Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beauty in the Age of E-Books

I've been thinking a lot lately about books, book publishing, and the future of both. Because so much of our business depends upon long-document production (from brochures to full-blown books and catalogs) the future of the visual word is a matter we take seriously here at The McNaughton Group.

I count myself a book-lover, but sticking my head in the sand about the surging popularity of e-books seems particularly suicidal, in the business sense. While "the death of print" has been "right around the corner" for a couple of decades now, something is really going on this time, and it looks an awful lot like the first few years of the transition to digital photography from its analog roots.

I actually have no problem with e-books, per se. I have Kindle on my smartphone and I use it. I'm quite seriously considering the purchase of a 'hardware' Kindle in the near future. I see the value in digital book distribution.

No, my problem lies in the notion of CRAFT. Just as the mobile editor with which I'm writing this post forced me into emphasis-by-capitalization instead of the more elegant use of italics for that purpose, so too the current e-book world is a wasteland of craftless... I hesitate to actually use the words 'typography' and 'design' here.

Kindle and ePub (the latter format is used by Apple in its various iOS devices) are both based upon HTML, the language used to lay out web pages. Very little of the nuance and craft available to me in print books is even an option in either of these formats.

So where does someone like me create value in a world of vanilla e-books? Is it possible to create a truly BEAUTIFUL e-book, as much for its visual appearance as for the content contained within that appearance? I think the answer to the latter question may, indeed, be 'yes', but as with all transitional periods, there are few, if any, tools to properly accomplish the task. We're very much back to the 'Dark Ages' of digital production, in the fashion of the worst early days of 'Desktop Publishing', building craft again in a new land. And in that process lies the answer to the former question as well - without efficient tools, beauty becomes an unaffordable, unmarketable luxury in many cases. So we'll be looking at this whole subject very carefully here at The McNaughton Group, and doing LOTS of testing!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rhapsody: Apple has gone too far

We've been following the latest Apple, Inc. story, regarding content sold through apps on the various iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.) If you haven't heard, Apple just changed their standard agreements to say that any vendor that delivers paid content (subscriptions, books, music, videos, etc.) through an app, now must remove any link to an outside purchase site for the content (usually their own website) inside the app, and instead put in a link to subscribe or purchase that content through the new Apple Subscription Store. They can still sell the content through their own site, but can no longer have anything but a link to Apple's store for that purchase inside the app.

Sounds fairly innocuous. So what's the kicker? Thirty percent of the gross sell-price goes directly to Apple if something is sold through their store. And the other kicker? Vendors must charge the same price for the content, whether it's sold through Apple or through their own site. No marking up the content in the Apple store to make up for Apple's 'take'. Keep in mind, most of these vendors make less than 30% margin on content sales in the first place. And if the only link in the app to buy content is to Apple's store, where do you think the bulk of purchases will be made? This is an untenable business model for most, regardless of the popularity of the iOS devices.

You can imagine that vendors such as the New York Times,, and others have a bit of a problem with this. One of them, Rhapsody, has finally had enough. They're pulling their content from the iOS devices unless Apple changes the policy. Presumably others will follow in short order. With Android breathing down Apple's throat in both smartphone and tablet form, I can't see how this policy can stand. Apple is banking on their incredible market penetration to strong-arm content providers into knuckling under to this - I'm going to say it - highway robbery. I think the marketing wizards at Apple are about to get a lesson in hubris.

Here's a link to an article on the Rhapsody challenge to Apple:

Rhapsody: Apple has gone too far

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Doing it right, doing it wrong.

A few months back, Tropicana hired a big agency to completely rework the branding on their Pure Premium orange juice line. What ensued was a branding disaster of textbook proportions. Revenues dropped about 20%(!). In short order, Tropicana pulled the branding and the entire campaign that went with it. Millions of dollars in the tank.

It's easy to take the wrong lesson from this. Should they have 'left well enough alone'? No. The premium orange juice market was in a slump and the brand wasn't the strongest to begin with. Their sales were already weakening and something needed to be done.

No, the real issue was how this rebranding was specifically handled. It's pretty obvious that the agency involved didn't do a lot of research beyond the tiny slice of market that is orange juice sales. Didn't think about the entire experience of going to a grocery store and looking at so many, many other products than just the OJ. Take, for example, all those generic store-brand products whose branding is uniformly similar to the new one for Tropicana Pure Premium. Oops.

Visual marketing - that is, branding and graphic design - never operates in a vacuum. It lives and breathes in a complex ecosystem of products and services, each contributing to the visual grammar and context in which the consumer makes their purchase decision. You might have the most fantastic art possible on your brand, but if it looks like something else common in that context, the consumer is going to assume there's a similarity in quality, price, or value to what they're used to seeing.

Branding your premium product to look like generic products, even of a different type, will kill your brand if the two will be viewed in the same context.

