James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

The Bagels of Marketing

Americans are good at reinventing things that have been around forever and making them appear brand new. Avocado, “craft” beer, coconut, mason jars, yoga, and of course bagels.

Until about 25 years ago, bagels were only familiar to those fortunate enough to live in communities with large Jewish populations. These days you can find a bagel shop in every trendy neighborhood and strip mall.

Nothing about bagels changed. People didn’t suddenly get hit by lightning bolts of cream cheese and realize, “Wow, these are delicious – where have bagels been all of my life?”

Our collective bagel consciousness manifested because they were rebranded for mass consumption. Brightly lit retail spaces with quirky merchandising shifted our bagel perception: They’re great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Re-think your sandwich. Try the blueberry and chocolate chip varieties as snacks for the kids.

Bagels went from being an obscure ethnic food to a favorite for the average American. That’s why they’ve replaced the beloved donut as the nosh of choice for Monday morning business meetings.

Now Americans love bagels. Or do they?

Truth is, today’s standard bagel - soft, puffy and bland - is no more than a slice of Wonder Bread in disguise; authentic bagels are slightly crusty, chewy and a bit sweet. They used to be hand-prepared by curmudgeonly old men who learned the craft from other curmudgeonly old men; now bagels are machine-processed by teens in between text messages.

I don’t know if there’s a societal conspiracy going on, but we’ve endured something similar with the craft of marketing.

Becoming a legitimate marketer used to require training. You got a gig in a marketing department and learned from people who actually had experience with what works and what doesn’t. Meanwhile, you took some classes and read some books about marketing.

Then the Internet came along. Now every business could easily promote itself - only without the requisite marketing skills. Just register the URL and design the site. Do some “digital” marketing. Create a blog, and if you really want to get crazy, go for a “micro” blog. Try your hand at mobile marketing and social media.

What’s the difference between these methods? Nothing.

They’re all marketing in different forms. To be successful, no matter what you call the thing on the screen, you need marketing fundamentals.

Many profess that in the digital age, proven marketing principles no longer apply. Consumers used to be passive, at the mercy of the corporate message, but now they’re in control. True.

That’s exactly why the fundamentals are more important than ever because online, on mobile, you want people to do something – pay attention, have a favorable impression, buy, sign-up, call, download – right now.

And that’s only possible by expressing why your product will improve lives, creating a compelling offer, and providing a practical benefit for taking action. All marketing fundamentals.

I probably sound like the curmudgeonly bagel guy, but often I see companies ignoring these critical basics and only focusing on how they deliver the message.

What they call the thing on the screen has become more important than what comprises the thing on the screen.

In this era of the start-up, I consult with many new organizations struggling to generate leads, sales and awareness. They show me their data about response rates, site traffic, social activity, those types of things. It's all helpful. But a quick glance at the content and messaging, and its visual placement, tells me why their campaigns aren’t successful.

We can target, track, analyze and personalize like never before. But core human psychology – our innate tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain – hasn’t evolved in about 25 million years; it certainly hasn’t changed since 1995. We still have to connect on an emotional level and clearly spell out, “This is why you’ll benefit from buying this product.”

If you believe differently, you also believe that a jalapeño bagel with strawberry shmear is the real bagel experience.