Five resolutions for 2010

As we near the end of 2009 and The Decade From Hell, it seems appropriate to summon up all our resolve and wish something better for the coming year. Much better. Here are my top five resolutions for 2010.

1. Do something bold

Many people consider themselves fortunate to have survived 2009 with a job and regular income, even if raises and bonuses were out of the question. Okay, it’s hard to argue with that. But if 2009 was the Year Of Hanging On, then 2010 should be the Year Of Doing Something Bold. Your management showed faith in you by keeping you on the team. Now it’s time to reward that faith by doing something spectacular.

Playing it safe is no longer good enough. Anybody can pull in the horns and hunker down. It takes no special skills or talent to do that. If you want to show them they made the right decision, you need to add one very bold and unexpected initiative to your 2010 agenda.

I’m tired of hearing people talk as if “new initiatives” are verboten. That mindset has got pink slip written all over it. If you continue to hunker down and lay low, don’t be surprised if someone up the ladder comes to the conclusion that you’re expendable, too.

2. Consider what your customers need to know.

Too many people in advertising have gotten carried away with the need to entertain. I’m sorry, but that’s not what we’re in business to do. One of the serendipitous results of the auto industry crash is that automobile advertising is now much better. They quit trying to entertain, and started giving us reasons why we should consider buying their car. I think that’s a change for the better (and may the best car win!).

In business-to-business advertising, we need to think about the questions our customers are struggling with and create ad programs to address those issues. Too many b-to-b ads use borrowed interest or tired clichés to make half-hearted attempts at cleverness. It just falls flat.

3. Give prospects a reason to contact you.

In my b-to-b world, I’m constantly amazed that ads fail to include any call to action, much less a good one. Direct marketing people wouldn’t dream of doing that. They start with “The Offer” and build a promotion around that. Retail marketers know quickly when the cash register rings and when it doesn’t. They don’t waste money on advertising appeals that fail to stimulate a response.

So why are B2B marketers so content to run one-way ads that deliver pompous messages without any regard for stimulating responses? My experience says it’s because the people in charge of creating the ad are so deeply immersed in product technology and features, they think customers are, too. All they think they have to do is describe the technical features and the prospect can take it from there. That’s what we used to call a “killer assumption.” Now we just call it sad.

4. Be more accountable

If you give customers a reason to contact you, you can count the number of contacts. You can even follow up with them and add quality measures to the base contact numbers. One reason managers have such a hard time with advertising is we fail to show them what happens when they decide to do it.

So let’s all agree in 2010 to pick a few metrics worth tracking and feed that data back to our top-line managers. You might be surprised to see their reluctance melt away to approving future ad budgets.

5. Focus your brand image.

Everyone is a branding expert these days, and managers are pretty sick of hearing about branding. So we have a dilemma – do you ignore the branding issues or just avoid talking about them too much?

As a branding consultant, I’ve been told more than once lately to not mention the word branding around certain managers. That’s a sad commentary on our business, because branding is just as important today as it ever has been in the past. If you have a focused brand, that is. An unfocused brand doesn’t pull its weight, even if you’ve invested serious dollars promoting it.

The question I ask people to consider is, “When people see or hear your name, what do they EXPECT?” Awareness is not enough. You need to associate your brand with something specific that leads to a focused expectation, a reason for customers to pick you.

If you have that, everything else is easier. And 2010 may turn out to be even better for you than other companies that are still struggling with the branding issue.

It’s time we quit whining about downturns and recessions, and started thinking about ways to kick the roof off in 2010. That would be a positive use of our creative energies, don’t you think?

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