December 2, 2013
A golden opportunity
Recently I had the opportunity to present a program for members the Executives’ Association of Greater Phoenix (EAGP). For the benefit of Marketing Monthly’s 700-plus out-of-state subscribers, let me explain that EAGP, founded in 1956, has a select and very diverse membership comprised of entrepreneurs and senior management people representing almost any SIC code you could imagine..
Because this speaking appearance represented a fine opportunity for yours truly to speak his marketing mind, it was my purpose to relate within the 30-minute time frame I was given some of those things I consider to be the most important. I will use this month’s newsletter to relate a few of those points to you.
Owing to the fact that the format of this missive is also finite, I will, in this space, deal with a couple of the more salient points, but only in brief. Perhaps there are some of you who will have other ideas of the relative importance of these (there are more than four hundred of our subscribers who are marketing firm principals and corporate marketing managers), and I would love to hear from you.
Seven essential marketing ingredients
To be really effective, marketing communication should include these seven elements:
If what you have to say – and sell – needs to be “doctored up” even a bit in communicating it to your prospects, you are on the wrong track coming right out of the box. An immediate and critical reappraisal of your products and services is called for.
Your target audience has neither the time nor inclination to wade through a lot of poppycock. Tell them only those things they need to know. They will probably have you repeat these if you are fortunate to have a follow-up call, so why water them down with confusing irrelevancies and meaningless fluff.
Have you noticed those marketing communications that make you wonder if you and the “perpetrator” are even speaking the same language, let alone leave you to wonder if you are on the same page? Chances are this does not trigger your buying impulse. More likely, you will move along to the next competitor on the list. It should come as no surprise, then, that your prospects will react similarly.
I believe I may have quoted this Shakespearian line before, but here goes: Brevity is the soul of with. David Belasco, the famed theatrical producer of another era, hit the nail on the head when he uttered the following: ”If what you have to tell me can’t be written on the back of your business card, you don’t have a clear idea.” Or, as a young lady I fancied in my youth once exhorted me, “Are you trying to say you want to sleep make love to me? . . . Why not just spit it out?
Having the right selling proposition at the wrong time amounts to little more than an exercise in futility. Getting caught in a torrential rainstorm, as I did last summer in Aspen, CO, made me easy pickings for the umbrella salesperson. Had she been pushing sunscreen, her task would have been more difficult by a several magnitudes. Though an oversimplification, the point in nonetheless valid – timing matters (have you noticed?).
People like me are hired by people who know more than we know, because, perhaps among other things, we can say it better than they can. Things that are written better tend to stick to our mind – at least long enough for us to remember long enough to place an order.
The cardinal rule of marketing communication is this: Build it upon and around things your competitors can’t say (enough said?).
Don’t overload your salespeople
Too many companies send their sales force out into the field without providing them with the kind of marketing support that is required to help them gain appointments and, in affect, “grease the skids” for making sales. It is important to remember that developing prospects is not the exclusive province of sales staff. As a matter of fact, it is more effective to let one-way communication – through the use of marketing materials – do the heavy lifting.
Use your salespeople, not to open the sale, but, rather, to close it. It is a far easier sale if the prospect is already “leaning in your company’s direction” BEFORE that first sales call is made. And, remember, it takes an average of six calls by a salesperson to get an appointment, making it a very expensive appointment, indeed.
One more point
Make sure your communication effectively reflects the tenets listed above. After all, the radio or TV station, billboard advertising company, printer or other media vendors won’t grant you a discount for poorly conceived advertisements or marketing communication that fill their time or space, or that go on the printing press. You will pay precisely the same amount as if it were an effective example of marketing communication.
November 25, 2013
You see as much marketing communication as I do. The difference is, you see it and I read it (but only because it comes with the job). The reason you and 99.9% of the populous dismiss most of it out of hand is that you neither are attracted to it, nor is it by any stretch compelling in its content.
WARNING! Just as you don’t really read “theirs,” it must stand to reason that “they” may not actually be reading yours. The primary reasons for this in either case are the same:
- There’s a great deal of marketing material out there (reportedly 60% more than when Bush 41 left office).
- The consumers’ available reading time and attention span are severely limited.
