Death to Slogans!


Taglines: Still tagging along


You might think that the transparency created by digital communications between consumers and brands would make advertisers stop cranking out empty taglines.


After all, if “advertising” is a conversation that unfolds gradually, why start it out (or punctuate it) with a chest-thumping, self-congratulatory catchphrase?


Yet the tagline lives on.


Caution: Handle taglines with care


The role of the tagline has always been to convey one of three things: 1. The condensed essence of the brand message. 2. Its point of differentiation or 3. The value proposition.


But critics (like us) advise that branding today lives in 140-character bites, 25/35/35 copy blocks, oddball video personalities, website UX, and other things that have nothing to do with slogans. For example, using taglines in branded social content is a big faux pas. It’s just uncool.


Even worse, as Bud Light learned the hard way, sometimes taglines backfire.


It’s also worth noting that when Toyota vehicles were experiencing “sudden unintended acceleration” their tagline was “Moving forward.”


Toyota pulled the message, and now uses “Let’s go places.”


Changing taglines = Identity crisis


No industry is more in love with taglines than the automotive industry. A few phrases stick around – Built Ford Tough, The Ultimate Driving Machine, et al – but most get used and thrown out like old wiper blades.


Chrysler-Dodge may be the ultimate Tagline Abuser. Here’s a look-back at some of their brand messages:


Dodge. Different
Dodge. Grab life by the horns
Chrysler. Drive = Love
Chrysler. Inspiration comes standard


And, more recently, this lemon:


Dodge. Domestic. Not domesticated.


In trying to portray Dodge as a maverick brand, they make it sound like their cars aren’t even housebroken.


The larger point: Changing taglines too often makes a brand look like it’s having a wardrobe crisis.


A better direction: Build a Family of Phrases.


We often challenge clients who want to unite their brand on the back of a single slogan with this question: Why limit yourself?


Instead, define the 3-4 discrete selling ideas your brand wants to convey and create your own lingua franca.


This thinking is set in motion by the image/message rotator common to so many CMS platforms. Its value is that, every 8 seconds, it inflects how the brand articulates its core messages.


So, as taglines come and go, our recommendation for clients is to create a “language deck” for the brand and the personas it serves.


Build out key messages for each audience, and condense them to their simplest expressions. Use them as a family of phrases to reinforce different ideas, based on the audience’s expectations and interests.


Last, don’t be afraid to change your messages – but have a good reason for doing so.


If you’re up for a cup of coffee, contact us.

Headline Psychology for Women 101


Headlines still lead the way.


You’re revamping your website. Or posting on social media. Or maybe you’re writing a blog or creating an email subject line. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, the message is what matters. And it all comes down to the headline, which is how consumers determine if your content is a flip or a flop.


Women in particular tend to be picky about what headlines they find engaging.


We think, (since women control a huge percentage of household purchase decisions) that it’s worth the time and effort to show them what they want right in the headline. Headline psychology is the wave of the future, so it’s time to start learning its principles as they relate to women.


Start by thinking of a headline as a movie trailer


The content your headline connects someone to is movie – but the headline is the trailer. So, use it to show a glimpse of the excitement of the experience the content will provide. Add some suspense. Be enticing. Use your headline to trigger a “curiosity gap” that brings female viewers deeper into the fold. Sometimes, it can be tempting to rely on click-bait to draw people in, but we have some tricks to make sure your headlines tease to meaningful/relevant content.


Content that builds confidence


Women want to feel empowered, and useful knowledge is powerful. In fact, women’s empowerment has evolved into an industry. So, crafting a post that shows the gap between what female consumers knows and what they should know will consistently draw attention and increase the likelihood that she will want to share the knowledge into power amongst their peers. Take advantage of the idea that women are constantly using the digital world to see how they measure up. Confidence is a quality that women consistently feel is lacking in their lives, and if your headline attempts to solve that problem for them, they have a reason to engage it.


