Monday, June 28, 2010

Hook It Up!

If I were to ask you the first thing that comes to your mind when I toss out a name like, say, GEICO, what is the first thing you think of?  Or perhaps I might say Frontier Airlines, or Progressive Insurance, or Budweiser, AFLAC, Charmin or Maytag?  Chances are, among the first things you think about when those names are mentioned are, in order,

1. Geko Lizard (or a money stack, or a caveman)
2. The Frontier Animals
3. Flo
4. Spuds McKenzie (or the croaking frogs)
5. The duck
6. Mr. Whipple
7. The lonely repairman

How about if I toss out a few slogans?  Would that make it easier?  For instance, I might say, "The Real Thing," and you would respond...COKE!  I could even hum a tune, sing some words, like, "From the Land of Sky Blue Water..." and you would say "HAMM'S!"  Of course you'd have to be over 30 to recognize the Hamm's theme song, but I used that one to make a point.  It has been over 20 years since a Hamm's commercial has aired, and yet, I can sing that entire theme song as if I'd heard it just yesterday.

Hooks like "Hey Mikey, He Likes It!" or "Tastes Great, Less Filling!" or any of the various soft drink songs (Coke had the famous "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial, while Dr. Pepper hit it big with the "I'm a Pepper" campaign).  They all fall into the realm of "culturally iconic" in the same way that "So Easy a Caveman Can Do It" is instantly recognizable to today's audiences.

All of these campaigns have one important common component when it comes to success; a great hook.  In some cases, the "hook" is a jingle.  In other cases it's a great slogan.  And in other instances it's an instantly recognizable character.  Sometimes it's all three combined. 

For most small businesses and non-profits, paying for a massive advertising campaign to establish a jingle or slogan or character is out of bounds.  It's simply cost-prohibitive.  However, with the advent and success of social media, a great hook is within reach of any organization.  All it takes is a little creativity and perseverance.

Finding Your Hook:

We've spent a lot of time in this space talking about finding your "story," finding those elements that make you unique and sets you apart from your competition.  This is obviously important to your PR efforts as well as your social media efforts.  If you haven't found your story, you will struggle in your outreach efforts.  The same goes for your message.  Finding and establishing your message is vital to the success of your social media and PR interaction.  Knowing exactly what you want to say and how to say it can help you build an identity and brand loyalty as well as increase visibility.

In order to create a great hook for your organization, you have to have a firm grasp of both your story and your message.  But keep this in mind as you move forward to find your hook; your character, slogan or jingle (if you go that route) is neither your story nor your message.  Your hook is simply a conduit, a tool, a WAY to get your story and message out to the public in a way that will be interesting, fun and memorable.

So how do you go about finding that perfect "hook" that will help raise your public profile and start driving traffic to your website or sotrefront?  The first thing to do is choose which hook, or hooks you can feasibly achieve with your budget and time constraints.  Unless you're doing a series of videos or audio programs, a jingle probably won't buy you much in social media or PR efforts.  You might consider creating a memorable character, or you could go the slogan route.  Either choice is a good one.  Your particular business might not be a perfect fit for a colorful character so you might go with a slogan.  Ideally, you want to pair the two together for double impact.  If people don't remember your slogan, they'll at least remember your character, and vice-versa.

The Slogan:

When considering a slogan, keep your message in mind, but don't kill yourself trying to mirror that message.  In other words, let's take a look at some of the more successful slogans and see how they fit in with the messages of those organizations; GEICO and Taco Bell.

I don't work for either of those organizations, never have and most likely never will.  So I can't tell you exactly what their marketing or PR messages are.  But I CAN guarantee you that, "So easy a caveman can do it," or "Yo Qiero Taco Bell!" aren't listed at the top of either organizations' message pyramid. 

It's more likely that GEICO's primary message is something along the lines of, "Providing quality insurance coverage at an affordable price with ease of access."  Taco Bell's primary message might look like, "providing quality food for busy individuals, families and all income who want it served in a courteous, clean and fast environment."  Come to think of it, those both sounds more like mission statements than messages, but the point is their slogans are NOT their messages.

However, their message isn't completely dismissed in their slogans.  In the case of GEICO, the ease factor is front and center in their slogan.  In the case of Taco Bell, desire stands at the forefront.  One of the best ways to create a slogan is to look at two different, but important factors:

1.  Your unique qualities
2.  Consumer desires

Let's say, for instance, you own a beauty salon or spa.  You might have spent a lot of time creating an environment that is relaxing, a refuge from the outside world, someplace where people can feel as if they are truly escaping the rigors of the outside world.  You also likely offer world-class customer service, inviting perks and you might even offer some services that can't be found in other spas or salons.  You can point to any one of those aspects of your business to feature as the jumping off point for your slogan.

