I'm sorry, but your Logo has been overruled.


It still amazes me that - even with the abundance of new ways to find and hire talent, with the seemingly endless pool of graphic designers, copywriters and other creatives spanning the globe, and with so many ways to work together even when the members of a project team are separated by thousands of miles - boring logos and uninspired marketing still happen.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why or how this can be.

Is it that the client doesn't care about the logo? Is it because the client can't tell a good logo from a lousy one? Is it that the folks designing the logo didn't give the client any decent concepts to work with? If so, is the client simply afraid to hurt the designers' feelings by telling them their designs are boring?

Who knows.

What I do know is this: If you design a logo - any logo, for absolutely anything in any industry - it had better be interesting enough for people to want to wear it on a T-shirt.

That's one of the unspoken laws of logo design. It's the ultimate litmus test: If people want to wear it on their clothes and accessories, if they want to buy the decals and the baseball hats, great. If not, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board.

Think of logos like Nike, Adidas, Starbucks, Apple, BMW, Harley Davidson, Oakley, K2, or even Superman's "S". These are all simple but exciting and effective marks. People want to wear them. In a very real way, a brand can be made cool or uncool by virtue of having a great or... not so great logo.

Certain events, like the Olympics Games, the World Cup (soccer), the Tour De France, the Superbowl (American football), the World Series (baseball), the US Open (tennis), the Kentucky Derby (horse racing), the Hawaii Ironman (triathlon) and the Masters (golf) generate a whole lot of excitement whenever they come around. In merchandising alone, some of these events can generate tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, IF the merchandise (and the graphics printed on it) looks good enough to inspire a purchase.

Likewise, an exciting logo can attract more spectators and seriously impact the success of an event.

On the flip side, boring logos, boring marketing and uninspired promotional campaigns can stunt the growth and subsequent success of an event.

Case in point: The USA Cycling Pro Championships. This 2-day event is USA Cycling's premier annual race. This is where each year, the US national professional cycling champion is crowned. This is a BIG deal in the world of American road cycling.

Sadly, when it comes to a logo for 2007, this hallowed event couldn't come up with anything better than this:

Don't get me wrong: It isn't horrible. Part of the design is based on USA Cycling's own logo, which is a nice by-the book effort to link the event to its governing body. Kudos on that. And the sponsor's logo is there too, which is good. But man, is it generic, boring and stale. At least throw some stars and stripes in there or something. Make me look. Make me care. Make me want to buy the T-shirt, for crying outloud!

A handful of renegade cycling afficionados in Greenville decided to come up with their own designs this year - because they wanted a T-shirt to commemorate the event, but couldn't stomach the thought of wearing the official logo. (I certainly don't blame them, and look forward to wearing one of their unofficial designs.) By simply clicking and pasting a few images together, they came up with these two designs in about 45 minutes. (Note that in order to avoid copyright issues the name of the race in either design is not the same as the official race name. If this had been the real "official" design, the sponsor's logo could have replaced the upper "2007" design element, and the accurate name of the race could have been used.)

They may not be your cup of tea, but even as mere concept drafts, (or retro T-shirt designs) you can't argue with the fact that they're a whole lot more exciting and fun to look at:

My question is this: Why is it that the official logo - which probably took weeks to arrive at and cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars for an established marketing/advertising firm to create - doesn't hold a candle to the stuff that a handful of guys with absolutely no formal graphic design training put together for free and in mere minutes?

What's going on here?

How can this be?

So... in closing, here is a quick message I want to send to all creative agencies who haven't figured this out yet:

1) If you can't come up with great work, someone else will.

2) Now that anyone with $500 can buy a laptop already loaded with image editing software and a browser that will provide unlimited access to Google images, it is only a matter of time before your clients and competitors realize that talent and inspired work is at least 3 billion times less likely to come from your organization than it is from anywhere else in the world.

3) Old school agencies' fifty-year-old value proposition is dying before our very eyes, and thank goodness for that.

In the end, it takes passion to create great work, and it's pretty obvious that whomever was ultimately responsible for the official race logo didn't really care as much for the sport of cycling or the importance of the event as perhaps they should have.

Have a great weekend, everyone. F360 goes gaga for cycling this weekend, so stay tuned for updates, photo galleries, etc. Also be sure to check out Greenville's very own Bicycle Design blog for further coverage of the event.

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I had a great conversation with someone about the topic of leaders vs. managers earlier this week, and was reminded of this post from about a year ago:

(Note - If you are an HR professional, you may not like what follows.)

