300 Miles Per Gallon

Imagine for a moment that you were put in charge of advertising for the Toyota Camry. The average selling price for a Camry is about $35,000, and for that $35,000 you get approximately the same styling, power, interior features, and specifications as other similar cars in its class—Honda Accords, Chevy Malibus, Nissan Altimas, and so forth. But let’s say for the sake of this example that the engineers over at Toyota cracked the code on fuel efficiency, and this $35,000 Camry that you’re in charge of advertising now gets 300 miles per gallon instead of 25.
Okay, now you need to write your first ad. What do you think you should talk about? Hmmmm. Let’s see. How about…the three hundred freaking miles per gallon! You could be a complete dufus and write that ad. You could send a guy out on the screen and say…“Uh….Yea, you know the Camry… yea, one like this. Now it gets 300 miles per gallon. That’s a lot. You might be interested. If you want one, go visit your local dealer or check us out online.” You could be an ignorant fool, and still pull that one off. The response would be huge because the value proposition was so obvious. You could even pull this off if you were marketing a brand that nobody had ever heard of before—even if it were brand new. If you had a car that was approximately the same in every regard as a Toyota Camry, it cost $35,000, and it got 300 miles per gallon, you could destroy the marketplace.

So here’s a quick little challenge for you: Find a way to innovate the equivalent of the 300 mile per gallon Camry in your industry. And before you say “that’s impossible” and “it can’t be done” or “we’ve already done that” let’s explore some formulas for innovating companies. Innovation is one of those things that is actually pretty easy to do, but yet almost nobody really does it…and nobody really teaches it. I’ve read all the books out there, and they all have cute little case studies about how Southwest Airlines is the low-cost provider, blah, blah, blah. Then you sit there and scratch your head and try to figure out what the heck that has to do with your company.

So let’s start by talking about banks. There are a ton of little community banks out there that have maybe 1 or 2 or 5 branches that are competing, of course, against the big, national banks. In consultations, these little banks almost always tell me the exact same thing—we can out-compete the big banks because we’re a “community” bank and we have better service, we care about people, and we do things for the community. So this is their plan—to beat big banks by simply being a little community bank. That’s fine, in theory, but the reality is, when I ask these little banks what exactly it is they do that makes them more “community friendly” and how their service is quantifiably better, they usually shrug their shoulders and give lame answers like…“we know our customers’ names” (really, all of them?), we support the local high school, we’ve been here a long time, and we smile a lot. Yea, okay—so how does that translate into a marketing campaign that would cause anybody to actually want to switch banks and give you their money!?!

Let’s take a look at what some of these community banks are doing in their advertising. One has a smiling lady on it and says, “We want to be YOUR bank!” and then has an offer for “totally” free checking. Another shows a group of 5 smiling, friendly people and says, “Have any friends in Missoula? May we suggest a few?” and then goes on to tell us that besides being “downright friendly” they also offer fast and accurate service. When I get to the point later in this program where I’m talking about “saying it well,” I’ll give you the tools to shred that to pieces yourself. But for now, all I have to say is “Are you serious?” Did you think I was THAT pathetic that I have to find friends who work at a bank through newspaper ads? Here’s one for Country Bank that shows some lovely looking trees and a lake and says, “Our Home is Your Home.” Another ad says, “Ready to help you” with the obligatory smiling goofballs. Really? You think THAT stuff is going to sway our thinking?

To innovate the bank, let’s use one of our innovation formulas called “Captain Obvious.” This formula is deceivingly simply, and is great to use in situations where you already know what you want to your brand promise to be—but you’re currently stuck in a suckhole of averageness. The idea, again, is really simple. Brainstorm a list of things you could to do make your brand promise so obvious that nobody could ever possibly miss it, even if they weren’t paying attention. So for the bank, if their brand promise is that they’re a friendly, community-oriented bank, what kinds of things could they do to make it painfully obvious? What kinds of things would individually, collectively, and instantly communicate, “Hey, we’re a friendly, community-centered bank!?” Once you have the list, decide which ones to implement. Then simply talk about that stuff in the ads. People will catch on very quickly.

