True Colors

“People are drawn to stories and they remember things because of stories. That’s ultimately going to drive sales because it’s earned media.”
– Michael Coughlin, Founder & Creative Director, Digital Blue Creative

It’s a question the firm often hears from leads: “Why is designing a logo so expensive?”

For Alyssa Young, director of digital marketing at Graphic D-Signs Inc., a Washington, N.J.-based advertising agency, it would’ve been easy to answer that oft-heard question with an old-school sales presentation for prospective clients, complete with charts, graphs, spreadsheets, facts and figures and other sales hooks.

And taking such a tack could’ve worked.

But Young and her Graphic D-Signs team decided on a different approach – one that actually involves the voice of other clients. The agency developed an electronic booklet containing client testimonials describing what rebranding – something that often involves logo design or redesign – accomplished for their businesses.

“Instead of a sales pitch, we decided to let our clients do the ‘selling’ by telling their own stories,” Young says. “It’s proven to be effective.”

While the campaign wasn’t designed for a single client, the lesson still resonates: The hard-selling approach isn’t necessarily the best when crafting a campaign meant to engage on deeper, more intimate levels with customers.

“Consumers today don’t want to be sold to,” says John Sternal, director of public relations and social media for Merit Mile, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based advertising, interactive and public relations agency. “They want you to engage with them. The days of the ‘hard sell’ are quickly coming to an end because consumers don’t respond to those tactics anymore.”

Today’s consumers rely on trust to dictate the companies or people with whom they will do business, and such trust can’t be attained by antiquated methods centering on strict selling. Rather, it’s attained by creating campaigns that are authentic; provide useful content; and can tell a brand’s, product’s or company’s story.

Why trust is earned

The reality of today’s customers is that they are more informed than ever before because of the ease of access to information online. They’re also a skeptical bunch. Young says that can make it tough for marketers employing a hard-sell approach, so building trust starts with building a campaign that speaks to the buyer’s journey.

“It consists of three stages: awareness, consideration and decision,” she says of the journey, also called the “sales funnel.” “Campaigns that address consumers’ questions and address their needs in these stages will help move them along to convert to a customer.”

Michael Coughlin, founder and creative director at Digital Blue Creative, a Boston-based digital advertising agency, likes to use the term “earned media” when describing effective campaign strategies that garner the attention and trust of today’s consumer. He says traditional “paid media” strategies are outdated due to a number of factors, including search-engine and network saturation.

So marketers should focus on building authentic campaigns as a way to break through all the clutter.

“The companies that try to shove [a message] down your throat get negative backlash [from today’s consumers], Coughlin says. “The companies that create content that’s compelling or a story that’s compelling, they attract people based on the quality of the work that they do. I think brands that are authentic will attract customers rather than having to chase them down.”

Why content is king

Trust doesn’t just happen overnight – earning it is a gradual process that, when complete, results in a consumer who is comfortable and has minimal apprehension. Young says feelings of empowerment can be developed, with consumers feeling that any resulting buying decisions were made “for the right reasons, not because they ‘were sold.’”

“This way, [consumers] are less likely to second-guess whether it was the right choice,” she says. “They’re also more likely to remain loyal – as long as the company delivers on its promises – rather than using the company once and moving on to another provider for the next promotion they encounter.”

Today’s marketers can achieve the “non-salesy” approach via various avenues, such as content marketing. Some tools that can be employed include blogs, which offer the advantages of frequency, timeliness, inexpensive production and ease of distribution.

Sternal says regardless of the outlet, consumers have to find the content useful for it to have maximum effect. “Content can come in the form of written content, video content and audio content, and any marketing vehicle that leverages engaging, educational and entertaining content will have great impact on a consumer.”

Count Coughlin among the biggest proponents of video content. In fact, video is prominently featured on the Digital Blue Creative website as a tool to spread the firm’s message to prospective clients. The company even created a video campaign for StudentUniverse, which provides students with exclusive travel deals and discounts around the world.

The campaign, called “Experience More,” was filmed on local New England beaches and other natural environments, all with the intention of showing students exploring the world, sharing the experience with friends and trying to maximize life experience through travel as a young person.

“Our goal with the campaign was to build that emotional connection, which would lead people to sign up for StudentUniverse and become part of that experience,” Coughlin says.

Telling a story

Those in the know say telling a story can be very effective for brands, and the tactic has even replaced the delivery of promotions and offers.

“Storytelling is more engaging and sincere, and consumers respond more favorably to storytelling,” Sternal says. “Social media allows consumers to play an active role in a brand’s story, which is why they are so fond of participating in a brand’s community.”

To realize the power of storytelling, you need not look further than the movie box office. Hollywood often uses storytelling to trigger emotion, which leaves a lasting impression on moviegoers. Those people, in turn, spread the word about powerful, memorable productions, resulting in box-office blowouts.

“People are drawn to stories and they remember things because of stories,” Coughlin says. “That’s ultimately going to drive sales because it’s earned media. People are willingly sharing something without being paid to do it. So storytelling can grow your brand from nothing to something.”

Graphic D-Signs’ Young says storytelling should only be used intermittently, and for longer-form content marketing pieces. “Storytelling is an opportunity to paint a picture of a scenario to which the consumer can relate, and to demonstrate that the company understands its customers’ lives, concerns, needs, etc.,” she says. “The brand voice can shine through very nicely too, and it allows for healthy variety in messaging.”

Today’s marketers should be wary of how long it may take to convey a message, so they should commit the requisite amount of time, while also exercising patience. Says Young, “For consumers on the go, suffering from information overload, it’s often best to get to the point, answering their questions directly and quickly.”