- Most marketing appeals have a boring sameness to them.
Nearly all professes to have “excellent service”, ”quality assurance”, “dependability”, “good people” . . . you get the idea. In many cases these claims are true. Sometimes they’re not. The problem is, how is one to tell the difference without a serious investment in due diligence? The reality is, they can’t and, furthermore, they won’t.
ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA
What are we to do? . . . Resign ourselves to the apparent futility of attempting to say something different, or say it in a better way, and, instead, simply fall in line with the flock, as, sadly – and obviously — most have? . . . Or, shall we merely release our hand from the marketing trigger entirely, only to forfeit any chance at real promotional success we otherwise might have had? Neither, I say!
First and foremost, we must continue to make claims, for if we don’t seem to believe in ourselves, who, then, should believe in us? However, we must make relevant claims, ones that go well beyond the overused and worn adjectives such as, bigger, better, faster, guaranteed to last. For, it is these shopworn gems that have driven the prospect to the point of distraction and inattention, if not total numbness.
Key point: The relevance of product and service claims, of course, must be based on products and services worthy of them. This is a given that must be dealt with at the product and service design stage. Recognizing what is a relevant claim normally comes about through the experiential process of winning – and, losing – business based on an ability – or inability – to back them up.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
Assuming we are in it for the long haul; that we have decided to cast our lot among the communications glut, it is imperative to enter the marketing wars armed with more than the customary look-alike, sound-alike, feel-alike claims. We must seek that aforementioned breakthrough. Happily, I submit the answer can be found where we may least expect to find it, right beneath our collective noses.
The solution is in the way we not only choose to phrase or present our relevant claims, but in how we are able to support or verify them, right there, on the spot, in our initial marketing messages, whether these are through advertising, collateral or publicity releases. Simply stated, we must add that ring of truth to such claims by (key word follows) briefly saying how or why the claim is operative.
Don’t, for instance, merely say, “Our training produces results you can use immediately,” but, rather, add what I call the all-important “Because Clause.” As in “. . . because we give you a proprietary and individualized template to take with you, and against which you can track your progress from day one.” Such support statements tend to induce a follow-up by interested parties.
SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN
What this one key move does is to give prospects a reason to believe that our product or service actually is better than the others. They must, at least, believe our claims and believe in their worth enough to make it sufficiently attractive for them to respond with a phone call, visit or similar fact-finding action.
If we fail in this, we never will have an opportunity to fill the prospect in on the vital data that substantiates the relevance and value of our claims and, indeed, our prices. In other words, a prospect who is not from the get-go properly conditioned (by us) to buy is a prospect lost (perhaps forever) to some less worthy competitor.
We owe it to ourselves – and that prospect – to entice them from the outset to want to “see the light,” which usually and ultimately can only be shone on the basis of a more thorough exploration of the salient details, at a later time. To close the sale, you must, first, open their mind.
November 18, 2013
When people want to construct the best commercial or residential building for their specific needs, the intelligent approach is to design and build it with the help of an architect. To achieve the best results, it simply wouldn’t be reasonable to go forward without a set of plans, instead merely hiring one or more subcontractors independently.
. . . The same should hold true for building a brand, in which case the architect/builder would be a qualified marketing specialist and the “sub-contractors” might include:
- graphic designers
- PR people
- website designers
- media buyers
- radio/TV stations
- on-air talent.
For best results, marketing initiatives should reflect an overall strategy; one developed with the help of a proven-qualified marketing expert, with specific client objectives and outcomes in mind. A common misconception is that this approach is more expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. What truly are unaffordable are results that fall short of serving the best interests of the brand.
Well established marketing firms – those with a track record for success – are, among other things, “good shoppers,” with well developed relationships among – and first-hand knowledge of – marketing product and services vendors (the “subcontractors”). Understanding of “the whole” and an ability to select vendors that are the right fit make using a strategic-marketing consultant cost effective.
The next time you have a campaign or project in mind, consider calling in someone who has “earned their chops” in marketing. Initial consultations usually are cost-free, and can at least lead to a proposal that will start things off in the right direction, with plenty of foresight.
