Here’s something I heard from a graphic designer recently: “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally.” No she’s not. She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference. Let’s get the terminology straight.
A brand identity job typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”
In fact, the logo is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Brand is everything above AND below the surface… The vast, floating mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work.
Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that. Deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.
The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.
The sum of all those parts is the Brand.
The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind. Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future.
The consumer’s idea of your brand is based more on history and personal experience, where one bad experience skews the whole picture.
The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding” combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.
Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”
The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.
You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand.
Branding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand; If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.
Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.
So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.
I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.
Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…
“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said. “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing. I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”
Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on. It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.
That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.
Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.
It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…
“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.” “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”
Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy. The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.
Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.
When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.
Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses. They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer. The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.
Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.
Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.
Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.
So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that… Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?
Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.
Clarity is the key to many things… relationships, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity. But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Business Clarity. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising marketing communications and management in general.
Doesn’t matter what form of communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.
Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. Complication. Cool persuasion vs. a lot of hot air. Straight talk vs. bullshit. And it starts with your internal communications.
Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.
A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity causes enormous frustration. So managers need to set clear goals for the company, the teams, and every individual in every department.
When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle. So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.
Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.
Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things: Whatto say, and how to say it. The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the copywriter and the art director. They can’t do their job if they’re not clear on the strategy.
Easier said than done. Most business owners are a quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics. If you need help with that, call me.
Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.
“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks. “Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…”
No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats. Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo.
Take time to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t! Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement.
Want traction for your startup? Find a name that’s clear.
Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name.”How do you spell that?” “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”
Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business – search.
Then there are these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli. That’s just confusion waiting to happen.
Want advertising that actually drives sales?Be clear, and overt, about the value proposition.
Not just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.
Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with the value proposition. Then go to strategy. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads.
Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.
When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer. and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear. There can be no confusion. You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.
Want a presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides.
Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies in the war against confusion. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor. Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.
The marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.
Most clients I know don’t stand a chance. They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one. Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.
Just look at all the “marketing opportunities” out there…
There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, article marketing, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding, blue ocean marketing, blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that doesn’t even get us through the first two letters of the alphabet.
It’s nuts. Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 20 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.
I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics… Those so-called marketing opportunities turn into time sucking nightmares.
Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.
Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.
Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.
Ecommerce information on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster ecommerce sales.
High dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!
A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely – who can’t possibly afford the product.
Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.
Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.
So what are you supposed to do? How can you find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?
First of all, you need a little knowledge on the subject. Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing.
Second, find someone you trust implicitly. There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time. So get references. Start small and test the waters before you commit to a long-term contract.
Third, accept their outside perspective as a positive. It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.” They may not know it as well as you do, but what he DOES know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring them for. He can learn the ins and outs of your operation as he goes.
Set clear goals, expectations and metrics. Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.
Start with strategy, not tactics. Social Media marketing is not a strategy. Digital advertising is not a strategy. If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to outsource your marketing. (Or at least read this post:)
Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.
I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me. He has, literally, read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and travelled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. And yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely. But he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him maximize every marketing opportunity that he actually chooses.
For more insight on how to manage the complex marketing landscape, try THIS post.
If you want help navigating it all, call BNBranding.
Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. Too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.
Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.
Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.
Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.
Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the bullshit.
Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively. Terrible execution though. The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.
Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.
If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.
Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will. Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.
A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information… unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision. “Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”
The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.
And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.
“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.
“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”
I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”
The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.
So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!
Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. These are branding fundamentals. When you look at companies — large and small — that have become successful brands, you’ll notice strength, consistency and often superiority in those three areas.
Branding Fundamental #1: Relevance.
Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone. My friend Preston Thompson painstakingly crafts high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound.
Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar. Duh! But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.
Wisely, Preston and his team don’t worry about that. The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and trying to be relevant to a broad audience of musicians, they’re staying esoterically focused. Relevant to few, but highly valued.
The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most.
Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target. Ten years ago Blackberry was a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.
Relevance in the restaurant business is also ridiculously fleeting. Foodies, who are the bread and butter of the trendy restaurant scene, suffer from a severe case of “been there done that” syndrome. So when something new comes along, they’re gone and the hottest restaurant of the year gets quickly supplanted by the next great thing. The restaurants that thrive in the long run find an audience after the foodies have left the building.
Sears is still relevant to a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years. It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of commerce. High school age girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.
Sometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives. It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, or Kool Aid in the summer.
The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance. It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?
Being relevant equates to being meaningful. If your brand is meaningful, you’ll generate interest. People will desire it. And they’ll take action. That’s what you want: Interest. Desire. Action.
Many brands fail because they didn’t really mean anything to begin with. Others lose their meaning over time, often due to a lack of credibility. They haven’t mastered the branding fundamentals.
Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility
Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down.
It’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)
Good sales people often gloss over the realities of delivery in order to get the sale. Like the famous line from an old FedEx ad… “We can do that. Sure, we can do that! (How we gonna do that?”) Every time you over-promise and come up short, your credibility takes a hit.
Instead, set realistic expectations. And if things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to say, “yeah, we really screwed up.” And do it quickly! In this world of social media you have to move fast to stay ahead of any bad news.
So let’s assume that you know yourself well and you’ve established a trusted brand. The easiest way to screw it up is to advertise something you’re NOT. Like a personal injury lawyer claiming to be friendly and honest.
And if you really want to compound the problem, try using a celebrity of questionable credibility. That’s a double whammy! Every brand affiliation reflects on your credibility.
Often what you’ll see is advertising based on wishful thinking rather than brand realities or customer insight. The ego of the business owner clouds the message that gets out and harms the credibility of the company. Ego is also a common culprit when it comes to differentiation… CEOs and business owners start thinking they can do anything.
Branding Fundamental #3: Differentiation.
The best brands take the conventional thinking of their industry and throw it on its ear, disrupting everything that came before. They discard the age-old excuse; “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”
You cannot differentiate your brand by watching the rear-view mirror or by following the lead of others in your industry. Instead, try the convention-disruption model… Think about the standard operating procedures and practices of your industry – the conventional approach – and do something else.
There are three key areas where differentiation can produce some dramatic business gains:
The best marketing programs begin with products designed to be different from the get-go. There are plenty of ice cream brands out there, but only one with the crazy, mixed-up flavors of “Late Night Snack.” Ben & Jerry’s continually differentiates itself with its creativity in the flavor department.
If you have me-too products you can still differentiate yourself through operational innovation. Be more efficient, more employee-friendly, more environmentally conscious, whatever. For Walmart procurement and supply chain management was the differentiator. That’s what enables them to keep prices so low.
Business Model Differentiation
This is a good option that applies mostly to start-ups. If you can find a better business model, and prove that it works, investors will notice. But keep in mind, consumers might not know the difference, so you still have to do other things well.
In crowded markets with many similar offerings it’s often the advertising and marketing programs that push one brand to the front of the pack. Additionally, in advertising circles there are three areas where you can differentiate yourself: Strategy, media, or creative execution.
Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation. The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.
RCD. Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Most companies are lucky to get one or two out of three. The greatest brands are three for three.
I think all entrepreneurs should study advertising. Entrepreneurs are full of ideas, and advertising is an industry of ideas…
Ideas on how to build a brand. How to build credibility and authenticity for existing brands. How to engage an audience and convert leads into sales. It’s those big ideas — paired with exceptional execution — that produce growth for clients and vault agencies into the national spotlight.
The same can be said for start-ups. Businesses that start with a big idea, and then stick to it, are the ones that become iconic brands.
Maytag owns the idea of worry-free appliances. For more than 30 years their advertising has communicated dependability brilliantly with the lonely, Maytag repairman who never has anything to do. Now he even has an apprentice. The Leo Burnett Agency recently introduced a strapping new version of Maytag repairman… a side-kick who can talk about technological advancements and appeal to younger women.
The Maytag repairman character is so iconic Chevy actually used him in a television spot touting the Impala’s reliability. Maytag owns the idea. Chevy’s just borrowing it.
Maytag’s core brand idea helps segment the market and differentiate them from the competition. Nobody else in that category will try to claim the idea of “reliability.” Won’t work.
Google knows how to build a brand. They own the idea of online search. So much so, it’s become a verb. “Google it.” It’s the world at your fingertips.
Campbell’s owns the idea of “comfort food.” That brand is not about flavor, it’s about the rainy day when your kids are home for lunch and you sit down for a bowl of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Campbell’s warms, comforts, nourishes, takes you back in time and puts a smile on your face.
For only about one dollar.
