storybookHaving minimal research on this point, I’ll still propose that just as soon as Man could communicate, he told stories.  Storytelling seems to be embedded into the human DNA.  We understand much of our world through the stories we are told because stories, not mere recitation of facts, put things into perspective.  Fables, myths, history, even the Bible, are passed along from one to another by stories that illuminate the consciousness.

Stories are also how great marketing works.  Which is why I include it as one of the Six Essential Traits of Effective Marketing: UniquenessClaritySimplicity, Surprise, Story and Experience.

So, for instance, you want people to know you have the most compassionate team in town.  You could simply say so.  Or you could relate a story about how one of your support crew noticed a family member shaking in the cold and took off his own coat to place over the shoulders of the family member. That’s a story that goes far deeper and gets remembered.

People love a good story.  It’s why, with one of our cemetery clients whose property includes the graves of city founders, pioneers and early settlers, we run ads that tell the stories of these individuals. These stories, in a traditionally low-interest category, have gone a long way toward re-invigorating this client’s nearly forgotten brand, making it vibrant again.Union Stephens Ad

And stories aren’t just what you tell others about you, it’s what others tell about themselves and their loved ones. At this last NFDA Convention, we saw a booth for LifeArt Caskets, a company that creates completely customizable casket graphics. Now family members can tell the story of Grandpa by including photos of Grandpa and their personal thoughts directly on the casket.  At the same time, more and more people today are thinking about their legacies, how they, themselves, will be remembered.  Your helping them to do that can be part of their storytelling experience.  You might do this by hosting web pages that let family members talk about their personal histories and how they’d like to be remembered.  Take your storytelling beyond the obits to someplace new and interesting to those who are or might soon be your customers.  See what Aurora Casket is doing with their BeRemembered site, and Rose Hills Memorial Park with their “Legacy Wall.”

New and emerging technologies like DNA Memorial are creating even more opportunities to pass along one’s life story through the preservation of their DNA.  What could you do with that to help tell your story and merge it with your families’?

Another way to think about stories is to consider the stories one tells about oneself.  Starbucks is a great example of this.  Someone who frequents a Starbucks store isn’t just buying a cup of Joe, they’re putting themselves in the middle of a story about the sophisticated lifestyle they lead, a lifestyle that includes frequenting a place that practically requires an operations handbook to order the “Skinny Vente Chai Pumpkin Latte,” whatever that is.  Starbucks has nurtured the up-cultured, up-priced internet-connected boutique coffee house story wonderfully.  You can do the same if you think about what it might mean to a family or customer to do business with you.  Are they smarter?  Do they have a wider support network?  Are they better enabled to move forward?  What’s that story?

Since the days of sitting around the fire while dining on mammoths, storytelling has been an important part of passing along ideas from one person to another…and from one generation to another.  You just can’t do that by listing a bunch of bullet points!  So come up with a good story and make sure to let everybody in on it.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

Surprise EmoticonIf you’ve seen one ad, you’ve seen ‘em all.

If you’ve seen one website, you’ve seen a thousand of ‘em.

They’re all pretty much the same…until one isn’t.  And that’s when you suddenly notice it.  Submitted for your approval, a new commercial for General Electric. (Click here to watch.) Now, they could have simply said they’re idea people, but that wouldn’t have made you stop and watch it till its end.  Nope.  Instead, they found an outside-the-box solution that I for one certainly didn’t expect.  And they delivered the message convincingly.

Which brings me to the fourth of my list of Six Essential Traits of Effective Marketing: Surprise.  (The others being Uniqueness, Clarity, Simplicity, Story and Experience.)

Now let’s say you’re the average Joe…or Jill…sitting at home after a long day at work and you turn on the TV.  You’re in the “let me escape” mode.  And along comes a commercial for Flannagan’s Funeral Home.  It starts with slow, soft music and a reflective, melancholy woman’s voiceover saying, “When Bob passed away, I just didn’t know who to turn to…”  Now imagine just how quickly Joe…or Jill…grabs the remote control.  No surprises here.  Joe…or Jill…knows exactly what the commercial is about, and it’s not about to be interesting, even if Flannagan’s is for a fact the most caring, most compassionate, most service-oriented funeral home in town.

