Category Archives for "Management"

5 brand alignment and office space

Class A office space. Class A Brand. (How to align your space with your brand)

It was said to be Steve Jobs’ last great obsession… Apple Park. The corporate headquarters that looks like a spaceship from a 1950’s sci-fi story. 12,000 employees in one building. 2.8 million square feet of space. The world’s largest panels of curved glass. 9,000 draught-tolerant trees. 5 billion dollar price tag.

The ultimate expression of the Apple brand under Jobs. And big-league brand alignment.

brand alignment and office space

Steven Levy recently wrote a fascinating feature about Apple’s new flagship for Wired magazine. For that piece, he interviewed Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathan Ive.

Ive has overseen the design of every Apple product since 1997. Since Design is the heart and soul of the Apple brand, one could argue that Ive is the heart of Apple.

“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive said. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.

More fantastic designs. More signature products from the world’s most valuable brand.

Brand alignment involves a lot of things… It’s how you communicate the Brand to your employees. It’s the events you sponsor and the companies you’re affiliated with. It’s the consistency of your messaging and graphics. It’s product design and yes, it’s even the design of your new office.

In Apple’s alternative universe, the giant circular ring of glass is perfectly aligned with the brand.

All Fortune 500 companies spend enormous sums on corporate headquarters. Because they understand that it really does matter to their most important brand ambassadors… employees.

Your space says something about your brand and your culture. No matter how big or small your company is.

brand alignment Chiat Day building in Venice BNBranding.

Famed architect Frank Gehry designed this building for Chiat Day Advertising. Now it’s occupied by Google.

Small professional service firms should also spend a lot of time and money on office space.

When you’re selling a service, and have no tangible product, your workspace is an important physical manifestation of the brand. In fact, depending on the business you’re in, your office space might be the single most important example of brand alignment.

For instance, when it comes to selecting an ad agency, office space always figures into the equation. The workspace is a tangible display of the agency’s creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. (Or lack thereof.)

Clients love doing business with the cool kids in the cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, more energized or more “free” than their own place of business. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Clients feed off that. (Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.)

If you’re an architect or an interior design firm it’s even more important… Your office space is an everyday opportunity to show off your work. It’s “Exhibit A” in the firm’s portfolio. It better be impressive.

office space and brand alignment on the brand insight blogFor attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $450 an hour.

Cue the leather sofa and the $20,000 desk.

Harry Beckwith, in “What Clients Love,” tells how State Farm Insurance chose a firm to handle a huge payroll and benefits contract. They looked at all the proposals, narrowed the field, sat through presentations and listened to pitches from several very capable companies. They were all pretty comparable in price and service.

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly.

The State Farm guys walked through the offices of each competing firm, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the office that “felt the best” based on that one visit.

It’s a completely irrational, emotional, gut-instinct thing. (Have you ever walked into a restaurant and just felt an instant, knee-jerkingly negative vibe?)

First impressions matter. Details matter… Location. Colors. Layout. Even the coffee you serve says something about your brand. Is your company percolating along on Folger’s, or is it serving up a hot shot of espresso with a perfect crema on top?

Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see in your marketing materials and what they experience in your office? Be honest.

Is your office space in alignment with your brand and your corporate culture? Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain offices that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overstep their own brand personality.

And vice-versa.

Big banks work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable in their advertising. Then you walk into any branch, and the decor is vintage 1990s institutional snooze fest. And unfortunately, the customer experience is usually aligned with the decor.  (One notable exception is Umpqua Bank.)

Ideally, you want to align the look, feel and functionality of your office space with the brand personality, culture and operation of your company.

Easier said than done.

You can’t just take the “about us” section of your website and hand that off to an interior designer and expect a miracle.

If you’re moving into a new space, or thinking of a refresh of your current office, it helps to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.

Your brand needs a brand alignment and office spacebible.

That way, you always have a usable reference point. A testament. A philosophical road map that can be the inspiration for your marketing efforts, your business initiatives and your latest office makeover.

