Category Archives for "MARKETING STRATEGY"

Truth and clarity about Guerrilla Marketing

It’s 1810. Napolean’s armies have conquered all of Europe and are enjoying the spoils. But in Spain, small bands of dedicated freedom fighters wage their own war against the occupying forces. They strike. Move. Hide. And strike again. They involve the enemy in a long, drawn-out war, and ultimately prevail.

That’s how the term Guerrilla Warfare came to be. The literal, Spanish translation is “small war.”

Fast forward to 1983. Jay Conrad Levinson, an old-school, advertising guy from Chicago, borrows the term for a marketing book he’s writing. “Guerrilla Marketing” becomes one of the most popular business books of all time, with endless spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins.

1235585847_16010911_bgToday “Guerrilla Marketing” has become a cliche. The words stick, but few business people have any idea what it really means. They confuse guerrilla marketing with blow-up gorillas.

For some, guerrilla marketing is nothing more than a convenient catch-phrase; justification for poorly planned, seat-of-the-pants marketing efforts. They throw together a last-minute promotion and call it guerrilla marketing. They run a Facebook campaign to support the sale of the month, and call it guerrilla marketing. They print posters for telephone poles, and suddenly, they’re king of the guerrillas!

The problem is, many people don’t understand Guerrilla war to begin with. Guerrilla warfare might seem like a sporadic, hit and miss affair, but it’s not. Every attack is part of an expertly devised strategy. There’s always someone planning and orchestrating the attacks to make sure the guerrilla tactics produce the most damage at the least possible cost.

Levinson spells it out: “Guerrilla marketing enables you to increase your sales with a minimum of expense and a maximum of smarts.” Repeat, “maximum smarts.”

Levinson repeatedly stresses the importance of planning, especially for small businesses that have limited resources. His idea of Guerrilla Marketing involves wise strategic planning, big ideas and inexpensive but effective tactics.

“Entrepreneurs must govern tactical operations by marketing strategy,” Levinson said. “And all marketing efforts have to be weighed against that strategy.” Good advice, but the reality is way different. Most small businesses have all sorts of “guerrilla” tactics, but no strategy whatsoever. And here’s the catch: Guerrilla tactics won’t work unless they are strategic and sustained. Unrelentingly.

Levinson’s book stresses personal commitment and consistency, like those Spanish fighters had. But many business owners give up campaigns and change directions on a whim. They don’t plan, they react. They wait and see how much they can afford for advertising and then spend haphazardly. It’s a knee-jerk effort that seldom produces any lasting results.

Instead of a knee-jerk approach, guerrilla marketing consists of a continual advertising presence all year long. It may be small, but it’s a presence.

So the true essence of Guerrilla Marketing, according to the book on the subject, is an innovative strategy and unwavering commitment. Your tactics may be inexpensive to execute, but you have a plan and you stick with it like a track on a tank. That’s Guerrilla Marketing!

“In working with small clients the greatest stumbling block is their inability to understand commitment,” Levinson said. “You must think of marketing as an investment. Not an expense. And you must see to it that your marketing program is consistent.”

True guerrillas are committed to the bone… they won’t give up until they’re dead, or until the enemy is defeated. Guerrilla armies are outnumbered, out gunned, and out-classed in every conventional way. That’s why they resort to unconventional tactics.

In some of his later work Levinson defines Guerrilla Marketing this way… “a body of unconventional ways of pursuing conventional goals.” Unfortunately, few guerrilla marketers qualify as unconventional. In fact, they do the same things their traditional competitors are doing, only cheaper. They cut corners on important executional details and chalk it up to their guerrilla approach.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

 

For a guerrilla army, it’d be like launching an attack in broad daylight with nothing but but BB guns

Execution Matters!Levinson hardly mentions creativity in his original book, but creative, unconventional execution is crucial for guerrilla marketers. The biggest brands can throw money at a problem and run ads until a year from Tuesday. Guerrilla marketers can’t. They have to be smarter. Sharper. More persuasive. More creative!

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

 

Small businesses simply cannot afford messages that don’t resonate. Words that don’t inspire. Or photos that fall flat and impotent. Every element of every guerrilla marketing war needs to be honed and crafted, not thrown together at the last minute.

Levinson said, “many a hard-working, well-meaning business owner will sabotage their business with ill-advised marketing. Guerrillas market like crazy, but none of it is ill-advised.”

