Category Archives for "SMALL BUSINESS 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.

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

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

7 Verbal Branding & Brewpub Beer Snobs.

I had an experience in a brewpub recently that was inspiring and insulting at the same time. It proved the point that what you say, and how your front-line employees speak, can have a major impact on your branding efforts. It only takes one bad experience…

craft beer brands and branding tipsKeep in mind, this Oregon, where there are more brewpubs per capita than anywhere on earth. So craft brewing brands are plentiful and the competition is stiff. If you don’t like the food or the service or the beer in one brewpub, just walk around block and try another one.

So a buddy and I popped into this new brewpub for a burger and beer, après golf. We were parched. The beer menu offered craft beers in all the usual colors and categories… a blonde, a red, an amber, a black, a pils, a pale ale, an IPA, etc. etc. Each beer choice its own whacky name and an elaborate advertising claims that left us scratching our heads…

“Two more pounds of hops per barrel!

“ 20% rye malt plus five domestic malts and two Northwest hop varieties.”

“ A deep chestnut hue with undertones of chocolate and toffee.”

Ooooookay. Time for a translation. We flagged down the waiter and asked for his recommendation. We’re not new to the craft beer scene, but we were hoping for a simple recommendation… a layman’s answer.

“Oh. Well, the Monkey Fire Red Amber Ale has FRESH Willamette Valley hops,” he said in a knowing, somewhat snobbish tone. As if that’s all we’d need to know.

Wow. Awkward silence. I’m thinking, “Uhhhhhhhh. So What? What does fresh hops mean to my thirsty tastebuds? How is that going to affect the flavor of the beer? What am I supposed to do with that information?” We had no idea and he had nothing to offer.

My friend and I looked at each other, pondered that one, and looked at the waiter with a blank stare. The grungy, beer-snob just stood there, looking at us like we were from another planet. He just assumed we knew the benefits of fresh hops. Everybody knows that, right?

craft beer brands and branding tips

These hops look pretty fresh to me.

Boy, did we feel stupid.

Rule number one of Branding 101: Don’t make your customers or prospects feel stupid. Nobody likes that. It makes them feel like they’re being excluded somehow, and it’s pretty much impossible to build brand loyalty when people feel excluded.

Attorneys and doctors are the most common offenders. It’s easy to make people feel stupid when you’re an expert in a field filled with jargon. But a waiter in a brewpub???

There are plenty of professionals who are good at making people feel dumb: Management consultants, financial advisors, IT guys, golf pros and now, apparently, brew pub waiters all obscure their work in a veil of jargon in order to increase the perceived value of their service. It’s understandable, but contrary to the laws of good branding.

With great brands, people feel included. Not excluded.

Companies like Apple openly invite everyone into the “club.” They don’t use high tech jargon that appeals only to early adapters and computer industry nerds, they use plain, everyday English that excludes no one. And once you’re in, you feel a genuine sense of belonging. Did you see Steve Job’s speech from last week?

Unfortunately, a lot of business people feel compelled to overload their presentations, websites, sales pitches and ad copy with esoteric nonsense that excludes everyone except the people within their own company. And they justify it by saying “yeah, but we’re targeting a demographic niche that understands that stuff.”

Doesn’t matter. Even if the target audience is brilliant enough to understand reams of engineering data and technical specs, that doesn’t mean you should baffle them with your insider-ese.

Every industry has its own vernacular. For instance, many business owners have heard TV advertising salespeople spewing on about Neilsons and CUME and gross rating points and impact quotients.

Inevitably, most owners are left thinking, “Huh? So what?” “What’s that mean to me? How’s that affect my budget? What’s it going to do for my business? What’s in it for me?”

Every time you leave someone with nagging questions like that, you’ve missed a great branding opportunity. You’ve overlooked the real benefit of your product or service. And you hurt the credibility of your brand.

In the end, we didn’t go with the waiter’s recommendation. The beer we chose was quite good, even without the fresh, Willamette Valley hops, but the flavor was tainted by the experience we had and the nagging question the waiter never did answer.

He was so far inside that barrel of beer, he couldn’t possibly understand the consumer’s perspective.

Think about that. Think about the last conversation you had with a prospective customer, partner or key employee. What kind of language did you use? Was it loaded with insider information and industry jargon that sounds foreign to anyone outside your inner circle?

If it was, maybe it’s time to shut up and listen for a change. Put your ego aside and get some outside perspective. Turn off the doubletalk and turn back to plain English.