So when you’re looking at colors and carpet and furniture you can hold up the bible and say, “is this on brand? Is this really us?” Is this the right direction?

When I’m working with a new client I always start with that fundamental. I work with companies to spell out their brand and put it down on paper.

It’s not easy. It requires research, a lot of listening on my part, and a lot of soul searching from the client. (More than most people ever have time for.) But it saves tons of time later on by eliminating false starts when we’re working on tactical marketing items like digital advertising, a trade show booth, a powerpoint deck, or a new corporate video.

Or new interiors, for that matter.

“The right input is crucial for corporate jobs,” says Lisa Slayman of Slayman Design. “When clients are wishy-washy about their brand… that’s when things get difficult. The best clients are the ones who are clear about what their company stands for. What their brand is. When I see it down on paper, that makes it a lot easier to translate to the interior design job. It makes every decision easier.”

Getting the brand message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. You can’t have brand alignment if you don’t have your brand defined.

Your brand bible should inform hiring decisions, marketing decisions, operational decisions and even finance decisions. It should unite people and provide the crystal clear marching orders you need to move continually in the right direction.

If you don’t have one, call me.

When you approach new office space from a strategic, brand perspective the interior design becomes another opportunity to reinforce a specific set of values and beliefs. You can integrate your brand aesthetic into the everyday lives of your people and your visitors. So if some prospective client just happens to pop in, you’ll leave the right impression.

The brand impression.

Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said about the new Apple Park… “Could we have cut a corner here or there? Sure. It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.”

For more on why brand alignment matters, try THIS post. 

3 brand strategy from BNBranding bend oregon

Brands that are built to last. (Jim Collins on brand values)

Built To Last, by Jim Collins, is commonly known as one of the most influential business books ever written. It’s on every consultant’s bookshelf and should be required reading for any executive, business owner or budding entrepreneur.

It’s also one of the best branding books you’ll ever read.

built_to_lastYou have to read between the lines though, because Collins never used the words “brand” or “branding.” Back in 1994 it just wasn’t on his radar. Collins and his co-author Jerry Porras focused instead on “visionary” companies and compared them, head-to-head, with not-so-visionary competitors.

It’s a how-to book on building an iconic brand.

They found that “core ideology” is a common element of success among all visionary companies. Those organizations have strong, enduring principles that go beyond just profits. Call it a cause. A purpose. A set of principles… Whatever. The point is, if you want to build a visionary company – or a great, enduring brand — you have to start by knowing who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist.

Collins used this equation: Core Values + Purpose = Core Ideology. The Brand Insight spin: Core Values + Purpose = the foundation of your branding efforts. Core Ideology is another way to say Core Brand Values.

If you’re launching a new brand or reevaluating an existing one, start with that equation. Dig below the surface, identify those core brand values, and ask yourself this fundamental question: “What business are we really in?”

Sounds simple enough, but there are millions of business owners and entrepreneurs who never give that a second thought. (Too much navel-gazing, I suppose.) These are the people who figure “success” is enough of a purpose and you shouldn’t waste time or resources on things like branding. But as Collins proved, it’s those core values that set great companies apart from also-rans.

And the great brands from wannabes.

“Contrary to business school doctrine, maximizing shareholder wealth has not been a dominant driving force or primary objective of any visionary company down through history,” Collins said. “They are guided by a set of core values, and they preserve those core values almost religiously… They change and adapt without compromising their cherished core ideals.”

That’s what brand strategy is all about.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon understands that his brand goes way beyond selling books. And Phil Knight knows it’s not just the shoes at Nike. (Interestingly, both of those brands would probably fit Collins’ criteria of a “visionary” company.)

Here’s another important finding from Built To Last: Ideology must be authentic and integrated seamlessly into everything the company does.

Same with brands. If your core brand values aren’t authentic, consumers will figure it out. They’ll see through the marketing hype and recognize the disconnect every time.

brand values on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBranding in Bend OregonHere’s a good example: Tommy Hilfiger used to be the hottest thing in fashion. His clothing was successfully positioned as a more affordable version of Ralph Lauren. Young, somewhat preppy suburban WASPs were buying lots of Hilfiger outfits that would blend well at any yacht club. Tommy Hilfiger was a young, accessible Ralf Lauren.

