Thursday, June 08, 2006

McKee’s Five

Long post – good subject. The president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, an ad agency specializing in fast-growth companies and businesses, wrote a Viewpoint article for Business Week magazine. Here’s a shortened version of what Steve McKee wrote about “five words you should never use” in an ad:

Quality. This may be the most overused word in advertising, which is the primary reason why you should stay away from it…every company believes it can use the word “quality” in its advertising. Too many have, and as a result, now it has become just seven empty letters.

Value. Like quality, value has been ruined by overuse….Value, like quality, is in the eye of the beholder, and every product or service has its own value equation. Saying “we provide the best value” is, therefore, virtually meaningless.

Service. Have you ever heard an ad promising lousy service? Of course not, which is the reason why claiming good service just falls on deaf ears…simply promising great service won't make it happen.

Caring. Do you really believe your company cares more about your customers than your competition does? It may feel good to say so, but the claim flies in the face of common sense.

But the fifth word is different. The fifth word doesn’t work precisely because it’s not variable. The fifth word is binary. (Huh?)

Integrity. A company either has integrity or it doesn’t…When a company talks about integrity in its advertising it’s for one of two reasons, neither one of them good: They’re either trying to cover up some lack of integrity (which never works) or they’re implying they live by a higher standard than their competition. That’s impolite, to say the least. Every company needs to have integrity. No company needs to advertise it. Using common words that have become empty clichés is a shortcut to nowhere. Just because you sell it doesn’t mean people will buy it.

As the intro says, it’s a viewpoint. I’ve been struggling for years to keep tired words out of ad copy. I’ve never quite been able to drive a stake through “flexible,” for example. “Customer-focused” is another one.

McKee’s five words do have their problems. However, as code words, they do have…uh…value. “Integrity,” for example, is almost mandated these days because of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. Limp words (like the McKee Five) will continue to be used despite an inconoclast’s viewpoint. So I have three suggestions for companies and institutions about the McKee Five.

First, go to the trouble of supporting tired words like “value” or “service.” Prove why your value or your service is worth more than a kiss-off from jaded consumers.

Second, consider the scary idea of a report card. Many hospitals, for example, are using report cards whose scores are generated by patient comments – and putting them up on their websites. If you base your marketing and advertising on such common characteristics, test them on your customers…and report the results. Product and service improvement should be a continuous part of your business anyway, so a real report card isn’t something you should be ashamed of using.

Third and better yet, try finding out what your customers’ real key decision factors (DCFs) are…through research. Dig beneath the McKee Five for DCFs that are truly meaningful to your customers. Find out how your company, product or service is rated relative to those factors. Then base your advertising on those where you are strongest, or those that you want to reinforce.

McKee is really saying, “Don’t be lazy.” You want customers? Give them real reasons to buy from you. I guarantee it’s worth the effort.

Original article © The McGraw Hill Companies. All rights reserved. Thanks to Rob Schoenbeck for pointing this one out.

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