iStock_000009381830SmallWhen you consider the brands Reebok, Converse and New Balance, you think about athletic shoes.  But when you think about Nike, you think about runners, golfers and basketball players – even street dancers – pushing for their personal best.

When you think about Dell, HP, or Lenovo, you think about computers.  But when you consider Apple, you think about designers, musicians and all the cool things your Mac, or  iPhone or iPad lets you do.

Why the difference between brands like Nike or Apple and everybody else?

Effective branding isn’t about what you sell, but about what people buy and what motivates them deep inside.

If you’re a funeral home, for instance, what you may sell are things like funeral arrangements, transportation, cremation, memorial products, and assorted containers for the remains.  But what the family wants to buy are things like getting past the pain as quickly as possible, remembering all the good stuff, having the support of loved ones and friends, and justifying the expense…or their thrift.

The connection between what you sell and what people want to buy might be called your brand “vision.”

When a company’s brand vision aligns with the customer’s vision – or better yet, triggers the customer’s vision – the cash register rings.  Nike and Apple don’t so much outspend their competitors; they are much better at expressing their brand vision.  It’s the vision that their customers buy, and the commodities they produce are simply the fulfillment of their visions.

A case example from outside the funeral industry to make the point:  We had a client who makes batteries, chargers and cases for video cameras, still cameras, cell phones and other personal electronics.  So naturally, they saw themselves in the accessories manufacturing business.  And so did their customers, including their retailers.  But once we saw how good their products were and how they really enhanced the gadgets they were meant to accessorize, we proposed for them a new brand vision.  “You’re not in the accessories business,” we said.  “You’re in the Higher-Performance business!”  Their super-fast cell phone chargers weren’t just chargers, they actually extended the value and performance of the buyers’ cell phones.  From that point on, we treated the brand as the “Performance Products” company that accelerated one’s pleasure in their cell phones, cameras, etc. It changed the game and created a brand vision customers could align themselves with, and the company sales proved it.

An example from within the funeral industry:  An old and practically forgotten cemetery was losing business year after year to their newer competitors. But when we discovered the great number of historical figures buried there, including the town’s own namesake, we created a new brand vision for the cemetery as an exciting, “living” historical treasure, filled with the stories of trailblazing pioneers, cowboy shootouts, corrupt city marshals, and celebrated politicians.  A new logo added the word “Historic” to their name, the ads read like storybooks, free historic tours were conducted, and the city named t
he property a “Historic Place.”  The call-to-action for new memorial property was the invitation to “Be a Part of History.”  The downward spiral of sales stopped and reversed within a year of the campaign launch.  All because audiences buy into a vision more readily than into a sales message.

What is your brand vision?  Can you articulate it clearly?  Does everybody else on staff share that vision?  And is it uniquely yours?  If your brand vision is not clear, simple, unique and compelling, it’s time to re-think your brand.

Because if your customers don’t connect to your brand vision, you’re not much more to them than a commodity. And that’s a vision nobody wants.


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.

business armyOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them stand out in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things fast!”?  Would Nike have been as successful had it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great running shoes”?  How would BMW’s vision have changed if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” had become “Our cars are fun to drive!”?  My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a theme line or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable?  Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Let’s face it, we have a tendency to settle.  Or pick the first “right” answer.  It’s almost human nature. We settle for something that’s not just quite ideal, an outfit that isn’t our absolutely best look, a job that doesn’t maximize our talents, or an ad or website page that’s okay or just “good enough.” While the act of compromise in life, relationships and particularly conflict is an admirable trait, compromise or “settling for” in marketing is a death knell.

The whole point of your marketing activities is to get noticed, get engaged with your audience, and have your efforts be acted upon to bring in the business.  Alternatively, anonymity, swimming in the center of a school of other fish, may be a good survival tactic if you are an anchovy, but it is not a good survival tactic for business.  So you have to wonder why so much marketing – and so many marketers – feel the need to play follow-the-leader with respect to marketing trends.

The logic is that if others have done something successfully, you just need to do the same thing. Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.  As we all know, breakthrough products and breakthrough marketing campaigns are not achieved through conformity. Note the word “break” in breakthrough.  These are the products and campaigns that break the rules.  These are the products and campaigns that use insight, intuition, experience, sensitivity to the marketplace – and arguably the most important thing….courage – to do things differently. To break away from the status quo.  And for anything that has to do with marketing funeral products and services to consumers, the need is greatest.