"Managers make sure that work follows an established process. They don't like change. Leaders, on the other hand, are restless creatures like gamblers who get excited about doing things a new way.

"Now, here's the problem: There's a great need for talent and a glut of unqualified candidates. It's going to take a leader to figure out how to move forward. And Recruiting is full of managers.

"One solution: take recruiting away from HR and give it to marketing people who know how to sell. Another: give it to the operational leaders who have the knowledge needed to assess the candidates technical skills."

Per Kevin Wheeler, via The Recruiting Animal blog.

Whether you think that's genius or complete bunk, read Kevin's entire article here. Whatever side of the fence you happen to be on, it is well worth ten minutes.

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There are two types of people...


Photo: Jim Cunningham leading the chase in the final laps of the 2006 Greenville Classic Criterium

From Don Boudreaux's Cafe Hayek blog:

"There are two kinds of people in the world. Members of the first group think of jobs as being rather like boxes, each of which has a monetary figure on it as well as a set of levers inside. A job-holder occupies a box, yanks on the box's levers, and in return receives pay in the amount of the prescribed monetary figure. Lucky workers are those who land in boxes paying big money and whose levers are easy to manipulate; unlucky workers are those who find themselves in boxes paying little money and whose levers are difficult to manipulate."

"The second group of people in the world understands that real jobs are a matter of creating value for buyers. The greater the amount of value I create for others, the better -- or, at least, the higher-paying -- is my job. In markets, your job isn't a box that you get assigned to; your job is an opportunity to perform, to help improve the lives of others and, in return, to persuade these others to help you improve your life.

"And one of the most important of these performances is corporate management -- the ability to coordinate large amounts of resources, time, and workers in ways that create large amounts of value for others and that makes it easier for those of us with less vision and administrative ability to find jobs that maximize the value that each of us, individually, creates for others."

I still run into way too many senior execs who run their organizations like piles of boxes. Every time I do, I don't know... it just makes me cringe. I get turned off. I wonder how much longer the companies they manage will continue to be profitable.

Perhaps more to the point, I wonder how much more profitable they would be if they shed their old ways and made the jump to the second group. If they championed the recruiting and mentoring of T-shaped talent and favored operational flexibility over the limitations of rigid job hierarchies.

I guess that when you belong to the first group and are one of the lucky ones (big money/easy levers), there isn't much of an incentive for you to rock the boat and be an agent of change.

Like Don said, there are two types of people in this world. You're either one or the other. The question is, which one are you?

Have a great Wednesday. :)


Either Commit Or Stay Home.


I finally did it. After months of flirting with 50mph (48.5, 49, 49.5,48, 49.5, 49, etc.), I finally hit that magic 50 coming down Paris Mountain on my road bike today.

To hit 50mph on that steep and twisty little stretch of road, you kind of have to commit. Especially if you only weight 160 odd pounds. My bike and I aren't heavy enough to let gravity and momentum do the work. You have to tuck in, pedal fast, and carve your way in and out of each turn with razor-like precision. You have to be fully committed to this, or it won't happen.

You have to make sure you don't eat dirt by doing something stupid, like taking your eyes off the road for a second, or glancing down at your watch, or hitting a pothole. Those things would all be bad.

You have to be focused. Relaxed. Confident. You have to be in the moment, not 90%, not 98%, not even 99.9%, but 100%.

Moments before taking the plunge down the final and steepest section of the mountain for my latest personal land speed record, I almost bit it. Hard. I hit my brakes a little too late and a little too hard going into a tricky turn. I wasn't committed. I was too busy adjusting my sunglasses and got myself into trouble: At 40mph, I squeezed my front brake a bit too much, and felt my rear wheel come off the ground. I started to go over the handlebars.

In cycling terms, this is the start of what is called an endo. (endo: end over heels.)

The endo is part one of what some folks affectionately call a "superman."

A Superman is simply a rider flying through the air head first... like Superman. Minus the cape.

The part that usually follows a Superman is the landing. The crash landing. This is the part you want to avoid at all cost. This is the part that hurts a lot. It usually comes with serious injuries, like broken bones and road rash. If you're lucky.

My screwing up and making my rear wheel go airborne into a turn at 40mph, on an 18lb bicycle with 23mm wide tires, that is what you call an "oh shit" moment.

Fortunately, I haven't used up my nine lives yet: I made a smooth and miraculous recovery. I rode my front wheel long enough to shift my weight back, managed to keep my bike steady, got my rear wheel smoothly back on the pavement, and made the turn without even crossing over the double yellow line.

