All Posts by johnfurg

1 Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.

How to build brand credibility, one little leap at a time.

The brands I work with are not like WalMart. They don’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with advertising. They don’t have enough money to sway public opinion in their favor. And all of them face stiff competition from bigger businesses. So brand credibility is essential.

Last week I had to convince a retail client that he couldn’t change people’s minds regarding his biggest competitor; the big box store.

“You can’t compete on price,” I said. “It’s just not a credible message.”

“Yes we can… They’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”

“No they don’t. No different than what we get.”

“I know they don’t and you know they don’t, but the public believes they do. And you can’t fight that perception. It’s like City Hall. Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. If you want a credible brand, you have to hang your hat on something else.”

In that case, it was service that became the centerpiece of their marketing. That’s a credible brand message. The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it. (Every trip to Home Depot confirms that for me.)

But it’s not enough to just start running digital ads or TV spots that say you have great service. First you have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day. That way, all the reviews and stuff that show up on social media will substantiate the claim.

Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but they are not neutral about it, due to their inherent skepticism. It’s the built-in BS meter they all have.

They don’t believe anything you say.

So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do little things that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief.

It’s a far cry from getting them to believing your pitch or trust your brand, but it’s a start. You have to build credibility, step by step.

The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.

By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment. If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality. Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it.

In fictional works lively, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality make the story more believable, more engrossing. The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Dramatic details and believable situations help you sell your story and sway skeptics. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.

Instead of shoving your product features down their throats, try for a more novel approach.

Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category. Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build brand credibility, if you use them right.

Here’s a simple, practical example: Choosing the right photos for your website. Every image should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy, stock images that everyone in your industry uses, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos. Your brand cred will be shot.

That retail client of ours needed images that would support his story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that idea with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and the store. Good service wasn’t just talk. It was guaranteed.

Headlines are equally important. You should keep your headlines consistent with the images and with the secondary reality of your target audience. (You can’t show one thing, and say something else.)

brand insight blog on brand credibility by John Furgurson at BNBrandingIf you keep all those little executional details in sync with your operation, and maintain good practices over time, disbelief will turn to reluctant acceptance, acceptance to approval and approval to purchase. For a few lucky brands, it’ll even progress to a lifelong love.

As movie goers, game players and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture. The Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.

We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what brand credibility is all about.

For help with your own brand message, call me at BNBranding.

For more on building an authentic brand, check out THIS post.

9 How stock photos can hurt your brand image

Every business needs photos… For ads, websites, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts and powerpoint presentations. Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to stock photo sites. But the problem with stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying ‘I’ve seen this a thousand times.’

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.”

Bend advertising agency article on visual cliches

Use this and your brand’s authenticity goes right out the window.

How many times have you heard that cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your _______ needs, blah, blah, blah fill in the blank.” Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

Crummy stock photos have the same effect. This image is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.

Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world. ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.

Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right.

But clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.

golf industry advertising and photography by BNBranding and Dogleg Studios

Team competition by Mike Houska – Dogleg Studios.

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “They want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

the problem with stock photographyLet me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business? What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

I’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.) There are thousands of decent stock images we could use, but the problem with stock photography is there’s nothing compelling or unique about it… Nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny. (Unpaid plug: If you need photography, you should definitely check out Dogleg Studios.)

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Stock photos can hurt you in all three areas… If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

the problem with stock photography by BNBranding a bend ad agency

This skiing photo is relevant because it’s a shot of the author, John Furgurson, by Mike Houska of Dogleg Studios, at Mt. Bachelor.

So the next time you’re thinking of throwing another stock photo into a presentation or report, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.

Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it!

The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images. The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand will be better for it in the long run.

I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: johnf@bnbranding.com

4 naming your business

Naming your baby vs. naming your business

I’ve done a good number of naming projects over the years. I’ve conjured up business names, product names, non-profit names and even named some corporate marketing initiatives. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: Naming babies is much easier than naming your business.

naming your business First of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.

With company names, you have to get the consensus of many people. Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like Poolife for a swimming pool cleaning company.

When you’re naming a baby you can refer to all sorts of books and websites full of perfectly acceptable names with all their hidden meanings and Latin derivatives. With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.

There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.

Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark protection and application work. So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble. Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks.

naming your business or your product - beware of the Nova And then there’s the whole translation issue. Face it, you probably don’t care what “Clark” means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of product names like the Chevy Nova, which didn’t translate real well. (In Spanish, Nova means “does not go.”) If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.

