Stop Saying “X Channel is Dead”, You Sound Stupid.

I saw this ad the other day, and it’s pure genius. I know, this looks boring, but it’s one of the most functional, impactful uses of display advertising I’ve seen in a long time. A bit of context here, this was on a GO Train, a network of intercity trains in Canada. It covers the constellation of smaller cities and suburbs up to about 100 miles outside of Toronto. It’s used by over 250,000 people daily, and it has a fairly young demographic overall since it covers a lot of college towns.

This ad is really strong because not only does it hit two big pain points(people wish they had more spending power/public transport is the worst) it hits them RIGHT as they get in the doors. They step into this train, mad that they have to ride to work with a hundred other people, mad that they spent a hundred god damn dollars on the monthly pass, and here comes AMEX with the fix. Use our card and we literally give you a rebate on your transit pass, and think of all the traveling you’ll do, here are some pictures to help you dream and escape during your commute.

But it goes much deeper than that. The incentive plan is very well designed, hits pain points of its customer base, but the best part is how it’s branded. This is not a high-end card, it’s as entry-level as it gets for AMEX. Yet, they gave it a classy dark blue on blue color scheme, making it look like the elusive black cards that rappers and celebrities talk about. Affordable luxury has always been one of the best but hardest to achieve branding, and this is by far one of the best applications I’ve seen. Owning this card becomes a sort of status symbol, consumers want to own it despite what it actually provides.

The Search | Cobalt Card is perhaps my favorite thing on the ad. It allows for actual tracking of the ad’s effect AND it helps AMEX lock in that keyword from an SEO standpoint. It also helps keep the ad light on text and provides a simple call to action for the consumer. This ad is positioned right before the seats, so the chances that the person seeing this will just whip out their phone and search is actually fairly high.

Reaching simplicity like this is much harder than most people understand. Until you have to make an ad for your business, you never realize how little time and space you have to provide a lasting impact on an ad. Like everything else, this comes down to a strong content strategy. It’s about knowing who your clientele is, what they worry about, what they wish they had. Tap into these things and nothing can stop you.

A Business Plan for your Brand

A Business Plan for your Brand

New, overwhelmed entrepreneurs always get the same advice: Make a business plan. For a lot of people, this step is super counterintuitive. After all, it’s hard to know how much I’ll spend on my marketing, my rent, what kind of vacation policy I want to offer, and a bunch of other details needed in such a document. But investors and banks require it for a reason: Because it gives them an idea of how serious and organized you are. The reason why most people give that tip to young entrepreneurs, however, is not for raising money. Sure, it’ll come in handy once you need a loan, but a business plan is useful for another critical reason. It keeps you focused, and it answers questions for you.
For example, if you get a quote for a piece of equipment, and you’re not sure if it’s good, or even how to judge it, go back to what you budgeted in your business plan, when you had a clear mind and just did the the research. It’ll show you right away whether or not the quote is reasonable, and it allows you once again to make sure this new equipment checks all the boxes you need it to check. It’s a sounding board, but also like a letter calm you wrote to stressed you.
Business plans are pretty common, and that’s why I’m shocked very few people seem to have even heard of the brand equivalent, a content strategy. It’s a lot like building a business plan, but instead of business assets, you plan the evolution of your brand. You research your competitors, you build customer personas, identify the pain points you solve, how you do it, why you’re better, you decide which sales/marketing channels you’ll be using, and you decide how you should sound on each of these.
In the end, a content strategy will have a very similar purpose to a business plan. When you’re overwhelmed, and you don’t know what you should write in your first newsletter, go back to your content strategy. When you had done all the research and had a really clear idea of your brand, what did you think you should write in emails then?
If for example, you decided that you’re a luxury brand, and you should provide useful, refined, researched content, then that’s what you need to write. Wondering if you should offer a coupon or not? Well, since you’re a luxury brand, it would be preferable to not cheapen yourself with such an offer. When should you send that email? Look at your customer personas. Your customer base is mostly business men aged 35-45? Send it early in the morning to be first in their inbox, or around 8PM when they have time to unwind and check their emails. And the list goes on. This kind of document can answer any kind of question you may have when you get overwhelmed with marketing activities.
It’s important to think about things like this now, because the number of marketing channels is only increasing with time. You’re only going to have more questions about how you present yourself to your customers, never less. Oh yeah and investors? They looooove content strategies. It’s an extra step you took to prove that you’re thinking ahead, that you’re not just making a business to make a business, you want to build a brand. And if that’s not what you’re looking for, you need to take a good hard look at why you’re in business in the first place.