I committed to the recovery. I didn't allow myself to think of anything else. I threw every bit of skill, balance, dexterity, calmness and agility into not crashing, and it worked. Had I made the error to dwell on the thought of a crash, had I wasted even 0.1% of my brain power on bracing myself for impact, I probably would have crashed.

Several minutes later during my acceleration down the steep portion of the mountain, had I wasted any brain power thinking about anything but hitting 50mph, I wouldn't have broken 49.5mph.

Why am I telling you all of this? (Other than wanting to share my joy of being alive with everyone?) Because although cycling is fairly irrelevant to the topics covered in this blog, the concept of committing to something, of giving something your all is very relevant.

So my little bit of advice for today is this: Commit. Give it everything. Your project. Your job. Your relationship. Your race. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well... and if it's worth doing well, it's worth doing exceptionally well.

Yeah, it might hurt and it might require a certain measure of sacrifice. Time. Pride. Fun. Sweat. Sleep. But that's a choice you make.

The choice is to either commit, or... not.

And if you aren't willing and ready to commit, you might as well save yourself and your client the trouble and... stay home. Be honest with yourself and those around you. If your heart isn't really in it, if you aren't willing to hit the ball or turn the cranks like the pro you are, then maybe you ought to sit this one out.

Committing to something isn't just about hard work, but also smarts, guts, and willpower. It's about throwing yourself into the game body, mind, sould and all. Even if it's for two hours a day, or five minutes every hour, that's what it takes to do something exceptionally well. If you aren't motivated to give it your all, then do yourself a favor and work on something else. Seriously. Turn it down. Delegate. Wait until your head gets clear and you can put your heart into it.

If you can't turn it down, if your boss or client forces you to work on something you would rather not spend any time on, then take a breather. Go clear your head. Find that one thing in the project or task that you know you can throw yourself at wholeheartedly, and focus on that.

Don't ever, ever, ever do anything half-assed. Ever.

Unless you like looking back on a completed project or campaign or achievement and wishing you had given it a little bit more effort. A little bit more heart. A little bit more juice.

Commitment is fun and painful and hard all at the same time... But that's the way it should be.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy to come by.

So make every word count. Every stroke of the mouse. Every release of the shutter. Every turn of the cranks. Every interaction with a customer. Every design feature. Every promotional coupon. Every TV spot. Every meeting. Every element of your web page design. Every media purchase. Every minute. Every second. Every breath.

It all adds up in the end.

It all pays off.

As long as you give it your all.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

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The Canon Customer Service Experience


Photo: George Hincapie one lap away from winning the 2006 Greenville Classic Criterium

This is a story of terrific service.

Though I enjoy my vintage Pentax K1000 35mm camera a lot and also enjoy getting my hands on Nikon, Minolta and other brands of cameras, I shoot Canon cameras and lenses almost exclusively these days. Why? Maybe because something about the Canon brand always appealed to me. Maybe it's because my older brother (who got me into photography as a boy) has always used Canon equipment. Maybe it's that cool little red stripe on their L series lenses (the professional stuff). Maybe it's the cool white paint they use on their L-series zoom lenses. Or maybe it's because Canon's user interfaces on every model above the 20D are perfectly designed for purists like me, who shoot in manual mode. (Most pro shooters these days shoot in some sort of automated mode like aperture priority, etc.)

Call me a control freak, but I like being in complete control of the aperture, shutter speed, etc.

But I digress.

I don't need to sing the praises of Canon products. Canon's reputation speaks for itself. What this post is about is the customer service side of their business, - the hidden service entrance to the brand, if you will - which, until very recently, I had never bothered to think about.

I'll try to keep my little story from turning into a novel by just saying this: My favorite lens of all time, my baby, my brand new 70-200mm f:2.8 L series zoom lens was recently damaged on a shoot. To be more specific, someone who had no business even touching it picked it up... and dropped it on a brick floor.

Yes, the lens was kind of busted. Not badly, but enough to require some service by Canon.

No, I did not murder the culprit - who ran from the shoot before I could get my hands on him.

The next morning, I called the Canon customer service center and briefly spoke with a representative. My only concern was this: How long will it take Canon to fix the lens?

The answer was "7-10 days at the most".



I filled out the online form to set up the repair, took the damaged lens to my local UPS store, followed the packing and shipping instructions detailed on the website, and sent it on its way.

Three days later, I received an email from Canon to tell me that my lens had arrived safe and sound at their service center.

One week later, I received an email from Canon telling me the repairs were completed and that the lens would be shipped out the next day. The email contained a link to the FedEx tracking number so I could follow the box containing my restored lens as it made its way back to me.

