One great sense of relief during the holiday season is escaping to the beach, away from the clutches of marketers. Christmas has been called the greatest story ever told, of a boy born to bring joy to the world. It's a pity some marketers forget about trying to find the magic in their products and instead try and suck us in with hyperbole and empty promises. In my last column of 2006 I'd like to present some awards to the worst and best marketing storytellers of the year.
A marketing story is not something made up, but a compelling articulation of what your customers think is unique about your company and its products. Many companies work hard on their story but articulate it from their perspective rather than the customer need, dressing it up in pompous and convoluted language.
Technology companies and government agencies seem to be two of the worst culprits. They feature prominently in my inaugural "Emperors New Clothes" awards where hyperbole overcomes common sense in trying to tell a story.
Here was an early Christmas present from Telecom New Zealand and Yahoo:
"Telecom New Zealand has partnered with Yahoo! to form a joint venture, which will be called Yahoo! Xtra, and will provide an enhanced suite of online content and application services for New Zealanders." If I knew what that was I might be excited.
Oracle continues to lead the way in American corporate nonsense, with this recent New Zealand press release: "Companies that deploy a grid computing solution, utilising low cost commodity hardware, create a consolidated computing infrastructure that virtualises and provisions computing resources dynamically."
Big corporates like Oracle and Telecom should know better. At least some of these smaller companies might have an excuse.
How about this compelling advertisement for a NZ-based computer job: "The work you will be doing relates to identifying the high-priority information needs. This includes identifying, analysing and documenting the key information and data that the organisation needs in order to do its business, within the context of then developing an enterprise architecture."
An exciting ability to say nothing in several sentences: "We are in good shape to move forward with a value add offering. We have the people, a superior range of competitive products, including a new [product] offering to be launched in New Zealand in early 2007, service, marketing and commercial business capabilities and focused strategy to earn our place as the chosen outsourcing partner for customers from across the public and private sectors."
Finding examples of government gibberish is akin to catching fish with dynamite, but a few worthy examples should be included:
One of the numerous education bureaucracies, the Tertiary Education Commission, outdid themselves with this effort in illumination, aimed at 5.5 reading age: "The draft Foundation Learning Progressions for Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, and Numeracy publication focuses specifically on reading, writing, speaking, listening and numeracy skills."
Enough of the verbose and meaningless. Next is the "Joe Bennett" awards for clear marketing stories well told. A Press columnist, Bennett is someone who writes in an entertaining and compelling way, while being very clear about what he is communicating.
First is local company Ground Effect who really bring their products alive: "No nonsense cycle clothing for hammering the single-track, leading the bunch, terrorising the city, or just hangin. Conceived by cycle nuts, refined by style police and constructed in NZ from hi-performance fabrics".
Liquor brand 42 below are some of the smartest marketers in the nation:
"For the last couple of hundred years we've pretty much done our own thing down here, growing a bit of food, playing a bit of rugby and heading off to the beach every weekend for a nice lie down in the sand. It's a great old place to live and coincidentally a great old place to make super-premium vodka and gin."
Finally is Icebreaker, the Wellington company that have built a strong brand around their merino-based clothing products: "...it's about new ideas and doing things differently; being an authentic natural choice in an age of synthetics, and seeing how far we can develop this simple idea. We think it's a 100 year idea, and we're just learning to walk."
It is not just that these stories are clear, but that they are told in a way that is appealing to their customers and consistent with the overall picture they are trying to paint about their brand. A great marketing story is not just about being clever or entertaining, but about removing barriers to your customers understanding and appreciating your product. The quicker they do that the quicker they'll choose your product over others.
When you're integrating horizontal downtime into your offline schedule (i.e. lying on the beach this holiday), make a resolution to look at your marketing story when you return to the office.
Owen Scott is from Christchurch-based marketing company Concentrate Limited. www.concentrate.co.nz