It is certainly true that most companies don’t have that innate insight and courage to be successfully different.  We can’t all be like Steve Jobs. But for those are willing to do things differently and well, for those who want their companies to stand out, then the only rule that matters is:  You cannot achieve exceptional success through conformity.

To that end, you can have your brand and product/service stand out if you’re willing to take a risk. For starters, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What’s can you say about your organization, or its products or services that’s seen as a unique, fresh alternative to your competitors?  Think beyond the obvious. Dig deeper. Ask yourself a bunch of “So what does that mean?” and “Why would our customer care?” with each answer that’s given.

2. What medium makes the most sense for your brand?  The goal is to create a campaign that drives conversation and ultimately revenue. So what imaginative or different ways should be explored and implemented? Look at all the possible media selections there are today (while considering which audiences consume which media most) and think about how you could maximize the channel inventively.

3. How will you execute your campaign?  Don’t risk looking amateurish or waste money by trying to save money.  Be big with a Big Idea, even if it means that some people will dislike it.  (Do you think everybody loved “Got Milk?” when it was first presented? Bad English, negative tone, no benefit.)  Dare to be outrageous and unexpected. Sameness never gets noticed or acted upon. If you have to go outside to find talented solutions, do it.  But, for gosh sakes, don’t settle for an uninspired idea.

Clearly, whether it is investing in advertising, developing more creativity, spending the time to follow-up or making the effort to engage with your customers, smart business requires that you elevate your marketing past the point of blah to Wow.  Just as winning athletes don’t settle, you have to go all-out to win in the race for more customers and a stronger bottom line.   Reaching for brilliance every time is the key.


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 LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.

Clients GetOne of the peculiar things about my profession (advertising) is that there are a lot of sayings, such as “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes,” and “Let’s see if the dogs will eat the dog food.”  One saying that floats around a lot is “Clients get the advertising they deserve.”  It turns out that this is really quite a truism.  On the whole, clients do get the advertising they deserve, for better or worse.  In well over 30 years of doing this, I remember all the clients who gave us room to experiment, the freedom to make mistakes without blame, and the sharing of the rewards of success, and it should come as no surprise, we joyfully broke our backs for them day in and day out to do our very best work on their behalf.

Further, I can recall the clients who questioned every decision we made, pointed fingers when problems arose, whether large or small, often gave us the headlines or pictures they wanted us to use, or insisted that the daughter of the CEO be in every ad.  Well, I have to admit, it’s hard to put your heart into your work when the client keeps the agency operating in a state of fear.  Worse, it isn’t just the quality of work that suffers, it’s the effectiveness.

Interestingly, in both cases, good and bad, the outcome had almost nothing at all to do with the size of the marketing budget.  And it had nothing to do with the client industry.  Some of my very best clients – and subsequently, my very best work – have come from within the funeral profession.

So how do YOU deserve and receive the very best advertising and marketing?  Simply, pick the very best marketing partner you can, provide them all the information and tools they need to deal with the assigned marketing challenges, inspire them to do their best work and then step aside and let them work the problem.  Sounds easy.  But it’s often tough, since trust is hardly ever handed out for free.

Here are a few pointers, and they apply whether you use a marketing agency, a design firm, a website developer or a freelance creative team (I’ll refer to them all as “agency”):

  • Agree with your agency in writing what the objective of every project should be, i.e., increased calls, more website visits, lead generation, greater brand awareness, etc.  Agree to the price, timeline and deliverables, also in writing.
  • Minimize the number of people on your end who will work with the agency day-to-day.  In the case of multiple layers of staffing, it’s best for one executive on each side to be in contact with each other and one “administrative” person on each end doing the same thing at their level.
  • Keep the agency away from your internal committees. Too many voices confuses the agency or, worse, makes them feel as if they’re sitting in a tribunal.  Remember another old adage: “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”  If you do want your agency to present to a committee, do it after you’ve already approved their direction.
  • Allow the agency the room to come up with a different solution than one you might have selected on your own.  Presumably you’ve hired them for their expertise, talents and integrity, so now you need to trust them.  Otherwise, you’re “keeping the dog but doing the barking yourself,” as legendary adman David Ogilvy eloquently put it.
  • Similar to the previous point, appreciate the difference between style and substance. It’s tempting to want to reword a piece of agency copy to be more in the fashion you’d say it (or your grammar teacher).  But let it go; that’s style.  On the other hand, if a line of text misstates a fact or isn’t addressing the marketing issue, that’s a matter of substance. Gently direct the agency thusly.  If the agency prefers a brunette model in the layout and you think the blonde with the glasses looks more appropriate, allow the agency the right to choose.  On the other hand, if the agency wants to change your logo which affects your brand equity, speak right up.
  • Involve your agency in your company.  Bring them into sales meetings.  Take them on site visits. Invite them to your company’s holiday parties.  Make them feel like family.  You’ll develop in them a level of loyalty and commitment you never expected.
  • No matter what your budget, don’t chisel the agency. Be as generous as possible. That way, they’ll never feel that the relationship is just about money, which can be as demoralizing as anything else I’ve mentioned.  And pay them quickly, since it’s likely their cash flow is farther out on the edge than your own.  (We pay our suppliers often before we get their invoices and in return we always get their best work!)
  • Finally, allow your agency the right to blow it once in a while.  Nobody’s perfect and nobody’s right all the time. Even Steve Jobs and Walt Disney had a clunker or two.  Keep your agency inspired, keep them feeling appreciated, and look at the trend before you decide what your next move will be.