Evidently, the email was sent to me a day or two late, because when I clicked on the tracking number link, the FedEx site indicated that the lens was already in Greenville, out for delivery. 45 minutes later, my lens was back, and as good as new.

The next day, a letter from Canon arrived in the mail, detailing the work and thanking me for my business, etc.

Canon didn't send me flowers, chocolates, cool free gear or anything out of the ordinary, but I was thoroughly impressed with the way they handled my repair: They were friendly on the phone. They answered my questions immediately. The procedure for sending them a damaged product was simple and easy to follow. The repairs were taken care of quickly and expertly. The product was sent back to me promptly. The communications from Canon and subsequent follow-ups were precise, adequate, and professional.

Compared to a lot of other companies I have sent products to for repairs or warranty issues, Canon takes the prize for speed, efficiency, simplicity and professionalism. They did everything right.

Bottom-line: Canon did exactly what it promised, and there's a whole lot to be said for that these days. It's great to know that one of my favorite consumer products brands a) hasn't fallen asleep at the wheel and b) isn't cutting corners anywhere in its organization.

Could Canon have left a bad taste in my mouth by not handling my service request very well? Maybe. Could Canon have allowed me to consider buying Pentax or Nikon next time I am on the market for new photo gear? Maybe.

But they didn't. By taking good care of me the way they did, they confirmed that my preference for their brand was well deserved.

Thank you, Canon, for getting it right. ;)


www.F360photo.com - Year 3


Don't hate us because we're Euro.

So you already know things have been insanely busy at F360 these last few months (so much so that I had to drop off the grid and stop blogging for the entire month of July), but we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and this might be as good a time as any to share some of the not-so-confidential projects we're working on for this fall. (Worry, we can't talk about the super-double-top-secret ones.)

1) The F360 website is going to completely change this September. Not that there is anything wrong with the current design, but to be completely honest, we put all of five minutes into it last time, and that was a bit lazy on our part. For 2008, we thought about the site's new look for the better part of half an hour, so we expect that it will be at least twice as exciting as the 2007 version.

As you may or may not have noticed from the sample image above, the current prototype for the welcome page is 725% more narcissistic than before, which works exceedingly well for Roby. (Now we just need to find a friendlier, less ridiculous looking photo of yours truly... and maybe make it a tad BIGGER. And leave my hair alone?

Feel free to comment and throw suggestions our way.

At Roby's request, our content will focus on the photography side of the F360 portfolio first, and then move to the graphic design, advertising, and marketing portfolios.

2) New Services: The 2008 site will also see the addition of Brand Management and Idea Sandbox services to F360's menu of goodies, which is pretty exciting. (As in: It's about time.)

The Brand Management side of F360 will simply be the practical application of what The BrandBuilder Blog discusses quasi-daily.

The Idea Sandbox will focus on helping clients a) with specific projects such as new product ideation, and developing innovative strategies for starters, and b) nurture innovative thinking and functional creative processes within their organizations.

We will talk about these services in more detail when the site officially launches next month.

Fans of our creative work: No worries, the commercial photography, graphic design and other purely creative elements of F360 aren't going away. (They're doing way too well for us to ever give them up.)

3) "Collaboration" may have been a dirty word in Europe during WWII, but it is a great way to earn yourself some free beer and some kudos in F360's crazy little world of idea cross-pollination. The new site will make a point to recognize our favorite co-conspirators and give them a space to call their own. Expect names like Jason Crosby, Kimberley Westbury, Ben Schowe, Rusty Hutchison, Cox Photography, Orange Coat, North Gate Labs, and perhaps even the super secretive 6:43 group to make the list.

4) Roby's War: In case you didn't already know this, Roby is shipping out to the Stan with the US Army this fall and probably won't be back until next spring. While deployed, he will be splitting his time between being a soldier and shooting some intense combat photography (hopefully not too intense), which should be pretty exciting.

Roby, wearing his thinking cap.

What does this mean for F360? Aside from a) more work for those of us staying stateside, b) a greater level of involvement from our growing pool of guest designers (who will be taking over much of Roby's duties while he is away), and c) having to learn a whole new international area code, nothing much will change.

(We'll kind of miss him though.)

I guess it also means F360 will have a studio somewhere in Afghanistan... which isn't Paris, London or New York, but pretty exciting nonetheless.

More updates will follow.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)



Don't Let "Branding" Kill Your Brand.


