The most important word in marketing.

ImportantWhat’s the most important word in marketing?

Despite what you’ve probably been told, it’s not “NEW”.

And it’s not “FREE”.

And it’s not “YOU”.

So what is it?

According to block-buster copywriter Roy Furr, the most important word in marketing is “BECAUSE”.


When you ask your customer to part with their money for your product, you’ll do better if you give them a reason to do it.

Furr shares the fascinating study mentioned by Robert Cialdini in his awesome book, Influence. Researchers found that when someone asked a coworker if they could jump in line and use a copy machine before them (the coworker was already in line), compliance went up 50% when they gave a reason for needing the copier first.

Even if the reason was as silly as “because I need to make copies.”

Amazing, right?

Effective selling requires giving your customer a reason to believe. Or a reason to try. Or a reason to buy.

Give it a try in your next offer. Tie your sales message to the best reason your customer has to buy your product. (Even better, give them more than one.) And let me know how it goes.

Good luck!


PS. Need help polishing your sales message? I’ll help make your existing marketing messages more effective. Interested? Let’s chat about an upcoming project.


Photo credit: Lori Semprevio.

Telling Your Brand Story—
Get the free ebook!

Telling Your Brand StoryHave you struggled to find the right story for your brand? Do you have a brand story that you’re not happy about? Or do you wonder if your story could be improved?

If you answer yes, to any of these questions, you should read my new ebook, Telling Your Brand Story: 15 places to find it, how to tell it and when to share it.

Now, before I tell you more about the book, you should know I hate when I sign up for someone’s email list and the thing they promise in return is lame. Like a one-page flyer with a bit of information you already know. It makes me feel like I’ve been ripped off.

This ebook isn’t like that.

Telling Your Brand Story is 38 pages long. It shares 15 very specific ideas for finding a good story for your product or service. It shares brief brand stories from 28 different companies (and lists dozens more with similar stories). It also includes specific advice about how and when you should share your story.

Long story short—there’s a lot of good information here.

Best of all, it’s free.

Something else you should know. If you trust me with your email, I won’t spam you with worthless junk mail that just sits in your inbox. I will send you an idea here or there that will help you improve your marketing or communications. And if you don’t agree that what I send you is valuable, please unsubscribe from the list. I really don’t want to bother you with stuff you don’t like.

One other thing… though I hope you won’t do it. If you really want the free ebook (and all the good stuff it includes) but don’t want to join my email list, go ahead and put a fake email address in the box below. You’ll get a link to the book on the confirmation page and will never hear from me again. But like I said, I really hope you won’t do that.

Get Telling Your Brand Story now by adding your email address, then press enter.

Enjoy the book!

Get Telling Your Brand Story free!


A good brand story turns a $15 watch into a half million dollars.

If you’re an avid fan of the crowd funding site, Kickstarter, you already know how important a great story is for attracting investors and customers. So we were interested when we saw this project: a 73 year old grandfather and his grandson launch an all-wood watch.

The watch makers created a professional looking pitch video where they tell the story about how Grandpa has passed his watchmaking skills down to his grandson (who has started his own company, Luno). The video also shows the watches. Check it out:

And Kickstarter boosters loved the product.

Luno raised almost $500,000 from 5,881 backers.


Except there’s more to the story. Or, in this case, less.

The Luno wear brand story isn’t exactly 100% authentic.

It’s not that the story isn’t true, technically it is. Grandpa is real. And he no doubt passed down the watch-making skills to his son and grandson. And Bo and Ryan have formed a company to sell watches. But Luno’s watches appear to be sourced from China. Not hand-made as you might assume from watching the video (though the video does say they’ve lined up a manufacturer and want to get huge quantities made, which should have been a tip off).

The video clearly gives the impression that the watches are hand-made. While Luno’s critics have pointed out that the same (or almost identical) watches are available on Alibaba for about $15 each.

So Kickstarter killed the project. (Luno is up at Indigogo and has raised a smaller $170,000 from 2,250 interested customers.)

What interests us about this story isn’t the ethics of reselling products on Kickstarter. Or whether Bo and Ryan are smart marketers.

The interesting thing here is the power of the brand story that Luno shared. The images of the old craftsman matched with the “unique” styling of the timepieces make a $15 watch feel like a $100 watch. You get the sense that hundreds of years of watch-making experience and craftsmanship go into each watch they sell. And that makes the product feel more valuable, regardless of whether it is more valuable.

After watching the video, thousands of people had no problem handing over their money to get one, two or even ten watches.

It’s a great example of the power of a good story to add value to a product. And it’s no different that what Coke’s brand story does for cola, what Izod’s crocodile does for golf shirts, or Michael Jordan’s image does for basketball shoes. All of those products are commodities until you add the brand story.