But in the late 90’s the Hilfiger line caught on big-time in the hip-hop community. When the Hilfiger logo started appearing in rap videos the company saw what was happening and thought, wow, we’re really hot in that market. We should start designing clothes specifically for them.

Hilfiger temporarily abandoned the brand ideology that made the company so successful and tried to cater to the African American market by adding bling to their clothes. Instead of just accepting the business and riding the trend as it was, they altered the Hilfiger aesthetic.

“We jeweled it, we studded it and we really pushed the envelope,” Hilfiger said in a 2001 interview. They also launched an ad campaign focused on the urban, street culture.

The black community saw right through it and was immediately turned off. Pandering!

Donny Deutsch once said it was “the single stupidest blunder in the history of advertising.When the advertising went street, he lost the street.”

Plus, Hilfiger’s core audience in the white community saw the ads, said “that’s not me,” and quit buying. Sales plummeted.

As one wall street analyst put it, “that brand will never again be the hot, flashy, overly talked about, fast-growing company it once was.”

core brand values of Hilfiger on the brand insight blog

Hilfiger might not make the criteria for Collins’s book, but the iconic fashion designer has learned a good lesson through all the ups and downs of the past 30 years. In 2010 he spoke at a Wharton University conference…

“We made the mistake of following a trend that was going to be short-lived,”Hilfiger said. “Because any trend is short-lived. If you keep the heritage of the brand intact when you do another product, and it appears to be coming from the same mother, then you’re doing the right thing. But if it doesn’t conform to the core brand, it is a mistake.”

“Stimulate progress, but preserve the core,” it says in Collin’s book. Hilfiger abandoned the core in order to leverage a pop culture trend, and it backfired on him. Today the brand has inched its way back to its original roots and through strong international growth, posted its biggest year ever in 2015.

Built To Last is, predominantly, a management and operations manual inspired by visionary companies including Ford, Boring, HP, Marriott, Nordstorn, Sony, Disney and other old, Fortune-500 companies.

But the framework of business success can be applied to any business of any size. Not only that, it’s a framework that applies directly to the discipline of branding and specifically, how you establish brand values.

Collins found that visionary companies have “cult-like” corporate cultures. Everyone is indoctrinated into the core ideology and they follow it faithfully. (Ever seen a Wal-Mart sales meeting!) You could say the same thing about today’s most powerful brands… Apple and Amazon.

There are so many parallels I’m tempted to say, just maybe, “Visionary company” is synonymous with “great brand.”

For more on brand values and how to build a lasting, iconic brand, try THIS post.

marketing clarity

The secret to success: Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

Clarity is the key to many things… relationships, international relations, politics and  marketing clarityparenting 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.

lack of clarity leads to disgruntled workersWhen 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:  What to 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…” 41394

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.

Looking for more on how to make your presentations more clear and effective? Click here

1 "Brand" Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence. Honestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule. Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads and nitwits rule the managerial world.

Witness the retail store owner who has no handle on her inventory or her labor costs.

The non-profit executive who has a revolving door of talent, going only one direction.

incompetenceThe managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over- bills his clients.

The director of communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally.

The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything more meaningful than which consultant to hire.

Failures like those are rampant. One leading consulting firm reports “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.” (Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)

So the bad news is, there’s a 50-50 chance that your boss or your manager is incompetent. The good news is, half of companies you compete with are also chock full of managerial incompetence.

And here’s more good news:  It’s well documented that strong brands can weather all sorts of managerial miscues.

Strong brand affinity can help companies weather a price war. According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front.  And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt.

Look what happened to Toyota.

branding blog about toyotaIn 2009 and 2010 Toyota recalled 8.8 million vehicles due to safety concerns with accelerator pedals.  Time magazine ran a feature story titled “Can Toyota ever bounce back.” One industry expert told CBS Anchor Harry Smith, “We’ll be seeing major problems with the Toyota brand for at least a decade, maybe two.”