Words of genius from Damon Dimmick, over at UX Magazine:

"When corporate marketing departments dream of brand design, they only dream as far as they need. The expensive and time consuming process of extending the brand into an interactive concept is usually pushed off until it becomes absolutely necessary.

"Unfortunately, by the time some serious rethinking is required, a lot of people have gotten stuck in the mud of static branding. It’s completely natural for companies to resist straying from the handful of predefined styles that were never meant to address web forms, widgets, calendars and menuing systems."

"Of all the arguments for modifying brand attributes to better suit a digital experience, the most compelling is this: The way users feel about their experience is inseparable from the way they feel about your brand.

"This maxim holds true for brick-and-mortar experiences as well as for digital interactions. A restaurant with great food but incredibly long lines and a bad wait staff will experience brand damage. The user experience is bad, and people will look elsewhere. The same thing will happen if your users get baffled by confusing menus, hard-to-read text, and perplexing layouts. The user experience is bad, and people will look elsewhere.

"The way a user feels when they come in contact with a brand interaction point will implicitly shape their image of the brand itself. This realization is a powerful tool for user experience professionals and can help snap clients and peers out of static thinking."

"It is helpful to remember that even the most accomplished companies have become experts at modifying brand attributes to suit interactive experiences. This is done without sacrificing brands, but rather by extending them."


Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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This month on BrandingWire, the team is focusing on auto dealerships - a topic likely to produce some funny posts and hopefully identify certain specific areas in dire need of attention (or rather improvement) in that industry.

Let's face it: Of all the "for profit" companies across every conceivable industry, independently-owned auto dealers arguably have the worst marketing in the world, and a significant image problem. If you don't agree, you obviously never listen to FM radio in your car, you probably have TiVo, and your European-made cars either cost upward of $45K, or if they're pre-owned, came from a nationally-owned car dealership chain like CarMax.

For the rest of us, dealing with car dealerships in any way shape or form is neither a pleasant nor a relaxing experience: What could be a fun shopping endeavor is usually ruined by slimy and overly aggressive salespeople. The slightest lapse of focus during the hours-long haggling dance will cost you thousands of dollars you could have shaved off the final price. The marketing is as annoying and uninviting as it gets: Loud, cheap, poorly produced, dumb, and often even deceptive.

Simply put, everything about dealing with an auto dealer - especially when it comes to used cars - is about as fun and relaxing as bobbing for pennies in snake-infested swampwater.

In light of this, and in order to maybe inspire some auto dealers to make some positive changes in the way they do business, here is The Brandbuilder's list of the seven deadly marketing sins of automobile dealers. Some of the commentary on each one will provide some helpful advice to help dealerships avoid these pitfalls, and others are so self-explanatory that simply doing the exact opposite will have beneficial effects on both their business and their own personal reputation.


In no particular order, the seven deadly sins of auto dealers are:

1. Deception:

Have you ever spotted a killer deal on a car in a Saturday paper ad from a local auto dealer, only to find out when you get there that the car they were advertising has already been sold or has mysteriously gone out of stock? Yeah. Nice. How about those "We'll give you $5,000 cash back on any car trade! Bring us your old beater, and we'll give you $5,000 cash!" And when you put that offer to the test, it isn't exactly that easy?

Maybe it's just me, but tricking potential customers into coming to your retail location by lying to them isn't the best way to get things started on the right foot. Making contracts and fine-print too complicated for even experienced lawyers to understand every detail clearly is not all that kosher either.

Sleazy Salesmen didn't get that reputation by accident. I'm just not sure why so few of them (sales managers included) aren't doing more to make that negative image history.

2. Screaming in Ads:

Maybe my brain is wired differently from everyone else's, but here's how it works: If I am listening to the radio while in my car, and an ad comes on in which some annoying guy is screaming some sales pitch at the top of his lungs, I'm going to jump to the next preselected station faster than you can yell "NO MONEY DOWN!"

Listen... I understand the whole "screaming to be heard" thing. I get it. I've been to open air markets. I know it's a competitive world out there... but when you're recording a radio ad, you don't have to compete for anyone's attention. You have a captive audience. Literally. They're inside their cars. They're probably strapped-in, even. They're already listening, and as far as I can tell, they can only listen to one station (and one ad) at a time. Is it really necessary to scream at them? Perhaps more importantly, is screaming really the best way to communicate with potential customers?


If Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and just about every auto manufacturer's national ads can manage to be cool, effective, and even sometimes inspiring without being loud, why is it that local dealers have to act like overcaffeinated lunatics on a cocaine high? Do they know something about a link between high decibel levels and the decision-making areas of the human brain that major national advertisers don't?