Giant, blow-up gorillas in the parking lot are ill-advised. Cutting corners on important executional details… also ill-advised. For example: A business owner writes his own radio commercial and doesn’t spend any money on talent, editing, or sound design. Then he places the ads on a busy station with lots of national ads and high production values. Two weeks later he’s wondering why the ads aren’t working. A week after that he’s ready to give up on radio advertising all together.

That’s not Guerrilla marketing. And not good business, either. A Guerrilla army would never give up simply because one little attack failed to live up to expectations.

History proves that guerrilla campaigns are effective in the long run. The Spanish against Napolean’s army. The French resistance against the Germans. The Afgans against The Soviet Union.

You might not defeat your industry’s superpowers, or even your biggest local competitor, but if you have the fortitude to stick it out, you can win enough little battles to build a great business.

“Confidence is your ally. Provided that your products or services are of sufficient quality, confidence in yourself and your offering will attract buyers more than any other attribute. More than quality. More than selection. More than price,” Levinson said.

Before Levinson’s book, marketing was something only fortune 500 companies could do. He was the first person to put marketing in context for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He put it in terms that common people could understand, and made it seem achievable. Even for underdogs.

“The guerrilla approach is a sensible approach for all marketers, regardless of size. But for entrepreneurs and small business owners who don’t have the funding of a Fortune 500 company, it’s the only way.”

2 The Duck Dynasty brand goes high fashion.

How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.

Yessir, that’s right. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ. On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,” throwing the F word around and the next page you have the Duck Dynasty dudes in their branded cammo-wear quoting bible passages. What’s next? Forbes?

Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too.

1365708436_duck-dynasty-zoomBack in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt. Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They have the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 14 million viewers — more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale, and even Hunny Boo Boo.

The Duck Dynasty Brand is everywhere these days. They have deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For the holiday season Hallmark launched a line of cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album of holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. Not bad.

What’s the secret to success for these good ol’ boys? There’s an old saying in sales: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little hunting niche into mass market appeal.

Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal.

Personality

In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.” To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.

Authenticity

Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.

“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”

Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.

Visual Appeal

Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt.

beards-back-490x255Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.

Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”

So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. That’s the real test.

Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching? The possibilities are endless. I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.

 

1 The not-so-surprising failure of Sears.

The Sears store in my hometown recently closed its doors. Shut down after a 60 year presence in the market.

Can’t say I’m too broken up about it either. I bought a few tools there, once upon a time. And an appliance or two, but nothing I can recall. I certainly wouldn’t say I had any fond memories of the place, much less brand allegiance.

The recent demise of Sears, once the country’s largest retailer, is replete with lessons for business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing execs and brand managers. It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.

Sears dates all the way back to 1886 when Richard Sears started selling watches to his coworkers at the railroad. Alvah Roebuck was his watchmaker, and in 1893 the name Sears Roebuck & Co. was incorporated.

They grew the business rapidly by selling all sorts of merchandise through the mail at a price that undercut the local mercantile. The offerings were broad — everything from a Stradivarious violin to patent medicines and do-it-yourself houses — but the target market was narrowly defined: small towns where the general mercantile was the only real competition.

It was wildly successful niche marketing, for awhile.

Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago. By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.

Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.

Over the next 50 years Sears became a multi-national retail empire, with 2200 stores and the world’s tallest building as its corporate headquarters. The company obviously did a lot of things right over the years.

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

For instance, Forbes Magazine reported that “Sears successfully developed some of the strongest and most famous private-label brands of any retailer, in any channel, in the U.S. Those brands include Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Weatherbeater paint, and Roadhandler tires.

Those are great names, and the success of those product lines is textbook branding. Someone at Sears was well advised to resist the line extension trap and NOT put the Sears name on a car battery or a paint can.

Some Wall Street insiders believe it’s those proprietary brands that could save Sears from its current “slow motion liquidation.” In fact, there have been rumors that Sears will begin selling some of those brands through other retailers, including Costco. Maybe there’s a future for Sears as a wholesaler???

Sears is a good example of how success often leads to temptation and complacency. Temptation to expand and diversify into other businesses and complacency when it comes to the core of the brand.

Sears got into the insurance business with AllState, the financial services business by buying Dean Witter Reynolds, the real estate business with the purchase of Coldwell Banker and even the credit card business, with the launch of the Discover Card.

