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Creativity Should Always Be Full Throttle

“When we say what our competitors say, when we use jargon and industry speak, we commoditize our industry.” That’s the stance of marketing authority and speaker Ken Schmidt. And he should know. As the former director of communications strategy for Harley Davidson Motor Company, he was integral to its turnaround.

During his keynote at the 2014 MeritDirect Co-op, Schmidt gave the audience some tough love and easygoing advice on how to excel in marketing.

Be unique. “Tough competition? Oh, boo hoo!” Schmidt asserted. “Don’t whine about the competition, be different and better. Be meaningful to your customers.”

Understand your competition. Not just direct competitors; others’ that may not seem obvious, but often have just as big of an impact. “Golf is the biggest competitor of power sports like motorcycling,” he said.

Be shareable. “What messages have customers heard from you that they’ve repeated to other people? Memorable, repeated soundbites will help you control the message,” Schmidt said. “Think: ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’”

Do more than expected. “No one tells stories about when they’re expectations are met because they’re met thousands of times a day,” he said.

Stand out. Avoid what Schmidt calls the retail walk of death: Consumers enter a store hoping to see something that will inspire them to take action, but it’s nearly impossible to find something that does. He cited as an example “walking the wall of TV sameness” in an electronics store. “In a world where we can’t tell things apart we’ll instinctively buy the lowest-priced item,” he cautioned.

Be accountable. Someone needs to be responsible for creating the messages that will let customers know that you’re distinct.

Understand customer movitations. “Psychology and behavior play into everything,” Schmidt said. “The more we harness that in our marketing, the more we’ll sell.”

Most important, be passionate. “The single most magnetically attractive human attribute is passion,” Schmidt said. “Visible passion trumps all.” Think about this in how you position your brand—and yourself. “When all things are equal,” he added, “we do business with people and companies we like.”

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