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  • Writer's pictureJustin Bunnell

Talk Ugly to Me

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

Speak the language of your customers for higher ROI on your marketing budgets

There always appears to be a measure of quality based on appearance rather than effectiveness. Some marketing departments get shy of displaying a business’s true identity because they are nervous of how it it may paint an image to the general public, their bosses, or other ranks of influencers. If those same businesses spoke true to their target demographic then they could have resonated more deeply with them, creating more fierce and loyal subjects to their cause. My grandfather always said “beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone.” I know he was trying to be funny, but if you flip the saying on it’s head, and embrace your “ugly” to expose your uniqueness, you will discover new value in an old joke. In an oversaturated marketplace your marketing efforts will be more effective if you speak the language of your people. Unhindered language that comes from the heart, rather than the overactive and judgmental brain, can result in more successful marketing and will allow businesses to deliver desired value to their customers.

Historically, advertising rewarded businesses with the most money to put a general message out in droves. Television commercials with a repetitious media buy cannot be ignored. The money spent on these productions were astronomical, but were the budgets effective?

These messages were relentlessly broadcast until a majority of the American psyche had the jingles memorized. “They’re great!” “Double mint, double mint, gum.” “I’m loving it.”

Was the return on the millions upon millions of dollars in ad space as effective as it could have been? How can speaking the language of your people increase your marketing return on investment? The answer, and the case that I’m trying to build, is that both speaking from the heart and having a bullseye target for your message will help cut through the noise and ring true to the people that are going to buy your product.

Building a culture

Buyers don’t enjoy being directly marketed to. It’s impossibly ineffective to have sales ads on Facebook. They are ignored, hidden, or reported. It’s important to understand that Facebook and other social media platforms are a personal space for users. They went out of their way to like your page, and anything that you post must give them something in return.

In today’s world consumers and businesses are more skeptical of fraud, empty promises, and marketing antics. The investment in marketing that establishes a culture intertwined with your product or service will garner stronger results that can lead to sales.

Don’t get culture and cult confused. You’re not Charles Manson or L Ron Hubbard, but you do need to demonstrate why your service or product aren’t just run of the mill. Harley Davidson isn’t just a motorcycle, it is a way of life. John Deere isn’t just a tractor, it represents a way of life. Those are the depths in which the world’s most successful brands utilize and develop their brand culture to perfection.

Think about how a product or service is an integral part of your life. Are you a cotton swab manufacturer, or are you a health and hygiene advocate? Are you a boot maker or do you represent the working class people that earn their money the hard way? Are you a guitar maker or are you a rebel? Don’t sell me your product at the best price. I don’t really care. Sell me a way of life. Sell me something that will make me fit in with my peers. Let me buy into your culture. I want to be a badass Harley driving biker (on the weekend). I want to be a hard-working blue collar farmer with my John Deere (to mow my lawn) during the day. It’s that subconscious position that adds to the mark-up value of your product or service. The subconscious position isn’t delivered overnight and isn’t built in a day. This position is a culmination of marketing and branding efforts across the board.

Genie in a bottle

Setting the expectation gap between what a business expects from marketing and what it actually provides can be a fine line to dance upon. Marketers can suggest programs and campaigns that are known to be effective, but not every formula is the same. There is a discovery process in which you and your marketing team learn where your brand is positioned in the market. Some companies will spend tens of thousands with research firms to help the discovery process along, and other smaller businesses will use more practical solutions such as A/B testing to see which advertisement was more effective. In either case, these discoveries cannot be made without effort. What excites consumers and buyers of your product or service will not be the same as anyone else. Marketers can make their best educated guess as to what will be effective, however, they are not Genies in a bottle, nor can they tell the future. However, if given the chance to try a program, they will study the results to better predict sales with more accuracy.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It takes a little bit of faith to launch the first campaign, to release the first advertisement into the public, and it’s scary. Work with experienced marketers, and understand that there will always be some unknowns to be unearthed. Don’t give up too soon, and remember the core messaging.

Ugly is Beautiful

Back to being ugly. Most of us are unique in some way. Nobody is perfect. Just like Momma always told you, be yourself. Embrace your weaknesses, embrace your size or position in the market place. Let people know that you’re ugly, and that you’re okay with it. It’s that honest and upfront language that will ring true for the target audience. Remember that you’re not trying to impress everyone, just that target demo. So, if your culture wears Abba T-shirts, don’t be afraid to admit that. You’d be surprised how many actually share the same “ugliness”.

Ugly is the new beautiful. All around our culture today we’re seeing the breakdown of the ideal. The ideal look. The ideal life. We’re more accepting of what has generally been construed as “ugly” to see it as “beautiful”. Beauty may be only skin deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone, and that is perfect.

Compete Creatively

There is an old story about two separate blacksmith shops. John Winny’s Anvil, and Darrensmith Blacksmithery. They both needed to advertise their businesses in order to grow. They both were after the same demographic. They both had the same budget for marketing.

The John Winny’s Anvil writes one of the most beautifully engaging newspaper ads of the time. It was mesmerizing, captivating, and empathetic to the reader. Darrensmith Blacksmithery just wrote: “Horse shoes on sale”. John Winny’s Anvil became so busy he had to take on several apprentices and expand his shop. Darransmith Blacksmithery sold a handful of horseshoes and got no additional return on his marketing investment. Eventually, he had to get the hell out of Dodge because he couldn’t afford the rent.

The difference is the creative. Beyond understanding the language of your people, beyond embracing ugly, beyond understanding the effectiveness of building a culture, the creative is the touch point of delivery. In order to be wholly effective the message’s creative will set you apart from the competition.

The Buyers

Start speaking ugly. Stop wearing the makeup of politeness and say it how it is creatively. Let me buy into your culture. I want to tattoo it on my arm. I want to belong to a group that shares my same values. People are more likely to buy your product or service if they have are emotionally invested. This can even be true for business-to-business products and services. The old ways of blasting general messages are long over with. You have to use marketing to help build a culture and build a following for your brand. The growth and dollar for dollar return on investment will not happen immediately, but eventually it will far exceed the investment.


It will take courage, vision, and clear leadership to embrace your “ugly”, but we’re not here to make ourselves look pretty, we’re here to sell our services or products because we know that they will bring our customers value, success, and happiness.

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