In the meantime, they missed an opportunity to dominate the direct marketing business, they lost sight of the retail business, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular house brands languish.

So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.

For 20 years Sears has been trying to re-position itself as a competitor to Macy’s, JCPenny, Kohl’s and Target. Remember the slogan, “The softer side of Sears?” That was an ill-fated attempt to sell clothing. Now they have the Kardashian Collection. Yikes!

The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

Forbes magazine reported: “Sears is relying mainly on inauthentic celebrity exclusives (does anyone really believe that Kim would actually shop at Sears?) to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers, and it is clear that Sears has lost its way.”

As Laura Ries put it, “When faced with a broadening of its category, Sears should have narrowed its focus and become a specialist. Instead of shifting to the softer side of Sears, the retailer should have further embraced its harder side.”

The department store niche is not the answer to Sears’ problems. Walmart has taken both the price and one-stop shopping advantage. Target is positioned as the aspirational trendy choice. Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement. Amazon has the online convenience advantage. Best Buy dominates in electronics. Lowes is succeeding with appliances. There’s just no room for a general purpose department store that’s trying to be all things to all people.

Even if there wasn’t all that competition, you’d still never convince people that Sears is a good place to buy clothing. That was never going to fly!

Sears Brand car battery

Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.

It will be very interesting to see what becomes of the company now that it’s merged with Kmart and owned by infamous hedge fund manager Eddie Lambert. The stock has lost half its value. They’re closing 120 stores this year. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to revive it.

Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up: “If the hedge-fund mogul knew how to fix Sears, he’d have done it by now.”

There are only two things the company has going for it: massive real estate holdings, and some great brands NOT named Sears.

1 Fake Thrills — Another Automotive Marketing Misfire.

Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. And the Toyota Camry is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and has been the best-selling car in America 15 of the past 16 years. (Camry was No. 1 from 1997 to 2000, lost to the Honda Accord in 2001, and has reigned since then.)

Apparently, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower or handling or sexiness. Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd. My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

7165c3f5dc0c28a95fd2723b16f34ec0And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great idea… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

Classic case of a great advertising idea executed poorly for the wrong brand. Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course” features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel. There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?” Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up! Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014 the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.” That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

Camry commercial

And more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry differently??? Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plenty.

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners… if you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath.

 

2 Non-profit branding… a story of start-up success and failure.

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.” It was the type of organization that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. Then we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy, and built a business plan around that. We came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

At first, it was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” We raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play. It caught on. Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping strategy proved the concept. Parents and kids loved us! In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years travelling around, raising more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go: We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net .

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. The biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually too well branded.

Many people thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about branding for non-profit organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

1.What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and 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.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors. In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships. And those dried up with the economy.

IMG_2391As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives. But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people.

It’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer.

And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?” Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

 

 

 

5 marketing strategy vs tactics spock vs kirk

Strategic Thinking vs. Tactical Acting

The single most popular article I’ve ever written focuses on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Thinking and planning vs. doing.

Seems there’s a bit of confusion there. For example, I saw a blog recently titled “Top 10 Social Media Strategies.” But the list was purely tactical. Not a strategy to be seen.

So if you’re one of thousands who is still a bit unclear, here’s another way to look at it…

At BNBranding we talk about Insight vs. Execution. Insight being the crucial strategic thinking that has to happen before you execute the tactical plan. Think, then act.

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands talks about the difference between strategic thinkers and tactical implementers. He writes… “To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.” Whoever wrote that blog post on social media definitely sees answers first, and social media is it.

Strategic Thinkers ask a lot of “what if” questions before they begin to develop solutions. They think, they reflect, they plan and they stew on things before they act. In fact, many never act at all. They deliver a report and walk away, or they delegate the execution to the tacticians.

Tactical people jump right into answers. They believe that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking, so it often turns into a “ready, fire, aim scenario. They are impulsive doers who often get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

marketing strategy vs tactics spock vs kirkIt’s like Captain Kirk in an old StarTrek episode yelling at Spock; “What we need now, Spock, is a little analysis and lot more action!” Spock was the strategy guy. Captain Kirk was the execution guy.

There are many business owners with A-type personalities who fall into the category of non-strategic implementers. They’re the ones who quickly jump on every new marketing bandwagon that comes along, hoping for a home run without ever taking batting practice. They do a lot, but without clear direction they often do a lot of the wrong things. They’re all over the place.