Toyota’s CEO quipped that he was not Toyota’s top executive as much as the company’s chief apologizer for blunders, mishaps and overall sluggish business. It was a PR disaster, and another example of managerial messiness.

Business Insider reported “The company failed miserably in its initial crisis management, but that’s what makes Toyota’s case so intriguing. Despite its monumental mistakes early on, Toyota still bounced back. Why? It didn’t take long for the public to remember Toyota’s previously stellar reputation.”

Contrary to all the doomsday speculation, the Toyota brand made a quick recovery, recapturing its status as the #1 selling car brand in America. (In 2016 they had the #1 and #2 selling car in America.) Not surprising really, given the consistency and long-term track record of the Toyota brand.

“The Toyota brand showcased its resiliency, with its positive reputation built up over decades of good performance. The company leveraged this, focusing its marketing once again on safety and its proven track record. It had to show that this disaster — including its own horrible mishandling of the situation — was an aberration.”

branding blog about toyotaToyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics. AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

So what does this all mean for the typical small to mid-sized company? Here are a few lessons:

1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise. Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance. Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down. What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?

2. Managers make monumental mistakes. CEOs come and go, often in a flaming blaze of glory. Products sometimes fall drastically short. But if you’ve built a strong brand your devoted fans will cut you some slack. The emotional connection they have will prevail over any short-term disappointment.

3.  A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team. They gotta know what you stand for, and they’re not necessarily going to get it unless you spell it out for them. You have to communicate your brand promise all the time, and promote it feverishly with your team. How else are they going to understand the culture, the core values, the expectations of consumers, and the business goals? Don’t assume anything.

4. Great managers are hard to find. No one has the childhood wish of becoming a great manager, so if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.

5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished. They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it.  Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion. If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

For more about the power of a great brand, read this post.

How to hire the right marketing person, the first time.

Most of the companies I work with rely on small, efficient teams of people for all their marketing needs. So sometimes, the best marketing advice I can offer is how to hire the right marketing person.

It’s not easy, and the answer varies dramatically, depending on the skills and interests of the CEO or owner. But one thing’s for sure… If you have a fledgling start-up, you better think carefully about the type of person you hire to spearhead your marketing efforts.

The most common mistake is hiring a specialist to do it all… someone who’s deep into SEO, or social media, or web programming, or brand journalism, or graphic design. Whatever. Those “doers” are all important team players in your marketing mix, but what you need is a thinker/doer to lead the way. Unless you’re a marketing generalist yourself, you’ll need an idea guy who can wear many different hats.

BNBranding offers a broad marketing perspectiveAccording to the Harvard Business Review, top marketing talent must be able to combine skills that don’t often go together, and might even seem contradictory…  Analytical + Creative. Innovation + Execution. Storytelling + sales skills. You won’t find that combination of skill sets in a specialist.

In this age of marketing specialization, you need a generalist. Here are three good reasons why:

1.  Broad experience means better perspective.

The marketing game is changing quickly these days, and there are a lot of moving parts. You need someone with enough perspective and experience to understand the entire playing field and keep all the balls in the air. You need a good juggler who knows which balls to keep in the air.

marketing generalists can keep many balls in the air. Brand insight blog from BNBranding If you hire a specialist you’ll get a myopic view of marketing and branding. If she only has experience in television and video, she’ll assess your entire branding effort and come up with many creative ways to use TV and video. It’s like the old saying… if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Recently I sat in on a presentation by a young man pitching his social media expertise. With no research, no understanding of the brand or the business model, and no experience to speak of, he was absolutely convinced that $1500 a month in Facebook posts, ads and boosts could ­­– and should – replace every other tactic the client was using.

That’s not the kind of thinking that will take your business to the next level.