And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name. Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career like a bad product name can.

Most people don’t need professional help to come up with a good baby name. Business names are a different story. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:

• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.

• Totally boring, literal names like the now defunct Third Street Coffee House.

• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs. Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.

another example of bad business namingA good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that. So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration and just hire a branding firm to help from the very beginning. Not a design firm… they focus on the language of images, not words. And not an ad agency… For some reason, ad agencies love to use one-word names that are just too cool for school. Like “North” “Red F” “Citrus” “Fuel” If you want to confuse people, just follow that lead.

Here are a few other exnaming services from BNBranding amples of names, both good and bad:

• Federal Express decided to shorten its name, and became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called them anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.

• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bringing herds friends in? Tough to be a brand ambassador for a place called the Dress Barn.

• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. “Aspercreme” for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. “Idebenone” for neurological disorders. The list is long.

Viagra, on the other hand, is a great drug name. It says virility and vitality and conjures romantic images of Niagra falls.

Here are a few of my own: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest. “Sit Down Dinners” for a family-style personal chef service. “Aspire” for a smoking cessation program. Widgi Creek for a golf club. (No one knows what Widgi refers to, but they sure remember it.)

Before you spend a dime for your sign or your website URL, spend some focused time naming your business. There are many considerations… How it sounds. How it looks in type. Is it legally protectable? What are connotations of the word? Does it translate? Is it confusing?

Your name is the foundation of your brand. So if your business IS your baby, get started right with a memorable name. Call BNBranding for affordable help with your brand name and identity.

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brand

How to compete in the booming Kombucha Market

Interview with Steven Lee of Kombucha Wonder Drink.

Steven Lee Kombucha wonder brand insight blogIn the tea business Stephen Lee is a household name. A pioneer. You could also say he’s the father of Oregon’s booming Kombucha market.

Lee first tried the popular elixir of fermented tea on a business trip to Russia, back when the U.S. and the USSR were coldly pitted against one another.

“When I first experienced Kombucha in Russia − I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever experienced,” Lee said. “There was no question in my mind. I knew it was going to be a phenomenon.”

So Lee brought a SCOBY back with him and started brewing his own kombucha in his kitchen. But it would be many years, and several start-ups later, before he would jump into commercial kombucha production.

Over the years Lee built and sold five different tea companies. He literally wrote the book on Kombucha and today he is continuing to help lead Kombucha Wonder Drink, which he recently sold to Harris Freeman, America’s largest private label tea packer.

I sat down with Steve to talk brand building, marketing, business creativity and his long list of successful entrepreneurial ventures. It all started with Universal Tea Company in the early 1970s with $2500 and a basement full of herbs, spices, teas and dreams…

SL: When we started Universal Tea Company back in 1972 there was there wasn’t much competition… Lipton, Celestial, Bigelow and Twinnings. We were selling bulk to natural foods stores, but we really hit on peppermint… We were bringing peppermint in from Eastern Oregon — It’s the finest peppermint in the world — and selling it in bulk. We actually bought a wheat combine for $800, reversed the airflow, got a tractor-trailer license and began processing and hauling. We sold hundreds of tons of mint to Lipton and Celestial Seasonings.
tea and Kombucha market

JF: How did that transition into Stash Tea Company?

SL: We sold universal Tea Company to our bookkeeper for $45,000 in 1977. It had taken us five years to figure out what we wanted to do with Stash Tea, because everything we tried, failed. We finally decided to sell tea bags to the food service industry and through mail order. It was a slow build over 21 years. We did everything as inexpensively as possible.

JF: From what I heard, you had some very innovative marketing programs.

SL: Yes, have I told you the story of Stash? That’ll have to be another conversation… We had more than 100,000 people on our mailing list. We used gifts, discounts and eventually free shipping to create loyal customers. By the late 80’s mail order accounted for 10% of our revenues, but 35% of the company’s total profits. Eventually Fred Meyer called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their chain of stores here in the Northwest. So they were our first retail account.

By 1990 Stash was the second largest purveyor of specialty teas, behind Bigelow. Lee and his partner, Steve Smith, sold Stash tea in 1993 to Yamamotoyama, the oldest tea company in the world.

JF: What did you do differently after that, when you were starting Tazo?