On the other hand, if you can tell an authentic story, one that rings true when you know all the facts, so much the better. Don’t tell your story in a way that makes customers feel like they’ve been duped.

The take away? If you want a valuable brand, you need a good (and authentic) brand story.



130 Questions to ask when conducting a brand audit.

Branding IronsNeed to conduct an audit on your brand? Wondering if your product stands up to the promises made by your marketing? Are your logo and visual identity appropriate for the brand you are building?

These are all questions that can be answered by a brand audit. But learning what stakeholders think about your brand isn’t easy. It takes a methodical approach (and a lot of interviews) to truly get a sense of how your product is perceived in the marketplace. To help you dig into that process, we’ve created a list of 130 questions you might ask as you conduct a brand audit.

Before you dig into the questions, you’ll note that many of the questions could be asked of all the stakeholders, while some are more appropriate for one groups or another. And no audit will include all of the questions listed here. We’ve tried to avoid repeating most of the questions on this list (there are exceptions), so you’ll need to use your judgement as to which questions are best for your audit. Pick and choose the questions that best apply to your situation. And, if you think of any we’ve missed, please add the in the comments.

Questions to ask company executives:

  1. What are the core values of your business?
  2. Who are the stakeholders?
  3. How would you describe your brand?
  4. What does your brand stand for?
  5. Name one thing that your brand is remembered for.
  6. What is interesting about your brand?
  7. What problem does your brand solve?
  8. Describe a typical customer. Why do they need your brand?
  9. How does your brand solve the customer’s problem?
  10. What does life look like for your customer after using your brand?
  11. What else do customers want from your brand?
  12. What problem does your brand solve?
  13. What is the brand’s value proposition?
  14. What is the brand’s unique selling proposition?
  15. Does your tagline accurately capture your brand’s mission?
  16. Does your brand have a history or a story?
  17. Define the brand’s mission.
  18. Describe your brand’s positioning.
  19. What are the brand attributes?
  20. Which of these is most important?
  21. How is your brand priced compared to the market?
  22. How is your brand priced in consideration of your customers?
  23. How does the company deliver on its brand promise?
  24. What should the company do differently to deliver its brand promise?
  25. What does the company do that is not in keeping with the brand vision?
  26. Do you have a brand position statement? Can you share it?
  27. Do you have a written brand standard?
  28. Are there specific colors, graphics, or images that your brand is associated with?
  29. Does the brand have a voice?
  30. Are there particular words or thoughts that your brand is known for?
  31. Who is responsible for managing the brand for the company?
  32. Where do customers come from?
  33. How do customers find you?
  34. Have you identified your brand’s customer personas?
  35. What marketing channels does the company use?
  36. What marketing channels does the customer use? Any difference?
  37. What marketing activity has the most impact?
  38. What marketing activity has the least impact?
  39. If you could redefine the brand from scratch, what would you offer customers?
  40. If you could redefine the brand from scratch, what would you keep?
  41. Who are the three biggest competitors?
  42. How do competitors define their brands?
  43. How are competitive brands different from your brand?
  44. Is there an area where your brand excels and the competition fails?
  45. How are competitive brands better than yours?
  46. How are competitive brands worse that yours?
  47. Is there a difference between your customers and your competitor’s?
  48. Does your current marketing add or detract from your brand?
  49. Is your marketing consistent in using tone of voice, colors, and images?
  50. Is there a common look and feel?
  51. What is the key message of your marketing?
  52. Are there any secondary messages?
  53. Should the brand marketing include ideas that it doesn’t today?
  54. What do you think of the brand’s logo?
  55. What messages does the logo communicate?
  56. How well do the visual elements of your marketing support the brand’s values?
  57. How well does the brand’s marketing appeal to your customer?
  58. Are there messages your customer expects but doesn’t get?
  59. Does your marketing communicate messages that are not an important part of the brand’s promise?
  60. How does the brand “live” in social media?

More Branding IronsQuestions to ask employees:

As noted above, many of the questions you would ask executives would be appropriate to ask other employees as well. However, rather than repeat those, we’ve listed additional questions that are more appropriate for front line employees.

  1. Why did you choose to work for this brand?
  2. Would you recommend this brand (as an employer) to your friends?
  3. Would you recommend this brand (as a product) to your friends?
  4. How would you describe the brand?
  5. Is there a brand vision? What is it?
  6. Is there a brand promise?
  7. How do you deliver on the brand’s promise?
  8. Are there things that keep you from delivering on the brand’s promise?
  9. What are they?
  10. Why do customers choose this brand over the competition?
  11. What do customers love about this brand?
  12. Do customers get a good value when they buy this brand? Why or why not?
  13. What do customers say is the key selling point of the brand?
  14. Does the company’s leadership live up to the brand’s values?
  15. Do other employees live up to the brand’s values?
  16. How would you change what the brand stands for?
  17. What do you like most about working for this brand?
  18. What do you like least about working for this brand?
  19. If you could do one thing to improve the brand, what would it be?
  20. Tell me about your best day working for this brand.

