The Rarely Practiced Science of Celebrity Endorsements

I recently bought a Nespresso coffee machine because George Clooney is its brand ambassador. I figured if I could even get 10 percent of his charm by drinking Nespresso, the investment would be worth it. After a week, I asked my wife if she noticed any changes. After a short moment of evaluation, she kindly responded, “I think you need to give it more time but also hang on to the receipt.”

endorsement
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by NDE

I recently bought a Nespresso coffee machine because George Clooney is its brand ambassador. I figured if I could even get 10 percent of his charm by drinking Nespresso, the investment would be worth it. After a week, I asked my wife if she noticed any changes. After a short moment of evaluation, she kindly responded, “I think you need to give it more time but also hang on to the receipt.”

My personal experiment notwithstanding, celebrity endorsements are big deals, with companies spending tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for a publicized endorsement of their brand or brands. Estimates on the larger end also include lifetime royalty payments tied to co-branded product lines (think Air Jordan). Nevertheless, most companies will also admit that celebrity endorsements and event sponsorship deals are often driven more by feel than science. As a result, what companies are willing to pay usually reflects the popularity of the celebrity and not the value of the association at generating profit.

This does not have to be so. There is a discipline to evaluating endorsements and sponsorships which can help companies assess the value of an endorsement to the organization. The analysis involves four key elements:

  1. Determining how the two brands fit (company and celebrity).
  2. Identifying potential brand trait transfer, where intended and unintended personality traits of the celebrity can leach onto your brand and vice versa.
  3. Measure potential lift or understand the increased consideration of your product due to the endorsement or association.
  4. Finally, understand when and how to exit the relationship and place a valuation on the downside risk, should the celebrity be caught up in a scandal.

While all four elements are hard to cover in a single post, let’s examine how a good analytical approach can help determine if the celebrity’s or event’s brand fits your company brand? This is important because the celebrity might be very well-known and broadly liked, however, they may not reflect your desired brand attributes. Simply relying on gut to determine brand fit can lead to endorsement deals that range from worthless to just bizarre.

Epic endorsement fails include: Ozzy Osbourne pitching I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter (weird); Jerry Seinfeld’s endorsement of Microsoft (meh); and Snoop Dogg pitching Norton antivirus software (Wait..what?). Yes, at some point Norton and Snoop joined forces to publicize a campaign called “Hack is Wack,” which included a microsite where you could create your own 2-minute rap song about the problems of viruses, spyware, phishing and cybercrime (Yes, it really happened).

While these endorsement examples seem hilarious in hindsight, they were serious financial decisions made by someone who had good intentions but a skewed perspective of the company brand. Often, the skew develops based on an inward view of the company and its employees or it sometimes reflects the leader’s sheer desire to drive change. Through their efforts at transformation, leaders sometimes see the change before it’s substantial enough for customers to see.

The lesson here is that determining brand fit should be an analytical exercise based on multiple sources of information, including social data, market research and an evaluation of past endorsement deals. Using strong analytics to understand how your target market views your brand and the celebrity brand you wish to associate with allows you to get a realistic perspective of the positives and negatives of the marriage.

4 Ways to Make a Direct Mail Endorsement Stand Out

There are dozens of ways that you can build credibility in your product or service with direct mail. The one that’s captured my attention lately is the professional endorsement.

There are dozens of ways that you can build credibility in your product or service with direct mail. The one that’s captured my attention lately is the professional endorsement.

Oh sure, customer testimonials can be fun. I love reading authentic stories when they’re on point. There’s nothing better.

But when the expertise of an independent authority is leveraged in a smart way, it too can be a powerful tool to help punch up your direct mail letter, brochure, or envelope.

Let’s assume you’ve already looked at the appropriate FTC guidelines. Here are four ideas on how you can use what others think to your advantage.

1. Make It Noticeable
kabbage_01Sometimes you’ll see a small symbol hidden away on the back of an envelope or the corner of a page. Kabbage, an online business lender, put award ribbon graphics on the face of its #10 envelope. One represents the BBB (Better Business Bureau), the other, Forbes magazine.

This works because businesses seeking financing are more likely to work with a highly-regarded institution, and one that’s also been recognized as promising by a leading business media property.

2. Explain Why
endorseoxfam_01In many cases, it’s a good practice to explain what all the fuss is about. Oxfam America, an international aid charity, does that on the back of its brochure in a recent appeal. Next to the logos of three leading non-profit watchdog groups, it briefly spells out what those ratings mean.

Here’s another example. Inova, a health system based in Northern Virginia, used most of the back cover of one of its mail magazines to highlight its honors from U.S. News & World Report. The media site is well-known for its college and hospital rankings. “It’s no wonder,” Inova says, citing its research and specialty care.

3. Connect It To Your Message
endorsehumana_01aHumana, the health insurance company, devotes much of one side of its postcard to its pharmacy service’s award from J.D. Power for customer satisfaction. The reverse of the mail piece repeats the mention. Then, it provides and describes three benefits (convenience, savings, confidence) of the pharmacy before making the call to action.

4. Tie It In To The Web
endorseshipstation_01Go ahead and carefully use ratings from websites and users. ShipStation, a shipping software provider, works with many e-commerce sites. Its customers, then, are more likely to be impressed by high ratings from users of Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce.

Another example:  On a direct mail piece, Santander Bank references the recognition of its money market account by NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

To maximize the impact of the endorsement, you have to keep in mind what your customers want. They want to trust you. They want not just your creative, but the seal of approval from others, before they can truly feel peace of mind.

The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?