I love quoting Robert Townsend, the president of Avis Rent-A-Car who led the company’s growth during their glory days.  He sent a note to all his marketing department employees that read, in excerpt:

1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as (our agency) and they will never know as much about the rent-a-car business as Avis.

2. The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter (whether on a business trip, a vacation trip, or renting an extra car at home) to try Avis.

3. A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with five times the effectiveness (see #2 above) of the competition’s advertising.

4. To this end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted. Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).

5. To this end, (our agency) will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend. They will not “see what Avis thinks of this one.”


With Townsend’s client-agency relationship mandate steering the marketing, Avis’s “Number 2 Tries Harder” campaign became one of the best-known, best-remembered campaigns of all time and boosted the company’s business multi-fold.

I cannot think of a more succinct guide to client-agency relations than that.


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 LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.


16810MadmenIn the funeral profession, perhaps more than in other industries, the companies who work with outside advertising agencies and independent marketing professionals are relatively few.  As a result, most businesses who go “outside” for the first time don’t yet know what they don’t know, and that can limit their best chances for success.  Even those who have worked with agencies or independent professionals before can easily fall into certain traps that may lead to potential upsets with respect to sales or personalities.  We’ve seen and experienced both.

So in the spirit of wanting you to get the very most from your marketing efforts, I am beginning a short series of articles having to do with selecting, working with and nurturing the relationship you have with your outside marketing team.  I’ll refer to these outside professionals as your “agency,” but it could just as easily be a design firm, free-lance copy & art team, or a web developer.

Let’s start with selecting your agency.

So, WHY go outside in the first place?  After all, who knows more about your business than you do, right?  The answer is two-fold.  First, you probably didn’t go to school to learn graphic design, public relations, copywriting, marketing strategy and media buying.  So whatever marketing you have learned, you’ve acquired on your own, which can lead to an incomplete or even erroneous perspective.  A marketing agency is filled with people who have studied their craft, honed their talents, experienced the effects of their efforts across a wide range of client industries, and live solely to see their marketing expertise pay off for their clients.  For the same reason you wouldn’t be expected to know the law as well as your lawyer, or tax codes as well as your accountant, you aren’t expected to be as experienced in the art and science of marketing nearly as much as those who do this as a career day-in and day-out.  Second, it’s nearly impossible to turn your own eyeballs inward.  An agency brings the necessary objectivity to your marketing in the same way your audience does.  The agency’s job is to communicate your story through the eyes and ears of your customers, who aren’t nearly as biased toward your business as you are. That’s why they may not drink your Kool-Aid as quickly as you do and may approach the marketing challenges from a perspective that could feel quite foreign (or even wrong) from your point of view.  So talent, experience and objectivity are the real reasons you should consider going outside.  Marketing dollars are hard enough to come by without wasting any of it through do-it-yourself efforts.

Once you’ve decided to seek “professional help,” how then do you go about selecting the best team to bring fresh solutions to your enterprise?

