Marketing guru Chris Maher offers advice
for getting through to customers
One Humble Message
on All Your Surfaces
By Joe Gold, Senior
Chris Maher is an idea guy, a writer and producer at M2K,
an interactive advertising agency in Austin, Texas. Ideas
are the air he breathes for the likes of Compaq, Dell and
Hoover's. One indication of the agency's success: it grew
500 percent in the past year, to achieve $10 million in
billings. He maintains that there are a few simple—if
not easy to implement—precepts that spell success
for those who know how to use them.
Maher freely admits that he gets his ideas from customers.
"When was the last time you took a customer to dinner,
really take the time to get to know him?" he prods.
It's hardly a matter of diplomacy or an academic exercise.
"The best integrated messages integrate with the customer's
values and beliefs," Maher said. He was preaching the
gospel of "humble messaging" at the recent ClickZ
Integrated Marketing Conference in New York.
Everybody, internalize the
This means you. "If everyone in the company could
internalize a single, powerful message, it would be more
powerful than any multi-media ad campaign," Maher said.
"Build the message from the customer up, or at least
from sales up. If your officially sanctioned corporate messages
are saying one thing and sales another, something is wrong."
Maher sees no contradiction between a humble and a powerful
message. It's not the grandiose phrase that carries power,
he says, but the value that the customer can take away.
He offers these tips for crafting a message that works:
-What makes that single message work is repetition, repetition,
repetition, not only in ads, commercials and Web sites,
but on every "surface" of the company that touches
someone outside the company.
-The company is the campaign. All the surfaces
of the company participate. Is the company integrated?
Does it speak with the same voice?
-Your company is probably larger than you know. Audit
your company's surface area. Where are the contact points?
Evaluate how you can use all your company's surface areas
to support your campaign. (Surface areas are every point
at which the company comes in contact with someone outside
-The receptionist is the most important surface. Salespeople
and executives are prominent company surfaces. Surfaces
are more than public relations people; they are in purchasing,
engineering, customer service and technical support.
-Don't discount the least expensive, humble surfaces
like final tags on e-mail, on-hold messaging, and fax
cover sheets. Are your company's surfaces consistent or
disconnected? Is there one message that crosses all surfaces?
Why is having a single message so important? "Because
pattern recognition is hard-wired into humans," Maher
says. "In a culture of discontinuity and distraction,
repetition is essential. Anything part of a discernible
pattern is more powerful than something random or without
So pattern recognition is what gives the message power,
especially when it comes at the consumer from many directions.
But it doesn't take a million-dollar campaign. "Integrated
marketing can be as little as 33 cents and two surfaces,
a letter and a phone call," Maher said.
For example, Maher used a series of images to promote an
eDay seminar in New York, Berlin, London and Paris for Internet
financial analysts. Along with schoolhouse clocks showing
times in New York, London and Berlin is a stopwatch labeled
"Internet." The easily-translatable message appeared
on brochure mailers, of course, but also on the seminar
Web site, letterheads and fax cover sheets, and finally
on signage at the event. It worked because it was clear
and consistent, as well as tailored for its intended audience.
"And if you really know your audience, the message
comes automatically," he says.
OneChannel.net was on online e-commerce
measurement service that featured original editorial content.