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Marketing success is still one of the great mysteries. But there are certain keys to achieving it, and even a Silver Bullet or two. LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz shares his Silver Bullet based on his many years of experience standing on the shoulders of great marketers who have built legendary brands. Click to watch or read the transcript below.


Some of you are going to disagree with what I’m about to say.  Especially if you think that the secret to successful marketing is having a great social media program … or a brilliantly designed website … or beautiful literature…  or just having been around a long time.

The real Silver Bullet to Marketing … well, actually there are two silver bullets:

1 – Defining a clear and unique point of difference from others in your category and

2 – Telling that story in a way that grabs the audience’s attention and captivates their imagination.

In short, it’s not WHERE your message is told but WHAT your message is and HOW compellingly it’s told.  It’s all about the message.  Period.  End of sentence.

We have clients that use Facebook, TV, print, online and email marketing.  But without something truly original and compelling to say, none of those mediums would work.

I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve spoken with companies who complain that “radio never works,” or nobody’s reading the newspapers anymore.  Then we ask to see what they’ve been running on radio or in the newspapers and, to us, the problem is crystal clear:  the message just doesn’t set them apart and it’s not exciting enough to get anyone to pay attention, let alone remember or act on it.

And that’s equally true with Facebook or any other digital marketing.  How many Facebook pages are just a jumble of unrelated posts that don’t point to a uniform branded message?  How many posts are just … nice … but aren’t really worth clicking the like button, let alone sharing?  And how many websites are hardly more than online catalogs without an original point of view that attracts and engages the visitor?

The legendary adman Bill Bernbach said it correctly: “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you —  and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying — and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you —  and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting — and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally and freshly.”

Was he right?  Based on that philosophy, his agency, DDB, built such previously unknown names as VW, Alka Seltzer, Sony and Avis into powerhouse brands – and it even got a president elected.

Over the years, media choices have come and gone.  Today, the audience spends more time on Hulu than on NBC, and their mobile phone is their connection to the outside world.  But Bernbach’s words remain as potent now as they did when he said them.

If your marketing isn’t pulling for you the way you’d like, don’t look at the medium for the solution.  Look at the message.  That’s the only true connection between you and the people you want to buy from you.

So, for the record, our mantra is this – and it’s been this since we first opened our doors:  The Right Message, Compellingly Told, is Everything!  That’s marketing’s Silver Bullet.

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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.

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Why is your brand like a baby? Because it needs to be cared for, protected and nurtured. Ignore it and it will be as if it never existed. LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz shares his thoughts on babying your brand so it will thrive and carry your business into the future. Click to watch or read the transcript below.


If you’ve ever had a baby, you know how carefully and lovingly it has to be nurtured, protected and cared for.  The world revolves around that tiny person…as it should.

Your brand, if it’s well-conceived, is exactly the same in this respect.  If you don’t make that brand the most cherished part of your business’ equity, if you don’t protect it by consistently applying it in your marketing, if you don’t place it at the very center of all your messaging, it will be as if it didn’t exist in the first place.

Your brand is your reputation. It precedes the sales call.  It’s what makes you respected.  It’s how others regard you.  In the end, it’s all that sets your business apart from all the others.  You’re either a brand or you’re a generic, like that can of corn that just says “Corn” on the label.

Everything you do should point back to your brand.  If you have a Facebook page, it needs to feel like your unique brand at its core.  if you’re on Twitter, the tweets need to reflect the spirit and personality of your brand message.  Your website, your ads, your recorded phone messages all need to be on-brand, or your uniqueness as a brand will be diminished, if not completely dissipated.

Because most funeral home and cemetery owners don’t think like marketers, their brands, if you can call them that, wreak of sameness.  All their marketing looks like everyone else’s.  That’s why buying pre-made TV commercials or print ads from a catalog or plug-and-play website templates does more harm than good…  Because if you can simply plug in your logo and web address, so can your competitor.

That’s not branding.  There’s no distinctive qualities or unique identity to build on.  So your salespeople have to work all that much harder, and there’s little to protect the brand when a hot new competitor comes to town.

As you build your marketing program, whether online, social or traditional, your brand must – MUST – come first.  It has to be unique, fresh, memorable, experiential, clear and unexpected.  And then, everything you do must be a reflection of that brand.

So as I said, your job is to nurture, coddle, protect and grow that brand just like a newborn babe.  Do it right and it will be there to protect you later on!

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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.