The great adman, David Ogilvy, wrote that the best way to choose and agency is to look at advertising you envy and reach out to the agencies that created it.  If there is no conflict of interest, if they’re not currently working for your direct competitors, you should talk to them.  It doesn’t really matter if they’re not heavily experienced in funeral marketing.  Every agency has clients whose industries they had to learn about the first time, and even then, every company within an industry has its unique audiences and marketing challenges.  There will always be a learning curve for the agency no matter who you choose.  Until our first cemetery client, we had never done anything in the death-care space, and yet we increased their pre-need business better than 22% the first year.  So reach out beyond your own “comfort zone,” simply look at great ads and marketing ideas you wish you’d have thought of, and then talk to the folks who actually did think of them.

Next, interview the key players in the agency.  Find out what drives them, what makes their work successful, and how they’d get up to speed with your business.  Ask them about their failures as well.  Every agency has failures and you’ll learn a lot about them from whether or not they fess up, or cast the blame on others, and how they responded when the failures occurred.  Ask about their resources.  They don’t need to have a huge staff, but they should be able to provide you whatever capabilities you need in a timely and cost-effective fashion.  And, of course, personalities do play into it.  Is the chemistry good?  Are they a good fit with the people they’ll be working with on your end?

As you do this, think about how much or how little you’ll need from the agency, and for how long.  Many relationships work well in a retainer arrangement wherein the agency is acting as your ongoing marketing department, doing everything a good in-house marketing team would do, only under someone else’s roof.  The cost of hiring an agency on retainer may actually be cheaper than hiring an experienced marketing director in-house, while having the entire agency’s wealth of resources at your disposal.  On the other hand, if you’re not in need of strategic guidance and are only looking to create an ad campaign, produce a new website or re-design your logo – in other words, specific projects – it may be more advantageous to work on a project-by-project basis.  The fundamental difference is how pro-active you want your agency to be on your behalf.  Some marketers need strategic help, others only tactics.

Notice that I’ve not yet discussed money.  That should be the last thing you talk about before you hire the team.  If all else is good, trust me, you’ll work the money part of it out.  But basing your selection of an agency on money too early in the review limits you from hopefully finding the goose that lays the golden egg.

Oh, about the title of this post, that’s also a famous line from David Ogilvy.  It means that if you do bring an agency on to help with your marketing, make sure that once the goals, benchmarks and budgets are set, you allow them as much room as possible to operate with the most minimal direction or supervision.  You shouldn’t have to do their work for them, while at the same time, you should trust that they know marketing as well as you know your own business.

But much more on that in my next installment in which I’ll talk about the care and feeding of your agency so they can be the best they can and do the best they can all for your benefit.  Stay tuned…


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 LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.

Touchpoints GodI recently called on a cemetery operation during the middle of the day.  The very friendly receptionist put me on hold.  And for nearly two minutes, the phone was silent.  No hold music.  No beeps.  Nothing.  Like being sent to telephone purgatory.  It made me wonder what it must be like for a family at need to experience such an unsettling pause.  That momentary hold wasn’t just a lapse in communication, it was a splotch on the cemetery’s total brand experience.

As we know, customers experience your brand in numerous ways and each of these touchpoints molds the customer’s impression of your company and what it offers.  If the brand is a promise you make, then the customer experience is the fulfillment of that promise. The customer experience can’t be left to chance. It has to consistently reinforce the brand promise across every customer touchpoint or the value of the brand itself is at risk.

So, after thinking about what your brand stands for and what sets it apart, it’s time to look outward. After all, if a brand is built and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? In not-so-distant marketing past, reaching consumers meant connecting through just a few channels: a catalog, a radio spot, a store visit, a customer service line, a salesperson…You get the idea. However, the number of channels for reaching customers has exploded in recent years. Think about it: when was the last time you made a major (or even not-so-major) purchase decision, personal or for business, whether a product or service, through a single channel? In fact, it’s more likely that your purchasing decision was made after being reached through a variety of interconnected touchpoints, from social media, to word-of-mouth, to advertising messaging, to conducting research online, to comparison shopping in the store.

Despite the desire to “silo” marketing channels, they’re far more effectively used together than individually. In a Forrester’s research report, it was noted that 33% of new customers involve two or more “trackable touchpoints,” and nearly 50% of repeat customers visit three or more “trackable touchpoints.”  Which is to say, then, that your ultimate goal is to have each touchpoint reinforce and fulfill your marketplace promise. The best way to do this effectively is to look at each of your marketing, selling, and servicing processes which then allows you to create a simple touchpoint chart or map that defines your customers’ experiences with your brand.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at the process one might pursue in looking to make funeral plans in advance:

  • Influencing Touchpoints: You ask friends for recommendations on Facebook and look around trusted review websites (Yelp, Angie’s List) for ratings and testimonials. Maybe you remember seeing a local funeral director on the news commenting on the latest trends for personalization. (Touchpoints: Social Media, Patient Ratings, Word of Mouth, Testimonials, Referrals)
  • The Pre-Purchase Experience: You check out the web pages of some of the funeral homes that have piqued your interest. You decide to call one and are thrilled with how pleasant the receptionist is and how non-threatening the manner. (Touchpoints: Marketing, Appointment making interaction, PR, Online video, Blog, Website, Phone System)
  • The Purchase Experience: You arrive at the funeral home and are greeted by the receptionist who has a smile on her face. You sit in the nicely decorated and comfortable lobby waiting for your appointment.  It feels nothing at all like the Munsters.  The funeral director knows her stuff, presents the options professionally, and answers all your questions. On the way out, the receptionist smiles and wishes you a good day. (Touchpoints: Building Exterior, Office Lobby, Receptionist/Office surroundings, Staff attire and attitude)
  • The Post-Visit Experience: The funeral director sends you home with materials containing useful information. In the materials, you see the funeral home’s blog and social media pages which offer thoughts on estate planning and creating a legacy. A couple of days later, you receive a handwritten card with a small token of appreciation for visiting the funeral home. You go to a rating website and share your experience with others. (Touchpoints: Collateral Material, Thank You Card, Website)

That said, all touchpoints are not created equal. Some will naturally play a larger role in determining your company’s overall customer experience.  To determine the touchpoints driving your customers’ overall experience, your organization can use a wide array of techniques ranging from quantitative research to industry knowledge.

Yes, it’s simple….almost absurdly simple. But stepping into consumers’ shoes is an exercise absolutely too many executives neglect when marketing. We forget to become our own customers – with real, day-to-day concerns – and in the process, we lose sight of the most valuable touchpoint opportunities. Each one is a chance to present your brand and what you stand for.

In other words, having a more refined sense of “touch” has a big impact on how your prospects feel.


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 LinkedIn.See agency work via this link.

Magic-MirrorI don’t know too many people who really like pictures of themselves.  “Oh, I look too fat, too old, too…whatever!”   Personally, I hate hearing my own voice on radio or in recordings.  I think I sound goofy and inarticulate.  And anyone who’s ever seen themselves on television (not including actors, of course) gets it from all sides.  We simply don’t like seeing ourselves as we suspect other people really see us.

Oddly enough, we’re the same way when it comes to our businesses.  We’d just as soon not think about what we really “look like” to outsiders.  The truth might be just too upsetting.  But the truth always wins out.  So what is the truth we must all face as professionals?  What’s the best mirror we can hold up to see ourselves most clearly?

Two years ago, our agency was asked by IMSA (International Memorialization Suppliers Association) to provide consulting services to their members.  We found that we could do that most effectively by sending anyone who sought our consultation a 12-point questionnaire about their business.  It was surprising how challenging it was for many to answer the most necessary questions about their own business’ strengths and weaknesses.  We quickly realized that this was that mirror!  This questionnaire, if taken seriously, forces company marketing officers to look inward honestly and be willing not to like the answers.

I herewith offer these same questions to you to ponder with respect to your own enterprise.  But to do it properly, you cannot be superficial in your answers.  You have to dig as deep as you can.  And if you can only come up with the “obvious answer” or draw a complete blank, take that as a sign that there’s work to be done.

Ready?  No cheating…

  1. What business do you see yourself in?  (It sounds obvious, but think about Domino’s Pizza.  They don’t say they’re in the pizza business; they’re in the business of feeding hungry people fast.  Or Nike, who isn’t in the athletic clothing business; they’re in the business of encouraging athleticism in everyone.  That paradigm shift is critical.  So what business are you really in?)
  2. What or who is your major source of business? Do you want to change this?
  3. What type of customer are you looking to attract?  Is that different from who you’re attracting now?
  4. What are your current marketing/business goals?
  5. How realistic are those goals?
  6. What is going to stop you from getting there? (i.e. competitors, financial condition of firm; change in industry; etc)
  7. Who is your major competition?
  8. What differentiates your business from the competition?  (I mean, what really differentiates you?  What is it that ONLY you can say. Not something that with a switch of a logo or name your competitors could say as well…like “more caring,” or “our customers love us.”)
  9. List all the ways non-customers can find out about you right now?  Is that sufficient for your growth plans?
  10. Where do you feel you fall short in your marketing efforts?  Message?  Creative?  Media expenditures?  Media selection?
  11. What has worked best for you?  What has worked least?
  12. What do you think non-customers think about when they hear your company name?  Nothing?  Great things?  Disinterest?