Questions to ask customers/clients:

  1. Can you describe the brand?
  2. What words best describe this brand?
  3. What is the brand’s promise (what does it promise to do for you)?
  4. Why did you buy the brand the first time?
  5. Will you buy this brand again?
  6. Or, why do you continue to buy this brand?
  7. What problem does this brand solve for you?
  8. How do you feel when you use this brand?
  9. How do you feel when this brand is unavailable?
  10. How well does the brand deliver on its promise?
  11. Does it ever fail to deliver on its promise?
  12. Have you seen the brands advertising? Where?
  13. What message did the advertising communicate?
  14. Do you like or dislike the advertising? Why?
  15. Where did you encounter this brand the first time?
  16. Where do you expect to find this brand?
  17. Where is this brand not available (and you wish that it were)?
  18. Do you get a fair value from this brand?
  19. If the brand was suddenly hard to find, would you pay more to guarantee you got enough of it?
  20. If the brand were less expensive, would you buy more of it?
  21. Would you recommend this brand to your friends?
  22. What message does the logo convey about the brand?
  23. What do you think of when you see the logo?
  24. How responsive is customer support?
  25. Describe your best experience with the brand.
  26. What would make you like this brand more?

Questions to ask non-customers/general public:

  1. What do you know about this brand?
  2. How would you describe this brand?
  3. What problem does it solve?
  4. What problem should it solve?
  5. Would you ever use this brand? Why or why not?
  6. Have you ever used this brand?
  7. How did/does it make you feel?
  8. Where would you expect to find this brand?
  9. What is the most disappointing thing about this brand?
  10. What are this brand’s competitors?
  11. How does this brand compare to its competitors?
  12. What would you expect to pay for this brand?
  13. Is the brand too cheap or too expensive (compared to its competitors)?
  14. What is the best thing about this brand?

Questions to ask partners and vendors:

  1. What does the brand stand for?
  2. What do you expect when working with this brand?
  3. Does this brand deliver on its promise?
  4. How does this brand engage with you?
  5. How do you feel after a typical interaction with this brand?
  6. What do you get from this brand?
  7. Are there things this brand should be doing that it is not?
  8. How does this brand compare to its competitors?
  9. What would you change about the way you interact with this brand?
  10. Would you recommend this brand to others?


When conducting your brand audit, you may find that the people you question are more likely to provide honest answers if the survey is anonymous. You can do that by using anonymous online survey software or by simply promising anonymity as you conduct in-person interviews. (Don’t violate this promise if you want to be trusted for follow-up surveys).

If you have enough employees, you might want to split them into anonymous and identifiable groups and learn if there is a big difference between the responses the two groups give. If there is a significant difference, your brand may have a problem.

Good luck with your brand audit.


If conducting an audit on your brand seems too complex or daunting, we can help. Just let us know.


Photo credit: Jerry Kirkhart and Dave Patten.

Are you in a relationship with
your brand?

Man Woman BrandsIn an interesting post at the Harvard Business Review, Andrew O-Connell writes about recent research that indicates consumers think brands have a gender. And if you think about it, you’re probably not all that surprised.

In fact, you almost certainly have at least one brand preference that correlates strongly with your gender. In the cola category, both Coke and Pepsi have created entire brands aimed at either men or women, promoted with imagery that plays off gender stereotypes. Think: Diet Coke’s Construction Worker ad or the packaging and imagery around Coke Zero. Pepsi does the same thing with Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max.

The article includes this graphic that shows several brands on the gender spectrum:


Brand Gender


The article mentions that this ought to be a surprise to us, since brands are nothing more than images, colors, typefaces, sounds, etc.

But, if you’ve been paying attention, this probably isn’t a surprise.

Neuroscience has shown our brains react to brands almost exactly the same way they react to people we feel close to (even love). And since gender is a significant part of how we perceive and feel about others, our perceptions of brands are likely to include those same personality traits.

Ask yourself: What attributes are you building into your brand to help consumers relate to it on their terms? If your product is generally designed for working moms, are there subtle things you are doing to signal that your brand is a lot like her? And that she might like it? If your buyer is a man, what attributes does your brand have to let him know that?

When it comes down to it, the brands we love may not care all that much about us, but we definitely care about them—and how they make use feel. A smart brand owner will keep that in mind as they build their brand story.

