, sensitivity to the marketplace – and arguably the most important thing….courage – to do things differently. To break away from the status quo.

It is certainly true that most companies don’t have that innate insight and courage to be successfully different.  We can’t all be like Steve Jobs. But for those are willing to do things differently and well, for those who want their companies to stand out, then the only rule that matters is:  You cannot achieve exceptional success through conformity.

To that end, you can have your brand and product/service stand out if you’re willing to take a risk. For starters, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What’s can you say about your company that’s seen as a unique or fresh alternative to your competitors? This can range from the product or service you offer to the way you do business to that of sharing your wisdom. Think beyond the obvious. Dig deeper. Ask yourself a bunch of “So what does that mean?” and “Why would our customer care?” with each answer that’s given.

2. What medium makes the most sense for your brand?  The goal is to create a campaign that drives conversation and ultimately revenue. So what imaginative or different ways (to what you’ve been doing) should be explored and implemented. Doing the same thing from one campaign to another, especially given all of the new technological and interesting messaging channels out there, is not only boring but could be seen by management as, well, not a great reflection on yourself.

3. How will you execute your campaign?  Don’t risk looking amateurish or wasting time by trying to save money. Engage yourself with people that can help you get to the BIG idea and then help you implement it in a way that you and your executive management team are proud of.  You’ll always remember the big successes, while you’ll forget how much money you saved or spent.

Clearly, whether it is investing in advertising, developing a little more creativity, spending the time to follow-up or making the effort to engage with your customers, you can easily elevate your marketing to where it needs to be. Anyways, what progressive marketer wants to settle for second best, or worse, be recognized as mediocre?  That doesn’t play well either at the current company or when you need to show your portfolio of work if switching jobs. Instead, risk being brilliant instead.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

When Shouldn’t You Seek Fulfillment

Guru smFulfillment isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, especially in business.  Consider a conversation I had today with one of our media reps that revealed why so many B2B ads aren’t just bland but simply bad.  This was in response to why an ad appeared in their publication quite differently from what the advertiser expected.  (We didn’t do this ad, so we’re off the hook!)  When we asked the rep why the ad didn’t fit the space properly, and why the publication didn’t contact the advertiser to discuss the problem, the answer was they’re so used to getting poorly-designed ads, they’ve just come to accept what they’re sent without question.

How shocking this answer was to us!  And yet, it so perfectly identifies the state of things across many of the industries in which we work.

The real problem is that in the last several decades, the role of marketing has been relegated to fulfilling.  In other words, it seems the task these days is to “get the ad into the pub,” and not worry about whether the ad is great and shifts the attention of the audience.  Advertisements, websites, collateral and all other marketing communications are less effective today it seems because they’re just space-fillers.  The media plan says they have to be there.  So the result is lots of media space or air time taken up with ad messages that aren’t merely forgettable but are also not produced or placed that well.

So it’s time for anyone who is responsible for advertising and marketing to look in the mirror and ask, “Am I a fulfiller or a marketer?  Is marketing a task to be checked off on my list of the day’s activities or do I delight in the prospect of arriving at a plan so smart and unexpected, it makes me giggle?”  Fulfillment is great in the abstract, but a killer in business.

I’ve often said that marketing is a self-fulfilling prophesy:  if you believe it works, you’ll invest yourself and your resources into it fully and – Voilà!- it works; or if you doubt its effectiveness, you’ll put in the minimal efforts (in other words, simply fulfill the order) without great enthusiasm and you’ll also be proven right.

Every piece of communication from your desktop is an opportunity to invigorate sales and renew a conversation with your customer…if you believe it will.

It means, in some cases, looking at the internal team who are engaged in your marketing.  Are they people who majored in advertising and marketing in school, and are they still “students” of it today?  Or did they move across from the HR or accounting department because nobody else wanted the job?  Are they fully invested employing great marketing to grow your operation, or are they also juggling bookkeeping, sales, IT and family services all at the same time?  Are you taking full advantage of outside resources who aren’t just design shops and web programmers but genuine marketing specialists, who will challenge and surprise you and are willing to own up to the results?

In other words, at the bottom line, is marketing a joy…or is it a job?

Think carefully about how you answer this.  Because your company’s success hangs in the balance.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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