A few years back, we had a meeting with the marketing director of a local casino about possibly rebuilding their website. Things were going well, until we asked them a question about their brand. “Our audience is elderly,” he said. “The last marketing director was trying to cater toward a younger crowd, all the people in the ads were around 30. But that’s not our audience. Our crowd wants to sit quietly at a slot machine and plunk money in.”
It was roughly at that point that I knew that I didn’t actually want to land this job. We politely finished the meeting, went our separate ways, and didn’t contact them again.
We hit the same problem some time later at a local theatre. They were convinced that because their audience was 70% elderly, that every part of the theatre needed to cater to that, from the shows, to the art in the lobby, to the ticket sales process. Who needs online sales when your audience is seventy, right? Not surprisingly, their bottom line had been consistently dropping year after year.
Both these cases conveniently forget one thing – theatre and casinos are both forms of escapism.
If you’re seventy, you’re not going to the casino to be reminded of your age. Casinos literally continue to exist and prosper because they provide a thrill. They trigger an addictive part of your mind that is sure that “I got so close last time,” and that “it’s my turn to get the jackpot.” People who go there aren’t looking for a retirement community. They want to feel young, to have that rush of endorphins that comes from winning. Most importantly, going to a casino feels like an event. It’s an escape from your day to day life. A chance to have an adventure. There’s a certain romanticism to it.
Going to the theatre is a chance to trigger emotions, to witness magic, to escape from your life for a moment and ride along on an adventure. When theatre is at its best, the audience can forget who they are and immerse themselves in a story. Audiences don’t go to a theatre because it feels like their living room. They go to the theatre to experience something bigger than themselves.
In both of these cases, the potential client was mistaking their audience for their product.
Know What You Are Actually Selling
The easiest solution to this conundrum is to never lose sight of what you are actually selling. What does your product or service offer? Most of the time, it’s not what you think it is.
It’s amazing how many people come to us for logo design services and think their industry needs to be featured in the logo. “We sell tractors, so the logo should have a tractor, right?”
Does Coca-Cola have a glass of soda in their logo?
There are only a few basic things in this world that any company is ever actually selling – independence, opulence, confidence, escapism, acceptance, nostalgia, youth, sex, power, health, comfort, value, peace of mind. The product or service is secondary.
Learn From The Big Guns
Why are diamonds so expensive and desired while cubic zirconia (which are far more flawless) are costume jewelry ? Because the De Beers company successfully created a mystique of wealth, privilege, and exclusivity around them. When you buy a diamond, you’re saying that you are important, powerful, that you are the kind of person who can afford diamonds.
Why are the people in Coca-Cola and Pepsi ads almost invariably young and attractive? Because these two brands have made a fortune by selling independence and acceptance. Notice how little time the ads spend focusing on the drinks themselves. The main thrust of their ads are almost always the relationships between characters. Often they like to tell a charming story where sharing a soda somehow bridges the gap between different people. Pepsi likes to lean into the independence brand a little harder, while Coca-Cola also sometimes relies on the nostalgia factor.
They know what people are buying. Sure, a good percentage of their audience is in their fifties and lead a sedentary lifestyle – but their product is youth.
In our casino example, take a look at some advertisements for the big Vegas casinos. The people are young, well-dressed, high rollers, popular. Excited folks are gathered around watching someone win big. “But Dave,” you say, “Vegas is a gambling mecca. The people there actually are all young and well dressed and–”
And yet if you stroll into most of those casinos you will see row upon row of singles and couples in their fifties and sixties who have been drawn there by the exact marketing that you just cited. In fact, according to PBS, the largest demographic of gamblers in Vegas are 65 years of age or older. Vegas itself is selling youth.
Put A Plan In Motion
So what’s the solution? Get your key decision makers together and ask yourself the question, “What are we selling?” and once you make a decision, stick with it. Your logo, ads, products, décor and website should all reinforce that. Who are your main competitors and what are they really selling? How can you differentiate yourself from them?
A town has four supermarkets. The first sells health. Their products are locally-sourced and organic. Their décor has a lot of greens and whites, cursive fonts, inspirational quotes on the wall. Local brands are on the end caps of every isle.
The second sells convenience. They’re open 24 hours a day. The end caps have the products that you need most commonly. The brands are all easy to recognize – the ones you’ve used for years are in plain sight. The décor is corporate and easily recognizable.
The third sells value. Their products are brands you don’t recognize but they’re super cheap. Every time you go in there’s some great new bargain. Their décor feels like some sort of secret warehouse. If you find a product there once, you go back and buy it all because you don’t know if you’ll ever see it again.
These stores all know what they’re selling, and the audience comes.
And then there’s the fourth store. They’re selling groceries. They’re remodeled a few times over the years because they hope it will draw in more customers. They run big sales sometimes, but have a rough time maintaining a customer base. Eventually the store goes out of business because of lack of brand loyalty.
Know what you’re selling, model your business around it, make it clear to your audience – and you’ll have a business that thrives for years.