SL: Well, we started Stash tea with $2500. Tazo was capitalized with a half a million. Plus, we had 20 years of experience under our belts. We had a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. We just marched right out there with it. We knew where to go. Who to contact. How to be creative…

branding blog on tazo teaWe got a very talented team of people together. The guys at the design firm and a copywriter worked with my partner, Steve Smith, and they were just brilliant together. Such a creative force!

There are a lot of people who get involved in the brand building process early on who set precedents. The name, for instance… With Stash, from the day we came up with that name, we had to back-peddle. “No, we’re not about marijuana.”

With a name like TAZO, and the right creative team, anything could happen. The writer said, “it’s kinda like marco polo meets Merlin on the crossroads of existence.” That was the beginning of the whole storyline. They pulled that one outta their hats.

Steve Sandoz, the copywriter on the Tazo project, once told a reporter that Tazo was “the name of the whirling mating dance of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and a cheery salutation used by Druids and 5th-century residents of Easter Island.” Proof that sheer creativity can pay tremendous dividends when it comes to building a brand.

JF: It also helped that the specialty tea category was booming by the time you started. Didn’t Republic of Tea pave the way for Tazo?

SL: They certainly did. There were no longer just five or six tea companies out there. There was some real innovation happening and consumers were aware of better teas.

JF: Tazo launched with a product that cost almost twice as much as Stash. Was premium pricing a big part of your strategy, or was it just that the ingredients were more expensive?

SL: Our strategy was to launch with a product that was made of much higher quality ingredients, and that dictated the retail price. We made no more margin. 40 to 45% gross margin.

marketing kombucha tea marketingIn 1998, Steve Smith and Steve Lee noticed that Starbucks was piloting a brand of tea called Tiazzi, which they perceived as an infringement on the Tazo brand. A polite “cease and desist” letter led to a meeting in which Starbucks offered to buy the Portland company. The sale closed for a reported $9.1 million. Only five years from founding to acquisition. Tazo grew to be a billion dollar brand before being replaced by another Starbuck’s brand, Teavana.

JF: So at that point you had the exit that every entrepreneur dreams of. You could have done anything… What drove you to start all over again?

SL: That’s what I do. My forte is getting things started that inspire and motivate me, then surviving through tough times.

JF: (laughing…) That’s your entrepreneurial strategy??? Get it started and then hang on?

SL: Yeah. I’m attracted to esoteric, romantic categories that inspire me. Tea is very romantic. I was very inspired by that first taste of kombucha that I had in Russia.

SL: The first domestic commercial kombucha that I knew of was a brand called Oocha Brew, here in Portland, that started in 94. That was before GT Dave. I was ready to invest in their company. Unfortunately for Oocha Brew, they learned very fast that when you create a raw kombucha you have to be very careful… If it’s not handled properly all the way through the distribution channels to the store and all the way home into the fridge there’s a high risk of being too high in alcohol. In 1998 they sold a large quantity to QFC stores and the bottles all started exploding. The caps were coming off. That was enough to bankrupt them.

SL: GT Dave began in ’95, grew very slowly until he got some funding in 2003. At that point, Synergy quickly became #1 in the kombucha world with a raw product, and he never looked back.

We started developing Kombucha Wonder Drink in 1999 and launched in 2001. We had a lot of confidence then too, because all the retailers that I talked with said, “oh yeah, if you do kombucha we’re all over it.” So getting it in the stores was easy for us, but moving it off the shelves proved very difficult at first. What we discovered was, even natural foods consumers didn’t know what it was. We did a lot of sampling, and it was a real love/hate thing. Some people would just gag.

JF: An acquired taste…

SL: Yes. Even though our product was a little more palatable than some. Even now, less than 10% of American consumers are aware of what kombucha is. So it still has a long way to go among the so-called “early adopters.”

We determined from the very beginning that the way to go was shelf stable. Our premise is, most all the benefits of kombucha are in the acids. Those are not affected by pasteurization. But in two years time, in 2003, we were still struggling with consumers accepting the taste. It was a slow process.

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brandJF: Was that a strategic error, not doing raw kombucha? Were you kickin’ yourself then?

SL: There was a five year period there of self doubt and struggle. We grew every year, but it was not like what was happening in the raw segment. The two other founders left… Didn’t want to do it anymore because it wasn’t growing like it had with Tazo or Stash.

