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Brand advertising: The big idea needs to meet bottom line

Mark Curtis

I was a panelist at the National Gaming Marketing Conference in Las Vegas a few months ago.While I was sitting in the audience waiting my panel’s turn, a fellow in the group on stage (a customer service panel) answered a question from the audience.

Q: “If you’re not as big as Harrah’s,where do you find the money to afford expensive employee training programs?”

A: “Easy,” he said.”Slash your advertising budget.” The rest of the panel smiled and nodded in agreement.

The audience fidgeted a bit.

I fumed silently, swore revenge and remembered the words of someone famous who said,”Don’t get mad.

Get even.” When it was our turn, here’s what happened.

The question posed to me was how can a casino know what to spend on its brand, and how much to devote to specific promotions, shows, restaurants, room rates, etc.

that actually bring customers in.

The answer, of course, is that the question is invalid.And that’s where something we call “Bottom Line Branding” comes in.

If you’re in almost any business, you’ve learned a hard lesson.

These days, there’s little room for fluff in your advertising budget.

Make that no room.

The challenge is, that usually causes a shift of advertising dollars out of “branding,” and into immediate-return promotions and campaigns, or even into customer service programs.

So an advertising conversation with your CEO or casino manager might go something like this: “I need room nights this weekend.

Get an ad done.” Over time, the result is that your brand becomes largely indistinguishable from your competition, so each time you create a new promotion or campaign, you’re virtually starting over,with little marketing momentum or consumer familiarity.

And lots of potential customers are reacting like this: “I heard someone has a room deal this weekend.

But I can’t remember who.” Following this line of thinking a bit further, many CEOs today have come to dismiss building a brand altogether because they simply don’t believe they can afford the time or money to do it.

So their company or product never really reaches its potential.

So, the basic problem with that remark by the customer-service guy at the gaming conference is that there will be no customers to treat exceptionally well if one doesn’t advertise and bring them to the casino, or hospital or store in the first place.Auto dealers have known this for years.

The first thing they’ll tell a new agency is,”You bring them on the lot and we’ll take it from there.” Often mentioned as the ultimate customer service company (including by that customer service guy a few months back) is Southwest Airlines.What he didn’t mention is that Southwest is also one of America’s most effectively branded companies.

Our theory applies.

Those funny, friendly flight attendants and other customer service qualities with which Southwest endears itself to us so powerfully wouldn’t matter much if the airline didn’t effectively brand itself specifically as “the lowfare airline” and get the masses on the planes.

Introducing Bottom Line Branding.

The idea is that every ad, TV or radio commercial, billboard or direct mail campaign must do two things:

1. Establish your brand apart from your competitors.

2.Work hard to sell something specific.

The first step is to find your unique voice, your look, your point of view.

The “thing” that absolutely separates you from your competitors every time you advertise.Heck, every time you do anything.

Good branding permeates everything you do.

The better and more memorable it is, the easier it is for you to sell whatever you’re selling every time you go out.

It takes a very disciplined, demanding client, smart, talented advertising people, and dogged consistency.

Then the second part comes in.

Are you a casino? Your advertising, in addition to speaking with a strong, distinct voice, must sell a show, a restaurant, a promotion, a package,whatever.

Are you a hospital? Your advertising must also sell employee/patient relationships, competence, ER hours, a new facility, a wellness program.

Are you a real estate developer? Your advertising must sell specific attributes of your product, like floor plans, location, price or quality.

The good news? “Bottom Line Branding” will increase your bottom line, period, now and over the long haul.

The bad news? Although every advertising agency on the planet claims it can, not all of them are able to create powerful brand advertising campaigns that actually sell.

They never have and they never will.

Well, since branding now has a bottom line, this column will, too.

If you’re running a company in 2004 and your advertising doesn’t literally dominate your competitors for unaided awareness (research term), and meet or exceed your sales goals, what are you thinking? A copywriter from New York once said, “Choose an advertising agency the way you get to know your girlfriend’s parents.

Start by liking what they’ve done.” That means that someone’s advertising grabbed you.You noticed it.You remembered the client.

The advertising probably made you like the client.

It also means the client should be doing good business.

So, if you saw a campaign you liked, call the client and ask them, “How’s business?”.

Oh, yes, there is such a thing as cool advertising that doesn’t work.

But that’s a whole other column.

Mark Curtis owns Powerhouse, a Renobased advertising and marketing company.

His clients include Hometown Health, IGT, Heritage Bank and Camel Rock Casino in Santa Fe, NM.

Contact him at mcurtis@1powerhouse.com or 333-1023.