November 11, 2013
Making a marketing plan work
The main reason that marketing plans don’t work is that they are not allowed to. That is to say, most companies don’t have an actual marketing plan. Oh, yes, they “plan to sell things,” but, most often, in an amazingly haphazard way.
We have an opportunity to visit with several small-business CEOs during the course of an average month, and find that they are quite aware of what is going on in their marketplace; aware of its opportunities and challenges and aware, at least in general terms, of the movements and actions of their key competitors.
What seems to be lacking is a comprehensive, systematic plan to combat the negative factors while effectively harnessing the positive things it is in their power to bring to bear on the situation. Most seem to rate high in analysis and low in execution. In most cases, I detect the presence of that storied paralysis by analysis syndrome.
Where does one start?
As the sage said, “One starts at the beginning.” Ask yourself and key staff, if one is available to you, some basic questions, and don’t stop until you are satisfied with the answers. Topping the list should be seemingly obvious questions like, ”What is it we actually sell, and whom should we be focusing on as best prospects?
Next, questions like, “What do we do – and have – that is better than our competitors?” and, “What needs attention and improvement” should be posed. As for those positive points, you must conduct a thorough self-examination of just what it is you are – or should be – doing to exploit your advantages.
No such examination should be conducted or concluded without homing in on your marketing message. Is it clear and well presented, as well as suitably and attractively illustrated? Is your branding dominant and does it project an image to which your key prospects are likely to respond. Or (God forbid) is it kind of scattered and indistinct?
Facing your fears
Be prepared for various worst case scenarios (ref: Murphy’s Law), or as one of my cowgirl friends says, “S____ happens!” Those of us who have been in business for a long time, know that, sooner or later, disaster can – and will – strike. As the saying goes, it’s not a case of if – but when.
Your biggest client decides to go elsewhere; your star salesperson quits and takes two or three key accounts in the process; business slumps for an extended spell; expenses soar and – what do you know? — negative cash flow comes calling, along with some of your major creditors.
The important thing in your planning is to have a plan of action that can head off such a tragedy or, at the very least, kicks into gear in order to turn the tide in the event they do. The best remedies usually involve a combination of expense cutting and business promotion, but inasmuch as ineffective or slow-acting promotion is absolutely unaffordable at such a time, that alternative plan had better be ready to roll out – now!
10 keys to an effective plan
- Form a vision of what you plan to achieve.
- Develop a plan to make your vision a reality.
- Judge whether an opportunity is one to seize or let pass within the context of understanding whether or not it fits into your goals (you can’t act on every good idea).
- Make sure your plan gives you a framework for making decisions.
- Get accustomed to making choices.
- Understand that the “perfect solution” is never going to come along (looking for perfection is merely a way to avoid making choices).
- Get out of your comfort zone (change is always uncomfortable).
- Make a real commitment to progress.
- Get used to saying “yes,” get used to saying “no,” and do both with commitment and conviction.
- Recognize opportunities, and, then grab on (if you don’t “pull the trigger,” you can’t hit the target).
November 5, 2013
Plan your marketing . . . then “pull the trigger.”
One of my favorite sayings is:
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
The point would seem to be that before setting out on a journey to a new place, it obviously is prudent to have a road map.
A marketing campaign is, for many I have encountered, one such new place. It, therefore, follows that one should have a road map, and definitely a written one. Writing it in pencil would be ideal, because it should be a changing, growing thing – the mother of all “living wills.”
There are dozens of templates for marketing plans offered online, or you should be able to get one through your marketing consultant. Most of these – both, the customized and the canned — are proprietary, so you should expect to pay a fee. But if you are hazy on what comprises a good marketing plan, it is well worth the investment.
10 key actions that make marketing plans work
Of course, after planning, the other – equally important – step is execution. Following is a list of 10 guiding principles that if followed will maximize your chances for marketing success:
1. Form a vision of what you plan to achieve.
2. Develop a plan to make your vision a reality
3. Judge whether an opportunity is one to seize or let pass within the context of understanding whether or not it fits into your goals (you can’t act on every good idea).
4. Make sure your plan gives you a framework for making decisions
5. Get accustomed to making choices.
6. Understand that the “perfect solution” is never going to come along (looking for perfection is merely a way to avoid making choices).