3. Specialists don’t know strategy. 

Specialists often talk “strategy.” One will offer an email marketing strategy, another candidate will bring a social media strategy, a digital strategy, a direct response strategy, a Facebook strategy, an SEO strategy and even a SnapChat strategy. If you’re not careful you’ll be swimming in “strategies.”

Don’t be fooled.  There’s only one strategy. Everything else is just a to-do list.

British adman Simon Pont puts it quite well: “One strategy, one collective intent; many expressions and executions, all with moving parts and all aligned. It’s all about linking into that one given strategy and expressing it through many specialties.”

You can always hire outside help on a project-by-project basis to execute specific tactics and get through that tactical to-do list. What you can’t find so easily is someone who can think strategically and come up with ideas that actually do qualify as a true marketing strategy.

“A strategy is an idea… a conceptualization of how a goal could be achieved.” Emphasis on IDEA! Successful marketing strategies are rooted in big ideas. Not punch lists.

How to hire the right marketing person from the brand insight blog

For a big idea you need someone with creative skills, common business sense and a good working knowledge of all the different marketing specialties. In a perfect world you’d find an experienced, well-rounded marketing pro who brings advertising planning experience as well as creative skills to the table… a one man marketing machine who could to analyze market research data one day, extrapolate that one little nugget of consumer insight you need, and write a brilliant ad the next.

That’s a rare breed. If you find someone like that, pay him or her handsomely. Give them tons of freedom and let them in on every crucial management decision. I guarantee you, your company will be better off for it. If you can’t find that person, call me.

3. Effective managers know something about what they’re managing.

If you hire a manager who knows nothing about computer programming, he’s going to have a very hard time managing a team of computer programmers. Some fundamental knowledge of the material is necessary.

Same holds true in marketing. Most specialists simply don’t have the fundamental knowledge of the material they need to manage the whole effort efficiently.

For example… If you hire a social media specialist to drive your entire marketing effort, she’s going to struggle when it comes to managing traditional advertising or content marketing, or direct response TV, or any number of other tactics. And don’t expect that person to suddenly be capable of doing anything beyond her specialty. That’s just not realistic. Marketing is important, and you could lose a lot of money waiting for your marketing leader to “grow into the position.”

Hire a generalist who’s already there. Then hire a specialist to do her specialty thing under the leadership of the savvy generalist. Don’t hire a specialist to manage other specialists. It doesn’t work.

Look, hiring right is very hard. I know that. (That’s why I’m a firm believer in hiring HR specialists to handle the initial screening and recruitment and help with the interviewing.)

Hopefully this piece will help you avoid a lot of costly trial and error when hiring a marketing person. And maybe a great, well-rounded marketing generalist will find the perfect position that will lead to fame and fortune.

For more on how to hire the right marketing person, try this post.

About the author…

John Furgurson is one of those valuable generalists. He cut his teeth in the direct response business and has worked in corporate film, advertising of all kinds, content marketing, PR, social media and just about every other specialty under the big branding umbrella. You can hire him to lead your marketing team, and then just add a couple specialists in supporting roles. 

7 The corporate head shot vs. good personal branding.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website.  Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”

In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.

The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible.  Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality.  Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts. Continue reading

8 The difference between a new product launch and the birth of a brand.

The Mt. Bachelor ski report for December 20th was delightfully promising: Ten inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. Not only that, the storm was clearing. Blue skies beckoned.

It was the kind of day ski bums live for. The kind where they’re queued up before the first lift and you hear a lot of hollering from the forest, the glades and the cone, where the hard-core hike for fresh tracks.

But for intermediate skiers accustomed to the forgiving comfort of corduroy, it posed a bit of a problem. See, all 10 inches fell in the early morning hours — after the grooming machines had manicured the mountain.

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

A lot of people struggle in unpacked snow. So once the hounds had tracked up the fresh powder and moved on, into the trees, the masses were left to flail around in cut-up powder on top of an icy base.

There were a lot of yard sales that day — tumbling falls where skis, poles and goggles were strewn all over the run. One guy I know broke a rib. Some snowboarders had broken wrists. And there were plenty of knee injuries.