We thought we saw the market, but it was tougher than we expected. Then in 2010 there was the mother of all recalls, when all unpasteurized kombucha brands got yanked off the shelves. Even Honest Tea had a raw kombucha that got recalled. CocaCola had a 1/3 interest in Honest Tea at the time, but they had no interest in doing anything with raw kombucha, so they just let it die. It never returned.

In order to get back on the shelves Synergy and all of them had to change the way they made their kombucha. They had to filter out most of the bacteria and prove that they wouldn’t exceed the .5% alcohol limit. We never had a problem with that, with our brand.

JF: So where’s it going now? Around here, every time your turn around it seems like there’s a new brand of kombucha popping up. You have Brew Dr., Eva’s, Hmmm, Lion Heart, and dozens of others just in Oregon. Pepsi bought Kevita. Coke’s investment arm has an interest in at least one kombucha company…

Kombucha market Kombucha Wonder DrinkSL: Yes, everybody’s going to have a kombucha. Good tasting, functional drinks are rising by leaps and bounds right now. There are different sodas with less sugar and different sweeteners. There’s Kefir. It’s changing rapidly.

SL: Our trade association, Kombucha Brewers International has 80 members. And that’s not all… there are well over 100 brands. It’s an easy product for people to launch. You can brew kombucha in your kitchen, go to a couple farmer’s markets, become enthusiastic, find and a couple local stores, and you’re in business.

JF: Sure, the kombucha market is booming, so it’s easy to launch. But it’s not, necessarily, easy to succeed in. Just because they can brew it doesn’t mean they can build a brand, like you did.

SL: That’s true. It’s too hard for too many people.

JF: Even now that’s it’s a $600 million market it’s a relatively small pie. I’m sure it’ll get to a billion dollars soon enough, and it’s going to continue to grow, but the question is, is it growing fast enough to support all the new competitors who are jumping into it?

SL: The answer is no. But time will tell. Everything’s going to happen in kombucha market. Everyone is going to experiment and there will be every form and flavor possible. But there’s always a falling out of brands. Phenomenon or not, only five out of 100 startups make it. The shakeout is happening simultaneously as more brands are launched.

But Steven Lee has launched his last company. His future now is in writing. He recently wrote a book about kombucha for Random House, and he plans to use those connections to do something else that inspires him. Something romantic.

“Once I’m done with Kombucha Wonder, I’m going to go write children’s books,” he said.

 

If you’re thinking about entering the Kombucha Market or if you have an existing natural foods company, BNBranding can provide all the insight and creative inspiration you need. Call me. 541-815-0075.

Marketing Leadership – Who’s really running the show?

Marketing is full of colorful characters… Data nerds, creative prima donnas, wordsmith poets, actors, spreadsheet managers, order takers, MBAs, planners, directors, programmers, guru tweeters and on and on. Successful marketing management hinges on the mix of these characters.

You have to choose carefully, decide who should lead, and practice good casting. If you put the wrong person in the leading role, you could be in trouble. And if the bit players are not well directed you could end up spending a lot of money for very little return.

It’s a common problem. Finding the right advisors is always difficult, especially when the owner or CEO is inexperienced, insecure, or just not very well informed about marketing.

In many companies there is one character lurking in the shadows who steals the show and becomes the defacto marketing director. Even though she may not have a lick of marketing experience, she controls the decisions that make or break the company’s marketing programs.

Her influence is disproportionate to her skill or experience.

untrusted marketing effortsIn mythology, screenwriting and literature, this character would be referred to as a “shapeshifter.” Shapeshifters are two-faced. They are pretending to be something they are not and it’s not unusual for them to change alliances frequently. These characters add uncertainty and tension to any story, and they’ll do the same for your marketing efforts. They’re not to be trusted. (Example: Severus Snape in Harry Potter.)

In real life business the shapeshifting character could be a secretary, an outside consultant, a hot-shit sales person or even the spouse of the owner. It’s always someone who has the ear of the CEO, and it’s usually someone who’s been around the company for a long time and “really knows the customer.”

When CEOs abdicate responsibility to a shapeshifter, things get messy. The brand story gets convoluted. Efforts get duplicated. Time is wasted. Morale throughout the company plummets. Money gets thrown at problems that don’t even exist. And, inevitably, the marketing programs perform quite poorly. There is no curtain call.

Here are four characters that I frequently find elbowing their way to the front of the stage:

The Social Media “Guru.”