 

Content-driven and permission-based (i.e., “Liked”) marketing is quickly growing in the funeral industry, and now at the heart of many relationships between companies and their customers or prospects. People opt-in to receive your emails, “Like” your company on Facebook, subscribe to your You Tube channel, or follow you on Twitter or LinkedIn. But having permission to market to someone isn’t a license to bombard them with marketing messages. LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz talks about the mistakes one can make with executing a Permission Marketing program and five tips on making sure you’re not alienating your target market.  Click to view or read the transcript below.


Like you, I’ve given all kinds of businesses permission to send me information on things I’m interested in.  As a photographer, I follow Nikon and Canon on Facebook.  As a private pilot, I’ve “Liked” various aviation companies and let them email me product information and educational content.  And I always expect that they’ll be reasonable with how much they reach out to me without overstaying their welcome or abusing the privilege.  But I also know lots of others don’t have a clue.

Permission-based content marketing is quickly growing, especially among funeral businesses. That’s why so many of you have Facebook pages, right?

But having permission to market to someone isn’t a license to bombard them with marketing messages. In fact, not knowing when to “zip it” is a classic mistake that too many marketers make. If marketing is about building relationships, over-marketing is the best way to kill the relationship and send your prospects fleeing.

In a recent study pertaining to permission marketing, it showed that 54% of consumers unsubscribed from company emails when they came too frequently;  And 63% of customers “unliked” a company on Facebook due to excessive or self-serving posts.

So, how do you know when you’re over-marketing and about to kill a good relationship?  Here are five tips to remember that will help you keep the love going…

  1. Ask your customers. The best way to understand how customers and prospects feel about the frequency of your promotions is to ask them. If most tell you the frequency is “about right,” then you’re on the right path. And they’ll appreciate being asked.
  1. Measure your opt-outs. Count the number of those who unsubscribe to your emails or stopped liking you on Facebook. If the numbers are escalating, over-marketing could be why.
  1. Follow your own firm. Opt-in to your own emails and put yourself in the customer’s shoes and find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your promotional messages. If even you get tired of hearing from your company, you’ll know it’s time to turn down the volume.
  1. Keep the conversation focused on your readers, not yourself. This is the big one. People may opt-in in hopes of learning more about funeral traditions or upcoming events that interest them. They’re not usually interested in sales offers, casket discounts, or staff promotions. Make sure your posts are about them, not you.    And, finally…
  1. Compare your efforts with those of your competitors. If you’re marketing much more frequently than your competitors, you could be the smartest marketer in the bunch… or the one that people hesitate to continue a relationship with because you just talk too damn much.

At the end of the day, treating your customers and prospects well is required; but treating their opt-in permission as a gift is even better.

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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.

The Super Bowl is the battle of titans – not the teams, mind you, but the advertisers. Tens of millions of dollars go into every commercial minute as the marketers go head-to-head to win new sales. LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz gives you his take on the “players” and who really comes out ahead. And just as important, what it has to do with making your own brand more successful in whatever arena you play in.  Watch now or read the full text below.

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Forget about the game, the winner of this year’s Super Bowl had to be Tide.  Admittedly, the commercial line up was a bit lackluster compared with previous years.  But Tide even took that on, with dead-on parodies of other Super Bowl spots, from Anheuser Busch’s Clydesdales to Old Spice’s hunky “Man your Man Could Smell Like” series.

But for me, the takeaway of any commercial isn’t about how funny it is, or even how memorable and talked about it is.

It’s about whether or not the value proposition is clear, and the commercial effectively sells the product.

That’s important, whether you’re selling detergent, deodorant, beer, or funeral services.

In 2016, we talked about Kia’s brilliant Walken Closet commercial, featuring a riveting performance by Christopher Walken.  He may have been the attention-getter, but the selling message was still front-and-center: Don’t get a boring “beige” mid-sized sedan when you can get a Kia Optima and have fun.

In this new series of Tide commercials, there’s little doubt what the message is:  Tide means clean, stain-free clothes.  In fact, right after watching, you’d be hard pressed to name another laundry detergent, so effective is the Tide branding.

With that in mind, here are the three key aspects that the best Super Bowl commercials have in common and should also have in common with your marketing, no matter what it is:

One:  The ads are imminently watchable.  They grab your attention because they’re fresh – no pun intended. They’ve got a way of communicating that the audience hasn’t seen before. If your ads aren’t surprising, if they’re not engaging, nobody will pay attention. How much wasted money does that cost!  This is the reason we say again and again, “Dare to be Different,” because only different gets noticed.  Same doesn’t.

Two: They’re built around a clear, simple message that speaks to what the buyer wants or needs.  I found it interesting during the game just how many spots tried to make the audience feel all warm and fuzzy, but how few really took on their own product’s competitive selling story.  Drilling down to a single, strong competitive story is the make-or-break difference between mere exposure and generating new sales.  Do you have a strong, competitive story for your brand?  If you can’t quickly articulate it, your audience isn’t going to do the work for you!  And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking million-dollar commercials or small space ads on the obituary pages.  Your ads and your marketing have to tell the story.