Maybe you offer a particular style of massage or accupuncture.  Maybe your salon provides a specific brand of styling or simply you pride yourself on the excellent treatment of your customers.  All of these characteristics are great fodder to help you create your slogan.

You could go with a slogan like, "Your Home away from Home" or "Get The Star Treatment!"  Both of these are fine.  They both reflect a particular aspect of your business that you want to promote.  They are both simple and somewhat memorable. 

Now you can begin to tweak that initial slogan to make it even more memorable and enticing.  One of the things a good slogan does is drive action.  You want your slogan to make people want to visit your site.  An effective slogan not only stays in people's memories, it makes them curious.

I always thought one of the best slogans in the Denver-Metro area belongs to a small, local Jazz station, KUVO.  It's slogan is, "Your Oasis In The City."  It's a clear reference to being the only independent jazz station in town.  It's a wonderful slogan because it's short, simple and creates an image that is intriguing to potential listeners.  It creates an expectation of originality and something unique.  It's both a great visual image as well as a way to quickly and creatively express what KUVO is all about.  It's different, it's unlike anything else on the Denver airwaves, it's KUVO.

Maybe your salon has a playful atmosphere to go along with the top-notch treatment.  You can improve on the previous slogan by mixing in that aspect.  Maybe something like, "So much fun, it should be illegal," or "Don't just look like a star, party like one too."  Admittedly the second one mirrors the old slogan, "Be a model, or just look like one," but that's okay.  You're hitting a particular demographic with the second slogan, which is fine if you're looking to attract single, professional women who have extra income to spend and usually spend it by going out on the town.

If you operate a spa, you might go with a more visual slogan that immediately conjurs images of luxury and relaxation; "Your neighborhood island retreat."  This lets them know that you're local, but that creates an image of white beaches, tropical breezes and peace.  If nothing else, folks will likely stop by, just to see if you really can provide them with the kind of retreat they're looking for.

Neither of these slogans will be listed as your primary message, but they both would be effective in terms of raising your profile and driving traffic to your business.

The Character:

We've discussed creating a character that helps brand your organization before.  But how exactly do you come up with one?  It's actually not as hard as it seems.  The hardest part of creating a character is finding one that is unique, memorable and likeable, and then committing to that character.

In the case of Progressive, the character of "Flo" isn't particularly unique.  But she is so very likeable and quirky, she became an instant hit.  More importantly, Progressive built her up into a character that is immediately recognizable because they committed to a series of spots featuring her in different situations.  She has become spokesperson, mascot and icon all rolled into one.  Two commercial spots, even three would not have achieved this goal.  It happened through a series of spots as well as a massive multi-media campaign. 

While you probably can't afford a massive radio, TV and print campaign, you CAN create a character through constant use in your social media and PR efforts that people in your area will come to know and associate with your organization.

Like a slogan, your character doesn't necessarily have to have a direct correlation to your organization's services.  What does a caveman or lizard have to do with insurance?  For that matter, what does a duck have to do with insurance.  How about the Carl's Junior Star?  Or the WallMart smiley face?  Do either of those automatically scream, "burgers" or "retail giant"? 

Your character can be something that is an obvious connection, or it could be something completely random, it doesn't really matter as long as the character is memorable and likeable.  Let's take a quick look at two local organizations that benefit, or could benefit from a marketing character.

There is a local improv theater in Denver called the Bovine Metropolis Theater.  It has been established for ten years and has enjoyed some success over the years.  The name of the theater is, itself, a play on words, harkening back to the days when Denver was called a "Cow Town" (hence, Bovine Metropolis).  It's a term still used by one particular sportswriter in Denver (Woody Paige) who constantly refers to Denver as a "Dusty ol' Cowtown." 

Once inside the theater there is a cow motif that is portrayed throughout the lobby, the backrooms, the upstairs rehearsal spaces and classrooms.  They even have a cow outfit that is used from time to time to go out on the nearby 16th Street Mall and hand out postcards or pamphlets.  It would seem that the theater has a built in character, right?  It would be easy to say that the theater should simply create a cow character and run with it.  Maybe call her Bessie the Bovine and start mixing this character into all of its marketing and promotional efforts.  And that's a fine idea.

But the theater could just as easily find a different character, perhaps a cowboy, or even a classic rendition of a computer nerd who comes out of his or her shell through the Bovine.  Any of these would be good choices.  The point is, a character would be a great addition to the theater's marketing efforts.  They already have a great slogan, "Laugh Out Loud" and pairing that slogan with a character would raise the theater's profile even more. 

But characters aren't the exclusive property of small businesses.  Non-profits can get in on the act as well.  I'm currently involved in a project pushing spaying and neutering of cats and dogs.  We are in the midst of creating a social media campaign to get the message out to a specific demographic.  When we sat down to figure out how to make this campaign a success, one of the first things we considered was creating a character we could use to spread the message about spaying and neutering. 