7. Get out of your comfort zone (change is always uncomfortable).
8. Make a real commitment to progress.
9.Get used to saying “yes,” get used to saying “no,” and do both with commitment and conviction.
10. Recognize opportunities, and move forward (if you don’t “pull the trigger,” you can’t hit the target).
November 4, 2013
When I was a ”boy” advertising/pr photographer in the Sixties, it seemed every upstart ad agency used the self-descriptive term “creative” as an implied synonym for “effective.” Of course, it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. But – I was recently thinking – nobody seems to even use that word anymore, let alone claim it as a credential. And, surprised as I am to think this, I believe that’s a shame.
While many of the hotshot agencies claiming to be creative in those days actually were one-dimensional twerps playing to the other ad agencies by being cute with clients’ money, at least they were giving their peers a definition – artificial though it often was – for which to shoot. And some that answered the challenge actually were effective on occasion at helping a client move goods and services.
But, today’s braggadocios success–rhetoric coming from agencies and advertisers is more along the lines of things like “record-busting sales, market saturation, top of mind awareness-building and, even, that most ubiquitous of platitudes, “thinking outside the box.” Almost nobody seems, even, to be laying claim to creating truly fresh and new marketing or advertising concepts anymore, let alone delivering them. Geico Insurance’s Gecko and the Aflac Duck may be two exceptions that prove the rule, but even those cute little characters are little more than name awareness gimmicks that speak not to the usefulness or uniqueness of the products they represent.
What ever happened to advertising campaign lines that made the prospect think about the product, like that Stan Freeburg classic for Zee paper towels, ”Zee is nice enough to keep, but cheap enough to throw away!” . . . or Wendy’s, “Where’s the beef?” . . . or Alka Seltzer’s, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” Today, image for the sake of image seems to be king, at least in our more popular consumer categories.
I agree with you if you’re thinking these taglines fell short of rocket-science status, but they, at least, were lines that made one tend to connect the product-to-benefit dots. And, their very simplicity helped them to make a point, and, then, quickly get out of the way so the substance of the message could be delivered. In a word, and in that important sense, they were functionally creative.
Of course, today we have lines like, ”When the moment is right, will you be ready?” (Cialis or Levitra?) At that, who can relate to this question, when so many would-be devotees are probably going to fall asleep, anyway, after a three-hour concert, steak, baked potato with sour cream and chives, and at least two stiff drinks (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words).
According to an article produced by Christine Staudinger in Woman’s Day (with thanks to Marketing Monthly subscriber and well-known PR pro Arlynn Satz), here’s how others have described that long lost phenomenon, creativity. (Even if we don’t agree with all of them, they, at least give food for thought):
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts.”
-Rita Mae Brown
“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or doing it better.”
“The chief enemy of creativity is good taste.”
“True creativity often starts where language ends.”
“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes and having fun.”
Mary Lou Cook
MARY LOU IS COOKING!
Reread Mary Lou Cook’s definition (above). If you buy her definition even a little (as I do, a lot), then, ask yourself – do your marketing moves pass this creativity litmus test? Or, like so many, has the siren call of the “safe way home” somewhat blunted your creative edge?
I must hasten to insert at this point, you don’t have to be a self-proclaimed marketing wizard to need to subject yourself to ms. Cook’s definitive test. You merely have to be someone seeking to clarify your selling message in an overcrowded marketplace. And, unless I miss my guess, that’s all of us . . . is it not?
My personal definition of creativity goes something like this: “Achieving a desired result by breaking the boundaries of convention while leaving the safe harbor of conventional wisdom.” On those occasions when we’ve done so effectively, I must say, it’s served us and our clients quite well. How about you?
October 28, 2013
After being a member of Linkedin for a couple of years, a few years back I decided to actually get involved with this venerable business/social networking site that was launched in May of 2003.
Bulletin: It works!
Let me count the ways:
- Reunions - First of all, it induced and enabled me to reconnect with a number of former business associates, friends and clients after varying lengths of time (from months to years) being out of contact.
What a delight this particular aspect was. It turned up people like New York-based Jeff Burger, longtime executive editor of Business Jet Traveler magazine, who I, as publisher of two national trade magazines in the late ‘80s, had hired when he was fresh from a stint editing Phoenix Magazine (aside: I’d hire Jeff again in, ahem, a New York Minute).