And Three: They somehow or other demonstrate or at least show the promise.  In the Tide commercial, the grease-stained mechanic under the car was wearing a spotless white shirt, as was everybody else in the Tide commercial series. Yes, demonstration is a lot harder to do when you’re only running print ads. But then, let your ads point to your website or social media or other marketing as the place to adequately demonstrate your unique selling proposition.

If you haven’t seen the Tide commercials from this year’s Super Bowl, you can click the link below the video. I’ll also post a link to the brilliant Kia Walken Closet spot from 2016.  Both are exceptional examples of creative freshness, clear selling message and product demonstration.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. It’s an occupational hazard. Now I’ll have to go back and watch the game again to see who won.

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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.

Sure, money isn’t burning a hole in your pocket, but you still have to market your business to get ahead. What’s the most effective way to do that? LA ads president Dan Katz presents an interesting solution for making small marketing budgets produce big results. Click to view or read the full transcript below.

I want to talk about the Big Bang.  No, not the TV show.  And no, not the origin of the Universe. But about how to leverage a small budget to yield big results.

I don’t care if you’re General Motors or General Mills, nobody has an unlimited marketing budget.  And that’s certainly true if you’re the neighborhood funeral home, or the local cemetery or the independent hearse dealer.  Money isn’t burning a hole in your pocket, but you still have to market your business to get ahead.

What’s the most effective way to do that?  Well, what most marketers think they need to do is to spread their limited dollars around as much as possible to reach as many potential buyers as they possibly can… which in theory sounds good but is a wasted application of resources.  Essentially, you’re shot-gunning your marketing budget with the result that the reach is a mile wide but only an inch deep.  And in the end, there’s little to show for it from any given market or marketing initiative.

If your dollars are truly limited, consider this approach instead: concentrate your efforts against just one or two markets or the one or two touch points that you KNOW you can have some impact, even to the exclusion of other opportunities.  The idea is to win BIG somewhere by focusing enough resources to have a certain and significant impact.  And only then, once the magic happens against one narrow marketing front, should you consider either expanding your efforts against the same target in a bigger way, or adding one additional narrow objective that – once again – you know you can win.

Say, for example, you’re a funeral home that serves many segments of your community, but advertising in the newspaper or on radio to reach everybody is just too expensive.  Why not focus ALL your attention against only one segment, such as the local churches.  Take the same money you might have spent against all the markets and all the media and commit to an inescapable program to reach the key churches whose congregations you serve.  Run the largest ads possible in the church bulletins. Be a prominent sponsor of church events. Invite all the clergy and lay leaders to a fully catered presentation. Create a special incentive sales program for participating churches… if allowed.  In other words, Go Big.  Make a Bang.

Or, if you’re an urn company and have over 50 different models but a really tight budget, ask yourself: what’s the single best urn to promote… the one with a strongest competitive advantage?  Push just that one urn over and over again with a dramatic, professionally-produced full page color ad in just one or two publications, maybe even narrowing the media down to state publications instead of national – as long as you run the ad BIG, and in Color, and frequently.  In other words, Go Big.  Make a Bang.

Once you see success on a limited front, you can now afford to expand the front, or select another limited front to launch another Big Bang program.

Here’s the bottom line: Instead of marketing a mile wide and an inch deep, it’s much more effective to go a mile deep, even if it’s only an inch wide.

Bang!!!

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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.


Just about every time you turn on the news, some Washington politician or Hollywood celebrity is being accused of bad behavior. But cemeteries, crematories and funeral homes aren’t immune from the tabloid headlines.  They do get their fair share of bad press…from misidentified bodies to full-out scandals. What’s a business-owner to do? LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz offers up the right way to prepare for such uncomfortable eventualities.  Click to view or read the transcript below.

It seems every time you turn on the news, some Washington politician or Hollywood celebrity is being accused of bad behavior.  As a matter of fact, it might seem that’s the only way to get yourself publicity in these confusing times.

But politicians and celebs aren’t the only ones who show up in the news.  Cemeteries, crematories and funeral homes do get their fair share of bad press.  Sadly, one needn’t look too hard to find some story about a body being cremated that was intended for burial, a grave marker being misplaced, a funeral director accused of some criminal action.  After all, they’re run and operated by human beings.  And human beings are… well, human…prone to making mistakes no matter what safeguards are put in place.  Even with the most stringent safeguards and best practices, once in a while, something goes wrong.  Then the media gets hold of it and all hell breaks loose.