You might be surprised how persuasive plain speak can be.

P.S. If any of you can explain the benefits of fresh hops, please leave a comment. I know we grow good hops here in Oregon, but I still don’t know what the big deal is about being fresh? What’s the alternative… frozen hops? Give me a break. And if you’re thinking of opening yet another brew pub around here, give BNBranding a call. You’re going to need help differentiating yourself.

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.

2 A feel-good brand in a bummed-out world.

It’s being dubbed a “”depressed economy.” There are nightly reports on our current “ecomonic dulldrums,” and the “downturn” in consumer spending.

But if you sift through all the doom and gloom you’ll find that some brands are thriving in this “challenging economic environment.”

How do they do it? Here’s the secret:

Make people smile! It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

WWLogo - smallIf your product or service can elicit genuine smiles, you’ve got a winning brand. Because happiness is contagious. And when people are experiencing stress caused by circumstances beyond their control, that little dose of happiness becomes more valuable than ever.

Disney does it best. There’s also Great Wolf Lodge. Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Stuff-a-Bear Creations. These are brands that are built on smiles. Locally, the brand that wins the happy, happy, feel-good contest is Working Wonders Children’s Museum. Hands down.

No other business in town elicits more smiles, more Kodak moments, than Working Wonders. (On sunny winter days, Mt. Bachelor comes in a close second, but that’s more of a grown-up playground.) For kids under 11 nothing can match the hands-on play and make-believe worlds of Working Wonders.

IMG_2391

But I have to admit, I’m completely biased. My wife and I started the non-profit on a whim and a prayer seven years ago. Back when there was nothing, I mean nothing, in town for young kids to do.

First we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits. Then we went around to every summer event and introduced kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play. It caught on. Before the days of Facebook or Twitter, it went viral. We launched in less than one-third the time, and for one-third the cost, of most children’s museums.

And every day we’re open, we see a lot of smiling kids and eternally grateful parents. Here’s an unsolicited comment that demonstrates how happy customers help tell the story of a brand:

“I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter. What we value most is the way Working Wonders grows along with her – there is always an activity that’s just right for her latest developmental stage and current interests. She draws confidence and comfort from the stations that remain the same (the grocery store being her favorite) and extends the ways she interacts with them each visit. The new additions (the creations in the science lab!) keep her curious and provide her with exciting new learning.

I love that Working Wonders is set up to encourage parents to explore alongside their child, rather than “having a break” while their children play independently. Activities are interesting to learners of all ages, and you can watch the bonding that happens during play.

I love how Working Wonders models ways to be a better community, such as recycled art, and gentle reminders to leave each place just as you found it in consideration for the next person. Working Wonders also gives a tremendous amount to the community – I teach parenting classes, and they have donated 10-punch cards to each of my families. How wonderful for me to be able to help parents with their parent-child interactions, and then give them free passes to the best play to try out their new skills!”

You can see the smile on the daughter’s face just by reading her mom’s comments. Look how many times the word “love” appears. That’s brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability. For children’s museums, loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors. Because admissions aren’t enough to sustain the organization, and right now, those donors are harder to come by.

Over the last five years Working Wonders relied heavily on corporate sponsors to help meet its annual fundraising goals. But most of those companies were in the building industry — the most hard-hit by the recession.

So I’m doing something I’ve never done on the Brand Insight Blog… I’m asking directly for your financial support. Dig deep, and give big!

Working Wonders is an essential community asset, partnering with more than 20 social service agencies throughout Central Oregon. It’s the go-to resource for early childhood education, and it needs your help. Now, more than ever.

There are many ways to give…

Sponsor an exhibit in the museum. Commit to a corporate sponsorship. (It’s a great branding opportunity for any company that targets young families.) Pledge to an annual giving program. Leave an endowment. Provide financial backing for a Working Wonders event. Or give an in-kind donation.

If Working Wonders doesn’t generate enough support by October 1st, it may not survive to see an economic rebound. So give now. The smiles you’ll get back are priceless.

Visit www.Working Wonders.org to donate.

1 Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to get effective advertising from your agency.

Took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising.

There are mountains of it, even in this age of informed metrics and marketing ROI.

As an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of direction.

After a few rounds of constructive criticism and outright rejection, we either had to come up with a strategic nugget of our own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick. Not a good arrangement, for either party.

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work efficiently with your ad agency. It’s not rocket science. If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

yorba_linda_landfillAvoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.

