Broadcaster, copywriter, advertiser and marketing superstar Terry O’Reilly knows a thing or two about the art of persuasion. Currently the host of the award-winning CBC Radio One show, Under the Influence, he speaks to over a million listeners each week, providing invaluable insight on how to create powerful identities. In his recently published book, This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence, O’Reilly explores how small companies with even smaller budgets can take on their much larger competitors.
We spoke with him to discuss these strategies, along with why marketing can cause a business to sink or thrive.
GO MAGAZINE: A lot of entrepreneurs don’t take marketing seriously. What do you see as the main reasons why small businesses can’t build consumer awareness and brand loyalty?
TERRY O’REILLY: As an entrepreneur, I can say this: most small business owners wear a lot of hats. As a result, marketing gets pushed to the side of the desk. Most owners work in their business, not on their business. The number one task for marketing is to differentiate your business from your competitors. A business that is branded and marketed well is a business that becomes top-of-mind for the public. Smart marketing gets attention, and attention is the oxygen of any business. That means a smart business owner should give marketing the same attention they give sales, customer service, and accounting.
You’ve said “if you don’t have a story, you don’t have a business.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Storytelling is powerful marketing; every company has a story to tell. It might be what the company was born to change in its industry, or the story of the founder, or the unique insight the company possesses, or the unique ways it solves customer problems. We are hardwired to love good stories. Smart marketers learn to harvest stories from their businesses and turn those stories into marketing. Stories also help companies feature intangible benefits, like trust and confidence. It’s very difficult to talk about trust in marketing. As soon as you say “trust me”, people distrust you. But tell me a story about trust and I get the message. Storytelling is like a Swiss Army knife; it has many uses. Conversely, if you don’t have a story, your business is one-dimensional and easy to forget.
We’ve been told that purpose and corporate social responsibility help create customer loyalty and brand affinity. On the corporate or business level, a lot of CEOs are telling us that they just aren’t seeing it and that nothing matters more to consumers than price. What are your thoughts?
I disagree. If you focus all your marketing on price, it’s a race to the bottom. You become a commodity and that’s the worst position to ever find yourself in. Price is, of course, important, but value is even more critical. By telling your story, stating your company purpose, stating your CSR initiatives, and creating compelling marketing, you create a secondary layer. And, when customers add that to the price quotient, they begin to value your company or they see the value in your product, or even in your price if you are priced higher than competitors. Purpose and social responsibility are very important, especially to millennials, but it’s only part of your communications plan. A brand is the sum of all these points.
Are you seeing trends or platforms that allow small and medium-sized businesses to reach larger audiences faster and cheaper than ever before?
The quick answer is social media. For the first time in marketing history, businesses have powerful channels at their disposal that don’t demand the expenditures of traditional media. A broadcast or billboard campaign can quickly eat up a small budget. But social media simply needs more time than money. Yes, you can spend money on Facebook ads or search engine optimization, but you can also share and connect with customers and potential customers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., without spending any media money. It takes creativity and it takes time, but social media gives your company infinite ways to tell your story. And the communication is instant. You just need to monitor your social media feed, be responsive to the public, and share interesting content. If you do it right, it’s fun. If you do it wrong or inconsistently, it’s onerous.
The Globe and Mail recently quoted one of your core marketing beliefs from your book, This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence. You said: “small brands need a big personality. A small company can’t compete with a larger company’s budget, so it must take to a different battlefield, breaking through the clutter with a gutsy, vibrant approach that develops a distinctive personality.” Can you give us some examples?
I think WestJet is a good example. It does creative, surprising marketing that is much more memorable than bigger airlines. Their Christmas videos get shared right around the world. WestJet doesn’t have the marketing budget of an Air Canada or United Airlines, but its work is always memorable, effective, and authentic. Virgin is another airline that does outstanding marketing in a category filled with bigger competitors with deeper pockets. The BMW Mini did great work in a category filled with huge competitors. Back in the ‘60s, Volkswagen used its lack of power and ugliness with humour to turn those shortcomings into benefits. These marketers are bold in their marketing. Most bigger companies are too conservative to be bold; it’s a huge opportunity for smaller companies. My mantra is don’t outspend them, outsmart them.
We want to ask you a personal insurance question. Can you describe your last experience purchasing insurance? What would you change about the industry?
We recently purchased insurance for a new cottage. We have a great broker we’ve dealt with for many years. He’s amazing, responsive, and resourceful. He could teach a course in great customer service. Almost every purchase in life has pain points, but I must say he eliminates those for us. He heads them off at the pass. I wish other companies that we deal with in other aspects of our lives were as smooth and professional as our insurance experiences have been.