Volvo owns the idea of safety. That’s their clearly perceived position in the automotive market.
Even though driving an automobile is inherently risky, people believe they are safe in a Volvo. And that belief feeds the folklore that sustains that idea and brand image. Even though Volvo models have all the glamorous features of a luxury brand, they’ll never be seen as luxury cars.
Just safe cars.
Funny story about Volvo shopping… Some years ago I seriously considered buying a Volvo SUV for my family. I did the research and went to the local lot for a test drive. But the salesman blew it. He was so adamant about the brand’s safety record, he tried to convince me that Volvo actually used Swedish convicts as live test dummies.
True story, he claimed. That’s how Volvo developed such a safe car… by crashing them with convicts at the wheel. Needless to say, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s luxurious ride couldn’t trump the salesman’s idiocy. I bought an Audi.
When Subway started they owned the idea of healthy fast food. It was healthier than McDonalds, and Jerod lost like a thousand pounds just by eating Subway Sandwiches.
Now Jimmy John’s owns the idea of FAST sandwiches. Not fast food, or sandwiches like Subway, but sandwiches delivered quickly, wherever you may be.
That’s a good strategy of differentiation, especially because their sandwiches aren’t all that great. If they stick with the idea, and execute the idea religiously by actually delivering every sandwich faster than anyone expects, they’ll have a winning business formula.
It’s a core brand concept that’s easily demonstrable in advertising. And that’s particularly important when it’s a category of parity. The sandwiches at Quiznos, Tomo’s, Jimmy John’s and Subway are all pretty much the same.
Insurance in another such category. It’s a fairly even playing field in a low-involvement category. (Let’s face it, dealing with insurance is about as much fun as going to the dentist.)
Allstate owns the idea of mayhem. In their current advertising campaign the agency put a face on mayhem, and gave him a smart-ass personality. Everybody knows somebody like that, you just hope your daughter doesn’t date the guy
State Farm has a long-running slogan, “like a good neighbor.” Unfortunately, neither the advertising nor the customer service support that idea.
Geico saturates the airwaves with humorous advertising and outspends everyone in the insurance category. Thanks to an annual budget of $500 million a year the Geico Gecko and the cavemen have become fixtures in American pop culture. But the message is all over the place. There’s no core brand idea that anyone can grasp.
Guess who owns the idea of sparkling white teeth? It’s not Colgate. Not Crest. Not a toothpaste, at all. It’s Orbit chewing gum, a fairly new brand from the master marketers at Wrigleys. The Orbit girl “cleaning up dirty mouths” campaign helped them capture the #1 spot in the chewing gum market.
(I think Orbit copied the Progressive Insurance advertising. Progressive is the sparkling white insurance brand, for whatever that’s worth.)
Coming up with a core brand concept is hard work. You really have to dig. And think. And explore.
Most of the good ideas have already been done, or can’t be owned, authentically. That’s the trick… finding a conceptual framework that honestly fits with your product or service offering. (BNBranding can help you with that.)
Many big brands don’t own an idea at all. JCPenny, or JCP as they’d like us to say, doesn’t own an idea. They’re trying desperately to be younger, cooler and more hip than they used to be, but the name change and the slick new execution of of their print advertising doesn’t make up for the lack of idea ownership.
Whether you’re selling insurance or chewing gum, building a brand begins with a simple idea.
Anybody can borrow some money, hang up a shingle and start their own business. But the companies that last, and become iconic brands, almost always start with a clearly defined, highly demonstrable idea that goes beyond just the product or service.
I’m appalled. A successful marketing guy asked me a question recently — a real no-brainer — which led me to believe he didn’t know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.
How can that be?
He’s held several high-paying marketing positions. He’s college educated in Marketing 101. And 301, for that matter. He’s gotta know this stuff.
So I started doing some research online and I’ve found the problem: The internet!
There’s more misinformation than information out there. More nonsense than common sense.
Even some of the biggest gurus in the industry have posted misleading information on the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.
For instance, I ran across one article that listed “search engines” as a marketing strategy and said that “long-term strategies such as giving away freebies will continue to pay off years down the road.”
No wonder the guy’s confused. Freebies are NOT a strategy.
This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s negligence. Advice like that would never get past the editors of a brand-name business magazine, but you can find it on-line.
