A few years ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with my Uncle, Cousin and a friend on a brand new 45 ft catamaran boat. I was beyond excited. The only way I managed to wrangle a position crewing was that I had volunteered to cook for them (I knew nothing about sailing!) This was a boyhood dream for my Uncle who I had always looked up to while growing up – he was a hugely successful entrepreneur who had built one of South Africa’s most successful car dealerships from scratch (with no college education and barely a penny to his name). My Uncle had this boat built especially for him and now, along with my cousin (his son) and his best friend, the 4 of us were going to get to “test its chops” on a 33 day blue water adventure that started in Capetown, South Africa and would end in St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
There are lots and lots of stories I could tell you about this voyage: the scores of flying fish I’d find on the deck every morning, having dolphins swim alongside my cabin and call to me to come play, the great whale that we had a near miss with, or the very eerie island we had to make an emergency stop at filled with inbred people that had clubbed hands and feet.
But the story I really want to tell you today is the one about the green flash.
It was a ritual on our boat that every day at about 6 p.m. we’d all gather on the deck for “Sundowners” (cocktails with snacks I’d rustled up in the kitchen). The four of us would sit quietly on the deck, skin burned from sun and salt spray – happy and content to watch the sun go down.
Now, I had never heard about this before, but apparently there’s an incredible thing that happens the split second that the sun sinks below the horizon: a “green flash” is emitted from the sun’s rays and in the reflection of the water for a milli-second.
My crew mates talked incessantly about the incredible beauty of this green flash – and every night that we gathered for our sundowners they saw it – and I never did.
For 27 sunsets (excluding the ones we missed due to storms) I kept my eyes laser focused on that orange orb, refusing to blink just in case I missed it.
“Did you see it? Did you see it this time?” they’d turn and say expectantly to me.
With every night I felt like a bigger and bigger idiot. How was it possible they could see something that I did not?
Well to be honest I’m not sure they did. If you Google “Green Flash Ocean” you’ll see that people seem to be equally divided between whether it’s myth or fact. And this reminds me very much of the way most people preach about marketing.
Conventional wisdom teaches that what really counts is having a strong brand presence and that this is the road to success – the entire advertising agency industry is built upon this one primary assumption. And for good reason.
Brand advertising is just like the green flash. Everyone tells you that it’s the holy grail to getting more customers. But after investing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on building your brand you’ve still got no idea if its really working or not. Could that bump in traffic be caused from it? Maybe. But maybe its because your biggest competitor happened to also drop the ball and people are voicing their dissatisfaction with their feet. Or because the economy’s picking up. Or, or, or…
The bottom line is this. Building a strong brand IS important for your business. But it should be the by-product of your advertising – not the goal of it. If you’re hoping to catapult your business to fame using just brand advertising, you’re in for a very long wait my friend. Having a cool looking logo and a clever tagline isn’t what’s going to create a client stampede in your business.
But the kind of advertising that can is emotionally charged marketing, otherwise known as direct response marketing. Its designed to make your prospects take immediate and decisive action – to light a fire under their rears and get them to call you, to work themselves into such a lather that they have to speak to you right this very second. Direct response marketing is measurable to the penny (which as a direct response advertising copywriter means I put myself on the line every time I create a campaign). And it helps create a strong brand for your business as a wonderful side benefit.
Think of it as getting double the marketing bang for your buck.
Does the green flash really exist? I have no idea.
Are your brand ads working? I have no idea (and you don’t know either). As this is your money we’re investing – don’t you think it makes more sense to use a proven way of marketing that can create a client stampede in your business, is measurable to the penny and happens to build your brand at the same time?