Don’t ignore the emotions that are involved in the digital world- they matter. And always remember to tap into these emotions by teasing useful advice or tips – specially the kind that simplify annoying tasks.


Women tend to value simplicity


Like anyone, women get frustrated when the complexity of the content they’re reading gets in the way of a clear understanding of it. Addressing women directly with content that can simplify life is better at moving them to action.


Wrong way: Complicating an offer with pre-conditions


25% off during October with a Member’s Only coupon


Right way: Simple


Get 10% off anything, anytime in October


Our point: A smaller offer that can simplify a woman’s life is much more appealing than an offer that she will have to work for. All people want the same things out of content they want to read online, but when trying to figure out what women want from your brand, think in terms of headline psychology.


As always, you’re welcome to join us for a beverage

Facebook is changing the news feed. Adapt or die.


They did it again


Facebook, like it or not, has changed the way its news feed serves content to users.


We all know the truth: Facebook was once viewed as a Mecca for brands  – a way to sidestep traditional advertising, connect directly with consumers, and cultivate a dialogue that would ultimately catalyze sales.


But as the platform became saturated with promotional content, the “communities” that formed around brands were people looking for deals, not dialogue, and the flood of promotional content in everyone’s news feed became obnoxious.


What Facebook’s change means to brands


In a nutshell, Facebook’s new algorithm gives more visibility to organic content posted by the friends and family of its users, and less to content from brand pages.


This means that branded content will show up less frequently – and less prominently – in news feeds. Result: A lot less traffic to (and engagement with) the millions of brand pages on Facebook.


2 clichés to live by: Know thy audience and Content is King


Facebook has stated that “some pages may see declines in referral traffic.” Pages that are most susceptible to drops in reach, engagement, and referrals are those whose content is inconsistent with how people want to see content in their news feeds.


So, marketers will need to do a deep dive to learn what their audience wants to see on Facebook. That means brand pages will have to produce quality content that puts audience appetites for interesting information ahead of the brand’s appetite for engagement.


Higher stakes and higher standards


Don’t panic. Facebook is far from dead as a marketing platform. But more than ever, users have control over the content they want to consume.


For example, the new Facebook algorithm features a “See First” option that enables the user to give a page permission to appear among preferred content in the news feed.


Which pages will win this popularity contest? The ones that post interesting content are more likely to be followed and less likely to end up in brand page purgatory. Content worthy of sharing will also be tougher to create, but more valuable in the long run.


Do’s and Don’ts

We know how tough it is to keep social content relevant. And while the new algorithm makes it harder to get content noticed, there are some simple do’s and don’ts to avoid being penalized.



  • Study and listen to your audience – create content they want to see and share when they want to see and share it
  • Focus on topics that are currently trending and popular
  • Use hashtags to help users find posts relevant to a topic of their interests
  • Consider complementary/alternative platforms



  • Post content that pushes people to buy a product or install and app
  • Push people to enter promotions, sweepstakes, or contests without good context
  • Reuse your ad content in Facebook posts
  • Post too often or bombard users with paid/promoted posts


If you need to overhaul your social strategy, get social with us.


Contact us for a conversation.

How Eldercare Marketers Can Win Consumers


50 shades of gray


The “Silver Tsunami” impact on health care is well documented – as is the fact that more than 75% of wealth in the US and the UK is owned by people age 65+ (


So why don’t healthcare marketers of senior-targeted services – home health, assisted living, and even skilled nursing facilities – do a better job of identifying with older consumers as individuals?


People age 65+ control significant wealth, yet are often treated as a long, gray, frail, homogenous cohort because society tends to “disappear” older people as consumers. Marketers shouldn’t make the same mistake.


Applying persona development to the senior sector


Healthcare marketers who are interested in segmenting and attracting seniors should apply the same criteria that would be at work in any effort to identify buying personas.


