The #1 Secret to Writing Great Headlines

Secret to great headlinesThere is a lot of great advice from some very smart people out there about how to write effective headlines that will grab your readers and pull them in. You can take entire courses on this subject, such is its heft. That’s not this blog. I have just one tip for you. What I think is the single biggest secret to writing great headlines. Continue reading

Apple dodges brand-killing bullet by not launching cheap iPhone

Apple iPhone 5CI’ve read (primarily in the mainstream business press) a lot of criticism of Apple’s recent iPhone 5C unveiling since the big presentation last week. Most of that criticism is directed at Apple’s failure to add a device to its lineup that can compete with cheaper smart phones, deemed a particularly important strategy for competing in China and other Asian markets.

I don’t really understand the surprise. Apple has spent many years and a lot of money building their brand, one of the strongest brands in the world. A brand that offers beautifully designed, simple to use devices that deliver an incredible user experience … at a premium price. You can add to that products that last, thus providing value for dollar. I had my last iMac for eight years; granted, it was pretty slow by the end, but find me a PC that old and lets compare.

Had Apple followed the expectations of the investment community and launched a cheap iPhone, they would have destroyed their own brand. Suddenly, the conversation would shift away from “do I want pay for an iPhone or settle for something not quite as cool/beautiful that I can get a deal on?” to “which device can I get for less?” The brand would have started down the road toward commoditization.

Look what happened to Krispy Kreme in Canada when they started offering packaged doughnuts in gas stations. Their brand was built around the experience of getting a fresh, hot doughnut as opposed to one that had been sitting on the counter for hours. Or Starbucks when they expanded too quickly and started replacing baristas with machines. They killed the experience and nearly their brand – thankfully, for this brand fan, they pulled up in time.

There are hundred of other stories of brands that abandoned their core value to chase a market. Most end the same way: short-term gain that leads to the ultimate demise of a previously strong brand. Apple, wisely, dodged that future last week and held firm to their strategy. For a great explanation of what they did do in launching the iPhone 5C, have a read of this Daring Fireball blog post by John Gruber.

I think the biggest risk right now to Apple’s brand (other than our inability to re-animate Steve Jobs) is that they are publicly traded and the pressure that puts on delivering short-term results at the expense of building long-term value. I am not an expert on what it takes to succeed in places like China and India. I don’t know what Apple will need to do to build market share there, but I’m glad they were smart enough not to compromise their brand to do it (this time).

But I don’t think anyone should be surprised or disappointed by what they saw last week.

Why B2B companies need to give away a little free milk

Free milk?

Too many B2B companies companies fear that the very thing that sets them apart from their competitors is too valuable to share publicly, for fear of having it stolen. In the modern era of content marketing, this kind of thinking is costing you business.

I was recently discussing the merits of content marketing with a senior executive at financial services company. More accurately, I was trying to convince this executive that the company had a tremendous opportunity to engage its customer and prospects online using the expertise the organization had amassed in dealing with the operations of thousands of businesses over the years.

Why not, I suggested, use that expertise, that institutional knowledge, to create content that would help businesses succeed? Show them how what you’ve seen from working with the best and the worst can help them save bottom line costs.

By putting that kind of content out there, I added, and helping companies you might not even be doing business with, you will be building a brand through utility. You will be gaining trust. That trust will translate into business. Maybe not next week or next month, but it will.

This executive’s argument to me was that this was giving away too much. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk fir free, to turn a tired phrase. The fear was that, by making their knowledge public, competitors could steal it, businesses could use it and then not buy the core product from them. Whereas, if they held the information close, and only let it out to customers as part of the business contract, they could control that information better.

On the surface, that argument makes sense. Who wants to equip your competitors to do a better job? Why give away this kind of value with no guaranteed return? Sure, fear can shut down that discussion pretty quickly. But that argument is flawed in a couple of major ways.

First of all, when your product is a commodity – which this one was – you need to wrap it in a unique selling proposition (USP) to differentiate it. If you hide that USP from the world for fear that someone will steal it, it doesn’t have any more value than if they did.

The second reason this argument fails for me is because human behaviour is largely predictable. Predictability dictates that there will be a return on investment for this type of good content. Here’s why I think that:

The kind of people who trust in the value of good counsel understand there is even more value to be had by working with someone who demonstrates this expertise, beyond what may be given on the surface. The content you put out there, if it adds real value, can convince prospects that they stand to gain even more by entering into a relationship with you – even if the product is a commodity they can buy anywhere.

Now, there will be those who do not want the relationship. These are the do-it-yourselfers who just want the whitepaper so they can try to make it work themselves. They want tips, guides and ideas they can implement on their own. They may not immediately – or ever – see the value in partnering with a company with that expertise.

That’s okay, though, because what they will do – if your content is really good – is share your material. They’ll let others know how useful it was, because it makes them look smart to share smart ideas. This increases the likelihood of your content finding its way into the hands of more and more of the first type of person. The one who values and appreciates expertise enough to pay for the relationship.

It takes work to create that kind of content; and it takes time to take effect. But if you’ve got the raw material, why wouldn’t you? I, personally, don’t see the downside. What do you think? Is it worth giving away the milk for free?

Deconstructing the Bell, Rogers, Telus Wireless Auction Ad

Bell, Rogers, Telus Ad in Aug 21 Toronto Star

Toronto Star Ad Page 2

There was a two-page ad from Rogers, Bell and Telus in today’s Toronto Star attempting to explain their case against the rules for the pending wireless auction.

The idea is a good one, and brave. I can imagine it must have been a Herculean effort to get these three competitors to get into a room and develop and agree upon a message. Unfortunately, their efforts fell a little flat. I’ll explain where I think they went wrong and what they could have done differently.

The three arguments put forward in the ad are that the competition is unfair and favours the US company Verizon; will cost taxpayers money to subsidize foreign companies’ bids; and that rural areas will suffer because US competitors will focus on urban markets, forcing Canadian companies to follow suit.

The fairness argument gets lost in industry jargon and the assumption that consumers will understand the structure of the auction and how the “blocks” that are being auctioned work. In general, the “big, bad Americans” argument misses the mark when the ones putting it out there are considered monopolistic behemoths by many Canadians.

The second point argues that Canadians will be picking up the bill for subsidizing the Verizon bid with their tax dollars. Maybe, but if I don’t know how, I can’t come to judgment and the ad doesn’t give me that information. It is also difficult to get people to consider the implications of tax dollars being spent for one thing versus another in the face of having to pay those taxes anyway. Especially when the counter argument is lower wireless rates, which come directly from consumers’ wallets.

Finally, the argument that rural Canada will suffer basically states that Verizon will focus growing business in big cities and that will force Bell, Rogers and Telus to do the same. That may be true, but the cynic in me wonders if that isn’t where they focus already. Isn’t that where the majority of customers reside?

The call to action is also a lost opportunity. It directs consumers to a website (fairforcanada.ca) to learn more about the issue. The website, by the way, is beautifully designed. Kudos to the developer. But not having made a very compelling case for themselves, I’m not sure it will drive much traffic there (or how they will know if visitors came from this ad without a customized URL).

The flaws in the arguments, though, are not the biggest problem with the ad. By trying to reframe the issue, they have ignored the one issue consumers are certain to care about: what this auction will mean for their own wireless bills.

A better approach might have been to address the short-sightedness of the price issue (presuming it is short-sighted), making the case it will cost jobs and reduce investment in innovation. Follow that with a call to action that encourages participation in the debate, not just education. Maybe next time.