What's around when YOUR customers view your visual marketing? How is that affecting their purchase decision?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Welcoming Mountain Hardwear as a new client.

We're very happy to announce that we've just won a major new contract with Mountain Hardwear. ( The RFP process showed us that these people are great to work with, have it all together, and really love their product lines. Happy to be working with such a great company! :-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Recession: A Golden Opportunity!

No matter what the politicians (of either party) are saying, you and I know the economy is still down. We're starting to see some glimmers though - notice that the summer wasn't as bad as it might have been? Have you been getting some renewed interest in your product or service?

So what to do about it? How do you get your sales moving again?

If you're like almost every company or manager out there, your first instinct in the recession was to cut costs. "Less money coming in, so we need less money going out." By and large, that's not a bad strategy. However, there are two areas where you should have resisted the urge: Training and Marketing.

Both of these are substantial costs in your budget, and so they seem like likely targets for savings. Wrong. Training and marketing are the two areas that most impact your potential customer's perceptions of your firm. With customers being so choosy about where they spend their money, you simply can't afford to let their perception of you slide even a little bit. If they can't see you in the marketplace, or they are treated poorly by an under-trained representative, they'll go elsewhere. This causes your income to drop even more. At that point, the choice is usually made for even more cost cutting.

Pilots call this sort of thing a "death spiral."

The one bright light in this situation is that your competition probably made the same mistake. Their training and marketing efforts are shut down. They're annoying their customers, both current and potential. This makes for a grand opportunity for the smart company - your company - to radically improve your market share, perhaps permanently. Hard as it may seem, it's time to put some money back into training and marketing. Make your company shine. Any money spent in these areas now, in a 'down' economy, is much more effective than money spent in the good times, when all of your competitors are also shining brightly. By cutting their training and marketing, they've made themselves look bad. If you look good, how do you think that will affect your bottom line?

It's time to get moving again. It's time to grow.

Sell Them What They Want

If you're like most companies, your brochure makes the mistake of being all about you. Naturally your customer needs to know a little about your firm, but that's not what they're looking to buy.

Think about it: You came to this web site to find out a little more about The McNaughton Group, but unless you have a particular passion for marketing studios, you mostly came to find out if working with us can improve your business. Right?

Here's one of my favorite sayings: "People don't buy 1/4-inch drills. People buy 1/4-inch holes." You don't buy a drill because you want a twisted piece of metal. You buy a drill because you want there to be a hole in something. If you try and sell someone the very best bit of twisted metal in the world, who needs it? But if you show them that they'll get the best hole in the world by way of your twisted bit of metal, now you have something that someone will buy!

Think about that for a second, and then think about what your customers are actually purchasing from you. It may be that you're not really selling what you think you're selling. It should then be obvious that you want to sell people what they really want. Your marketing materials should focus on how you're going to solve your customer's problems, improve their lives, make them filthy stinking rich by way of your product and/or service. While every other business out there is pouring it on with dreck like, "We're the best company ever!", you'll show how you can help your customers reach their own dreams.

Between the two options, who do you think is going to get the sale?

"How Much Will It Cost?"

If there's one question I receive most frequently, this is it. Budgets are tight. Margins are thin. It's not an unreasonable question.

It's also almost impossible to answer without more information and some thinking ahead on the part of the customer.

The best possible answer to this question is another question: "What's your budget for this project, and what do you hope to achieve with it?" You see, only you can decide if a given expenditure is worth the return you're hoping to get. Let's say you want to increase your gross revenues 15% in the coming quarter and, for your particular business, that means increasing them by $150,000. Spending $90,000 on a series of full-page ads placed in national magazines probably isn't worth it - you're spending half of your goal revenue right up front. On the other hand, spending $800 simply won't buy you enough of a campaign to realistically reach your goal. You'll be throwing that money away. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in-between, and we'll need to discuss that tradeoff together to find the right amount that will give you the best value for your money.

However, many small (and even quite a few medium and large) businesses have approached me lately asking the "how much will it cost" question, and have only "as much as we can" for a goal, and "as little as possible" for a budget. And folks, there's just no answer to that. It's like walking into a store and asking the salesperson "how much will it cost" without saying what it is that you want to buy. What answer could he or she give you? In the marketing case, your goal could be anything. And how much will it cost to do "anything"? Even if you know that you want a brochure or a magazine ad, the variations on even those relatively concrete items are almost endless.

So, before you approach any marketing agency, have a concrete goal in mind and think about how much your budget will support to achieve that goal. A real professional will need that information before they can give you a realistic answer to your "how much will it cost" question and whether it's possible to reach your goal with your budget. You see, we in the marketing industry really do want you to succeed. The better you do, the more other clients will want our services. Customer success: It's what we do!

In the case of The McNaughton Group, once we have this discussion we'll give you a clear written estimate of the costs for your project right up front. You'll have your answer, right there in black and white.