The essence of this type of research involves going beyond demographic data and drilling into psychographic states that reveal attitudes, fears, hopes, obstacles, and perceptions.


Just because a person is over 65 doesn’t mean they stop being an individual – and the point of persona development is to create individual profiles that serve as archetypal characters for marketers to focus content around.


How to address the issue


There are many ways to approach persona development, but here’s an overview of some pointers that have worked for us.


Start with the data you have. The first goal is to create some buckets – catch basins of people who share a set of common characteristics such as age, ethnicity, HHI, and geography. And don’t forget education: Just because someone is 65+ doesn’t mean their education is irrelevant to their identity.


Overlay demographic criteria with health criteria. There’s a relationship between a person’s health and their mindset, attitudes, and perceptions. People with serious health issues cannot be treated the same as those without. So if possible, develop your personas by cross-segmenting them in terms of their demographic data and their physical and mental health.


Don’t be afraid to conduct research online. The misperception that older Americans don’t rely on the internet is not only untrue; it becomes more untrue every day. Consider online focus group testing, in which recruited participants visit an online chat environment 2-3 times during a week, answering questions, responding to moderator probes, and interacting with each other’s thoughts.


NOTE: Sample sizes for online FGs can scale up to 100+ people, so you get a lot of data, which increases the confidence you have in your conclusions about personas.


Don’t stop acquiring and analyzing data. The hard truth for healthcare marketers in eldercare services is that your customer base is closer to the end of life than the beginning. Their health will decline and so will their ability to process and participate in marketing content. So you’ll need to keep segmenting to monitor how personas are shifting over time.


Sound daunting? Not with the right partner.

Contact us for a conversation.

Professional services firms: Brand your people


The longstanding argument in accounting, law, financial, medical, and other professional services firms is that the company’s brand has to transcend the identity of any one person.


Eponymous consumer brands like Gillette and Orville Redenbacher have invested big-time resources to emerge from the shadow of their originators, so professional services firms should do the same (right?) because the brand will ultimately earn more good will if it’s perceived as being greater than the sum of its parts.


Not so fast.


Why you should brand your best people


Yes, a central brand is important – and too many professional services firms ignore developing one. But we do not believe it’s necessary to abandon building the identity of everybody who lives under the logo.


Why should the people who make the brand breathe – in client and patient contact, new business development, and everyday conversation – take a back seat to the uber brand?


One response is, “If I invest in developing the visibility of key staff, whenever those people leave for another job, my investment has failed.”


Again, we disagree. We think developing professional identities and reputations for your best people is the best retention (and recruitment) strategy available. Who doesn’t want to work at a firm that honors accomplishment?


Getting rid of Either/Or thinking


So start by assuming that you can have both worlds: A strong, central brand identity with defined attributes – as well as individuals whose professional brand identities coexist with it in an interdependent way.


Big Picture


The first thing to do is get a sense of what the Big Picture brand looks like. There are plenty of experts in professional services branding (like us) that can help pinpoint the attributes, map the brand pillars, and build a strategy for it. But in our experience (and we’re not alone), this means selling the idea at the top. Without some top-down support to analyze what makes the firm tick, most branding efforts fizzle.


Small Picture: 3 ways to get started


Once an overarching brand strategy is established, you can develop individual identities beneath it. There are lots of ways to do this tactically. Here are a few:


  1. Blogs

Blogs play a big role in consumer decision making.

They also play a significant role in B2B purchase decisions. But good ones take time and planning. Start with an editorial calendar and see if you can brainstorm 12 topics, with a frequency of 2x per month for a 6-month footprint. Build some consensus around the content, the name, the approach. Identify potential authors to feature and byline. And remember that having a guest blogger or two can be useful.


  1. Video. Shoot a series of short segments featuring your internal stars. Keep each one to 60 seconds. Make it a quick, personal interview with the person focusing on one or two key professional insights. Again, keep it short, around the duration of an elevator ride. Bookend each segment with some animated graphics to lock the content into the parent brand. And because it’s important to say something 3 times, remember, less is more.


