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.
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 this one: “Poolife” for a swimming pool cleaning company.
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.
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.
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. In business, it’s hard to overcome a really bad brand name.
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… Mediocre coffee. On third street.
• 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.
A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that.
Not sure that I’d choose this particular screen printing outfit.
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 examples 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 bring herds of 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.
Interview with Steven Lee of Kombucha Wonder Drink.
In 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 in the kombucha market, 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. 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. 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 (the grocery chain) called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their 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…
We 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.
In 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.
JF: 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…
SL: 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. Or view our natural foods portfolio.
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.
In 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.
But 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.
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.
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 definition of brand straight, once and for all. It’s not the same as “brand identity” or logo.
So what is the definition of brand identity?
A brand identity project typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. Sometimes we also do naming and brand messaging for a new product or company as well.
It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”
If it’s done well, your logo is an accurate graphic reflection of your brand. But it’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a “brand.” For the true definition of brand, you have to look deeper.
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 that you see on the surface.
Everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters… The words you choose. The images you show. The social media posts you do. The values you hold dear. The vendors you choose and the people you hire.
The sum of all those parts is the Brand.
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.
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.
“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 in copywriting circles. 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 ad copy and web copy…
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.”
There are two problems with this train of thought:
If you’re going to limit it to just a few words, they better be the best damn words in the world.
This, I’ve found, seldom rings true in online ad copy. Website headlines, digital display ads and social media posts are hardly ever well-crafted. There’s no word-smithing involved.
Sometimes you absolutely, positively need more than just a pithy headline and a quick blurb for your ad copy.
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 ad 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 require 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.
Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…
“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.
Often 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.
When 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 t
he 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.
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. For 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.
Chrysler’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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
No. 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.
One 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…
“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 recently 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.
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.
I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach.
So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related. But someone has to speak out about all the exclamation points popping up in marketing circles. If I see one more boring marketing cliche punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.
Exclamation points are everywhere these days… in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.
“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”
I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.
Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of features is not going to make them more compelling.
Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)
Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…
You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!
The longest, straightest driver ever!
Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!
Your whole family will love it!!!
Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility. If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.
In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.
You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.
I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.
Clarity is the key to many things… relationships, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity. But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Business Clarity. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising marketing communications and management in general.
Doesn’t matter what form of communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.
Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. Complication. Cool persuasion vs. a lot of hot air. Straight talk vs. bullshit. And it starts with your internal communications.
Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.
A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity causes enormous frustration. So managers need to set clear goals for the company, the teams, and every individual in every department.
When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle. So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.
Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.
Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things: Whatto say, and how to say it. The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the copywriter and the art director. They can’t do their job if they’re not clear on the strategy.
Easier said than done. Most business owners are a quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics. If you need help with that, call me.
Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.
“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks. “Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…”
No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats. Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo.
Take time to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t! Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement.
Want traction for your startup? Find a name that’s clear.
Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name.”How do you spell that?” “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”
Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business – search.
Then there are these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli. That’s just confusion waiting to happen.
Want advertising that actually drives sales?Be clear, and overt, about the value proposition.
Not just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.
Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with the value proposition. Then go to strategy. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads.
Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.
When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer. and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear. There can be no confusion. You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.
Want a presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides.
Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies in the war against confusion. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor. Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.