Back in the 90’s many business leaders mistakenly equated sales with marketing. So marketing departments were commonly run by sales guys. Now it’s the social media girl who often becomes the defacto marketing director.

your social media guruBut anyone with a cell phone and opposable thumbs can dub themselves a social media guru. She might do a good job of “getting your name out there” on the various platforms, and she might even generate exceptional engagement with your core audience. But that’s not the whole picture.

I love this analogy from Peter Shankman, from the Business Insider: “Being an expert in social media is like being an expert in taking bread out of the fridge. He may be the best bread taker-outter in the world, but the goal is to make a great sandwich, and he can’t do that if all he’s ever done is take bread out of the fridge.

The Kid with a Drone and a Title.

Drones are all the rage right now. Many people seem to think that those epic aerial shots of their building and parking lot are all they need for TV commercials and a “killer” social media presence.

I even know one college kid who has a drone and the enviable title of “director of marketing.” And it’s not a small company. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in his marketing budget.

Hold that joy stick just one doggone minute. What’s missing from that equation?

Just because he can fly a drone without killing innocent by-standards doesn’t mean he can pilot a comprehensive marketing effort. If that same kid knew how to run the latest, greatest spreadsheet program would you make him CFO? I don’t think so.

The Wife/Secretary/CMO

This is a common scenario in family-owned businesses… The owner/CEO uses his wife to “do the marketing.” Which means she’s doing an occasional social media post, some fliers, and website updates.

Sometimes it’s the administrative assistant who fancies herself a marketing person. Since she controls scheduling and information flow to the CEO, she’s in the position to also control everything he sees regarding marketing. She can easily undermine the best efforts of the actual marketing staff or any outside agencies, especially when it comes to subjective decisions on creative issues. So it’s a recipe for disaster.

So here’s some advice…

If you’re a business owner make sure you find a genuine expert in marketing management to be your leading lady. Get a generalist who knows how to keep all the other performers performing. Once you decide who that’s going to be, structure your business so that person has real authority, and don’t let anyone undermine that.

If you’re an outside agency providing marketing services, watch out for the shapeshifter who threatens to sabotage your work. Identify her early. Either make her your ally and work with her, or convince the CEO that she doesn’t belong in his cast of marketing characters.

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These two words are NOT synonymous: Logo. Brand.

Here’s something I heard from a graphic designer recently: “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally.” No she’s not. She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference. Let’s get the terminology straight.

A brand identity job typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”

In fact, the logo is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

Brand is everything above AND below the surface… The vast, floating mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work.

Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that. Deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.

The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.

brand identity design brand insight blogThe sum of all those parts is the Brand.

The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind. Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future.

The consumer’s idea of your brand is based more on history and personal experience, where one bad experience skews the whole picture.

The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding” combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.

Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”

The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.

You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand.

Branding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand; If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.

Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.

So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.

I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.

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How long should that copy be? Really.

“This copy’s just too long. No one’s going to read that.” “You can’t put that much copy on a website.” “How we going to do that on social media?

This is a common refrain these days. Doesn’t matter if the client is selling complex, business-to-business services or a simple impulse item in the corner market, they often have the same idea concerning copywriting… Less is more. Keep it short. Don’t expand on anything. Don’t meander into the story in a soft-shoe manner, kick ’em upside the head!

And do it in 140 characters.

Call it the Twitter effect. Or maybe the Trumpification of corporate communications. Persuasion is being beaten down, tweet by tweet, and reduced to banal snippets designed to “improve engagement.”

The fact is, there are times and places where you absolutely, positively need more than just a pithy headline and a quick blurb.

Business stories need time to develop. They need dialog and characters and problem/solution scenarios that strike a chord with people. Prospects need to know more than just who, what, when and where. But also, why. They need to see, hear and FEEL the “what’s in it for me” piece that is amazingly absent these days.

I see it frequently in the natural foods industry… a company will have a delicious new product for sale on Thrive Market and Amazon and various niche websites, but they use the same, truncated, incomplete copy on every site. Not a single one gives an adequate explanation of “why buy.” It’s an obvious, unfortunate, cut and paste job.

There are hundreds of delicious, healthy products languishing on those eCommerce shelves because companies simply don’t articulate the deeply rooted product benefits in an interesting manner. As they say in the venture capital world, “they just don’t have their pitch dialed.” Heck, they often can’t even convey how tasty their stuff really is.

