Incongruous

I’m fortunate to have an easy commute most mornings. My drive from suburban Anderson Township to TaxCoach’s office, high atop the Globe Insurance Building on stately Hyde Park Square, is a tad over 8 miles and usually runs under 20 minutes. It’s a pleasant-enough route, with no junkyards or used-car dealers to mar the view. But there is one half-mile stretch on Ohio 32 that takes me past a couple of billboards every morning. And the most recent ads caught my attention.

The first billboard, just to the north of the Speedway where I sometimes fuel up in the morning, catches my eye with dark tones and an ominous font: “Diabetes? A heart attack might be right around the corner.” The billboard directs viewers to a web site where they can presumably learn how to avoid that heart attack.

The second billboard, literally just on the other side of that same Speedway, cheerily invites “nocturnivores” to visit McDonald’s: “If restaurants weren’t meant to stay open late, they wouldn’t have lights.” Apparently, that’s the heart attack waiting around the corner!

I had to laugh the first time I saw the McDonald’s ad. What, it’s not enough just to have an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, Chicken McNuggets for lunch, and a Big Mac for dinner? My day’s not complete if I don’t polish it off with a Quarter Pounder and fries at midnight? (Don’t answer that.)

But what really caught my eye was the juxtaposition of those two billboards, just yards apart from each other. (And did I hear correctly that McDonald’s just announced a deal to become the official sponsor of Adult Onset Diabetes?)

What about your marketing? Are you conveying a consistent message in your communications to prospects and clients? Or are you suffering from incongruous messages that fail to complement each other — or, worse yet, actually contradict each other?

I remember once spending a consulting day with a TaxCoach member outside Cleveland. He had a successful firm, doing about 2,000 returns per year. He and his two associates were looking to move up the financial food chain, to work with more business clients and expand their financial planning practice.

These guys had all the talent they needed to “renovate” their practice. Yet they had a very old-school local marketing campaign, inspired by one of TaxCoach’s peers in the “build your tax business” segment, that emphasized low prices. In fact, he advertised that he would beat any local competitor’s price for tax return preparation.

How is a low-price pitch consistent with an upscale practice? Well, it’s not. And that’s exactly the problem. Their out-of-date low-price pitch was inconsistent with their new message and new focus. Almost certainly it was turning off the very prospects they wanted to attract!

Keith and I saw another example at one of our first roundtable meetings in Newark, NJ. A TaxCoach member, acting under the influence of the same “Build Your Practice” guru as the last example, wanted to attract affluent homeowners in his suburban neighborhood. Yet his ad in the weekly local paper took the form of a “$25 off” coupon. Now ask yourself, What affluent tax-planning prospect wants to clip a coupon to take to their new accountant?!?

I’m not saying that coupons don’t have their place. But they probably don’t belong in a planning-oriented tax practice. And they certainly don’t belong anywhere near a pitch for high-income clients.

(Maybe I should take that back. Years ago, I saw a great ad in the New York Times for a house in Paradise Valley, AZ. The ad took the form of a “$1 million off” coupon — making the final advertised price just eight million instead of nine. There might be some way to turn that into an eye-catching discount on the reader’s tax bill.)

Here’s the bottom line. Your marketing needs to be congruent with your message and, especially, your markets. This is an easy problem to solve — but make sure you’re on the alert for it. (Then, have a Big Mac to celebrate!)