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Transforming Ordinary Products Into Extraordinary Brands
With One Great Line
by Steve Cone, author of Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History

According to many advertising historians, the period from 1950s through the 80s was the Golden Age of advertising. By that reckoning, the work that has come out of the ad industry from 1990 through today might be considered the Leaden Age of the business.

How far we have fallen is apparent in our inability to create advertising and promotional campaigns that resonate with the consumer and have a hold on our imagination. What’s wrong with political slogans and commercial taglines today? Pretty much everything.

While there are more choices than ever before in the products or services we can buy, there are few attempts by companies to distinguish their brand and compel the consumer to select it over the competition. Never have companies paid less attention to the fundamental principle of marketing success – create a Powerline that is readily recalled and truly separates a product from all others.

Powerlines: The Rules of the Road

It is not that difficult to understand what must occur so that a tagline has a chance to become a Powerline…a line that lights up your target audience and makes them think of you first every time they are in the mood to buy in your product category.

Marketing professionals complain that it is much tougher today to get a line to stick with consumers. There are too many media choices and too little attention paid to advertising. I don’t buy this convenient excuse. The real answer is it that is easier to create a line with no real meaning than to devise one that is absolutely spot on with its description of your brand promise.

Here are the simple rules that must be followed to create Powerlines, not empty lines.

1. Remember that a brand is a promise that delivers an experience, hopefully a unique one. Your line must describe that promise.

2. State your claim in an original way, one that has not been done by others. It must be specific, with a choice of words that make sense for your category.

3. Avoid universal platitudes.

4. Make the line elicit emotion. By sure employees and customers will nod their heads in recognition and agreement, and feel special for their effort.

5. No Powerline ever came out of a focus group. Focus groups with random customers are a waste of money. If you want to audition potential lines, create a focus group of your own employees who thoroughly understand the business.

6.Make sure your line can answer this question: what will your product or service specifically do for me?

7. If you have any hope of your line catching on, it must be large enough to be seen in your advertising and spoken with a unique delivery on radio, TV, and the web.

8. The line should appear prominently everywhere: on all advertising, letterhead, brochures, websites, new employee materials, and communications of any form to customers. Practically every company breaks this rule. Taglines are generally not widely displayed, almost as if companies are ashamed to put them front and center on every touch point with customers, clients, and prospects. Perhaps because they know, more often than not, that the line is pretty lame.

9. Don’t change a great line. People don’t like change and don’t trust it.

10. Don’t be afraid to create a line with attitude or edge, particularly if it represents a destination, premium product, or a new product that is first in its category.

Do Powerlines Really Make A Difference?

If you look to companies who have been market leaders over long periods of time, chances are they employed taglines that built their brand promise into a powerful motivator for consumers to react to and purchase their product. In each of my picks for the top ten commercial taglines mentioned in Chapter Seven, the product and the line are one and the same in the mind of the consumer. Why not have two brand vehicles work for you at the same time, instead of just one? Whether it is Debeers “A diamond is forever,” Nike’s “Just do it,” or FedEx “When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight,” these Powerlines clearly define the culture of the product. True Powerlines are promises that deliver and never change. They are the voice of the brand.

The ongoing fight for market share in the erectile dysfunction drug category is a perfect illustration of the importance a Powerline. As male baby boomers entered their 50s and 60s, they created a huge new market for a product to guarantee their sexual performance. Pfizer was the first pharmaceutical company to capitalize on this need with the launch of Viagra, a purple miracle pill that would never let men down.

Viagra became an instant hit worldwide, quickly captured 75 percent of the market, and generated billions in annual sales. Products from rival companies soon appeared, but none were able to capture significant market share. Lilly Pharmacueticals, the manufacturers of Cialis, was particularly vexed because they believed Cialis to be a superior picker upper. They ran a continuous series of ads for months, with little impact on the market.

Then much like this miracle product, a marketing phenomenon occurred. Embedded in the fine print required by the FDA for any and all erectile dysfunction drugs, was this line: “If an erection lasts more than four hours, you must seek immediate medical attention.” Eureka. With this discovery by a clever copywriter, Cialis changed its television and print advertising and made this line the hero. In print, it was the headline copy you couldn’t miss and on television the voice over ended each spot with the line as it simultaneously appeared on the screen.

Within three months, Cialis gained over 30 percent of the market and climbed to parity in sales with Viagra. One line made the difference. Just one line.

Steve Cone is chief marketing officer for Epsilon, a leading provider of data-driven marketing technologies and services. Steve has established an industry-wide reputation for programs that drive results, strengthen brands, and deepen customer relationships by communicating relevant highly targeted messages across a spectrum of media in integrated campaigns. With more than thirty-five years at the top of the marketing profession, Cone has worked with a wide array of major clients and companies, including Apple, AARP, Citigroup, American Express, United Airlines, as well as global media companies, environmental groups, and presidential campaigns for both major parties. He lectures worldwide at leading universities and business groups on the proven marketing principles laid out in his first book, Steal These Ideas! (Bloomberg Press, 2005).

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