Strategists, on the other hand, often think themselves to death and never get anywhere.

My firm is often brought in for tactical projects because many clients don’t think they need the strategy help. But in most of those cases, we have to work our way “upstream” to answer those key, strategic questions before we jump into creative execution of a website, ad campaign, social media effort or whatever.

marketing strategy rafting the deschutesTactical implementers never paddle upstream. They just go with the flow.

To be a great marketer you have to wear both hats. “While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand, Robertson said. ” They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action. And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff you actually need done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and tactical, almost equally so.”

A tall order for most marketing people. In fact, Robertson estimates that only 15 to 25% of all marketing people at legitimately “strategic” in their approach to their jobs. There are far more tactical marketing implementers than there are strategic thinkers.

If you’re building a career in marketing you need to pinpoint where your strengths lie. If you’re more of a manager, organizer and list-making delegator, you’ll probably want to find people for your team who can fill in the strategy gap.

You can’t just suddenly decide to “be strategic.” Being strategic means reading between the lines, delving deeper than just factual data, and trusting your instincts. That takes years of practice and a certain personality type. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a good tactical implementer who gets a lot of stuff done.

There are thousands of successful design firms and small ad agencies that have no strategic thinkers at all. The account executives work with the client and coordinate the list of tactics they’re given. The creative specialists — writers, graphic designers, web programmers, SEO guys, photographers, and social media specialists execute those tactical projects.

That can work well for companies that already have a well-defined brand and a clear-cut marketing strategy. But it doesn’t work if the business owner doesn’t have her story spelled out on paper. In that case, those creative implementers will spin their wheels and go through a lot of false starts before they hit on something that strikes a chord with the client.

Launching a FaceBook contest is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. (And by the way, it’s not an effective tactic if you think it’ll replace other forms of paid advertising.)

Social-Media-Cartoon-Top-640x-940x350“Content Marketing” is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. One of many things on your to-do list that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Producing and running a Super Bowl commercial is a tactic.

Deciding which product or service to focus on, in that Super Bowl commercial, is strategy.

The most common mistake in marketing strategy is a lack of focus. A strong strategy demands focus, but a most business owners want to be all things to all people in their particular niche.

I was talking with a real estate firm the other day and they had all their “specialties” listed on their site; “First time home buyers. Second time home buyers. Golf homes. Down-sizers. Upscale, low scale, middle of the road scale. Nothing was left out, which made the whole idea of specialization ridiculous.

Time to start swimming upstream!

But strategic thinking is tough. It involves hard decisions and thoughtful contemplation that many business owners simply don’t have time for. The most important strategic “what-if” question you can ask yourself is this: What are you going to hang your hat on? What’s the ONE thing that you can shout from the rooftops? What if it’s this? What if it’s that?

Imagine that you can only advertise your business on billboards along the freeway. You get one idea and one idea only. Five words max. Otherwise, no one whizzing by at 65 will see it. Good luck with that. Distilling your strategy down to that level is a rare talent.

If you make the strategic decision to NOT specialize, your tactical execution will suffer dearly. Generalizations never work as well as specifics, and when you’re “targeting” “men and women age 35 to 64” you’re really talking to no one. In that case, a good advertising team will simply ignore the strategy-that’s-not-really-a-strategy, and hone in on one very specific idea.

Occasionally, some great business strategies come out of this process. Purely by accident. But it’s much more efficient to have your marketing strategy mapped out first and then match the tactics to that.

Think strategically. Act Tactical.

If you need help thinking strategically, or executing any of your marketing tactics, don’t hesitate to call BNBranding. 541-815-0075

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15 Successful brands are built on beliefs. Not products.

Most people never think about the important underpinings of their brand. They just want to deliver a good product. Build the business. Make some sales. And earn a good living.

That’s understandable. But the most successful small businesses — and all the beloved, billion-dollar brands — are built on a solid foundation of shared values and beliefs. And those values go way beyond product attributes. Continue reading

3 Three logical reasons why brands need more emotional thinking.

In the battle between right-brained marketing people, and left-brained finance people, the left brainers usually win.

Our entire culture is driven by the left-brained rationalists. They have data, spreadsheets, and the graphs to support their decisions. We have gut instinct, intuition, experience and taste.