  1. Q&A. Create web pages with articles formatted as a Q&A, as you see in magazines like Interview and Rolling Stone. This makes it easy to read, scan, and get to know the interviewee as a person and as an expert.


There’s more, but every blog should know when to stop. For a conversation, contact us and we’ll buy you a cup of coffee.

What happened to boat OEMs and safety?


Safety is lost at sea

Looking at some of 2015’s Top Sportcruisers up to 45 feet, you see the usual suspects: Searay, Bavaria, Jeanneau, and so forth.


Now go to their sites. What you don’t see is any message about safety. [Sorry Searay, all your safety links redirect to your home page.]


It makes us wonder why OEMs (of boats and related equipment, such as navigation electronics) don’t see the chance to reach boaters at a level beyond the features and specs of their products and talk about something that matters: Being safe on the water.


What car manufacturers understand

The automotive industry knows how to make safety a brand differentiator. Exhibit A: Volvo, where safety is a science-based religion.


Volvo understands that cars carry babies and pets in addition to grownups, that the female head of household is driving the decisions around what to drive, and that safety for her family is a front-and-center issue in everything she does.


The point: Boating OEMs should consider opening a marketing channel to all consumers, men and women, to talk about product safety. It’s good marketing and good business.


4 ways to leverage safety content into marketing content

  1. Start by stating the obvious. Create website content that brings safety information to the user in terms they’ll understand – not just a bunch of compliance and credentials and owner’s manual information, but well-designed pages and experiences that bring safety into the mainstream of the user experience.


  1. Make safety packages an upgrade. A leading brand like Sea Ray highlights features called QuietRide and TunedTransom. Why not build a package of USCG-mandated safety equipment – plus add-ons like a 4-person ditch bag – and offer safety package upgrades? Customers might begin to think that the OEM actually cares about them beyond the sale.


  1. Partner with other brands. Boating OEMs and equipment manufacturers often go it alone. But when it comes to safety, they should be less cautious about forming partnerships and alliances around products that send the right message. Example: Why hasn’t anyone partnered with Raymarine to promote the LifeTag Man Overboard System?


  1. Elevate your search hierarchy around safety. Search results for “boat safety” reveal the hard truth that the issue has been given over to organizations like Discover Boating, Power Squadron, and the Coast Guard. Some basic SEO direction (organic and perhaps paid) can move the right company with the right content into a search results page with a fresh message.


Full disclosure: We have helped marine brands including Ritchie Navigation, Sabre Yachts, VETUS-Maxwell, Navtec, Hinckley, and others overcome all sorts of communications obstacles.

And we’re happy to talk to you.

Join us for a cup of coffee at our office in Madison, CT.

Academic Rigor Mortis: Breathing new life into school brands


Thinking outside the backpack on “academic rigor”

Schools have long been in a Greco-Roman wrestling match with the question of how to present academic rigor in their particular brand of education to the world.

Cruise the websites of public or private learning institutions and you’ll see the term everywhere. Depending on the source, academic rigor can mean more homework, more testing, making students suffer, new levels of behavioral strictness, serious intellectual challenges, or a single standard for all.

Here’ some basic background on the issue – and 6 ways to escape the cul de sac of academic rigor and reach for something deeper and more honest about your institutional identity.


How the problem began

In the 1980s, “Liberal arts” and “Education” became synonymous with (take your pick): Softness, laxness, failure to contribute to the workforce or the economy, or a lack of accountability. Or making tests too easy. Or all of the above.

Many experts agree it started with the 1983 report called “Nation at Risk,” which positioned US education as “enmeshed in mediocrity.”

The report linked education to economic performance for perhaps the first time. It also directly compared American educational performance with international competitors.

In sum, Nation at Risk laid societal and economic failures on Education’s doorstep and – wait for it – signaled the advent of heavy reliance on external testing. This set the table for No Child Left Behind.