- Recommendations (inbound) – We all realize that word of mouth is by far our most effective advertising. The kudos I have already received in the first few days – you could check it out – have been enough to warm the cockles of this near-petrified, but well-gratified old heart. I never thought I could possibly hear so many kind remarks about me . . . without dying.
- Recommendations (outbound) – The recommendations feature has also has given me the opportunity to recommend and relate some pertinent information about some of the great services and people I have come across and in the past 33 years, both in this business and as an active member of some key business groups like The Arizona Small Business Association, The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and The Executives Association of Greater Phoenix.
- Idea exchange – One of the first things I did since surfacing on Linkedin was to launch a discussion group, Marketing Partners Memos, and the response has been great – over 40 members and several comments on the first full day! In Memos, we take up marketing and management topics that have an impact on our bottom line, and we really would welcome your insights and active participation (I’m betting you’ll get some valuable tips, too, because we’ve got some very bright, experienced and well-qualified folks contributing, already).
- Overview – Just this feature, alone, is worth the price of membership in Linkedin (it’s free of charge, already!). I refer to the exposure and outlook it gives one to the business scene and the various segments in which one is most interested (it’s like looking in through the windows of the shops of some folks you have often wondered about, without being detected).
- Gift-giving – I’ve noticed that some of the people I’ve had the opportunity to ask to connect with me on Linkedin had not previously been active on the site, much like my situation barely a few days earlier. I’m already convinced that if they take advantage of the medium, they’ll appreciate it as much as I do. And if they choose to join the Marketing Partners Memos group (simply click the Groups link at the top-left of the Allan Starr Profile page) that, alone, will be worth the price of admission.
. . . (And, like I said, – it’s free of charge, already!)
October 21, 2013
You probably have an appropriate and effective response to the hypothetical, yet critical question, “Why should we give you our business?” One of our clients who is skilled at delivering those daunting “elevator speeches,” was nonetheless stumped when one of his was met with the challenging question shown above.
If this should happen to you, you “post-elevator-speech” response may be the last opportunity you will ever have to sell yourself, so it had better be to the point, and laced with relevant – and supportable – claims. Here’s a clue: Build your answer entirely around things unique to you and your business. The only things your prospect is interested are those things through which you can be distinguished from your competitors.
Vague generalities and empty or meaningless claims are verboten. Be clear, specific and benefits-oriented, rather than features-oriented in your response. And never rely on emotion rather than facts. If you can’t dazzle your questioner on the spot, at least try to entice them with something of substance in order to “buy” enough time to give more thought to their needs and concerns before giving a more comprehensive response at a future date.
The keys are brevity, clarity, pertinence, and, if more time is needed to develop a truly appropriate response, enough “enticement power” to facilitate a follow-up opportunity.
October 14, 2013
We recently presented a checklist of steps to take when you are considering entering new markets. Now, we will cover the 10 specific avenues available for entering new markets, as well as some geographical expansion considerations.
10 avenues for entering new markets
First of all, here is a list of those avenues. A wealth of information is available on each, simply by consulting the Internet search engines:
- Geographic expansion
Is the grass greener – or as green – in another locale?
- Line expansion
You’ve been selling widgets. How about adding gadgets and doodads?
- Franchising and licensing
Franchise opportunities ranging from $5,000 to millions are available. What’s your flavor?
- Form an alliance
Much synergy is possible when complementary elements combine.
Vertical expansion takes advantage of the common denominator of success that is offered by your capabilities.
- Target other markets
Non-related-field possibilities also loom for the surging entrepreneur. You are good at what you do. What else could you do as well or better? Here are some guidelines:
- Follow trends
- What’s hot?
- What’s in decline?
- Is there a compatibility match?
- Consider long-term “health” of prospective business
- Avoid hula hoops, pet rocks and running boards
- Assess e-commerce potential
- Where do your personal interests lie?
- What target demographic do you most readily relate to?
- Revisit missed opportunities
- What sounds like fun?