But we also have some good, empirical evidence that suggests the analytical approach really isn’t the way to go when it comes to many business decisions. Especially when it comes to advertising, marketing and brand personality.

Dodge Viper brand marketings Chrysler

The Dodge Viper was not an analytical decision.

Bob Lutz, former CEO of Chrysler and Vice Chairman of GM, said he vetoed the finance guys and made a gut decision to develop the Dodge Viper.

In a Harvard Business Review column, Lutz said “There were those at Chrysler who thought the budget could be spent more prudently, but those of us who looked at it from a right-brained, emotional perspective saw what the car could do for the company.”

“The best companies balance the perspectives from both sides of the brain when making decisions. The problems occur when the left brainers wield too much power in senior management.”

So here are some good, logical reasons to embrace emotional, right brain thinking in your business.

1. There is no such thing as a completely rational decision.

Don’t kid yourself. Even when CEOs methodically assess every detail of raw data and attempt to be completely rational there’s still an element of gut instinct at work.

Spock-like analysis is tainted by knowledge of who did the spread sheets, where the data came from, what other, similar data they’ve used in the past, and a dozen other factors.

Humans make decisions in the blink of an eye, and every one is influenced by a hundred factors, beyond the facts.

We like to think we’re rational and fair in our decision making, but we’re not. The human brain reaches conclusions before we even know it has happened.

Before any conscious thought or choice occurs, we feel something. Something emotional and completely irrational. It might be curiosity. Amusement. Desire. Arousal, Or, quite possibly, repulsion.

So before anyone has a chance to analyze any of the facts, the adaptive unconscious has already sent a gut reaction coursing through their veins.

The conscious, analytical brain doesn’t have a chance.

In Harry Beckwith’s book You, Inc. he says, “People don’t think, they stereotype. They don’t conclude, they categorize. They don’t calculate, they assume.” And they do it quickly.

Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller Blink is all about that.

2. Simple is better.

An analytical approach to marketing communications is inherently more complex than an emotional approach. And in the battle between complexity and simplicity, simplicity wins every time.

When the guys in the white lab coats start wagging the marketing dog, you get fact-filled ads and mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations devoid of any emotion at all.

In the absence of emotional context, listeners/viewers/users simply check out and move on to something that does resonate subconsciously.

Say you’re pitching a new idea to your bosses, or to a group of investors. You’ve analyzed the problem from every angle. You’ve devised a brilliant solution and written a compelling argument for it, backed with tons of data.

But you never get past the snap judgment. By the time you get to slide #5 of 75, they’ve already made up their minds. Believe me, I’ve been there.

People don’t wait around for their analytical brain to kick in and say, hey, this is worth my time. The gut feeling of irrelevance has already won out. And that gut feeling is far more powerful than any most people care to admit.

3. Sometimes the data is just plain wrong.

The market research industry has revealed many useful facts over the years. But when it comes to predicting how new ideas or new products will be received, market research data often misses the mark.

Market research could not predict the success of this chair

When the Herman Miller Company first designed the Aeron chair, all the pre-launch research pointed to a dismal failure. It didn’t look comfortable. It didn’t look prestigious. People didn’t even want to sit in it.

It became the best selling chair in the history of the company and the inspiration for countless knock-offs and imitators.

And what about the famous marketing debacle called New Coke…

“Coke’s problem was that the guys in the white lab coats took over,” Malcom Gladwell said.

First, Pepsi launched something called The Pepsi Challenge, and proved that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over the taste of Coke. It was a brilliant move in the Cola Wars, and it provoked a bit of panic from Coke.

For the first time history, the folks at Coke started messing around with their famous, patented formula. They tweaked it and tested new versions until they had something that beat the flavor of old coke in every taste test.

The executives were absolutely sure they should change the formula to make it sweeter, like Pepsi. The market research showed people would buy it. But as Gladwell says, in the most important decisions, there is no certainty.

It’s not the flavor that sells so much Coke. It’s the unconscious associations people have with it, including the advertising, the shape of the bottle, the brand’s heritage, the childhood memories associated with it… It’s THE BRAND!

The guys in the white lab coats at Coke-a-Cola didn’t take the brand into account, and they could not possibly imagine the fallout.

No one knew how much Coke-a-Cola was truly loved until it was taken off the shelves and replaced with “better tasting” New Coke.

