R.A.P. Interview: Ed Brown

JV: What’s the process when a salesman comes to you and says, “OK. I’ve got this client that wants this commercial. He wants to sell some widgets. What can you do for me?”
Ed: Basically, I get information. I don’t want to say I get as much information as possible; I try to get the pertinent information. One of the things I look for is the unique selling proposition. What does this person have that no one else has that’s selling widgets? I remember a few years ago, there were finance companies all over the place. Every other spot on the air was a finance company offering to refinance your home. When things were really good three years ago, they were popping up everywhere. Every guy that knew anything about finance was starting his own mortgage company.

And so it seemed like almost daily somebody else would come in, “Hey, listen. I got this mortgage guy who wants to advertise.” And I’d say, “OK, what makes him different than the other 12 that are on the air right now?” “Well, you know, they all really have the same rates. They all really have this and that.” I said, “So, what makes them different?” “Well....”

So you start trying to create something different. You start looking for things. I remember this one group — it was two guys in St. Charles, which is a suburb of St. Louis — and I’m trying to find what’s unique and I’m not getting any information from the salesperson that’s making them unique. Everything I’m being told is the same thing that everybody else is advertising. So I keep going, I’m probing, I’m probing, I’m probing, and finally the salesperson said, “Well, you know what? I’ll tell you this. These two guys, they’re huge. This one guy has to weigh 320 pounds and the other guy probably weighs 300.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” He says, “No.” I said, “Well, there it is. They’re the biggest guys in the mortgage business.” And that’s what I did. I created an ad and touted them as the biggest guys in the mortgage business, and we referenced their size, their human size.

But that’s the kind of thing you do. You just start looking. “What can I do to sell these guys?” Once I’ve pinpointed the basics of their business and the message that they need to get out, and that’s their unique selling position, then I try to figure out what might trigger the audience. What is it about their product or service that I can turn into a need, and how can I reach that person? How can I reach through the radio, tap them on the shoulder and get their attention, because we know that they’re driving down the highway or stuck in traffic not thinking about that client, product or service. They’re thinking about an argument they had that morning before they left the house with their teenager or something else.

There are so many things on our minds, and all of our thoughts are inward and they’re mostly directed at ourselves. We’re not driving to work everyday thinking, “What wonderful thing could I do for someone else today?” We’re all consumed with ourselves, so somehow that ad has to break through that and get your attention and then make you feel like you need that product or service because it’s a selfish thing. I’ve got to make you think that you need it. So I try to figure out some way to create that need, to get it to cut through and then deliver on that with the information in some kind of entertaining way that doesn’t sound like I’m pounding a commercial at you. I try to stay away from commercial speak. I try to stay away from making something sound like an ad if I can. That’s not always possible because clients get in the way.

JV: Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to convince a client what’s best for him when he’s footing the bill!
Ed: I can’t remember the exact phrase, but Dan O’Day had a great comment in one of his newsletters he sent out recently that was about when clients demand bad advertising or bad copy, and it’s true. That’s what happens sometimes. I’ll sit here and write something and say, “Oh boy. This is so well targeted. This is going to really do well for this guy.” Then the client comes back and changes it and you say, “Well, you can’t do that. If you change this, now you’ve changed everything.” It’s like building blocks. If you take a block out, the whole thing starts to fall down; and if you take out two blocks you’ve weakened it even more, and by the third or fourth one it just falls apart.

Clients don’t realize that those sentences aren’t interchangeable with something that comes to their mind. So, you get your copy back, and all of a sudden nothing makes sense anymore. It’s like, wait a minute, the sentence that was ahead of that was setting up the sentence that you took out. The sentence behind that was relating to that sentence that you took out. So basically, by pulling that one sentence out, you just made all three of these sentences no good, but you left two of them in. So now we have two sentences that don’t mean anything with a third sentence stuck in that doesn’t mean anything, and all of a sudden we’re not reaching out and tapping anyone on the shoulder. We’re just throwing words at people through the radio.

It’s great when I get clients that go, “You know what, you’re right. You’re the expert and I’m going to go with what you say.” I try to tell them, “It’s not that I’m some kind of genius or something. I’ve spent 30 years trying to learn this stuff. I’m still trying to learn it. I still go to seminars and read books.” I think I’m going to go to the Roy Williams short course this next year — anything I can go to or do or read that helps me learn how to better target that message, how to better cut through the clutter, how to better reach people, because we know that today people don’t listen the same as they did ten years ago. The same things don’t appeal to people that they did ten years ago. Today, to reach someone, it’s a lot harder because they’re a lot more callous. You can’t tell people something’s great, that it’s new and improved, or it’s the best thing that ever happened, because they’ve heard that too many times. That doesn’t work anymore, so now you have to figure out a new way to tell people that it’s the best thing that they’ve ever tried.

I get clients who want to say, “Well, we’re friendly. We’re helpful. We have knowledgeable salespeople.” And I say, “Well, if you don’t have these things, get out of business. I hope you do have a knowledgeable staff, and that’s a given. As a listener, you don’t need to tell me that because I assume you have that. If you don’t have it, I’m going to be ticked off. So let’s don’t tell people the obvious. These are the givens. Whether you have them or not, you have the best salespeople, you have the most knowledgeable staff, you have the best product. Everything that you have is what I expect from anybody in business today. I don’t expect to walk into a place and be met by someone who’s rude. When I am met by someone who’s rude, I’m offended by it. So don’t tell me you’re friendly because that tells me that I should expect everyone else to be rude.”

But I’m always trying to learn and that’s what I try to tell clients: “You do your business. You go into work every day and you know your business and you know how to make that widget. You know how to sell that widget. You know how to improve that widget. But my job isn’t to know how to make the widget. I don’t have to know anything about a widget. I don’t really even have to know how it works or what it does. But what I do need to know is how to get the consumer to buy your widget.”

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