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Back to basics

Simon Cooper explains how to make an impact by adhering to a few simple principles

Two tin cans held together by stringEveryone wants to make an impact with their marketing, but the overriding theme this year is efficiency and effectiveness. In some quarters (where budgets are even more restricted) frugality, restraint and austerity are the key words. In this environment, the fortunes for both brands and individuals will inevitably be mixed, regardless of potential.

While there is a need to be sensible with limited resources, now is actually the best time in the economic cycle to start doing something different. By taking a few simple steps (if you're not already taking them) you could improve your brand's place in its market significantly. In short, they are: don't go for 'death by PowerPoint'; define your brand clearly; engage your salesforce in the detail and plan for the future.

Say words, point at pictures
We've all been in meetings where good ideas have been killed by PowerPoint. Back in April 2007, the Daily Telegraph reported what we all already knew to be true: PowerPoint presentations with slides of densely-packed bullet points have little power and are generally ineffective.

According to research at the University of New South Wales, we can happily absorb the spoken word and we can easily take in the written word. Ask us to do both at the same time, however, and we quickly become confused. During an extended PowerPoint briefing, long before the presenter has reached the 'Q4 sales forecasts', his audience will have lost the thread, and, quite possibly, the will to live.

To avoid spoken/written word overload, try it this way: write all your slides with as many bullet points as you like, print them and keep them to use as notes and handouts. Then go back to each slide and decide on the one phrase or, better still, one image you need to support your oratory. Once you've selected your phrase or image, make that into your slide.

Say, for example, that you are defining a target market for your brand. Rather than writing out a list of demographic information, find a picture of a real person who fits that demographic's characteristics and use her image as the slide. Then, as you're speaking, describe her life and supply the information orally instead.

Still unsure that this is the right way to influence? Take a look at how Steve Jobs launches Apple's latest product, and check out some of the videos of speeches on Who are the speakers that most inspire you to do something different or invest time in their ideas? You've been to enough conferences and sat in enough meetings to see who makes the most persuasive presentations.

If you still need some more convincing, perhaps try putting some famous inspirational speeches into PowerPoint – Barack Obama and Winston Churchill are suddenly much less inspirational.

Make a one-page brand CV
Once you've sorted out your PowerPoint skills, you need to carry the same ideas forward into how you approach your brand.

Give your brand a treat by making its very own handy reference sheet. This reference sheet should be a summary of everything anyone in the team might need to know at any time in an easy, 'at a glance' format.

Useful information to include might be:
• The positioning statement
• Brand essence (or promise, USP, or whatever your company calls it)
• Key messages
• Important dates in the brand's life
• A snapshot of the market data
• Targets for the year ahead
• Brief contact details for the brand team and suppliers.

The document can be used in a multitude of different ways: as a daily reference, when you brief new suppliers, if you move on from your role or as a check every time you start a new project.

Make a movie
Once your brand has been developed and is being marketed (complete with its own one-page CV), obtaining buy-in from your salesforce is crucial.

A simple idea is to video record two of your better sales people in a role play with the new material. The film can be made as interactive and as engaging as you like: to gain the most benefit, you can run the scene with different customer types. You can even show different customer objections and how to handle them.

Using their peers to demonstrate the new material in an informal and easily accessible medium will promote best practice among the rest of the salesforce by encouraging a willing adoption and appropriate use of the new material.

The video can then be played at conferences or distributed via the web or on DVD as a more dynamic alternative to the usual briefing notes or sales aid companion. To stir up interest further, you can add DVD extras like commentary, deleted scenes and outtakes. Whatever it takes to get your sales people watching and learning.

Plan for the future
You've made your plans for your brand, found compelling ways to put its messages and arguments across to your internal audience and helped your sales organisation deliver more effectively and efficiently. Now isn't it about time you started paving the way for those that follow you as you move on to bigger and better things?

It's tempting to think about the performance of the brand you work on over only your tenure. But successful brand leaders don't do this — they leave a trail of plans behind them that others deliver. They set out clearly how their marketing objectives link to business objectives and, perhaps most surprisingly, they have marketing plans (if only in outline) set out for the next five or so years.

Why? It's because it articulates their vision of the future — it puts into words and pictures what they think the future business landscape will be like and where their brand will fit into it. The plan contains more than just tactics for the current season or sales cycle. These brand managers are mentally preparing themselves to achieve better things and argue for bigger budgets — in short, they are on the up.

How do you start thinking about five-year marketing plans? You accept that 80 per cent of the plan you prepare is going to be wrong in five years' time. But you also recognise that the 20 per cent you get right gives you a head start over the competition.

To start building your five-year plan a good place to begin is with your customers. So where could you look to understand what your customers will think about your brand in the future? Of course, you could ask them, but you could also be guided by trends when planning your long-range thinking.

Look in all the dark places — the edges of society — to see what is coming next. Too tricky? Maybe not — have a coffee break and take an internet journey to look at SightGlass coffee in San Francisco. Find a picture of their tills, which are iPads linked to Square card readers. Imagine what this might mean for your product and your customer. Designing a plan for the future is not just about looking inwards, but it's also about looking outwards and in places you wouldn't normally think to look.

Once you have your outline five-year plan, be sure to review it regularly. You could include the agencies you choose to partner with when you review your plans — it would provide them with not just briefs but also with a sense of direction and purpose. Armed with such information they might be able to respond better to what you want and need.

Rescuing the brand
Hopefully this summer, using these four simple approaches, you will make your brand become a little bit more effective and efficient. And who knows, in trying to make a bigger impact, you might have some fun at the same time.

Simon Cooper
The Author

Simon Cooper is a PhD biochemist who runs global business development at Woolley Pau
His career began in drug development before he moved into the world of marketing, where he has held roles in brand and corporate development as well as marketing planning for FTSE healthcare companies.

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3rd August 2010


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