Especially in funeral marketing, if the form of message doesn’t deliver a fresh and unexpected surprise, it will be passed over like Wyoming in a jetliner.  That isn’t to say your ad or commercial or website can’t talk directly about funerals or affect a serious tone; consider this amazing and powerful approach to seat belt use: Click here to watch. Seat Belt Commercial

Of course, we’ve seen (and created) plenty of funeral ads that use humor to surprise and disarm a wary audience.  The point is, your audience knows what a funeral ad “looks like” and if yours looks like what they expect, it’s a losing proposition.

That’s the reason advertising and marketing agencies put so much stock in creativity. I’ve often said that creativity is the best delivery vehicle for a marketing message.  Agency people don’t try to be clever for clever’s sake.  In fact, being too clever can distract from a message just as easily as it can deliver one. (How many times have you watched a cute commercial and after it was over couldn’t articulate the reason you should actually buy the product?  Subaru is especially guilty of that!)  But we do try to present a selling proposition such that the audience is willing to grant us an extra few seconds of their over-pressed time.

Frankly, it’s always challenging work to find a new and unexpected way to talk about something that’s as old and ubiquitous as…funerals. But that’s what’s demanded each and every time.  And if you’re successful at it, the rewards come as a nice surprise too.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

NixonFormer president Richard Nixon was famously quoted (and oft imitated) for his phrase “Let me make one thing perfectly clear…”  Not that transparency was actually part of his administration, but at least he knew the public wants things to be clear.

Clarity is an essential part of effective communications and flat-out critical when it comes to marketing communications.  We view Clarity as one of the Six Essential Values of Powerful Marketing (Uniqueness, Simplicity, Clarity, Surprise, Story and Experience.)  Yet, so many ads, commercials, sales brochures, websites and trade show booths fail to be perfectly clear, leaving the audience to only guess at what the marketer was trying to say.

Consider these gibberish taglines from some of America’s top marketers:

  • American Eagle Outfitters: Live your life
  • Hilton: Travel should take you places
  • H&R Block: You got people
  • JCPenney:  Every Day Matters


Sprint, especially, has done a fantastic job of message obfuscation with their “Frobinson Family” campaign.  Again, Huh? Can anyone please tell me what the point of these inane commercials is?  That goes for many other commercials by big names selling small ideas, most often in fashion, fragrances and alcohol.

And just read any business publication and you’ll see ads with copy like “We strive to procure VPN-enabled solutions for today’s leading eBusinesses.” And “Dedicated data implementations for today’s market-focused virtual companies.”  One more time, Huh?  These could have just as easily been created by a random phrase generator and been better understood.

Reading the funeral trade magazines, I see too many ads that are no better, that I would have exert serious mental effort before I could understand precisely what they have to sell and why I should care.

Billboards and trade shows booths are also great places to see practitioners of obscurity at their best. In the case of billboards, driving at 60 miles per hour, the audience simply doesn’t have time to read tiny type next to big photos (see the example), or make sense of a too-clever headline one has to think about to “get.”  Billboard Azure

And at trade shows, with all the crowds, noise and visual overload, too many booths bury their key story amid an army of bullet points and oversize logos.  Attendees don’t even take the time to scratch their heads and wonder what these exhibitors do, make or sell as they move past.

So this is a plead for clarity, for putting the key selling proposition front and center, no matter how it gets dressed up.  An old saw of advertising puts it succinctly: “Think it out square, then say it with flair.” Which is to say, make sure that the selling message is understandable, meaningful and motivating before you start on any creative executions, and then be sure, once the creative work is done, that the message still drives through.

I hope I’ve made this one point perfectly clear.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

Blivet Ad

A real ad for a real funeral home. One ad, eight messages. So what’s their focus?

If you were a soldier in the Second World War, you’d likely know what a “blivet” is.  To put it politely, it’s “ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag.”

Want to see a blivet?  Look at 90% of all ads, especially print ads, especially funeral ads. They’re blivets made of ink.  Every possible marketing message is jammed into a small bordered space, each message usually preceded by a bullet. I guess the idea is that if any one message isn’t enough to get the audience salivating, then perhaps another message will do the job; and if that’s not the one, here are a few more, just in case you missed something. It’s a big noisy party of messages, all milling around aimlessly, each awaiting the right fit for the right customer.

The problem with this strategy is that our poor eyes can’t take all of it in, let alone our attention-deficit-disordered minds.

As human beings, we like things simple.  A car can be fast, or sexy, or provide great fuel economy, or make a statement about lifestyle, or transport a family of six – but for marketing purposes, it just can’t be all these things at once.  Simplicity is one of the Six Qualities necessary for effective marketing communication – which includes Uniqueness, Simplicity, Clarity, Surprise, Story and Experience – but it’s one of the least practiced.  As a result, we get blivet marketing everywhere.

