Last week I spent long hours preparing nine ad-writing apprentices for what lies ahead. Strangely, each of them signed up for this excruciating 7-week adventure for the same reason; they wanted to escape the handcuffs of specialization. None of them are new to marketing.
The first 4 are full-time advertising professionals with deep experience in:
1. financial services,
3. garden centers,
4. cameras and video equipment.
The others are:
5. The owner of a newspaper.
6. The chief marketing officer of a technology firm that created several of the wonders at Walt Disney World.
7. A seasoned, high profile marketing guru that took an obscure, regional retailer (Fred Meyer) to 7 billion dollars a year.
And then we added an extra seat for
8. The head of a major department at the Mayo Clinic, a lifelong turnaround specialist who takes medical practices from loss to profit.
9. A new employee I recently hired from a field of 214 applicants.
These apprentices will not be assigned clients in their categories of specialization. The goal of this adventure is for (1.) the apprentice and (2.) you, the business owner, to escape the handcuffs of your comfort zones.
Do you remember what I said in the Monday Morning Memo of June 7, 2010? “Ignorant people aren’t stupid but merely uninformed; a marvelous advantage when you need a perspective from ‘outside the box.’ When you consult specialists within your industry, you’re talking to the builders of the box, the guardians of the box, the faithful defenders of THE BOX. So when specialists fail to provide the innovative thinking you need, ask the opinions of intelligent people who have no experience in your industry.”
Are you beginning to understand why these nine specialists will not be allowed to write ads for businesses within their areas of specialization?
I told the 9 specialists what lies ahead. “You will feel trapped in a tiny room whose walls are closing in on you.”
“The first wall will be the delusion of the client regarding what really matters to the customer. They’ll want you to say the all things they’ve been saying that haven’t been working. They’re hoping you can say them differently and get a different result. Writing great ads is easy when the message is relevant, credible, new, surprising and different. Extracting a message from your client that will be new and surprising to the customer and genuinely different from the claims of the competitor is the hardest thing you will ever do.”
“The second wall will be made of brick, a non-negotiable; your client’s financial or managerial inability to implement the plan in which you have the deepest confidence. Most of the time you’ll have to settle for Plan B, C or D.”
“The third wall will be the product purchase cycle: how often is the customer in the market for this product or service? Food is easy to sell. Entertainment is easy to sell. We crave these things every day so they have a very short product purchase cycle and ads for these categories pay off very quickly. But what about life insurance, tires, refrigerators and chandeliers? How often do we buy these things? Product purchase cycles are carved in stone. No amount of wishing or hoping or cajoling or debate will put customers in the market to buy your client’s product before they’re ready to buy it.”
“The fourth wall will be your own prejudice. You will be strongly tempted to evaluate product offerings based on whether or not they would appeal to you, personally. You cannot allow yourself to judge subjectively. The key isn’t whether or not you and all your friends would be attracted to the offer. The key is find similar offers that have worked well in the recent past. But if you use an idea that is already common within your client’s industry, it won’t be new, surprising or different to the customer. You must use Business Problem Topology* to find a tested, reliable innovation that has been developed and refined in an unrelated business category. The old, reliable concept in one category may be new, surprising and different in your client’s category. Find a BPT solution for your client and the resulting ad will be powerful, effective, and easy to write.”
“The ceiling of this tiny room in which you are trapped will be the limitations of the marketplace. You’ll have to calculate the market potential: how much does the public currently spend in your client’s category? The monster king of a category usually controls between 25 percent and 33 percent of that potential. It’s almost impossible to grow beyond those numbers. How close is your client to that ceiling already? How much headroom do they have? Next you’ll have to evaluate your client’s competitive environment: when the customer doesn’t buy from your client, where do they buy? Why do they buy there? The marketplace is what it is. You cannot materially change it. You must learn to be for what is.”
That is what I told my apprentices.
A few dozen business owners have donated $500 each to help finish the tower at Wizard Academy. In return, each of them is being interviewed by one of nine apprentices who will then write an ad for them that I will edit. Are you open-minded enough to be led outside your comfort zone? Are you big enough to swing a $500 hammer? We need just a few more business owners willing to take a walk on th
e wild side. Each of my 9 apprentices will need a different business each week for 7 weeks; 63 businesses altogether.
Might you be one of them?
Roy H. Williams
* Mark Fox and I will be teaching Business Problem Topology this week as part of the mind-warping class, Da Vinci and the 40 Answers. You really should come. We even have a couple of free rooms left in Engelbrecht House! Take a look.