Nope. I didn't think so either.

3. Awful Creative:

There is a huge divide between the types of ads being produced by auto makers and the ads being produced by independently-owned auto dealerships. The first category is usually pretty effective, while the latter is absolutely horrendous in every way. Before some of you start proposing that major companies like Volkswagen, Volvo and Jaguar have huge Marketing budgets that allow for great creative, let me counter with this:

If "creativity is not device-dependent" (Bruce Mau), then creativity is not budget-dependent either: Anyone with a video camera, a laptop and $50 editing software can produce a clever, effective, and creative 30-second spot.

Likewise, anyone with a half way decent consumer-level 35mm or digital still camera and cheap photo/graphic design software (like JASC's sub $100 Paintshop Pro if Photoshop or other pro level software is out of reach) can produce fantastic print ads and website designs.

I routinely encounter terrific work being done on nickel-and-dime budgets, and horrendous work that I know cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If high school kids with absolutely no work experience or formal training can produce world-class home-made "ads" for Apple, KFC and other brands to post on You Tube just for fun, surely, auto dealerships (no matter how back-woods) can come up with a) better ideas for their ads, and b) half-way decent ways to turn these ideas into effective productions. If they aren't accomplishing either task, they simply aren't really trying.

4. Circus-Act Mojo:

This could fall under #3, but it deserves its own category: Some auto dealerships like to use circus animals like elephants and chimps in their ads. Others like to dress up their staff in ridiculous outfits and act out lame little "skits."


The two latest local dealership ads to pollute the 864 airwaves with their horrendous skits involve a) a scuba-diving sales manager being eaten by a plastic toy shark in what may possibly be the worst blue-screen special effect sequence ever devised, and b) a not-so-sexy schoolteacher trying to create a parallel between a sex-ed filmstrip and... used cars at dealership XYZ. (The smirking greasy-haired tool sitting behind her in the empty classroom is either the sales manager, the dealership's owner, her boyfriend, or possibly all three.) The ad would just be dumb and poorly produced, but Greasball Fred putting himself in the picture with his paramour is downright creepy.

Please make it stop.


Sure, people will remember your ad (grinning chimps in diapers are memorable, as are toy sharks eating fat white guys in mumu swimsuits, as are two guys in tuxedos throwing buckets of water at each other - I'll give you that), but chances are that they won't remember the name of your dealership or what your latest promotion was. What do circus acts and bad costumes have to do with buying or selling cars? Nothing.

This isn't comedy. It isn't even entertainment. It's just dumb.

5. Poor Production Value:

Perhaps because most auto dealerships buy their advertising directly from media outlets (or through self-appointed middle-men) the creative and the production values tend to be pretty poor. Very few dealerships take the time to hire a creative (ad) agency to produce ads that don't look like the family videos Uncle Ralph edits on his Windows 98 PC.

And beware the lure of the "agency" that specializes in dealership/automotive marketing and advertising. Unless they also develop ads for one of the area's office of tourism, sporting events, cultural festivals and a plethora of other clients in a gaggle of industries, forget it. They're probably going to suck too.

Because many car dealerships may not know where to go to get help with their production needs, here are several tips anyone can use to make a cheaply produced ad look a tad bit more professional:

- If you can't find or afford a real stylist for the shoot, at least hire an experienced hair & makeup person. They aren't that expensive, and trust me, you need one. (Shiny, sweaty foreheads look horrible, and bad hair doesn't help sell anyone's image.) Maybe they can help with wardrobe a bit too while they're at it.

- Don't shoot people in bright sun. I know that the default ad concept is to have folks be outside, walking the lot to show off the cars and whatnot, but there are ways to shoot outdoor ads in such a way that the sun doesn't make them squint, blow out their skin, or make bright colors give viewers a headache. When in doubt, take a lighting guy on the shoot with you. And maybe an assistant or an intern to carry some reflector panels or diffusers or something. I might be a stickler for good lighting, but it makes an enormous difference in the way your ad looks.

- Don't use cheap transition effects. They were cool in 1980's Flock of Seagulls videos, but not anymore.

Correction: They weren't cool back then either.

- Get a sound guy to come along on the shoot. Especially if it's windy. Believe it or not, in the editing room, the big board with all of the knobs that looks like a giant equalizer can actually be used to clean up the sound quality and make the ad sound like it wasn't made in your neighbor's garage. Use it!

- Blue screens are banned from all auto dealership ads. Period. You aren't 20th Century Fox or Imagine Entertainment. What you're doing with blue screen technology isn't CGI. It's just crap. Don't even think about going there ever again.