- Assess your belief in (its) future
- Transferable expertise
- Availability of human resources (on-staff and external)
- Presence of potential employees/vendors/partners/customers
- Barriers to entry
- Have an exit strategy
- Vertical versus horizontal considerations
- Utilize The Three R’s – research, research, research
- At the end of the day, would you be better off building what you already have?
- Win a government contract
Many have prospered, while others have sunk in an effort to navigate these waters.
- Merger or acquisition
This avenue long since has become the option of choice for the expansion-minded entrepreneur. Struggling competitors comprise the low-hanging fruit of rapid growth.
- Global expansion
Language barriers and cultural differences make this choice particularly daunting, though potentially profita
- The Internet
Why not sell to the world from your own back yard?
Some geographic expansion considerations
Many end up choosing this route. Here’s some food for thought when your objective is to add branches to your corporate tree:
- Real estate challenges, e.g. a) location, b) leasing, c) sub-leasing, d) lease negotiation, e) property purchase (free-standing vs. condo)
- Understand that choosing a location may be the easiest part
- Hire local talent
- Should you also export key staff for on-site duties
- Think locally (who are our friends on the ground?)
- Join local networks to find potential customers, partners and marketing opportunities.
- Develop qualified sales and marketing leads
- Make target-consumer assessments
- Determine need for (outsourced or recruited) local sales/marketing team
- Assess your own available sales/marketing capacities
- How will you market, e.g. database marketing, advertising, strategic alliances, etc.?
- Create instant product- or brand-awareness.
- Adapting to, and creating “buzz” within a new neighborhood, region, country or continent
- Conduct market research
- Assess financial and human resources
- Have clear campaign objectives
- Assessing the demand for your product or service
- Conduct competitive intelligence (e.g. knowing number and relative strengths of competitors)
- Tailor sales/marketing strategy to needs of the market
- Set firm goals budgets, timelines and benchmarks
- Study direction and trends of the market and economy
- Employ entry- and long-term strategies
- Maintaining cohesion and uniformity of methods and systems
- Assess advisability of product and/or price adjustments
- Consider product mix for new markets.
- Are new skills, new techniques and different ways of operating advisable?
- Seek ways to secure the long-term future of the new business
- Interview prospective employees and customers
- Obstacles, e.g. a) you create the need to change the way you do things, b) little or no market knowledge, c) language barriers, d) no established presence or regional client references
October 7, 2013
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While chatting with a friend the other day, one who constantly places people in mid- to high-level jobs, he told me how some job applicants use too many – or too fancy — words in an attempt to compensate for their apparent deficiencies in communication skills. I told him that I call this widespread phenomenon the word crutch, and that an economy of words is almost always best in getting one’s point across.
It’s true. The best communicators deal with little repetition, flowery language or hyperbole in relating to others, particularly in a business context. The same could be said for the most articulate politicians and other opinion leaders, though among the former this seems to be a vanishing trait.
This topic brought to mind a piece I filed many years ago after it was sent to me by McGraw Hill, the venerable and respected publishing house. Because it is every bit as pertinent today as it was when first I received it, I am taking this opportunity to share it. Here it is:
Keep it simple
Get your hand of my knee.
Your horse won.
You have the account.
The words above demonstrate that basic events require simple language. On the other hand, idiosyncratically euphuistic eccentricities are the promulgators of triturable obfuscation. What did you do last night? Enter into a meaningful romantic involvement or fall in love?
What did you have for breakfast this morning? The upper part of a hog’s hind leg with two oval bodies incased in a shell laid by a female bird — or ham and eggs?
David Belasco, the great American theatrical producer, once said, ”If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.”
I had a great journalism instructor in college who also was the sponsor of the school’s weekly newspaper, Bear Tracks (cute name, don’t you think?) I still remember how Donald Hackett would shove the copy we cub reporters had submitted back into our face with the following words: “ Look — I’ve marked-out the unnecessary words.”
And there, on the copy draft, were enough red lines that, if laid end to end, would at the time seem to be enough to reach the Continental Divide. The point stuck, though still, once in a while, I find myself slipping back into Verbosity Valley:
The next time you or an associate has written something, take a red pen or pencil and mark-out everything unnecessary to making the intended point of your communication. My guess is that as you pause to re-sharpen the point (in the case of a pencil, of course) . . . I will have made my point.