A funeral home, for instance, can be established since 1927, serve all faiths, be family-owned, offer cremation options, have the most caring staff, provide affordable cost solutions, be open every day of the week, and be near the cemetery.  And, no joke, I’ve seen ads and commercials for funeral establishments that try to cram all that into one space.  But if it genuinely wants to be effective in its marketing, the right solution is to limit the story to one or at most two strong messages while letting all the others slide away.  You just can’t be all things to all people, much as you’d like to be.

And here’s where the old 80-20 Rule applies (being 80% of your business will come from only 20% of the market). When you try to toss in a bunch more bullet points in hopes of capturing another 10%, you’ll actually lose some of your precious 20% for lack of focus. Better to be known for one thing than too many, presuming that one thing is something your competition can’t also say, that sets your business apart as extraordinary (see my last blog about Uniqueness).

Say one powerful thing in a powerful way. And then say it over and over again, in as many marketing venues as your budget will allow.  You’ll be amazed how much more effective that will be.

The K-I-S-S adage is truer than ever when it applies to marketing.  Keep it simple.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

UniquenessThere’s an old Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out is quickly hammered down.”  In Japanese culture, conformity is a highly desirable trait.  But in Western culture, especially here in the United States, we admire — or at least can’t ignore — the stand-outs and non-conformists like John Wayne, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and Robin Williams.  (R.I.P. to them all.)

We admire companies that stand out as well: Apple, Starbucks, Tesla and Zappos.  In a world of computers, coffee houses, car companies and shoe brands, these firms are unique.  We like unique.  We remember unique.  Commodity companies and their products can only trade on price, but as consumers, we’re willing to spend more money on brands that are unique and that makes us feel unique for buying them.  (Think about it, the guy with the Tesla next door is probably much more interesting than the other neighbor with a 2008 Honda in the driveway.)

So getting down to brass tacks, how unique is your company?  Is your funeral home or cemetery or supply company just another standard-issue brand?  Or are you doing something that’s stand-out, that’s un-ignorable, that the competitor down the street isn’t offering?  Are you an Apple or are you a Dell, or worse, a “house brand?”

And from a marketing perspective, does your message communicate your most unique qualities?  Or is it pretty much doing what others are doing and what your audience expects?  The most grievous and costly mistake you can make is developing marketing programs and content that get ignored because they suffer from sameness. Even if they’re seen, they won’t be remembered any more than you remember any one of the hundreds of ads, commercials, billboards and online messages you were exposed to today that didn’t stir your attention.

Bland is a slippery road into obscurity and failure in today’s business world.

There’s a perceived downside, of course, in being unique.  It demands taking the risk that somebody might actually notice you and possibly react negatively. In my book, getting any reaction at all is far better than anonymity.  Besides, there isn’t one unique person, one outstanding company, or one one-of-a-kind anything that doesn’t have its share of detractors.  Some people hate the taste of Starbucks coffee or think the stores are pretentious. Some people think a Macintosh computer is way overpriced and the software doesn’t play well with other platforms.  But that doesn’t stop those companies from going their own way.  The more one makes an effort to stand out, the more likely some will take exception to what they’re doing.  And that’s fine, the way it should be.  I have one client who laughs every time they get a complaint about their unusual radio commercials because he knows then that people are hearing them and reacting, and discounts the small – but vocal – percent who gripe. It requires thick skin to be the stand-out brand, but the rewards are most welcome.

Being Unique is the first of six values we attribute to the most successful marketing campaigns. In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss the other five: Simplicity, Clarity, Surprise, Story and Experience.  But the first value, being Unique, is foremost.  Nothing else matters if you don’t stand out.


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

no-sale-signAs a partner in a thriving marketing firm, one of my responsibilities is that of business development. While I learn something in each conversation with people in marketing leadership positions, many times after I hang up the phone, I say to myself, “there’s another one who’s losing sales to their competitors!”  Mainly that’s because these folks have adopted some misconception about marketing as the “truth” that they can’t and won’t let go of no matter what. So while they say they’d like their sales to be stronger, their year-over-year sales won’t change much or, in some cases, will decrease from one year to the next.

So, let’s do a quick run-through of 5 most common fallacies that I hear. Hopefully none of these sound as familiar to you as they do to me.