On your first read-through of these questions, I’ll bet you say, “Oh, I can answer all that, no problem!”  OK, tough guy, then give it a go.  Build up the sweat and answer these 12 questions to the very best of your abilities.  However you answer it, whatever holes are left unfilled, whatever questions it brings up as you sit there stumped, you’ll have developed the most important document you need to move your company forward.  Because getting to your destination of choice depends fundamentally on knowing where to start and taking your first step.


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 LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

Tattoo ArmFor those who missed Scott Deming’s fantastic keynote presentation “Creating The Ultimate Customer Experience” at the ICCFA Convention, my condolences.  He’s a first-rate presenter, and more importantly, he is one of the leading evangelists for the power of emotional branding.  What is that?  It’s the moment that a brand moves from just a name or a logo or a slogan to becoming a part of the customer’s personal psyche.

Take Harley Davidson, for example.  If you look at the company on the surface, you might say they’re in the business of building motorcycles.  But then, so too are Yamaha, BMW, Honda, and Kawasaki.  In fact, a Harley might not even the very best-made bike on the road.  That’s entirely beside the point.  Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles; they sell the fantasy that a middle-age accountant can put on his leather jacket, jump on his Harley, roar down the road and make others afraid of him.  Now THAT’S a fantasy, and it’s exactly what Harley Davidson sells.  Guys (and gals) don’t just buy a Harley, they buy into a lifestyle.  Moreover, they’re not just Harley owners collectively, they’re members of a tribe, a cult, if you will.

That, in a nutshell is the essence of emotional branding.

Or take Apple Computer.  I know designers and musicians who would smirk at any other “artist” who chose to design, compose or perform with a PC instead of a Mac. Yet, it’s all just processors, memory chips and buttons, right?  So why is a Mac in a league of its own?  Because Steve Jobs recognized that it’s not at all about bits, bytes and hard drives, but about empowering creative people without letting the hardware get in the way.  “Think Different” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a mantra for those who believe in self-expression. By default, then, it makes all the PC-users of the world less cool, just part of the herd.  And iPhone users believe they’re more hip than Samsung and HTC owners!  Apple isn’t just a brand, it’s a lifestyle statement.

And how about Starbucks?  Why would anyone spend $4 for a cup of coffee when blind taste tests show a greater preference for the $1 coffee served at McDonalds!!!  Because Starbucks fans are not buying coffee as much as they’re buying into the cool laptop-using, coffee-house-going, trendy brew-speaking self-image that Starbucks so carefully promotes.  I admit, I’m one of them!  And Starbucks carefully nurses that brand image in-store with free iTunes downloads, whole-earth graphics, unusual pastries, free wifi, and a lexicon of menu lingo that is the difference between a “real” coffee aficionado and a pretender.  Like Harley and Apple, it’s more than a brand, it’s another cult.

What each of these three famous brands has in common isn’t the massive marketing budget (well, it’s that too).  They each recognize the power of emotional branding…branding not only the name but the experience. In Harley’s case, the brand is so powerful, you don’t have to search too hard to find the Harley logo tattooed on some guy’s arm.  What would it take to have your business name so permanently attached to a customer?

Think about this:  In each case, the price of the product is often more expensive than their competitors’.  Yet you couldn’t drag the customer away from their cherished brand kicking and screaming. That’s loyalty at the highest possible level.

The bottom line is that, as you think about your own funeral care brand, it’s all about creating a total customer experience that is quite apart from your competition.  It’s about knowing what your customers currently expect of an acceptable funeral care experience, and then exceeding it at every turn.

There’s a book on the market that’s super-short and every word rings as true as when it was first printed in 1993: Raving Fans – A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, by Ken Blanchard.  He writes about why it’s no longer enough to have satisfied customers.  A thriving business today must create “raving fans” or its customers will bail the moment someone cheaper or sexier comes along.  You’ll certainly find inspiration here, as I have.

And then make sure, as you think about the emotionality of your brand, that you communicate it as powerfully and consistently as possible.  Be the Harley Davidson, the Apple Computer or the Starbucks of funeral care and you’ll no longer have to compete on price.  You might even find your logo showing up where you least expect 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 LinkedIn.









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