Always are. Any ski patrolman will tell you it’s knees and wrists.

Modern binding technology has almost eliminated the broken leg from skiing. Helmets have reduced the number of head injuries, but knee injuries are common. Scary common. In the U.S. 70,000 people blow out their ACL skiing every year. On the World Cup circuit, you rarely find a racer who hasn’t had some damage to an ACL.

The KneeBindingBut now there’s a new binding brand that aims to put the knee surgeons and physical therapists out of business.

KneeBinding is the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont. While all modern bindings release up and down at the heel, KneeBinding also releases laterally. The product’s patented “PureLateral Heel Release” is a huge technological leap in binding technology. In fact, it’s the first substantial change in 30 years and it promises a dramatic decrease in the number of knee injuries on the slopes. They really can save your ACL in the most common, twisting, rearward falls. And they don’t release prematurely.

KneeBinding has the potential to blow the ski socks off the entire industry. But will it?

If the company’s early advertising is any indication, they don’t have a very good handle on their brand strategy.

Springer-Miller has been quoted saying, “This is a serious company with a serious solution to a very serious problem” And it’s true: It now costs an average of $18,000 for the initial  repair of a torn ACL.  That makes ACL injuries in skiing a $1 billion-a-year medical problem.  Plus, it takes eight months, usually with intensive physical therapy, for an ACL to heal well enough for the victim to get back on the slopes. One-out-of-five never skis again.

So why, pray tell, would you launch KneeBinding with goofy ads featuring a pair of 3-glasses? “Just tear them out, put ‘em on, and see the world’s first 3-D binding.”

I get it.  The idea of 3-D Bindings might have merit, but 3-D glasses? C’mon.  It’s a gimmicky idea that will, unfortunately, rub off on the product. And the last thing you want is people thinking KneeBinding is just another ski industry gimmick.

It was an unfortunate move for a potentially great brand.

The tagline/elevator pitch is also problematic: “The only binding in the world that can mitigate knee injuries.”

First, it’s absolutely untrue: All modern bindings mitigate knee injuries to some degree. If we couldn’t blow out of our bindings there’d be a hundred times the number of ACL injuries. Plus a lot of broken bones.

Granted, the KneeBinding mitigates a specific type of knee injury that the competitors don’t, but the line just doesn’t ring true. It sets off my internal BS meter and puts the credibility of the entire brand in question.

Besides, it sounds like something an M.D. would say. Not exactly the stuff of a memorable, iconic brand.

KneeBinding is a perfect example of a company that’s led by an engineer/inventor. Springer-Miller has developed a great product, and hats off to him for that.  But the brand will never become a household name if the marketing is also driven by the engineers.

Even the name is a marketing nightmare. It’s so literal it excludes the most important segment of the market.

“Knee Binding” won’t appeal to fearless, indestructible 20-year olds who star in the ski films and drive the industry trends. It’s for the parents of those kids. The 40+ crowd who have been skiing long enough to see a lot of their friends on crutches.

That group — my peers — will buy the KneeBinding to avoid injury and maintain our misguided idea of youth. And we might buy them for our kids, as well. But that’s not the market Springer-Miller needs if he wants to build a lasting brand in the ski industry.

And guess what. KneeBinding won’t appeal to either audience with technical illustrations of the binding’s components, or with 3-D glasses, like they have in their current advertising.

It has to be way more emotional than that. Not just the advertising, the brand itself. It needs a hook that goes way beyond engineering and orthopedics.

I hope this product succeeds. I really do. I hope the KneeBinding technology becomes the industry standard. But I fear that the company and the current brand will not survive unless they get a handle on their brand strategy and their marketing program.

Launching a great product does not always equate to the birth of a lasting brand. KneeBinding needs to build a foundation for the brand that’s as good as the product itself. Right now, the quality of the marketing is not even close.

With the right marketing help and adequate capital, KneeBinding could give the major manufacturers a run for their money. They were first in the market, which is big. They’ve won some industry accolades. The product stands up to performance tests. And they’ve established some degree of national distribution.