Jon Steele, Account Planner, account planner on “Got Milk,” says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In a nutshell, he says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

Perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the good stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people — the researchers, creatives, media planners, programmers and AEs — heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions. In the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free, in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms. Before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy. But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset. It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

Subscribe to my RSS feed and get updated every time there’s a new post. Just click on the RSS logo at the top left of the page. Or follow “brandsight” on Twitter.

1 A branding lesson on the importance of logos – from summer camp.

Roll up the sleeping bag. Pack the bug spray and the spf 30. It’s time for camp… an annual summer ritual, for parents and kids alike.

Summer-Camps-HomeEvery year, when I part with my kids for two weeks, the memories come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song…

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

What’s that silly old song have to do with branding?

The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, eentsy part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let any graphic designer tell you differently.

I love great design work. I’ve been collaborating with designers and art directors my entire career, and it’s often fun and rewarding work. But a new mark does not constitute a “branding effort.”

Many design firms and branding companies go to great lengths to deliver a new mark and type treatment. They’ll do research that proves you need a new logo, and they’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution. But that’s as far as it goes. All the other components of branding — the bigger issues — are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. So if you’re a designer designing logos, do your thing. By all means. Just don’t sell it as something more than it really is.

And if you’re a client, don’t kid yourself. That expensive new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

Actions speak louder than logos. It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this? Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

6 Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

It was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with an assortment of treats and trinkets. Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial planner.

First gift ever. The crux of most financial planner marketing.

46e19784-00075-06bdb-400cb8e1

Seven-story corporate headquarters of Longaberger's Basket Company, Newark Ohio.

Apparently, the stock market’s spiraling decline inspired her to do a little preemptive marketing.

Like most small, professional service firms, her marketing efforts are inversely related to her current cash flow. When the markets are up and she’s riding high, her marketing expenses are low. She’s too busy — and content— to worry about it. When things are tough, it’s time to turn on the charm. It’s human nature.

Unfortunately, her current clients see the effort for what it is. (Just buttering us up for the bad news to come.) And new prospects aren’t swayed because her personal brand isn’t strong enough to weather the whims of Wall Street.

Her brand has no credibility right now. No differentiation. And little visibility. The only good thing you can say is she didn’t work for WaMu or one of the big investments banks.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing plan for an independent financial advisor.

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

• Christmas card to all clients. (Gift baskets are typically reserved for only the top three or four clients.)

• One-page, off-the shelf website, never to be touched once it’s up.

• Annual guest speaker luncheon. (Bring in a so-called “expert” spokesperson, book a room at a local hotel, cater lunch and then bore us to tears. If I wanted to know all that stuff, I’d do my own trading.)

It’s more of a tactical to-do list than an actual marketing plan. In the past it might have worked. She could get by on her good looks and good news from a bull market.

Not any more.

Compensation for independent financial advisors is typically based either on a flat fee, or on a percentage of the total assets under management (AUM). If it’s $100 million of other people’s money, they typically make 1% of that. A million bucks gross. The problem is, they’ve all seen a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they’re scrambling to find new clients.

Most are just ratcheting-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

It’s pretty simple. Advisors sign up with an independent web directory and they pay only for highly qualified referrals. Very little effort for financial advisors. Very big ROI.

Independent, third-party directories also fill a vital role for consumers: They help simplify the search and match prospects with a financial advisor who fits. It’s a vexing decision, choosing someone to handle your life savings. And most financial advisor web sites have the same, stock-photo look, and the same brochure-style copy.

On-line directories have been done successfully in the education market, travel, real estate, and the auto industry. So why not financial advisors?

When prospects go on line to research “financial advisors” they begin with Google. But Google can’t sort or organize the category in a helpful way. That’s where directories come in… they categorize advisors, provide details on specific services and nudge prospects along in the decision making process. So independent advisors get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization they could never achieve on their own.

In this day and age, having a web presence beyond just a static website is a marketing no-brainer. If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge by writing a blog. Create a Facebook page. Join a social network like Linked In or Triiibes. Establish a presence for you and your personal brand in places where your direct competitors aren’t. Do something, ANYTHING, that’s different from what you’ve always done.

Most professionals who run small service businesses believe networking is enough. But that’s not the case right now for financial advisors. There’s no gift basket big enough for the job ahead. It’s time to start employing some new marketing tactics.

If you want an idea that will dramatically differentiate you from all the other hungry advisors and help you retain clients without the use of lavish gifts, send me an e-mail: johnf@bnbranding.com.