This was 1985 — way before Twitter, Facebook and blogs — and still, the company was deluged with immediate customer rants. “How dare you!” was the overwhelming sentiment.

Sergio Zyman, CMO at Coke-a-Cola at the time, called it “an enormous mess.” It took the company only 77 days to reverse their decision, and go back to the original, “Coke Classic.”

New Coke marketing failure

One of the all-time biggest branding failures

The fact is, if the leadership at Coke had listened to their instincts, instead of just the data, they never would have done it.

Which brings me back to Bob Lutz who said the all-powerful voice of finance is a familiar enemy to innovation.

“It’s a classic example left-brained thinking shooting its pencil-sharp arrows straight into the heart of right-brained creativity.”

 

4 Class A Offices. Class C Websites.

Moved into a swanky new office building last week. (Great views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, Three Sisters and the Phoenix Inn parking lot.)

BNBranding new office building

The Alexander Drake Building, Downtown Bend, OR

As I was unpacking boxes, lifting heavy furniture and contemplating the feng shui, it occurred to me that office makeovers are much easier than website makeovers.

Professional service firms spend a lot of time and money on their office space. And rightly so. For companies with no tangible product to sell, it’s a crucial component of the brand.

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 people in cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, better, or more energized than their own office. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.

For architects the office is an everyday opportunity to show off their work. It’s exhibit A in the firm portfolio.

For attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $350 an hour.

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.

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly. They walked through the offices, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the firm that “felt the best” based on that one visit.

The 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?

When was the last time you freshened things up around your office? Sometimes a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning is just what your people need to get reenergized… Rearrange the furniture. Paint some walls. Change up the artwork. Shuffle offices around. Freak people out!

And what about your website? Many professional service firms with Class A office space still have old, Class C websites. If so, you need a website makeover. Because these days, your site might be more more important than your space.

Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see on your site and what they experience at your office? Be honest. If there is, you should read this post on conversion branding. Then call me.

Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain websites that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overlook their own brand personality.

And vice-versa. Banks, utilities and public agencies work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable online, then disappoint everyone when it comes to actual human interaction. The customer service can’t live up to the brand promise.

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

Easier said than done.

You can’t just re-write the copy of the “about us” section and call it good web makeover. You have 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.

That should be the inspiration for your website redesign, as well as your office revamp. Not the latest advances in widget technology or a new line of Herman Miller office chairs.

It’s the message, stupid!

Getting the message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is the single most important goal for your website makeover. Far more important than impressing people with technology. (Unless you’re in the technology business.)

So before you sign a lease on a new office space or launch a website initiative, go back to your brand book for inspiration.

If you don’t have one, call me.

3 The Olympics — The world’s most powerful brand?

I love the Winter Olympics.

I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous gold medal run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I have to admit, I even watch some of the ice skating. (But no Ice Dancing.)

The summer games are fun too, and it’ll be fun to watch the London Games, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. A diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as compelling as a guy on skis doing a triple with five twists.

Gotta land on your feet and ski away when doing a “Hurricane”.

Olympics branding Vancouver Winter GamesThe Vancouver Games delivered everything I expected from the Olympics, and a little bit more. The event started on a very sad note, with the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luge competitor from Georgia. Only one other luge driver has ever died in Olympic competition.

But there have been other unfortunate mishaps over the years. Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996.

Every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002. As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

In the last 10 years the pricetag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $5.7 Billion for television rights through 2012. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth.

Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands.

If you’re trying to build a brand of any kind, keep these things in mind, every day:

• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the million-dollar endorsement deals but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.)

The authenticity is obvious in the post-run interviews… The athletes are articulate, less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sport, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NFL.

And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handled things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.

Toyota could learn a thing or two.

Winter olympics in Vancouver Whistler Canada• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.

There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. You’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing, it’s not about them. It’s about The Games.

The competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand.

• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.

The characters change, individual events evolve, but at The Olympics, the themes remain consistent.

There’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — uphill — then stop and shoot, without missing.

For people who never ski, it’s hard to relate to ski racing of any kind. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute program. It looks too easy.

And even though most people can’t relate, they still watch. The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. This year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by Shawn White and Apollo Anton Ohno.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

But the Olympic brand is much richer and more meaningful than that.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. When you watch the Olympics, and get sucked into the storylines, you can see what they mean.

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