To accomplish this, I sat down with a team of my consultants and brainstormed over 100 different ways a bank could make the community-centered, friendly promise as obvious as the nose on your face. Anytime you brainstorm, make sure you do not worry about some ideas being stupid or unrealistic or whatever. Just let the ideas flow. By the time we were through, we had about 130 innovative ideas for a bank. A HUNDRED AND THIRTY IDEAS FOR A BANK! How many innovative ideas do you have for your company!? It might be time to take another innovative look at your business. Once we got the 130 ideas, we weaned them down to about 25 that were doable and cost effective, and integrated them into a series of newspaper ads.

The ads that the bank HAD been running before had a the tagline of “fewer branches, deeper roots” which was trying to put a positive spin on the fact that they only had three branches. Then they put a series of touchy-feely images in the ads ranging from happy fathers and daughters doing woodworking together, to a toddler standing in a pair of boots, to a lady with a horse. The only thing obvious this set of ad communicates is that this bank is trying real hard to appear to be “down home,” whatever that means. Even if you’re not looking at the ads, you can get a feel for what they were trying to accomplish. We’re the hometown bank that makes you feel good. I’m not saying this is a horrible strategy. I’m simply saying that if you want people to think you’re a friendly, community-centered bank, why not show them that you actually do a bunch of friendly, community-centered things? Here’s what we came up with; see what you think.

The first one features a photo of people looking at art on a wall and says, “2nd Annual Local Art & Photography Show—This Friday And Saturday.” The next one has a picture of a pen with a chain on it with one of those red no smoking cross-out circle thingies over it and says, “Do You Chain Your Pens Down When Your Friends Come Over? Neither Do We. Take As Many As You’d Like. We Don’t Care!” The next one shows a guy who’s extremely angry with the headline “We’ll tell you before you bounce a check—not after.” Another one shows a picture of some fancy lollipops and says, “Free Treats For Kids, Moms, Dads, Teenagers, Grandparents…Even Pets.” Or how about one with a men and women’s restroom logo that says, “Question: Why Don’t Banks Have Bathrooms?” Another ads shows a cartoon of a guy making copies and says, “Use Our Copier For Free—Up To 100 Copies At A Time!” I’m just getting started. A pair of hands holding a heart says, “We Donated $73,400 To Local Charities Last Year.” Another shows a jar full of coins and says, “Bring Your Coin Jar In And We’ll Convert It To Cash—For Free!” How about the one with the picture of an “open” sign that says “WOW, A Bank That’s Actually Open After Work—When It’s Convenient For You!” I can keep going. An ad shows a cheesy looking car salesman on the lot with a headline that reads, “Need Help Avoiding The Pitfalls Of Buying A Used Car?” or one that shows football players and says, “We Have 200 FREE Tickets For This Week’s Hillers Game.” That’s the local high school team by the way. An ad that shows a picture of an American flag says, “FREE Flags. Now You Have No Excuse For Not Proudly Displaying The Colors!” or an ad with a picture of the tooth fairly that says, “Meet The Tooth Fairy This Thursday Afternoon.”

You tell me, would you be fairly impressed and likely to use a bank that holds art shows for local artists, encourages you to take their pens, tells you about bounced checks before they bounce, gives everyone in the family treats every time they come in, has clean bathrooms for you to use, lets you use their copier whenever you want, donates tens of thousands of dollars to local charities, converts all your coins to cash for you for free, stays open late for you after work, helps you learn how to get a good deal on a used car, gives you free tickets to the local high school football games, gives you American flags, and brings the tooth fairy in to teach your kids about clean teeth? Ya think! Seriously—look at those ads—they’re not that hard to write when you have something good to say!