A Great Talk on Storytelling

One of the best talks I’ve ever heard on how to tell a great story, by screenwriter Andrew Stanton. Have a look:

Friday Inspiration: Roy Williams on Words and People

Jeff Sexton wrote a long blog post earlier this week on his dislike of the term, “personal branding”. He doesn’t disagree with branding on a personal level, mostly he dislikes the term. As part of that post (read it here), Jeff scanned and posted a short essay by The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams. I think it makes a great point about telling your brand story in a way that makes people care about what you do. So, I lifted it, and reposted it here as this week’s Friday Inspiration:

Friday Inspiration: Dick Foster

Last week, Forbes printed a short interview with Dick Foster, Senior Partner and Director at McKinsey & Company. Foster is most famous for his book, Creative Destruction. From the interview, it would appear that Foster is more than a little skeptical of business gurus who advise doing the same things you see high-performing companies doing: “There was no such company, and there never had been such a company!”

The Dick Foster interview is today’s Friday Inspiration. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Let me tell you how I got to the term “creative destruction.” In the 80’s, I was in a search for “the excellent company” – the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise company that made all the right moves in advance, and that made more money for its shareholders than any of its competitors. This was the permanent outperformer stock – the really good deal. I looked at 4,000 companies over 40 years, and what I found stunned me. There was no such company, and there never had been such a company!

“I thought something had to be wrong. Was I looking at the problem in the right way? No company had been able to outperform the market for any substantial length of time. (GE came as close as any, but didn’t do any better than the overall index). Somehow the market – managed by nobody – was performing better than all the brains on the planet. But why? Then I realized that the reason markets outperform companies was closely tied to what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” This was actually a phrase that came from the Hindu religion, dealing with the transformation of an individual throughout their life, from creation, onto death, and ultimately rebirth.

“That whole notion of creation, life, and destruction seemed a like a good model for what was going on in markets. When the time comes for a company to face its maker and file for bankruptcy, it does it – the markets don’t care. And when there is opportunity out there to create something new, hundreds will go after it. Most will fail, but one or two will succeed (and we’ll assign Apollo-like status to the latter, while quickly forgetting about the 500 others who failed). Markets are better at creation than any individual company, and they are much better at destruction. A company cannot perform better than the markets that are adapting more rapidly – it’s just a fact of life.”

Check out the rest of the interview at


How to Compete with Google

When it comes to search, Google dominates its competitors. In fact, its name is synonymous with search.
Nobody “searches” online. We “google”.

Last month, Americans conducted 18 billion online searches, and Google handled more than 65% of them. Yahoo’s search engine clocks in at 15.9% of all searches, while 14.1% were handled by Microsoft’s Bing.

Do the math. These three giants handle 95% of all U.S. search requests.

Now imagine you want to start a search engine. How would you do it?

Focus on the hole in the market. And make that your story.

Google does a lot of things right. But they don’t do everything right, for everybody. So if you want to compete with Google, you find something they don’t do well and figure out a way to do it better.

That’s what DuckDuckGo does.

Never heard of DDG?

DDG founder, Gabriel Weinberg, created a search engine that blocks content mills and sites jammed with advertising (improving the quality of results). DuckDuckGo doesn’t track search results and share them with advertisers. It doesn’t store search history or IP addresses.

This past January, DuckDuckGo got a lot of attention for a billboard in San Francisco that read: Google tracks you. We don’t.



Hit them where they are weak. Find the hole.

It’s a great brand story.

Easy to tell. Easy to understand.

But that’s not all.

DuckDuckGo does other things that customers like. All search results are displayed on a single page… just keep on scrolling. The name, logo, and site design are playful and clean. You can customize the color, fonts, alignment and other elements of DDG. And the search results are pretty darn good.

The DDG experience feels a lot like what Google was ten years ago.

DDG also does a nice job with disambiguation (they have something called semantic topic detection that helps narrow your search). Try searching for “Lincoln” and you get a box at the top of the page with several choices. Are you looking for Abraham Lincoln? Lincoln Automobiles? Lincoln, Nebraska? Novels, bands, films, or albums called Lincoln? It’s a nice feature that makes results more accurate.

Compared to Google, DuckDuckGo is tiny. Barely worth noticing.

And they’ve got a good  brand story.

Small companies disintermediate bigger competitors all the time. Google did it to Altavista, Excite, and Lycos (remember them?).

And somebody will do it to Google.


Will it be DuckDuckGo?


A Compelling Story… Told by Google

This brand story from Google is so good, it doesn’t need an introduction…

Not only is it a fun story to watch, it’s a pitch perfect demonstration of how Google products can make life better.

Very few brand stories are told as well as this one.

H/T: American Copywriter.