My job is to dig up those pertinent story lines and deliver the message to a variety of diverse target audiences. Sometimes I have to go deep… I’ll find the real story buried in an old blog article or in a series of Facebook posts from the company’s launch. Or worse yet, I stumble across the meat of the message in some food blogger’s review.

How could that be? How could the owner possibly miss such an important marketing detail?

To be fair, those business owners are up to their ears in production challenges, ingredient procurement issues and sales channel headaches. Most don’t have time to craft their pitch because they’re busy solving problems that are more urgent and more understandable to a CEO mentality. It’s human nature… dive into the tasks we’re good at, and procrastinate on the other stuff.

So here’s some advice for all you business owners out there: Don’t put off your messaging. It’s more important than you think. And don’t “outsource it” to someone who doesn’t understand your target audience or the language of your business. Get some professional help from a well qualified writer, and when you do, don’t pester him about using too many words.

The fact is, engagement is guaranteed if you’re telling a good story in a creative way. (And believe me, no one buys without first being engaged with your brand.)

But let me answer the original question… “How long should your copy be?”

That depends on the context. You need to carefully consider the medium, the audience, the subject matter and the objective of the communication.

billboards like this one from bnbranding need short copy. brand insight blog

Billboards like this one from BNBranding need very short copy.

There are times when you absolutely have to be short and to the point. Billboards, digital ads and Facebook, for instance. In situations like that, when the character count is literally limited, every sentence needs to be creative and well crafted. Every word counts. No one’s going to flock to your landing page if you just slap up a product shot with a factual caption on Facebook. In that case, a photo alone does not speak a thousand words.

There are other times when long, explanatory copywriting is essential to making the sale and building your brand. For instance, a sales letter to a known prospect for a complex, business-to-business service proposition. Or the “about” section of a website in categories where credibility is huge issue.

The length of your copy is often dictated by the audience you’re addressing. Take trade advertising for instance… Natural food marketers need to reach the buyers at retail chains like Whole Foods, and the pitch for that group should be completely different than the copy directed to the end consumer. It’s a different value proposition, altogether. Yet most trade ads in that industry are nothing more than sell sheets, which is not a good use of media dollars.

Facts, data and product photos alone do not tell a compelling story.

Part of the art of effective copywriting is knowing when to go long, when go short, and when to shut up. I know a company that had 700 words on the homepage of their website. It was a huge mistake… way too long for that particular location. And every powerpoint presentation you ever see has way too many words.

But there are far more companies that have the opposite problem; graphically-driven websites that don’t present a clear case for the product or service at hand.

So, if you’re trying to produce some effective ad copy, first consider the medium. Then the audience. Then the objective of the communication. And of course, the subject matter. Only then can you decide if less really is more.

I could go on and on, but for this particular post, this is the perfect length.

 

 

Sailing into a big, blue ocean of opportunity.

Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…

Under Armour marketing on the Brand Insight Blog“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said. “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing. I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”

Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on. It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.

That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post blue ocean strategyOften the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.

It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…

“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.” “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”

Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy. The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.

Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.

635951675884228258570468626_ikea-shoppingWhen it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.

Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses. They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer. The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.

Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.

Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.

Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.

So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that… Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?

Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.

Automotive Ads: Another ride down that twisting, mountain road of tired clichés.

I don’t know what it is about automotive advertising. No other category is so rich in promise, yet so void of inspiring insight and unique execution. But there is something any marketer can learn from the long history of mediocre automotive advertising.
automotive advertisingFor instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad that’s running right now. But it’s nothing new… just gorgeous video of a sexy red Italian sports car doing its thing in the curves with a pretty good voice-over that nobody’s going to listen to.

That’s easy. It’s harder producing a decent spot for a mundane automotive product, like a minivan.

Chrysler single-handedly created the minivan market when the Caravan and Voyager debuted in 1984. Sales skyrocketed and imitators quickly sprang up, but only after Chrysler had firmly established itself as the segment leader.

automotive advertisingChrysler’s minivans moved the segment from niche vehicle to the pinnacle of the mainstream. Minivans have become part of the pop culture. And the marketing people at Chrysler/Dodge have a pretty good handle on what their target audience is looking for.

The advertising routinely features simple slices of family life: we see a baby sleeping peacefully in a car seat. Kids playing cards in facing rear seats. Kids watching videos. Moms & Dads reconfiguring the seats and loading up the endless volume of kid’s stuff.