I mean it.

- If your people can't look or sound natural on camera, hire actors. If you can't hire actors, hire the Quiznos thingamajingies.

- Likewise, anyone with a strong regional accent, a mullet, more than three gold rings on the fingers of any one hand, or whose wardrobe is inspired by Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas is forbidden from ever being featured in any auto dealership ads,or my name ain't Nathan Arizona.

- Before you shoot a commercial, develop a storyboard. (Sketch out a comic-book like concept for the ad.) Actually go through the visual narrative you are trying to achieve and put it to paper. Think about silly stuff like camera angles and flow and context. Figure out how to best shoot and edit a 30-second spot that will have the visual and emotional impact you want it to have. There's a reason why the big boys of advertising do this. Copy their process. Learn how to produce professional work. Don't settle for the A/B/C method of A) Shooting somebody verbally delivering the copy by talking at the camera, B) inserting panning footage of the product and location, and C) inserting crappy graphics at the end of the ad. Bleh. Come on. You can do better than that.

Most locally produced TV ads are horrible because they are produced directly by the TV station's sales & marketing department - which isn't all that creative to begin with. That makes the ads cheaper and easy to produce, sure, but it ensures that they will be average at best. (Somewhere between cheap and terrible is usually the norm.) Do yourselves a favor and hire someone with talent and the know-how to write, produce, and possibly even direct your spots.

Again, it isn't that much more expensive, and you will more than get your money's worth.

The radio and print stuff is usually less bad, but when your control group rests squarely at the very bottom of the production quality bucket, it's hard to do worse, frankly.

6. Not Actually Building Value:

Q: Can every dealership really have the best deals and the cheapest prices?

A: Technically, no. Only one dealership can have the best deals and prices at any given time.

It's just science.

And since every sale comes down to a tedious haggling process anyway, is a dealership's main appeal really cheap prices? Is this what a dealership's marketing should mainly focus on?

How about shifting the conversation to things like the quality of their cars, the excellence of their service department, their steadfast honesty, or even the unusually pleasant experience of shopping for a car at their dealership?

(I don't care that it's locally or family-owned, or that everyone who works there goes to Church on Sunday like good little boys and girls. Give me something genuine and relevant to hook my hopes to.)

Speaking of trying to project a positive image, nothing screams "classy" like a bunch of bored car salesmen huddled outside the front door, smoking cigarettes while they wait for their next victim to drive in.

Automatic turnoff.

Overly aggressive salesmen don't work for most car shoppers either. All we really need from a car salesman is a friendly hello, and space. A good salesman is like a good waiter: Be there when I need you, but be out of sight when I don't. I don't need a chaperon, a buddy, or a stalker. I certainly don't need to be bombarded by pitch after pitch. I'm a grown-up. Your cheap cracker-jack box Jedi mind tricks don't work on me or anyone else with an IQ above 40.

(And at least, I can hang up on telemarketers, which makes them significantly less annoying than car salesmen. And that's saying something.)

But back to the point: When you sell cheap, you sell desperate. What you should be selling instead is reliability, performance, honesty, and peace of mind. You should be selling the brand behind every car in your lot. You should be selling class and professionalism. You should be selling value, and not discounted promises. This isn't just about the message you incorporate in your ads, but also (perhaps more so) about all of the actual shopping and aftermarket experiences your customers will get to enjoy.

7. Acting like a typical car dealership:

Let's play a quick game of word association. I'll write a word, and you tell me the first word that comes to your mind. (Try to make it an adjective that best describes that word.)

Here we go:



Soapbox preacher.

Used car salesman.

See where we're going with this?

As I've mentioned before, car salesmen (especially when they're selling used cars) already have pretty poor reputations. They're usually seen as a being sleezy, not particularly trustworthy, etc. So car dealerships have some trust issues to overcome. A forward-thinking car dealership owner/operator would be well served by an effort to distance himself/herself from this type of image and negative expectation.

What's the smartest thing a car salesman can do? Casually but enthusiastically greet the customer with a smile, but without walking to them. Tell them you'll be with them in a couple of minutes. Ask them if they need anything before you come back. Then disappear, and come back to ask them if they need help, and take it from there.

Why? Because the reflex of any and all shoppers is to say "I'm just looking, thanks." Even if they have a question, they will automatically push away a salesperson who walks up to them. Better to give the customer their space, make them feel comfortable and appreciated, and let them dictate the way in which the conversation will take place.

