Steve Cone is managing director and head of advertising and brand management at Citigroup Global Wealth Management. Along with five other senior executives, he coordinates worldwide brand management for all of Citigroup's businesses in more than 100 countries, encompassing 200 million customers.
Over his 30-year career—half of it in financial services for such other large companies as American Express, Key Corp. and Fidelity—Steve has earned a reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker who creates advertising that gets results. He writes about his ideas about what makes effective marketing in Steal These Ideas: Marketing Secrets That Will Make You a Star (Bloomberg 2005).
I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve when we were both speaking at a recent conference of the Zyman Institute of Brand Science in Atlanta.
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Roy Young: What makes great advertising?
Steve Cone: There are three essential ingredients: visual and/or sensory excitement, real news about the product or service, and a compelling reason to respond. Without these ingredients, your promotion simply has a lot less chance of making an impression on your target audience and ultimately resulting in a sale.
The average American is subjected to 4,000 ad messages per day. Why should they pay attention to yours? They won't unless you impress their two senses, sight and sound, tell them something special they didn't know about your product and service, and be very clear about what action it is you want them to take.
RY: Why are you such a strong believer in "unique selling propositions," and what must brand managers know about creating effective USPs?
SC: Every brand manager should read David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Adman and any article they can find about Rosser Reeves—the inventor of the USP concept. Also, always remember one word—surplus. For example, there are 1,200 varieties of soda in America today. How can you make yours standout among this surplus? Or take the auto industry. All cars basically do the same thing. Most are superbly engineered today, and in fact one of the challenges the auto industry faces is that cars today simply don't break down after a few years as they did in decades past. How can you get your brand, your model, to stand out? You need a unique hook. A unique positioning. This quest for differentiation among a crowded field is the hardest and most essential part of marketing today.