That’s what minivans are all about: Lugging kids, looking for lost binkies between the seats, and running errands. That’s the reality of it. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not the least bit appealing to anyone who doesn’t have kids. But it’s totally relevant for parents who are carting three kids around everyday.

The main benefit of all minivans is practicality. Plain and simple. And Caravan advertising conveys the idea very clearly. They’re not trying to be anything other than that. Honda, on the other hand, once careened off the road with their spots for the Odyssey.

The Honda spot goes like this: There’s an attractive young couple driving along a winding, country road. In a mini van, for pete sake! The husband, who’s doing the driving, glances at his wife suggestively as she reaches up and grips the panic handle above her window. She gives him a quizzical, turned-on look. He gives the van a little more gas and grips the wheel tightly as he lugs into another corner with all the agility of a Winnebego.

She holds on even tighter and looks at him as if to say, “ohhhh yeah, bring it on big boy.” I almost expect them to pull over and jump into the back for a roadside quicky. Instead, she just holds on for the ride while the voice-over chimes in: “Just because it’s a minivan doesn’t mean you have to treat it like one.”

Oh, c’mon. There’s even a more blatant execution of that idea from Britain, where a couple are about to do it in their Honda Odyssey until they get interrupted by an elderly parent. The voice-over on that spot says “It doesn’t seem like a family car.”

First of all, sex and minivans DO NOT go together. No one gets turned on by a minivan. A corvette might help you get laid, but not a dual-sliding, seven passenger, Chrysler or Honda product. Curvy roads don’t go with minivans either. Put a minivan on a windy road and you here’s what you get: Puking children. Horrendous messes of vomit. Leave the windy roads to the Porsche commercials.

There’s no pleasure in getting from Point A to Point B in a mini van. Believe me, I’ve done it. There is some satisfaction in packing up both kids and the entire kitchen sink for a simple, cross-town play date. There’s satisfaction in changing a diaper on the side of the road without hanging your baby out on the tailgate. But not pleasure.

So Honda’s idea of promoting the minivan as something sexier than just a minivan, simply doesn’t wash. They could spend a billion dollars trying to convey that idea, and parents would still buy it for the cupholders. It’s like trying to kitten-up a milk truck.

So how did the message get so messed up, and what can we learn from Honda’s one-spot marketing blunder?

  1. As a brand, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Minivans are not 450 horsepower Italian chick magnets. (Unless maybe Alpha Romeo decides to get into that niche)
  2. Realize that technical specs and insider information is often irrelevant to consumers. The automotive press consistently ranks The Honda Odyssey above its Chrysler competitors in performance and reliability. It’s a great vehicle. Best in class even. And the Honda executives are fully aware of this.

automotive advertising

The problem is, in the minivan category nobody gives a hoot about “chassis refinement and driving feel.” By letting insider information dictate their marketing, Honda ends up with a message that’s relevant to their own executives and to the automotive cognoscenti, but completely irrelevant to the target audience. It’s a classic case of getting in your own way. Of knowing too much.

Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Maybe the ad agency creative team just couldn’t find inspiration in boring old minivan. Maybe there wasn’t any consumer insight or personal experience to go on. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or maybe they were just trying to steer clear of a technical, engineering message. Wise move, but they really blew it with the hot couple concept.

Somewhere, the process took a wrong turn and the end result is a waste of marketing dollars. In the scheme of things, one spot isn’t going to kill Honda. But in the meantime, Dodge is sticking to an approach that simply demonstrates relevant features. Their advertising is not going to win any awards, but at least it’s somewhat authentic. It hits the hot buttons of a specific target audience and it wins the head-to-head battle with Honda. In automotive advertising anyway.

For more on Brand Authenticity, click here.

TV advertising that misses the mark

How to avoid the most glaring error in TV advertising.

Sometimes I just cringe when I see local TV commercials. Not because of the horrific script writing or the low, low, low production quality. Not because of the ill-advised choice of “talent,” or the mind-numbing jingle. That’s expected.

TV advertising that misses the markNo. I cringe because many of those companies don’t belong on television at all.

I’m talking about those cases where the medium – TV – missed the mark completely.

I’m talking about real cases where a business owner is spending a lot of money to reach the wrong people, with the wrong message. That’s the most most glaring error in TV advertising… it’s a double whammy.

Here’s an example of TV advertising that misses the mark: There’s a retailer in my town that sells lavish, high-end patio furniture. It’s designer stuff, and it’s practically bullet-proof. One chair costs more than my entire living room full of furniture.