It would be short-sighted to say this will NEVER happen to us.  After all, that’s why you carry insurance, right?  On the other hand, insurance doesn’t protect you from the press when an unfortunate story makes its way onto the ten-o’clock news.  More than that, the media loves a good funeral story!  The more gruesome or frightening they can spin it, the better.

So what do you do when the receptionist buzzes to say that Eyewitness News is holding for you on line two?  The answer is to be very glad that you had that contingency already in place months or even years in advance.  It’s called a Crisis Communication Plan.

A Crisis Communication Plan is a carefully thought-out blueprint, individualized to your company, that deals with handling the media when BLEEP happens.

For example, it is extremely common that when the media comes knocking, they’ll happily talk to anyone they can, from the secretary to the maintenance guys, hoping for the perfect inflammatory sound bite.  One of the first components of a Crisis Communications Plan is to decide who – and who alone – will be the company spokesperson.  Should it be the company president?  The corporate attorney?  The PR manager?  How much should be discussed in front of a microphone immediately, before all the facts are in?  What kind of media training should that person have well in advance of need?  How will “no comment” or a flat-out denial be interpreted by the readers?  And what should your other staff do when the microphone is thrust in front of their faces?

Also, what is the chain-of-command with regard to fixing the problem both before and after it’s made public?  What is your company’s social media policy when the news is really bad?  How will the company’s media responses relate to the corporate brand messaging? How will your response change if it’s a criminal action versus simple human error?

There’s a lot that can happen that can make a bad situation worse – –  or or better if it’s planned for.  But you already know that from selling pre-need planning to families!  Having a Crisis Communications Plan is your own corporate pre-need package.

A Crisis Communications Plan enumerates and details each of the steps each staff member must take when a problem goes public.  And it’s not enough just to have it, but practice it, review and rehearse it with your staff at least once a year, even “table-topping” possible scenarios.

A little web browsing will help you find some Crisis Plan templates as a starting point. But do-it-yourself is not really the best answer:  Seek out professionals who can help you with this now.

Unlike death, bad publicity isn’t inevitable.  But without the proper planning in advance to deal with it should it occur, then the chaos, heartburn and loss of business from communications mismanagement may well be.

Just like you tell your families: Plan to plan now.

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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.

LA ads president and creative director Dan Katz offers his perspective on the recent NFDA Convention in Boston and the important message funeral professionals should take away from it: the greatest risk is not taking one.

Watch now or read the transcript below:

One thing you can say about the recent NFDA Convention in Boston was there’s no shortage of stuff being offered to funeral homes, from unusual urns and keepsakes to affordable caskets, innovative digital marketing tools to dirt from Ireland so your Irish loved one can rest beneath homeland soil even in Poughkeepsie.

There’s no shortage of interesting products and services if one is open to exploring new options.

But here’s where the movement towards Change comes to a grinding halt: so many funeral directors are almost genetically change-adverse. Especially if they’ve been doing this for a long time, especially if they’re from a lineage of funeral directors.

We experienced this ourselves when we tried to help one of our clients promote its product to funeral homes to give away to their families as gifts of healing.  When the funeral home owners saw the product, they thought it was great and they wanted it.  Our client even gave them free samples to give to the families as a thoughtful keepsake.  But the product never left the funeral homes.  Why?

Because the funeral directors didn’t want to change the way they always supported their families. Anything new was foreign and upset the process they’ve always used.  Even if it could help a family.

Is it any wonder that most funeral homes are still struggling just to adapt to the growth of cremation and find new and profitable ways to serve their families?  They’re still stuck in the 1980s.

The leaders of the funeral and cemetery associations are sounding the alarm: Change is happening, Change is inevitable!

Which is why it’s so important to attend the major national and state conventions and be open to all the new ideas, new products and services that are being presented there.

Our friends at Connecting Directors and others are saying what we’ve been saying for a long time: The funeral profession is at risk of dying if it doesn’t evolve.

Your funeral business, whether you’re a provider or a supplier, is at greater risk by not taking risks, whether it be with your product offerings, your services or your marketing.

At this past NFDA Convention, our client, Sich Casket, continued to make a mark with their innovative shipping container booth and a fife-and-drum corps performance that got everybody’s attention along with lots of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts as an added bonus. Their message: the new Casket Revolution has begun!  Sure, daring to be different cost them a few dollars more than if they did what everybody else does, but taking the risk continues to keep them top-of-mind.

The poet Robert Frost said it best when he wrote of two roads diverging in the wood:  “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

So it’s time to ask yourself, which road will you take?

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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.

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