I can grow my sales and “share of pie” with a smaller budget than my competitors

When I hear this, it generally implies two things to me:  1) Either your competitors are wasting a big portion of their marketing budget on initiatives or messaging that doesn’t connect with the customers or, 2) your marketing partners are fantastic because they’re willing to work for less than the average market price in order to do the wonderful work they do…which I have a hard time believing is the case.  Oh, and then let’s not forget about the inability of these companies to track how much money the competitor is actually (over) spending on marketing.

The reality is this: if your company is spending a good deal less than the competition, you’re probably not making any significant gains in market share. Yes, there might be a competitor that’s overspending, but my experience working with companies from the Fortune 100 to small mom-and-pops is that you don’t pose a serious competitive threat unless your marketing budget is in the same ballpark with your competition….it’s just one of those “marketing truths.”

Marketing’s role is to generate new business

You’ll get no argument from me that one of the jobs of marketing is to generate new business, directly or indirectly.  But just as important, marketing’s role is to make existing customers come back for more, that is making customers loyal to the brand.  Many businesses are so focused on attracting new customers that they tend to ignore – or even walk away from – the existing ones. Yes, new customers are constantly needed, but truly successful companies prosper on their ability to retain the customers they’ve already acquired. The reason is simple: finding new customers is expensive and time-consuming. Let the following research statistics wash over you….

  • The cost of acquiring a new customer is estimated at 6 to 7 times what it costs to maintain a current one.
  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70% while many companies consider a “get new customers” campaign successful if just over 5% of the prospects contacted end up buying.

New business is always good but don’t forget who’s paying the bills.

We’re looking to be more visible with our customers because it leads to better engagement

Reaching the right balance between quality and frequency of the message requires careful consideration.  There is a common belief among some that the more we communicate with our customers, the more “engaged” they will become. In fact, not knowing when to “zip it” is a classic marketing mistake that too many marketing people make. If marketing is about building relationships with customers, over-marketing, or the wrong kind of marketing, is the best way to kill the relationship and send the customer or prospect heading for the door.  A social engagement study entitled “The Social Breakup” prepared by ExactTarget, provides clear evidence of what happens to customer relationships when the marketer comes on too strong:

  • 91% of consumers have unsubscribed from permission-based marketing emails
  • 81% of consumers have either “unliked” or removed a company’s posts from their Facebook.

Guess the biggest reason people break up with companies? (Drum roll)…Too much marketing. The study showed that:

  • 54% of consumers unsubscribe when emails come too frequently;
  • 63% of customers have “unliked” a company on Facebook due to excessive postings.

In short, increasing the frequency of communication shouldn’t be your marketing goal. Constantly improving content quality should be.

We don’t need a marketing firm because we can do it in-house for less

It’s the #1 thing I hear the most. A survey conducted by American Express Canada shows that “84% of small business owners say branding is important to overall business success, but only 14% hire third-party experts to help with branding.” I am not surprised by the results, and I can only guess the reasons: agency expense, the desire to have full control over the creative process, poor prior experience with an agency, or possibly the ability to make changes faster on one’s own. So, instead of looking for an outside marketing partner, many companies decide to hire a “marketing person” who wears many hats: graphic designer, social media specialist, copywriter, etc. Let’s be honest, no marketer can be a specialist in everything, unless the company is willing to cut corners on how it presents itself to the world.

Now please understand, I’m not trying to bash the in-house marketing department as there are a lot of smart and talented people out there working for companies. Rather, my point is this: the right outside marketing partner will bring a focus to the marketing initiatives or project, resulting in faster execution time; will come in with an original point of view – more in line with how your customer will interpret the messaging; develop much fresher creative (no “vanilla” wallpaper stuff that gets passed over), and; deliver a much higher level of production quality. Try this on for size: open up 5 trade or consumer magazines and tag 10 ads that stop you in your tracks… ones that convey a strong value proposition, ones that you wish your firm had done! My completely biased but nevertheless absolutely accurate guess is that all nearly all of those ads you tagged were created by a marketing firm or advertising agency.

We’re looking for something beyond traditional marketing because that kind of advertising is dead

The internet is chock full of  advice on how your company should abandon traditional “old school” communication methods and make the switch to online. It would seem like TV, print ads, billboards, and radio are dying and not worth considering in the overall communication strategy.  Yet, research (and lots of it) says this is an incorrect assumption. I think we can agree that the best marketing communication strategy uses a mix of offline and online tactics to reach the target audience. (Do yourself a favor and visit http://www.marketingcharts.com and subscribe –it’s free. Here you’ll get daily research updates on a wide range of topics including how traditional channels are preferred over digital depending on the audience.)