Guess what that business owner is doing for advertising? Yep. Cheap TV spots.

Talk about the wrong impression. Nothing in his advertising matches his product line at all. It’s a total disconnect… He says the ads are generating foot traffic, but it’s clearly the wrong kind of traffic. People walk into his patio furniture showroom (lured, no doubt, by the fantastic jingle they heard on TV) take one look at the prices, and hightail it down to Costco or Walmart.

how to do tv advertising for a patio furniture storeOne of his salespeople told me it’s not uncommon for them to actually cuss her out for wasting their time. So even if they win the lottery, they’re not coming back.

And the owner keeps doing the same thing, year after year. It falls into the “epic fail” category of advertising 101. It’s insanity. If you’re selling high-end, high-cost furniture you need high-end TV production a high-end audience, and a message that whispers elegance. Anything less will be a big whiff.

Here’s another example: There’s a company that offers jet charters for corporate and private use. If you own your own private island and want to sneak away to it for the weekend, you’re in luck. They’re literally selling to the jet set, and yet they’re advertising – on local TV – to Fred & Barney Rubble. It’s a total mis-match.

Think about it… The very best outcome the company could hope for is a steady stream of inquiries from people who can’t possibly afford the service. And sure enough, they’re getting a few calls…

Elderly woman on the phone“Well gee whiz, I didn’t think it’d be THAT much to fly to my cousin Ethel’s place outside of Winnemucca.”

Filling your sales pipeline with hopeless leads is a waste of money, and probably the worst advertising mistake you can make.

No matter how many spots they buy it’s not going to help sell jet charters. In this case, better production value wouldn’t matter either. They could hire James Cameron to produce an epic, 10-million $ 30-second spot, and it still wouldn’t move the needle. It’d just generate more phone calls from non-buyers.

Because the company is advertising where the prospects aren’t.

There are digital alternatives now that would deliver their video message much more efficiently than TV. Straight to people who have expressed interest in jet charters. And there are plenty of options that allow them to pay ONLY when qualified prospects actually view the ad.

Look, I am not a media buyer. I don’ t have the propensity for spreadsheets, number crunching and data analysis that’s required for that line of work. However, I know a basic, lousy media buy when I see one, and that is one of them. TV is not the answer in those two cases.

Just look at what the big boys are doing. The largest advertisers, and the most sophisticated media buying agencies, are shifting money away from TV and into digital. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, digital ad sales are expected to surpass all TV ad sales for the first time in 2016.

I’m not saying you should dump your entire TV schedule. You should just think about mixing in some other options that are more targetable.

Here’s one more example, from my experience in golf industry marketing… I have a client who was recGolf industry tv advertising that misses the markently buying $35,000 worth of TV spots from the local cable company and he wanted my opinion on his media schedule. So I took a quick glance and saw, right off the bat, a whole bunch of time slots during daytime shows that skew heavily toward women.

How much golf equipment do you think women buy? How many golfers do you think are sitting around during the day watching “Psycho Coupon Horders?”

Again, it’s a mismatch. Why would you spend your money running ads that are geared toward affluent men, during daytime TV? It’s just not common sense.

If you’re in the position of reviewing media schedules like that, use your head. Eliminate those time slots. Make the sales guy try again. It’s not rocket science.

And when those salespeople come knocking, always remember this: It’s demand-based selling that hinges entirely on their limited inventory. The popular shows are in high demand, and sell out easily. So the TV salespeople are left trying hard to sell the shows that are NOT in demand. The dogs. Sometimes I think they throw-in some dogs on the schedule just to see if you’re paying attention.

I’m not saying that all TV advertising is a waste of money. Not at all. With enough frequency, the right product or service, and a well-honed message, you can do very well with local TV.

If you have an airline that’s selling $49 round trip tickets to Disneyland, by all means! Buy a bunch of TV ads. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. But if you’re selling jet charters to Disneyland, don’t waste your time on TV spots.

Duh.

If you’d like a review of your current advertising program, we can assess your strategy, your messaging, your value proposition and the creative execution.

We will also collaborate with a media buyer friend who can save you money on that side of the equation and make sure your buy is as targeted and relevant as it can possibly be.

In the end, you will get you fair, honest assessment from pros who have been in the business for 30 years. The cost is very reasonable, and based on the size of your budget, so rest assured, it’ll save you money in the long run. Call me. 541-815-0075.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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