Give them their space. Respect their space. Meet them half way and sell yourself as being helpful, friendly and honest instead if just trying to make a sale.

Aside from the specific sales tips, what we're talking about here is differentiation: Making your dealership stand out from other dealerships - not just by producing better creative, but by truly being different - perhaps starting with the appearance, attitude, friendliness, charisma and mindset of your sales force. This is a good first step in effectively building a great reputation and developing a strong referral business.

Here are the five basic steps to get you started:

1) Decide that you need to be different.
2) Understand why you need to be different.
3) Decide how to be different.
4) Decide to commit to 1-3.
5) Create means by which this can be communicated to both employees and potential customers. (Advertising, word-of-mouth, customer experience design, revamping internal processes, hiring the right people, extensive training of employees, attention to detail, etc.)

The answer to #1 and #2 could be simply to be better than the competition for the sake of having a more successful business. It could also be about having moral reasons for not cutting corners where others have (deceptive advertising, sleazy sales tricks, etc.) It could also simply be about wanting to be better. (Pride in one's work and fostering a good reputation are more important than maximizing profits at all costs to many people, and I can certainly relate to that.)

The answer to #3 is simply about observation: Find out what you and your potential customers hate about your competitors, and do the exact opposite. If you find that most people hate being followed by salesmen, teach your staff to be more subtle with their stalking. If the haggling process is a drag, get rid of it, or make it more customer-friendly. Find out if cheap ugly ties and dirty shoes on your sales staff are a turnoff. Look at everything, from the way cars are organized on your lot to how you choose to design your lobby and offices. Details like the type of coffee you brew and how it alters the way your offices smell can make a huge difference. Do you offer your potential customers a cup of delicious coffee or some home-made cookies when they walk in? Are you using cheap paper cups, or actual china? Are your people friendly and happy? Is your lot a place where customers will feel comfortable, or uncomfortable? Will they be impressed with it, or turned off? Will they want to actually hang out there, or get away as fast as they can? Are you giving them any reason to talk to their friends and co-workers about you? (This could be positive or negative.) Do your research.

Get past the lure element of your business. The object of the game isn't just about getting as many people as possible to come to your lot, or throwing an ever changing team of salesmen at them. I know it's a numbers' game but if you are turning off 94% of your visitors, you are giving away 94% of your business to your competitors. Why spend all of your budget and energy on bringing so many people to your business if all you manage to do is chase them away when they get there? That makes absolutely no sense.

The decision to be different, to actually stand out, to create a positive reputation for yourself in your industry, and to actually create a brand for yourself could be all the momentum and sense of direction you need to turn that 6% closing rate into 12%. Or 20%. Or more.

* * *

Car dealerships are retail businesses, just like restaurants, night clubs, record stores, hotels and coffee shops, to name just a few. As such, there is no reason why their marketing, ethics, or focus on customer happiness should be any worse than businesses in other industries.

Bad ads are worthless and send the wrong message.

Deceptive marketing tactics will destroy a business faster than you can say "lawsuit."

Dreadful customer experiences are the kiss of death for any repeat business or word-of-mouth referrals.

What would happen to your bottom-line if 90% of people who come to your restaurant took a look at your menu and walked out? What would happen to your business if your reputation was so horrendous that 90% of your customers told all of their friends, family members and co-workers never to do business with you? Why should car dealerships be any different?

Wowing the customer, creating a bond of trust with them, making them feel happy and excited about their purchase before they even get to test drive a car, during the signing, and even long after they've driven off the lot (making them want to come back or share their positive experience with others) are all crucial things to focus on.

Call me crazy, but a car dealership isn't just a sales organization. It has to be much more than that.

On the flip side, being just like everybody else, focusing on pushing the sale instead of helping it along, not taking care of a customer as well after the sale as you did before, being deceptive, selling discounts instead of value, spending money on annoying and ineffective ads... these are all ways to earn get absolutely nowhere fast, and in this case, perpetuate a negative image that does nothing to help anyone in the auto dealership world grow, prosper, or even feel unabashed pride in a good day's work.

Why more car dealerships don't get this is still beyond me. Hopefully, this and the rest of the posts from this month's BrandingWire project will help change things for the better.

One can hope.

Have a great week, everyone. ;)

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Aaaaaaaaand... he's back!


Sorry about the layer of dust and clumps of cobwebs on everything. I got sidetracked by Le Tour De France, and next thing I knew, August was here.

Okay, not really... but kinduv.

Posting will resume a bit later today, starting with a special bit for BrandingWire on auto dealers.

Stay tuned. ;)


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