Do you see how these ads would effectively communicate the idea that this is actually, really, truly, not just hype and hollow words, but in fact they are indeed a friendly, community-centered bank? Of course you do—it’s obvious, and that’s the point! It’s a 300 mpg automobile. But sadly, guess what—there’s not a bank on the planet that actually does any of this stuff—but if they did, their marketing job would be a piece of cake, and they’d send the big national banks packing—they couldn’t compete. They’d Dominate Their Marketplace. But you have to have something good to say. Our innovation formulas can help you achieve this too.
If you’re wondering how they could afford to do all that stuff, that’s a good question. Here’s the short answer: every innovation is going to have a cost of implementation. You’ve got to decide, based on your judgment, if the innovation will bring in enough incremental revenue to justify its cost. In many cases, you can simply allocate some of your marketing budget toward the cost of the innovation. Could a bank carve out $5,000 out of a $20,000 monthly marketing budget and instead of running more ads, spend it on donuts, pens, flags, and copies? Of course they could.

The key to innovation is first of all you just have to think about it and commit to getting out of the rut that most businesses get into just doing the same things over and over because they’re easier than trying new and different and better things. But beyond just thinking about it and committing to innovation, you’ve also got to have a way of generating ideas and fostering ideas and brainstorming ideas that will allow the creative, innovative process to continually incubate so new ideas are always hatching and being implemented. This is how you perpetually stay ahead of the game and ahead of the competition.

Let me tell you about an innovation formula called the “Pulaski No Punt.” There’s a high school in Little Rock Arkansas called Pulaski Academy. Their coach, Kevin Kelley, made a decision that they would never punt the football no matter what. There’s some strong math behind this theory—it says, for example, that if it’s fourth and 3 from your own 10 yard line, if you punt, the other team will probably get the ball on about the 35 yard line, and statistically speaking, have an 80% chance of scoring. But if you go for it instead, even if you miss and hand the ball over on the 10 yard line, the opponent’s chance of scoring only goes up by 10%, to about 90%. But the statistics also say there’s a 50% chance of conversion on 4th and 3. That means if you go for it, you now have a 50% chance of them getting NO points, because they won’t have the darn ball. Plus, your opponents have to defend you differently on second and third downs when they know you’re going to go for it on fourth. And when you continually convert 4th downs, you demoralize the defense. Here’s the punch line: Pulaski Academy won the state championship without ever punting—all the while everyone was calling their coach an idiot. In marketing, in innovation formulas, I call this the “Pulaski No Punt.” What could you do that’s completely unheard of, that will turn your industry upside down, that will make your competitors think you’re downright stupid—but is actually based on solid math and statistics that show it can be a winner?

Let me tell you about Dan Wolt. He had been in the replacement window business for years and could see the frustration in his customer’s eyes when he’d sit in their living room for the customary 2 to 2 ½ hour sales pitch for new windows. One day he’d finally had enough, so he quit his job and started his own company, Zen Windows. His new company’s slogan summed up his philosophy: Relax. Window Quotes in 5 Minutes. Apparently customers liked his approach—he’d walk into their home with the order form pre-filled out, count how many windows they wanted, multiply it by his standard price per window, and be done in less than 5 minutes. Most of his appointments actually take 20 minutes—five minutes for the presentation, and 15 minutes for the customer to tell Dan all their horror stories of the ridiculous 2 hour hard-sell sessions they had with other companies. Closing ratios for most window companies is about 25 to 30%. Dan’s is 75% to 80%. Dan went from zero to $2 million in sales in 3 years and is 20 times more profitable than his competitors. He runs the business out of a little condo with just himself, a receptionist, and contract installer provided by the manufacturer he represents. That’s a 300 mile per gallon Camry, my friends… and interestingly, nobody else is copying him. Just like all the other football teams that insist on punting on 4th down every time. His competitors all think he’s a nutbar because everyone knows it takes two hours to sell a window. Everyone except Dan. That’s a Pulaski No Punt. It’s innovative and fresh—and he’s absolutely killing the competition.

So let’s review—the first major marketing mistake companies make is they simply DON’T have something good to say. They’re drifting by on the status quo, using last decade’s strategies, and usually getting pummeled on price. Come on over to Adult B2B and put these strategies into action for your business

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