Raise the Bar

Mark L. Johnson / February 2022

I know a certain consumer food retailer that has been around for over 100 years, has great customer loyalty and is a heritage brand. Customers have been on the company’s customer file for decades.

Today, however, a younger generation engages differently with brands. They prefer engaging on social media, usually with brands that don’t take themselves too seriously. The food retailer knows this, but initially its directors hesitated to dive into social media marketing, let alone run stand-out campaigns on those platforms.
    
How can a heritage brand leverage social media but also be disruptive? The answer lies in setting a new, higher standard in advertising for the industry.

“Black Friday Is Lame”
Last summer, the food retailer’s creative team discussed its 2021 Black Friday ad campaign. If case you haven’t noticed, Black Friday has become white noise for consumers. Black Friday sales used to be the biggest sales of the year, but today they tend to be only pitiable, 10%-off offers that bombard our email inboxes. What can a heritage company do to break with this mediocrity?
    
“I made a joke headline,” a member of the food retailer’s creative team told me. The headline he wrote—in huge, flashing neon letters—read, ‘Black Friday Is Lame’ (which is true). However, he added a kicker, a subtext that read, “Without Yada Yada.” (Yada Yada being the food retailer’s number-one seller.)
    
The company’s creative director loved it. “We’ve got to have the courage to do this,” he said.
    
But company directors were initially uncomfortable with the idea, thinking the message was negative and could undermine the quality of the brand. The creative director pushed to run the campaign as it was written and succeeded. “Black Friday Is Lame—Without Yada Yada” got approved. The campaign had its biggest Black Friday ever for the company.

Time to Be Different

Do you remember what buying a cup of coffee was like in the 1980s? You’d grab a cup at the gas station, or maybe at a donut shop. Few coffee companies, or gas stations, aspired to do anything different with their coffee marketing. Then, Starbucks arrived. And Starbucks didn’t do anything different with coffee, really. They just branded it and raised the marketing bar for the industry.
    
You can do something similar in wall and ceiling construction.
    
Think of your marketing like your drywall finishing. If you’ve got your seams taped and mudded, but you’re not feathering the mud out far enough, or you mix the mud with too much water, then the finish will look terrible, and that’s a problem. The principle of doing a great job finishing drywall can be applied to your brand.
    
Here’s what’s not raising the bar, in my opinion: Posting gobs of project photos, as many as a platform allows, into a single post. Such an approach turns photos into barely discernible thumbnails—easy for the social media user to flick past them.
    
Another blasé idea: Staging a group shot of workers wearing masks standing 6 feet apart to suggest you have cutting-edge safety protocols. No, it suggests you’re no different from others who take the same type of shot—all the time.
    
Here’s what you can do.
    
One, care about your imagery. Go for quality compositions and designs—in other words, stand out as different. Today’s iPhones and high-end Androids have incredible cameras. They have video stabilization features, so you can shoot videos almost like you have a Hollywood-level Steadicam. You can take portraits of people and job sites with auto-blurred backgrounds, creating images that look professionally shot. So, there’s no excuse for not getting great-looking images and videos in to your social posts.
    
Two, collect moments. Film the welders in your prefab shop for 30 seconds—close-up. Film your steel framing erection crews on a job site lifting panel frames into place. Deliver that footage to a creative team that knows what to do with it. Don’t worry about what the raw photos and videos you collect will become. Just collect, collect, collect that imagery. Let professionals figure it out for you.
    
The key element in all of this—the X factor—is courage. Courage leads to great creative ideas. Nobody wants to think they’re not courageous, but you must prove it. Set a high bar for your marketing communications. Let your creative team run with their ideas. Believe me, the payoff will be big.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.