How to Assure Your Messaging Hits Its Mark

“Whoever wrote that line should be fired.”

The client is a national retailer and one of the top three in its category. The one-liner came in a customer email following the launch of a new branding campaign.

This is the time of year when marketers work on strategies and budgets for the upcoming year. But the “new normal” of this economy bears some review. Bad things can happen when marketing fails to factor in things like where the markets will be when you’re ready to launch your new product or re-launch your brand.

Here’s what the retailer encountered.

Research was done to determine the key audience for the rebrand. This particular retailer served two markets: the consumer and the B2B customer. But, research questions focused almost entirely on the consumer, hence the result. “Our target customer is female!” This failed to acknowledge the role of corporate procurement — a valuable, and mostly male audience.

Here’s how it went down. The retailer had 15 agencies with a mix of specialties: design, digital, research and generalists. One of the design agencies came up with the look and the line. The design featured a splash of illustrated elements such as hearts, flowers, butterflies and the like. The line spoke to the beauty of life and work. Another agency was assigned to execute the campaign. Time and money went into developing the concept, which was never vetted by the sales department. Once executed, sales had its say: “Lose the butterflies. Lose the flowers. Lose the hearts.” That left a few circles.

So, about a million dollars and seven months later the integrated campaign went to market. It featured print, in-store marketing, digital and PR. It launched about a month before the start of “The Great Recession.” Remember what happened? The housing bubble burst. Lehman Brothers went belly up. Life sucked. Work sucked. Especially for all those who were finding themselves out of work. Including several hundred at the client’s national headquarters.

Uh oh.

What did the competition do? It simply adjusted its established brand messaging to accommodate the change in the economy. In other words, it used its branding message to kick off new low price offerings.

So what does this mean for the current round of budget planning? A few suggestions:

• When you design research to evaluate perceptions of the brand, include all audiences

• Consider your competitors’ messaging

• Evaluate economic trends to insure your campaign holds up against potential downturns

• Vet your campaign with sales; after all they have to sell it.

Brooke Lighton is a principal at Connascent, Inc., a branding and sales consulting firm based in Chicago. Brooke is a native New Yorker who started her career as a science writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She segued into advertising, working first as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a Group CD at Foote Cone & Belding. In 1988, Brooke launched her own agency, Lighton Colman. She is a principal and heads creative services for Connascent, a branding and sales consulting firm. You can see their work at

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