The Academic Rigor bandwagon

In 2006, 10 governors called for greater “rigor” in their schools.

In 2009, 5 states mandated “rigorous” algebra, geometry, and lab science – with zero definition of the term.

Then, as recently as 2015, 17 states piled on, demanding more “rigor” in their curricula. Everybody used the term, but no one defined it.

Academic seriousness needs to be seen, not heard. And in our view, the key is to use content that creates more transparency between the institution and the target, whether it’s a student, parent, faculty member, donor, or alum.


6 ways to jump off the bandwagon – and into the truth


1. Create a jargon-free zone around Admissions and Marketing

Use of jargon is antithetical to differentiation. To carve out a clear positioning, schools must develop their own vocabulary in language and images. So commit to getting rid of: “Academic rigor,” “21st Century Skills,” “Content knowledge,” and any other jargon that’s laying around.

2. Define your academic practices in detail

Creating an academic brand that articulates serious purpose (like any branding initiative) has to be based in truth. So put some energy into crafting a true understanding of how your teachers teach. Define some standards. Pinpoint examples of classes where students really have to work to advance. Build stories around individual achievement.


3. Show it, don’t tell it.

Make learning a visual story. Make the website an image-rich, video-front-and-center experience.

Use less institutional copy trying to own and define academic rigor and use more imagery, interviews, information graphics, and concrete examples of learning. Author original articles and white papers, and post them to your site. A web environment that has in-depth content reflects a school brand that is smart and serious.


4. Let the students speak.

They are your most compelling spokespeople, and they hold a potentially valuable key in unlocking the truth of your brand.

Listen to unscripted students talk about their school in this video we recently produced for the Ethel Walker School.

5. Let the faculty speak.

In truth, the only thing more compelling than a truly engaged student talking about learning is a truly engaged faculty member talking about teaching. Find a nucleus of your best teachers and leverage content from them for interviews, videos, and blog entries. Their words will define “rigor” better than anybody.

6. Seek what’s unique.

One academic client of ours has a really strong tutoring program.

The problem:  they called it a Tutoring Program.

By redefining tutoring as Academic Mentorship, they made it about personal coaching and individual achievement instead of needing remedial help.


Okay, we admit that academic rigor is a big topic, and way too big for a blog.

So contact us to continue the conversation over a beverage.



Price, performance, and perception.

In our experience, those are the 3 criteria on which learning institutions are evaluated – by students, parents, consultants, counselors, and, well, everyone.

To take our hypothesis out for a spin to see how it corners, we asked two panels of 12 undergrads – all majoring in Advertising and PR – to evaluate a set of universities using car types and the perceptions that surround them. For a kicker, we also asked if there is a celebrity they might associate with the school.












5 Things You Should Do For Your Site This Year


Twain, as usual, said it best:

“Old habits can’t be thrown out the upstairs window,” said Mark Twain. “They have to be coaxed down the stairs one step at a time.” So it goes with website content management. Old habits (neglect being the #1 bad guy) die hard. So make 2016 the year that you rediscover the potential of your website as a tool for building engagement with these 5 steps.

1. Retrench on SEO

Study the best SEO practices and make sure you’re hitting the highlights: Be mobile friendly. Commit to multimedia. Keep social channels energized. Play nice with Google.

But never, ever forget that premium, branded content also remains an essential standard for search visibility, which brings us irresistibly forward to:


2. Invest in principal photography

Especially given the recent trend toward large-format visuals on home pages (which often have greater stopping power than a mosaic of content areas competing for viewer attention), you should consider shooting a new deck of heroic brand images for use across appropriate marketing channels, starting with your site.

Reality check: There’s too much stock photography in use on legacy websites, period. And that means you may have an opportunity to differentiate yourself when you invest in compelling imagery that’s right for the brand.


3. Review and refresh your message

How long has the same set of messages been parked on your home page image rotator?