We kicked around a number of options.  Obviously we considered a cat or a dog as a character, but we eventually ended up with a character that is both memorable and fits in perfectly with the message we want to convey.  We created "Nurse Nancy" a kind of 1950's high school health teacher and nurse character.  We envision Nurse Nancy as a likeable, visually memorable and fun character that people will immediately relate to and want to listen to.  More importantly, through our campaign efforts, we hope that people will come to look forward to Nurse Nancy's appearances.

Capitalizing On Your Hook:

Once you've created your slogan or your character (or jingle if you went that route) now you have to, as Sinatra so elegantly said, start spreading the word.  Fortunately, you have a built-in platform to start doing just that.

Spreading your slogan is as simple as simply attaching it to every single piece of marketing collateral you have; your postcards, direct-mail, pamphlets, brochures, banners, etc.  You also should start inputting it in every Facebook Post, on your Facebook profile, in every Tweet, on your blog and every other social media platform and profile you have online.  Make it front and center on your website and even attach it to your signature in your emails. 

Just like political messages and radio ads, quantity matters.  The more people hear and see your slogan, the more they will remember it.  If you're using seven different online platforms, your slogan should be visible on all seven.  And not only should you put it on your business platforms, but connect it to your personal platforms and profiles as well.  Encourage your frends and associates to help spread your slogan as well.  You can have the best slogan in the world, but if people don't see it, it's ineffective.

When it comes to building up your character, the options are nearly unlimited.  For the spay and neutering project, we are creating a series of short videos featuring Nurse Nancy as well as a series of still photo sets with attached messages.  These videos are fun and hopefully funny, while still being interesting and getting the message out clearly. 

This enables us to constantly release videos and photos of Nurse Nancy, complete with messages, on a regular schedule.  Every week will feature a new photo set, every other week will feature a new video with re-releases of the videos and photo sets until the new release.  We're approaching it just like a radio ad campaign.  You don't just run an ad once and then leave it alone until the next radio ad is produced.  You air that ad over and over until you replace it with the new ad.  We're taking a similar strategic approach with the Nurse Nancy videos and photo sets.

We are also creating separate LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts for Nurse Nancy, as well as a separate blog and website page for her.  This is on top of the separate accounts for the campaign itself.  In other words, we're treating Nurse Nancy not just as a mascot, but almost as a real person who has something to say.  She will Tweet, she will blog, she will join groups and post on Facebook, just like you would.  The difference is, every post, blog entry or tweet will have a message that pertains to the campaign and will drive people to either her website or the campaign website.  Of course, Nurse Nancy will also make public appearances to support all of this online activity. 

The best part about creating a character or slogan or jingle "hook" for your small business is that the cost involved is strictly limited to what you want to pay.  You can do your own videos, they don't have to be fancy, and you can use all of the free social media platforms available to you to get your hook out in front of customers, potential customers, donors, volunteers, anyone you want. 

What's important to remember is that once you create your slogan or your character, you have to commit to using it.  Use it well and use it often.  Don't be afraid of putting it out there whenever you have a chance.  Don't just post it once a week, post it a few times a day or mulitiple times a week.

Hopefully this entry has given you some ideas of your own and you go out and create a character that will raise your profile or a slogan that will drive traffic to your website or organization.  As you do, though, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
1.  KISS - In other words, Keep It Short and Simple.  A slogan is a phrase, not a paragraph or even a full sentence sometimes.  The same goes for a jingle.

2.  Be Relatable - Make your characters likeable.  If not totall likeable, then at least memorable.  We like the GEICO caveman for the same reason we liked the Maytag Repairman; because we can relate to, and feel for, the character. 

3.  Be Diverse - Create something that will work on various platforms.  A slogan can be used anywhere, anytime.  A character should be able to be used on a blog, a website, videos, photo sets, everywhere you might use your slogan or post about your organization.  You can, and should also attach your slogan or character to your PR efforts.  Put it in your releases and in your interviews.  If you're really good, you might even be able to get your character interviewed as a story unto itself.

4.  Be Emotional - Happy sells.  Sad Sells.  If your slogan or character makes people smile, laugh or cry, people will remember you.  You want your slogan or character to have some kind of emotional impact.

5.  Commit - Regardless of what you create, once you are ready to unveil it to the world, be prepared to fully commit to using your slogan or character all the time.  Not just every now and then, but in every post, in every email, in every piece of collateral you hand out.  In order to be remembered you have to be seen; the same holds true for your character and slogan.
Now get out there and create some memorable characters, impactful slogans and jingles that we hum in the shower.  These aren't just the realm of big businesses any longer.  Small businesses and non-profits CAN use these techniques to their advantage today in a way they never could before thanks, in large part, to social media.

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