While it’s true that more money is shifting towards digital, the traditional marketing channels are still heavily required in many business environments.  That’s especially true if you’re reaching the 50-plus-year-old Baby Boomer. In fact, when Google started getting serious competition, they started running…wait for it…TV ads!  When Dollar Shave Club saw that their growth was limited by only online marketing, they started using those old, traditional channels that have in turn made them a rising star company.  When you need to reach a mass audience quickly and effectively, there’s still no substitute for paid media…and even the dot-coms know it.  Think about this, in 2014, the average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad was more than $4 million. No CEO or Marketing Director would ever approve such a budget without taking ROI into account, right?

So as I noted earlier, hopefully none of these sound familiar to you. But if on the other hand you’ve heard or said one of these things in the past, know that a lot of confusion, frustration and unrealistic expectations can be eliminated by seeing the world through a different set of lenses.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


Marvin SmWe’ve all had an experience with those finance/accounting types who drive us crazy, requiring that any and all marketing initiatives be measured and that we justify our expenses.  More times than not, we spend lots of time trying to come up with metrics that will satisfy them. But in doing so, as marketers we sometimes come up short in the mind of the finance guys and then you hear things like: “Marketing just doesn’t understand numbers!”  Alternatively, Marketing Directors, say things like: “Finance doesn’t know what good marketing can do for our brand, it’s not just about spreadsheets.”

With all due respect to the marketing people, I’d like to put it out there that maybe a majority of the problem doesn’t always start and end with the financial folks. How’s that?  Well, sometimes, it seems as if the marketing people and the finance people are just talking two different languages. Certainly, each has a different “world view” of business.  For example…

We talk a lot about strategy and forget about tactics. 

Because of the sexiness associated with Strategy, we marketers like to call almost everything we do “strategic.”  In fact, almost every component of marketing now seems to have its own strategy: Online strategy. Social media strategy. PR strategy. CRM strategy. And it just keeps on going. Well, for the folks in finance & accounting, there’s a critical difference between a strategy and a tactic!  The word “tactics” in their minds is immediate, all about bringing in income sooner rather than later.  “Strategy” to them is more about a longer-term income stream that won’t likely show up on next quarter’s P&L statement. So, if tactics and strategy play different roles in ROI, and all we do talk about “strategy,” maybe the CFO is right to wonder if what we do will ever positively affect the bottom line? And when?

More times than we should, we build high expectations and then deliver less than startling results.

Too often, marketers jump on the latest fad and technological ‘’silver bullet’ and declare that this is the answer we’ve all been waiting for.  Some people in marketing are too quick to buy into what others are doing, even if it doesn’t actually makes sense for the industry or company.  Especially within funeral profession.  For example, five years ago, there were people writing books, blogs and commentaries telling everyone who would listen that because of the internet, brick and mortar businesses would decline and that we’d all be working virtually by now. How has that turned out?!  I’m not suggesting that as marketers we sandbag the anticipated results for any marketing effort or campaign we’re launching, but we do need to watch just how rosy a picture gets painted, because the numbers people will hold us accountable to the expectations we establish.

We spend almost no time developing relationships with “those people in Finance.”

When I started in the Marketing Department of a large Fortune 100 organization, the first piece of advice I received from my boss (who had my job before being promoted) was “go and make friends with the people in Finance.”  “Making friends” were the key words because that’s when things start to happen.  It’s amazing when marketing and finance people begin having lunch together and start to understand how each department sees the world. When was the last time you saw marketing people explain the rationale behind their plans, develop some semblance of what the company can expect in the ways of meaningful metrics, give details and defend the realities behind the timelines, or justify the amount of work it takes to make a concept real and attractive in the marketplace?  In short, by figuring how to work with one another, communicate with one another, and then look for ways to help one another, everyone can feel better with what the Marketing Department is doing.

So, do marketers need to talk the language of finance? Or do finance people need to become more fluent in marketing?  Or is it somewhere in between? And how do we get there?

Well, how does this sound as a starting point: When we marketers talk to our customers and prospects, we’re supposed to speak to them in a language that they understand – one that’s meaningful and beneficial to them. Maybe we should try talking to those Finance People the same way. That could bridge a gap that may help the marketing department – and your company – turn the corner.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: