Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Death of the Mid-Size Agency and The Birth of Giants

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 9) 11/30/08

The New Economy
Value is the name of the game in a recession. If a company cannot provide high value, then it will not survive through 2009. Our economy has been crippled to the point where even OPEC is vulnerable.

Jumping the Curve
Guy Kawasaki (managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc.) speaks of a concept of "jumping the curve."

The long and short of it is that companies often fall victim to success and don't invest in the next evolution of their industry. One example Guy uses is the business of keeping food cold. Originally people had to go up to high altitudes to get ice for storing food. Then factories began to produce ice and delivered it to customers. Finally we had the home refridgerator which could freeze ice, eliminating the need for delivery. No one company survived all three stages of this evolution. Prior businesses died out and a host of new businesses emerged at each stage of the evolution. The moral is that your business is relevant one day and can lose relevance if you don't pay attention.

The Death of the Mid-Size Agency
Evolution just got a helping hand from a poor economy. Mid-size branding firms/ad agencies (30 -100 employees) thrived in the booming economy. Now faced with reduced budgets and an economy in recession coupled with a boom in online and mobile communications and you get a recipe for big change in the industry.

Not only is there an increased focus on online, but there is a resurgence in popularity of grass-roots strategies. Traditional agencies are falling victim to a lack of preparation and vision. Big broadcast buys (an area where traditional firms earn big commissions) will be scarce for the mid-size agency in 2009. Any medium that cannot be held accountable for every dollar in terms of ROI will be highly scrutinized by clients and perhaps eliminated from the budget completely.

Agency "Best" Practices
In case you were not "in the know" on common agency billing practices, then let me shed some light on what additional fees can be in your billing without your knowledge:
  • Production Management Fee - Usually 10% - 25% mark-up on all items not handled in-house (i.e. printing, subcontractors, production, etc.)
  • Media Commission - As a standard, media outlets have offered agencies a 15% commission for purchasing media. As time goes on , these agency discounts or commissions have been given directly to businesses and are much more well-known than years past.

These practices are more about "hoping the client doesn't notice" than a justifiable accounting. I have witnessed a client pay an additional $12,000 because they allowed their agency to print a direct mail piece that cost $2,500 in creative fees to create. This was a $90,000 mailing with 45,000 pieces. Had the client known, they never would have agreed to the mark-up.

Those firms that highly specialized, adapted to new technology and stayed flexible with their fee structure will have the best chance for survival.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tearing Down the Barriers to Online

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 8) 8/24/08

There is a lot of "old school" mentality in terms of online. I have met very few small to medium-size business owners that are very active in generating leads online. Many business owners know they need a website, but they don't know what type of website, how much they should spend on their website, what type of coding will be used and is most beneficial, etc. There are a million questions when it comes to web and it is hard to write a check for something that you don't fully understand.

The first place to look is at your competition. What does there website do? How does it look? Is it easy to find on Google, Yahoo! and MSN with relevant searches? If your competition is doing well in capturing leads online, that may just mean that no one is challenging them. They may be doing their online marketing very poorly, but everone in their space is doing it worse.

This lack of competive force in many categories in terms of online marketing and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a great opportunity for many businesses.

Search Engines & SEO
Google is changing the way we find information. Google is built on one basic premise... getting us to build better, more relevant websites. Google's job is to match up information-seekers to information, not to control the flow of customers to marketing websites. With this in mind, the medium is defined. "Value" is what it is all about. Build an information-rich, website that provides loads of perceived value for your customers and Google will reward you greatly, organically.

Read a few articles on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and search engines. There are more than you can ever possibly read, but they will open the online world up to you. Of those that search online, about 65% use Google, 22% use Yahoo! and 13% use MSN. Knowing this, you can see why so much emphasis is put on Google when we talk about Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). We play up to the 800 pound Gorilla, not the 100 pound Orangutan.

The Myth
SEO is a function of building a website correctly from the beginning. If a website is carefully planned and well executed, it can be the life blood of a business. Anyone that says, "I can guarantee you a top spot on Google." or, "We have great relationships with Google and Yahoo! which will help with your SEO." is full of it! These tactics are used on those that don't understand web and are misinformed on how search engines work.

If you ever see these claims, beware! These companies will sometimes mask Pay-Per-Click campaigns as Search Engine Optimization. The two are completely different. Orgnanic (being indexed highly by Google in relevant searches without paid placement) is much more valuable than paid placement which is based on a bid system. Only between .04% of people searching click thru paid search on Google Adwords. This may improve from the 0% you had before you started, but it is not true SEO and don't be fooled.

These are companies that likely employ dishonest practices such as link farming and masking keywords behind images. Here are some good questions to ask these companies:
  • How do you "guarantee" top placement and in what searches are we talking about (only so many searches are relevant to your business and there are services that can show search traffic for every key phrase typed into Google)?
  • What type of practices do you employee for SEO? Do you employ pay-per-click campaigns or do you concentrate on organic placement?
  • What are you quality control measures to ensure ethical practices to avoid "blacklisting" by Google and other search engines?
  • Can I get a list of references and see a few case studies?

These questions should communicate that you know your stuff, at least enough not to be taken in by the first shark you talk to. Look at all the things we asked for above. Write out your objectives for your website and ask the prospective company to address each of them. Give people a fair shake at convincing you, but at the end of the day, it is your decision.

Without going into a full dissertation on web design, there are standards that have been developed. Addressing meta tags, title tags, keyword density and more will give any website a good shot at being indexed highly with google. The big win is working with other sites that are relevant to the key terms you are optimizing for and getting them to link to your site without giving them anything in return (money or a reciprocal link). Google sees your site as relevant to a topic when other relevant sites link to yours. Working with seasoned web designers and marketing strategists will give you an edge over a competitor. If this edge means that hundreds more people searching for your product or service find you before your competition, then it will be worth it.

Standards & Practices
Just like reading from left to write is a standard for writing literature, having topside navigation is a standard for web. Adhereing to standards creates less confusion, frustration and clearly maps out the user experience leading them to what you ultimately want them to do. What is it you want them to do? Book a room, buy a toy, call, email, give you their information. Many sites have every option imagineable so that there is no clear direction when getting to the site. This is not done on purpose, but done out of fear. Decision-makers get so entrenched in not wanting to lose any client, that they dilute their ability to capture anyone in a decisive manner. The more vague and homogeneous the site, the less effective it will be in converting customers.

Do the homework, adhere to standards and create a clear path for a group of people you have the best shot at capturing and success will follow. Try to be everything to everyone that may happen upon your site and be burried with the rest.

CMS vs. Outsourcing
I've had some confusion with clients saying that they want to be able to make edits to their website once it is designed. This is called "Content Management." A site can be built with a Content Managment System (CMS) which gives the customer the ability to make edits to text and pictures in pre-determined areas of the site that need to be changed often. The problem lies in aesthetics. The CMS creates a challenge in terms of design. The CMS will lock the site into a framework that cannot be changed. The amount of text and size of images needs to be standardized and we lose the ability to be creative in these areas of the site.

The alternative is to have the web designer make all changes. This can be expensive if there are changes consistently. An emphasis on quality would dictate that changes are outsourced and an emphasis on budget would dictate the latter. It is really a compromise between the two. Content manage those areas that make sense and re-employ a web designer to make bigger changes.

I have heard more directors and vice presidents of marketeing say, "We need to do some viral marketing." The fun part is that they say this as if it is something that happens when you spend money on it. Viral is just as it sounds. Viral marketing is based on the premise that you will "pass around" something of your own free will without being paid and that a majority of a segment will do the same. The thing about viral is that it must be one of the following:
  • Funny
  • Weird
  • Gross
  • Shocking
  • Helpful
  • Sexy
  • Inspiring
  • Novelty

If your idea for a viral online campaign is anything short of the descriptors mentioned, scrap it. If your company is so tight that it could never let communications that may be taboo or slighly edgy slip through, then viral is probably not a viable tactic. Viral speaks on behalf of the person sending it. It speaks to their personality, kind of like a greeting card. If I send something to a friend, you can bet it is borderline offensive, sexual or at least give them a chuckle. Why would I pass around an ad for $.50 off of detergent. I wouldn't and neither would you. Packaged differently, a homeless man bathing naked in a park fountain with a funny tie in at the end saying, "He could have used $.50 off detergent!" might be viral enough to pass around if it is presented correctly. Viral is about pop culture not contrived and choreographed ad messages.

Going viral is a marketers dream. You may have noticed some of these off-the-wall commercials for candy lately. These attempts at being "weird" are attempts at going viral. The Starburst commercial on my YouTube page has gotten over 6 million views...for free. Starburst didn't have to pay for the extra 6MM impressions. Good for them.

For any company that has cut a check for $10,000 or more pretty regularly in direct mail campaigns is very interested in moving their customers over to email. This effects the bottom line immediately. Just like with search engines, Email Service Providers play a big role in gatekeeping.

AOL is the big player here. Treat them like gold. A long time ago, email marketing was like the wild wild west. AOL had a lot of users. As more marketers began to take hold of email marketing, AOL noticed users drop off because they were being inundated with email from marketers. AOL fought back and began gatekeeping, penalizing spammers for abuse. Whitelisting was born. Whitelisting means that you promise Email Service Provider's (ESP) like AOL that you will adhere to their rules and standards when marketing to AOL users, even with their permission.

AOL is the toughest, but when email marketing is done right, this can be your most responsive group. Whitelisting is important. If you are sending your bulk emails through a third party, you will want to know their whitelisting status with the major ESP's like AOL, Gmail, MSN Hotmail and Yahoo!. Each has their own standards and as you build an email marketing history, you will build report with each.

"Opt-In" is the word of the day. If you send emails, all of your recipients must be opted in. This means that they explicitly gave you permission to send them offers. The CAN-Spam Act clearly outlines the legalities asssociated with email marketing, but the premise is that if someone does not give you their permission to market to them through email then you cannot send them commercial email.

Messaging and offers also play a big role in email marketing. The message must get attention and have a clear call to action. The balance between deliverability and aesthetics will always be an issue. Everything that makes an email visually appealing usually inhibits its ability to successfully make it to the target's email box. mobileStorm is a veteran in the email marketing space. More than just a provider, mobileStorm employs a Vice President of Deliverability whose job it is to maintain a relationship with each ESP. This relationship results in something called "whitelisting" which gives a stamp of approval for email marketers to email subscribers of some of the most popular ESP's. With so many changing considerations, it is smart to work with a responsible email platform.

An email database is worthless if the people in it don't want to receive your messages. I've seen clients start with 60,000 plus records and after an opt-in campaign was conducted, the list was reduced to 2,500 opted-in participants. The client in this case adamantly emailed all 60,000 records without their permission as we marketed to only the 2,500 opted-in recipients on their behalf. Needless to say, our efforts out-performed the client's SPAM effort. This is the difference between a "Database" and a "Working Database." Is your database "Working?"

India or Bust
I received a call from India the other day asking about my website. The gentleman proceeded to tell me that his company could guarantee top ranking in search engines and was prepared to take on our website at a nominal fee. All the red flags were raised and I hit them with the hard questions. At the end I said I was not interested, but I could see how the pitch would be enticing to a business owner.

Many things these days can be done for cheap. I have heard, "Why would I pay $5,000 or $10,000 to get a website designed when I could pay $300 like I've seen advertised online." Odds are pretty good at a $300 price tag you are getting a basic site that is a "template" and will have little to no customization based on your business objectives and the needs of your customers which may not allow you to reach your full sales conversion potential. It is also safe to assume that these companies will not address SEO concerns on the front end. What you may end up with is a pretty basic website that does about 5% of what it could potentially do for your business. If you are serious about using online to improve your business, I would suggest talking to a professional. Email me if you need one.

Getting Offline
This is just the beginning. I could have done a separate blog on each section written here, but I just wanted to touch on the hot buttons and push for participation. Email is intriguing and online marketing changes daily. It is a full time job to keep up and not something a business owner and operator usually does well. If you need advice, email me or for info on email marketing visit mobileStorm's website.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Comments?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Power of Appreciation

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 7) 6/28/08

Never Expect
There is one great thing about the terrible disease of alzheimer's, the ability to feel apprectiation for something as if it is the first time something has been done for you. Although the analogy is a bit gruesome, the message is that gifts and favors should never be expected. The favor easily turns into "work" for the person that is giving when appreciation is taken out of the equation.

By the same token it is not healthy to do favors or give gifts for the feeling of "self worth" or "esteem". This is where your internal power comes into play. When your self-esteem is derived from being a source of dependency for others, you become what is traditionally known as a "care-taker." This is a co-dependency issue that requires couseling. (I may have had a bit myself.)

Lash Out
It is your responsibility to communicate and set boundaries. When you feel taken advantage of, let people know, but don't wait until you are drunk or angry... This is an obvious recipe for a worse scenario. It may make more sense to wait until you have a bit more of your senses about you. (Again, this is something I may have experience with.)

Boundaries are communicated not imposed. Make sure you tell people when they have crossed your philanthropic line. If you don't they will think that you enjoy making them happy and will no longer be apprehensive about asking for things. Say "No" every once in a while, even when you really do want to do the favor. Break the cycle.

Set the Stage
I've been out on dates where I've broken the bank at a nice restaurant and paid for a big Strip show...It sets you up to be a wallet for the other person. You have started the relationship out on an expensive note. You cannot build up to anything. Have you ever had a girl have the audacity to ask you if she could borrow money after 3 dates? Not good. Of course I said, "No." It is very interesting to me what girls will ask for. Apparently it worked on someone else.

Much like in business, it's all about value. Do people value you and what you do? Do you value yourself. Who's job is it to communicate that value? Everyone has a responsibility to tell the people that they help and give to what went into that favor. If the relationship is mutually beneficial, the other will go out of their way to a similar extent in the future. Relationships must be fair and balanced to make sense. Will your friends go to the ends of the Earth for you? Will you do the same? Will you be the one to carry them to the ends of the Earth? For some people it is only important that their friends made the trip with them, not that they shared the workload.

The more you give without compensations, the less others will value it over time. It is human nature. Keep people on their toes. Command respect and recognition. Express when you feel taken advantage of and, most importantly, show the same respect for others...

Thanks A Lot!
I worked for a charity and the one lesson I took away was to always say "Thank you." People like to do things for others that APPRECIATE them. "Thank you" is a very powerful set of words. If you remember to say it after every selfless act, favor, gift and even when nothting happens you communicate that you recognize the efforts of others and are appreciative of what has been done for you. There is nothing worse that you can do in the non-profit world than to forget to thank a donor. They will never, ever forget and it can be enough to send them to another charity that does appreciate them.

This little bit of advice will help you in all aspects of your life. Business relationships are centered around mutual benefit and appreciation.

If you take one thing away from this post, please say, "Thank you!" to everyone that you appreciate. It is not always implied or assumed and it is nice to hear.

Thank you for reading this post!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Post-It Forward

Marketing, Money and More (Issue 6) 2/10/08

Skip It
All this talk of recession is making people think more about "recession." As we further and further promote the idea of recession, the general public will act in a manner that they think will get them through the recession. Save money, spend less, pull out of the stock market, sell your home. This is perpetuating the problem. The power of perception is strong.

Consumer spending is down and foreclosures are on the rise (especially in Nevada - #1 in the country.) This economic downturn is expected to worsen into the summer of 2008. The government is trying to stimulate the economy going into a very important political year with a tax rebate of $300 - $1,200 for Americans. This will help, but to what extent. We need a mind change.

Think Growth
It is worse to think gloom and doom. Think of your every day life. When you think negatively about your situation it tends to get worse. It's the Law of Attraction. That is what The Secret is based on. The power of your thoughts to influence your environment. If we could unify the thoughts of the many to stimulate positive activity, then the economy would follow.

Think of value. People provide value to society in many forms. I provide value to society when I took the time to sit on the board of my local American Advertising Federation, buy a friend a coffe or get up 10 minutes earlier in my day to sort the recyclables. My contributions have an economic impact. If a million people get out and buy a coffee for someone, that is an increase of $1.5 million in consumer spending over the course of a day.

The Experiment
You've seen tons of these types of emails. "Don't buy gas today! It will spur a price war between the gas stations and that will help to bring gas prices to a manageable level." I think that requires too much participation from too many people. It sounds logical, but humans are emotional and these attempts to influence the public don't take into account the impracticality of not buying gas for a day.

I would like to start by being realistic. I would like to challenge a few people I know each month to do something that they wouldn't normally do as we head into tough economic times. If we can produce high levels of value in 2008, the economy will follow. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Buy someone a coffee

  2. Volunteer time at a charity

  3. Join a trade association

  4. Buy a toy for a friend's/family member's child

  5. Give someone a ride

  6. Stay an extra 10 minutes at work each day (productive minutes)

  7. Sell/buy something on ebay

  8. Write a blog

  9. Share success

  10. Register to vote

I know this sounds like a movie...Pay It Forward. Well, I'm not Haley Joel Osment. The principle is sound. Do something for someone else that provides a value. If you own your own restaurant business, buy someone's meal tonight. If you have a tool that a neighbor needs, offer it. Find a charity that you have an interest in and ask them how you can help.

I am starting with myself. I am going to make an effort and lead by example. I have already begun. I will do more with my time in 2008 to provide value to myself and society and push through this period of recession. I hope this blog is one step toward eradicating what could potentially be an economic downturn. It is about reconfiguring resources. If you have a resource and have the ability to share with those that do not, you will be helping yourself in the long run. This will stimulate spending, goodwill and social activity.

Today and each month after, I will be sending out an email to close friends and business people to persuade them to do anything that is beneficial to someone else and society. Mobilization of those that have the energy and resources to make an impact, even just a small one. If you read this, please send out an email to your close friends asking them to do the same.

The Email
"Hey. I'm urging everyone to get involved. In 2008, times will be tough... or will they? If you can do something extra such as help a charity, spend a few extra dollars for someone else, help a friend or do something that creates some sort of value, we can help curb some of the impact of the recent economic trends that lead to a recession. Please forward this message on to a friend and keep the string going. This is not chainmail, but if we can "make change" now we won't have to wait for Obama or Hilary to get into office. Write down what small thing you can do extra this month on a post-it and put it somewhere on your desk. Don't take it down until you've done it. Once it's done, write on another Post-It. Do this all throughout 2008 and you can look at all the Post-Its that you've been able to accomplish. I want to get "Post-It" to construct a page where people can post "Post-It's."

Feel free to use this and pass it on.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I'll Have What Their Having

Marketing, Money and More Issue 5 (1/21/07)

What Worked Yesterday...
I don't believe it when anyone says, "It's been done before." If it's been done before and it works for your brand, go with it. A smart person takes the best practices of their industry and reskins it for their business. What worked yesterday, might not work today, but it could work tomorrow. Never forget to test.

Have you ever gotten an annoying telemarketer and wondered who would ever buy something from a person you talked to on the phone? Me too. But...If it did not work, companies would not spend money on this relatively expensive tactic. It works.

I've worked with several casino properties here in Las Vegas and around the country. There are only so many ways you can do a slot tournament, poker tournament or other gaming event. It is the same promotion at every casino. They do them because they work.

Testing, testing...
I have spoken with many businesses. They come to firms or agencies looking for the guarantee. That does not exist and if your firm ever guarantees you anything, call them liars and find a new agency. A guarantee would assume that they have some sort of mind control or psychic ability. All a firm can provide is knowledge of what has worked for a similar customer and the ability to analyze information to make the best decision on the client's behalf. It is a game of knowing what the market is doing, what the competition is doing and breaking throug the clutter.

Test everything and give it a chance to work. If you decide that direct mail is right for your business, test it. Put together a campaign with a small list based on the attributes of your current customer or at least who you think might be your customer. Do an A/B Split. This test will tell you what sort of offer is most likely to get your target group through your doors. Once the offer is perfected, work on the creative. Does a postcard outperform a letter? Does increasing the size of the call to action make a difference in response?

Testing can and should be done for as many tactics as you can test in your marketing mix. Branding is the exception. You can test how well you are branding your company, but it is very expensive and may not be justified in your industry. Not every business is Nabisco with multi-million dollar budgets. It makes sense to spend $70,000 on market research when you are making a decision that could cost you $5 million.

They Did It, So I Gotta Do It
The car dealer industry is notorious for this mentality. They are all on TV, Radio and Newspaper trying to scream louder. Each is so affraid to step away from traditional media that they never try anything new for any decent amount of time. I have had a car dealer tell us so desperately how much they wanted to explore "outside the box" thinking (a term which has come to mean nothing due to overuse.) If everyone is outside the box, you might want to be in it.

Many businesses tend to look at what their competitor is doing and use that as the sole basis for their decisions. Competitive knowledge is good, but sound research and strategy is better. You may find out that your competitor is not being as effective as they could be and you'll just be adding to that waste.

Media Reps Are Good People, But...
A rep for a media outlet is not a bad person and most are very knowledgable. They have only one fault. They are looking out for the interests of their outlet and obtaining as much of your budget as possible. It is not always in the best interest of your business. The rep is doing their job and hopefully going above and beyond to show the value of what their outlet may provide. This is where the consultant or firm comes in. We study them with all of our tools and metrics and make them work to prove value beyond what our resources tell us. It is a win for the client because they are not talked into spending an inappropriate amount of their budget with a single outlet. Rarely is one medium appropriate for a client. It may be a start, but not the most effective mix.

Competition is Good
All in all, competition is good. It is what makes for great branding, keeps companies honest and makes us all a bit smarter. In the end, the customer wins because we tend to create more value when we are engaged in competive marketing. I would love to hear if anyone has a case where following the competition proved to be the right strategy.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Branding Begins

Marketing, Money and More Issue 4 (1/7/07)

A Little Personality Goes a Long Way
I've had lots of first contacts with business owners. Their problems always seem so obvious to me. In this day and age, it takes more than the ability to cook to run a restaurant, more than slot machines to run a casino and more than good taste to sell soda. We've gone well above "basic needs" and we are feeding our emotional needs. We are all consumer addicts looking for that next emotional fix.

We get validation from jeans, attitude from the beer we drink and our sense of humor from insurance companies. None of it makes sense. Take the logic of this scenario:

  1. I need clothes
  2. I search for clothes
  3. I compare price and quality of clothes
  4. I buy clothes
  5. I wear clothes

Each step is logical. We fulfil our need for clothes with a quality product at a good price. Now suddenly we throw emotions into the whole thing and it all gets complicated. Now we have a new scenario:

  1. I need clothes
  2. I search for clothes
  3. I see a person I want to be like wearing ripped, faded jeans with paint splatters
  4. I see the girl I like with the person that I want to be like
  5. I find the overpriced, ripped, faded jeans
  6. I pay too much
  7. I wear clothes
  8. I feel like the person I want to be like for a short while
  9. The girl I like is still with the person I want to be like
  10. I need more clothes

It's called emotional branding.

To Brand or Not to Brand
I've found that a good product will only go so far if there are comparable substitutes. Once the competition enters the market and the differences in your product or services become indistinguishable, customers rely on their emotions to make a choice. "Which do I like better?"

This is where branding comes in. Rely on society's need to fit in, need to stand out, need for status... We are emotional beings and to the detriment of our bank accounts. We move from one branded experience to the next and marketers have caught on to our weakness. The book Brand Hijack covers what happens when society shapes the brand such as in the case of Dickies or RedBull.

Branding Begins at Home
Most small and medium businesses look to ad agencies to solve their problems. Ad agencies tend to look at a brand as the perception of the business that they can create in the public eye. I believe branding begins a bit deeper. Healing begins inside. Here's an example:

  • I met with a restaurant owner a few years ago. He had a Mediterranean Restaurant attached to a small market. He explained the cuisine and that the restaurant was very slow. I spoke with him about what PR could accomplish, what print ads could accomplish, direct mail and so on. He told me to come in and try it out. I took a lady friend of mine and we met there. We came in and sat...and sat...and sat and after five long minutes, a very quiet server came to the table. She gave us menus, took our orders and didn't really say much and walked away. We waited for a while. The food shows up after about 25 minutes. Mind you we were the only other table in the restaurant besides an older couple already eating their food. We finished and were not asked about dessert and were presented with the check. I will say that the food was good.

The moral of the story is that I told the owner that there was nothing that marketing could do for him. All marketing would do is encourage people to come in for bad service so that they can tell 10 other people how bad it was. Dick's Last Resort can get away with that because they've built a brand around bad attitudes in their service.

The Customer Experience is King
Your brand begins with the owner or president. Once decisions are made about the customer experience, and preferably one that will lead to a profitable business, then the brand can be communicated. Branding has foundations in consistency in customer experience and management of customer expectations. Your service can be bad if it is part of the experience that you are selling. Your product can be average if that's what you are selling. If you claim to cater to a particular segment such as gay couples, your staff better buy into that. It's called a Brand Promise.

The best brand experiences can be found right here in Las Vegas. Each experience is coreographed down to the way staff members point to the bathroom. Themes are eveywhere. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas hires young men and women that fit the profile. Tatoos, hair and attitude. Yes, it's even down to the hiring.

Just Start at the Beginning
Before you run out to find an ad agency you may want to evaluate your customer experience. Do my customers enjoy the experience we provide? Are the sales staff of the same attitude and corporate culture? Are employees empowered to do their job?

Speak to your customers on a regular basis and ask them what they like and don't like. This can provide great insight into what you are doing right and what you are likely doing wrong. Take notes and try to put some words to what you think your brand is. Even if all you get down is some rules about engaging the customer and visualize a few scenarios, you are that much closer. Once you've done as much as you can to improve the internal branding, communicate that to ALL of the employees. Tell them what the customer experience is supposed to be and accept nothing but perfection from them.

After that, you may want to talk with a marketing consultant and work out a formal plan. Once you have everything in a document, staff are living the brand and customers are happy and coming back, then you are ready to talk to a firm.

Let me know if you agree with what I have said or have examples that can help.