But this is not the first time someone has tried lateral heel release, and the older target audience remembers those failed attempts. The younger crowd doesn’t think they need it. They’re the most expensive bindings on the market. Plus, bindings have been a commodity product for the last 20 years. They’re not even on the radar of most skiing consumers.

How the engineers address all those issues could mean the difference between a safe, successful run and a marketing face plant.

1 Better survey questions — Avoiding the common pitfalls of market research.

I’m a big proponent of market research.

I’ve seen, first hand, how it can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. (They tracked customer satisfaction every week, in every new store, and grew into a billion-dollar brand.)

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups. Can you say, “Got Milk?” Continue reading

3 Five things Iconic brands have in common.

Simon Edwards, Brand Manager at 3M, recently started a lively online discussion around this question: “What are the common attributes of iconic brands?

He opened it up on Brand 3.0 — a Linkedin Group that includes 4,363 branding consultants, practitioners, creative directors, gurus and wannabes. It was an intelligent, worthwhile discussion that hit all the hot buttons of the branding world.

But we were preaching to the choir.

So in an effort to reach a few business people who aren’t completely “inside the bottle,”  I’d like to cover the high points of the discussion and add a few examples…

•  “An iconic brand plays a valued role in a consumer’s life. It delivers a feeling that the consumer just can’t get from any other brand. That feeling may be security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence or many others.” – Andy Wright

Here’s an example: I’m a loyal Audi owner. Over the holiday weekend I had to drive the Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night.  I felt all those things… security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.  The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand. It played a vital role in that little part of my life.

I couldn’t have felt safer in any other vehicle, short of a semi truck.

“The 5 criteria of iconic brands are:  relevancy, competitiveness, authenticity, clarity of promise, consistency of communication. The hard work is the proactive management of the brand (including product development) to ensure the five criteria are delivered.” – Ed Burghard

I particularly like Ed’s point here about proactive, ongoing brand management.

Many people seem to think of branding as a one-time event. — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all.  You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not constantly minding your brand. It’s a never-ending effort that should be intertwined into your day-to-day business.

“One element that has not been discussed is success. No brand can reach iconic status without being successful in achieving it’s purpose. Part is creating these wonderful brand connections – authentically, emotionally, as an experience. Part is communicating with clarity and consistency. Part is delivering on the promise. But a vital component is to have delivered results and exceeded expectations… yes?’    – Ed Holme

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a compelling story to tell. When that story is told over time, it establishes that intangible, emotional  connection that inspires people and fuels success. What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

• “I would like to add ‘Leadership’ to the list of attributes already mentioned. ?It’s not about market share, though; iconic brands play by their own rules. These brands tend to break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture, catching the competition off guard and finding unprecedented loyalty”… – Stephen Abbott

This was a contribution that really stood out. I believe leadership is a highly overlooked component of branding. If you don’t take a genuine leadership position in some aspect of  your business, your brand will eventually flounder. (Can you say GM?)

You don’t have to be the market leader to have an iconic brand. Look at Apple. The iconic leader in the computing world only has 9.6% market share in computers. What’s more,  an iconic brand does not guarantee business success. Farrells Ice Cream parlors were iconic in this part of the country, and they went belly up.  Was Saturn iconic?  Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymoth? Many icons of industry have fallen in the past year.

To build on the ideas related to story telling…  Iconic brands often align with an archetypal character and story which is instantly recognizable, psychologically stimulating and meaningful. Coke embodies the Innocent archetype as expressed through their advertising from polar bears to Santa Claus or the classic ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ campaign.” – Brenton Schmidt

Executives at Coke shattered that innocence when they changed the beloved formula to “New Coke.”  Probably the single biggest branding screw up of the last 50 years. One woman, who hadn’t had a Coke in 25 years, called to complain that they were “messing with her childhood.”  Now that’s brand loyalty!

“Some underlying attributes  tend to be focus, clarity and authenticity. However, all iconic brands tend to connect customers with an overreaching philosophy that fosters emotional connection between the customer and the brand.