When was the last time you reviewed landing page copy, subheads, calls to action, and the key language you use on pages where you really need engagement?

Doing a copy audit of your site may take some serious time, but it’s a way to adjust your message upward and reinforce it across every part of your site.


4. Get CMS training and website HR in place

Many clients tend to build or rebuild their site, declare victory, have a parade, and then allow the content to be mismanaged or the site functionality to be underused.

CMS training can help.

But what many organizations need to commit to is a set number of hours each week that are allocated for content updates and maintenance.


5. Build and commit to an editorial calendar

Even if your site is more textbook than magazine, you should plan out 12 months of editorial content for it.

Our experience is that this enables clients to (and this is huge) anticipate opportunities to gather content.

Too often, content-origination opportunities such as speeches, live events, product launches, and photo and video shoots are missed because no one saw it coming until too late.

We just thought of a 6th resolution for better site performance.

Have a cup of java with us.

Eyeflow: How do people scan your site?

dcblog-eyeflowIt takes 1/5 of a second for someone to form an impression of your site


In another 2.6 seconds, they will have located the content that interests them.


In that time span of 2.8 seconds the user has scanned the page, made some judgments, and is ready to move deeper into your site.


Or move on in search of a better site.


Our point: Every aspect of content placement on a home page or landing page has to be scrutinized because even the smallest decisions can affect performance.


So let’s take a look at exactly what’s happening in those 2.8 seconds and talk about a few of the essentials of eyeflow.


1. Scanning vs Reading


Scanning a page – as opposed to reading it – is how people seek content. Jakob Nielsen pointed out many years ago why we scan rather than read but the dominant reason is twofold: Time pressures, and the fact that reading a computer screen is tiring to the eyes.


When scanning, the eye generally makes short, rapid eye movements as it moves across a web page, seeking the touchstones and visual cues that signal the content environment is relevant and useful.


2. From Gutenberg’s “Z” to Nielsen’s “F”


Gutenberg’s diagram is the basis for how we are taught to enter a web page visually.


Our eye tends to move in a “Z” shaped pattern, starting in the upper left corner – because that’s how we read – and moving right, left, and right. [This explains why, in print advertising, the logo is often positioned lower right.]


But our exposure to the web – and especially to search pages – has reshaped our eyeflow into the form of an “F.”


As you’d expect from the shape of the “F,” – as opposed to a “Z” – the eye tends to look across the screen twice and then stop, rather than completing the scan in the lower right corner.


Nielsen pointed this out in 2006 – viewers often start in the upper left corner and go right. Then they come back and follow a second movement, also left to right. Then they return to the left side and scan vertically.


Side point: Viewer eyeflow can change based on needs. General browsing eye patterns are slower, and more random than information-seeking patterns, which tend to be quicker and centered on navigation. Search page eyeflow tends to have a “hot potato” effect. If you’re redesigning a site, usability testing can provide clarity around how your content is being scanned..


3. Type hierarchy matters. Big Time.


Viewers look for and read headlines as an instinctive process for locating the main message of a page.


Subheads tend to be scanned as viewers go deeper into subpages, looking for relevant content – so don’t write meaningless subheads. Make sure each subhead actually encapsulates the written content below it. This builds reader trust. And keep your fonts simple and consistent so readers begin to feel confident in the aesthetics and standards of the site.


4. White space


Clients tend to overfill web pages, forgetting that unoccupied space creates a sense of calmness, focus, and makes reading and visual digestion easier.


We advise clients to think of white space not just in terms of large areas, but also in terms of column spacing, leaving room around graphics, and even in terms of paragraph length. Short, one and two-sentence paragraphs surrounded by white space accelerate the read and make viewers feel they are getting somewhere.


The elements of commanding attention and directing viewers’ eyeballs to where they need to go is a big topic.


Too big, in fact, for a blog.


But if you want to get into it deeper, we suggest you stop by for a beverage.