Examples of brands and the emotions they foster:

– Nike = Performance. “I feel like I can run faster or jump higher when I wear my Nikes.”

– Target = Affordable Design. “At Wal-Mart, I get the best price. At Target, I get style and price.”

– Apple = CounterCulture. “I want style, simplicity and usability. My Mac says to the world that I’m different and unique. In short, I hate Windows and everything it represents.”

– Jason Milicki

I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, and I’d add the word Contrarian.  Proudly contrarian, even. (My kids helped make sushi for Thanksgiving, and my son dubbed it a “Contrarian Turkey Dinner.” I think I’m handing it down.)

Finally, here’s one parting thought on iconic brands, from yours truly:

You don’t have to be  a multinational company, or even the biggest player in your niche, to become a successful icon in your own right. Gerry Lopez is an icon in the world of surfing, yet unknown to the general public and to Wall Street.

If you want to build an iconic brand — even a small one — start with passion, purpose and focus. Then work your ass off.

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1 If you got hit by a bus, what would happen to your brand?

Death and taxes. Death and taxes. The two are always lumped together as inevitable parts of life. So why, as business people, do we obsess over taxes and ignore the issue of death?

Nothing derails a small business faster, and more dramatically, than death. When a partner or key employee dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. No two ways about it. The question is, is your brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss? 

My dentist lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident.  How do you go back to drilling teeth after that?

My cousin lost his mom to liver cancer. He’s taking a 12-week leave from Amazon.com. (They won’t even notice)

My business partner lost her 14-year old son to a rare form of brain cancer. Promoting flea and tick products for big pharma just isn’t on her radar.

Children. Siblings. Parents. Clients. Close friends. When you lose them, you also lose hard-fought momentum, motivation and money if you’re in business for yourself. And chances are, you won’t even care.

All those niggling managerial details that seemed like a high priority will almost certainly fall by the wayside. Clients and vendors are usually very forgiving in times like that, but if you don’t have some kind of contingency plan, you’re liable to experience yet another loss… of your business.

Personal loss is particularly hard on professional service businesses. Imagine a key attorney in a small law firm. A star architect. A senior executive recruiter with a big, fat rolodex. These key players are often the lifeblood of a company. Or as CFOs like to call them, “irreplacable assets.” When those people go, the brand goes with them.

So what can you do?

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some tips on how to build a brand that will withstand loss of all sorts.

  1. Make it about more than just money. Great brands stand for something beyond business. There are values built into the brand that transcend time and personnel. Patagonia for instance… if Yvonne Chounard were to die in a climbing accident, the brand would endure. Not just because it’s a big company, but because they have a large clan of customers and employees who share the company’s core values.
  2. Have a better hiring strategy. You want people who share your values and your vision, not your management style. Rather than hiring clones of yourself, find people smarter than yourself, with diverse backgrounds, experience and style. That way you’ll achieve some balance in the organization and it’ll be easier to fill a void, if something happens.
  3. Keep your story straight. Too many companies get fixated on their logo and forget about the brand story they have to tell. Logos change and evolve, but the core brand story should always stay consistent. Unfortunately, many C-level executives can’t articulate their brand story. Even Richard Branson has a hard time with the question, “what’s the Virgin brand about.” So before something bad happens, put it down on paper. Hire someone to help you craft the story, and then stick with it.
  4. Build strong alliances. Successful companies tend to have a large number of brand affiliations.  They don’t operate in a vacuum. The more companies, people, brands and causes that you are affiliated with, the more support you’ll have in tough times. But don’t forget… all those affiliations need to be aligned with your brand. You don’t want just random alliances.
  5. Devise a succession plan before you need it. It’s kind of ironic… in order to get funding, start-ups have to include a slide about their exit strategy. And it’s usually pie in the sky stuff. But many established businesses that are actually good targets for acquisitions, never even think about succession. It’s one of those painful things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile. But you need to make time for it. If you’re an owner, a manager, or just an employee, you need to know what would happen in the worst-case scenario.