In any case, the easiest way to clarify the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is to go to the source. I’m sorry if the war analogy doesn’t appeal to you, but that’s where these terms came from, some 3,000 years ago.
Here’s how it breaks down: Goals first. Then strategy. Then tactics.
Goal: Win the war.
Strategy: “Divide and conquer.”
CIA spies gather intelligence.
Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.
Paratroopers secure the airports.
Armored Divisions race in and divide the opposing army’s forces.
Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.
An overwhelming force of infantry invade.
A marketing strategy is an idea… A conceptualization of how the goal could be achieved. Like “Divide and Conquer.” Another possible war strategy would be “Nuke ‘Em.” (They call them Strategic Nuclear Weapons because they pretty much eliminate the need for any further battlefield tactics.)
A marketing tactic is an action you take to execute the strategy.
But let’s get off the battlefield and look at a successful brand. In business, great strategies are built on BIG ideas. And BIG ideas usually stem from some little nugget of consumer insight.
Back in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their popular Arm & Hammer baking soda were slipping. The loyal moms and grandmas who had been buying the same baking soda all their lives weren’t baking as much as they used to.
Business Goal: Turn the tide and increase Baking Soda sales.
Strategy: Devise new reasons for their current customers to pick up that yellow box at the supermarket and use more baking soda. Specifically, sell Arm & Hammer as a deodorizer for the fridge.
That’s a big, strategic idea that led Arm & Hammer in a completely different direction. They’re now marketing a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Every current Arm & Hammer product, from toothpaste to cat litter, originated from that strategy of finding new ways to use baking soda. And in the process, an old-fashioned brand has managed to stay relevant.
Tactics: All the traditional marketing tactics were employed… TV advertising. Magazine ads. Digital advertising. Search engine marketing. Content marketing. Retail promotions. Website dedicated to all the various uses of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
All good marketing strategies share some common components:
• Thorough understanding of the brand’s status and story.
Arm & Hammer has a strong heritage that dates back to the 1860’s. That yellow box with the red Arm & Hammer logo is instantly recognizable, and stands for much more than just generic sodium bicarbonate.
• A realistic assessment of the product’s strengths & weaknesses.
Market research proved what Arm & Hammer executives suspected… that people don’t bake as much as they used to. But it also showed that people were using their baking soda for all kinds of things besides baking. That was the insight that drove the strategy.
• A clear picture of the competition.
Arm & Hammer has always been the undisputed market leader in the category. However, when they decided to introduce toothpaste and laundry detergent, the competition became fierce. Arm & Hammer’s long-standing leadership position in one vertical market gave them a fighting chance against Procter & Gamble.
• Intimate knowledge of the consumer and the market.
The shift away from the traditional American homemaker directly affected baking soda sales. Church & Dwight kept up with the trends, and even led the charge on environmental issues.
• A grasp of the big-picture business implications.
Good brand strategies reach way beyond the marketing department. When you have a big idea, execution of the strategy will inevitably involve operations, R&D, HR, finance and every other business discipline.
A great strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics for success. If the idea is strong enough, you can get by with mediocre tactical execution. (Although I wouldn’t recommend tactical short cuts.)
However, even the best tactics can’t compensate for a lousy strategy. You can waste a lot of money on tactics if there’s no cohesive strategy involved.
Some people confuse marketing strategy with marketing objectives. They are not synonymous. Here are a few examples of “marketing strategies” from seemingly credible on-line sources:
“Create awareness.” “Overcome objections.” “Boost consumer confidence.” “Refresh the brand.” “Turnkey a multiplatform communications program.” That’s just marketing industry jargon!
These are NOT strategies, they’re goals. (And not even very good goals.) Remember, it’s not a strategy unless there’s an idea behind it.
Any number of strategies can be used to achieve a business goal. In fact, it often takes more than one strategy to achieve a lofty goal, and each strategy involves its own unique tactical plan. Unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers simply throw together a list of the tactics they’ve always used, and call it a strategy.
If you’re still wondering about the difference between marketing strategy and tactics, try the “what-if” test…
At Dominoes, someone said, “Hey, what if we guaranteed 30-minute delivery?” Dominoes couldn’t compete on product quality or price, but they could compete on speedy delivery.
So a strategy was born.
After that, their entire operation revolved around the promise of 30-minute delivery. They built a hell of a strategy around a simple, tactical idea. That strategy worked well for more than 20 years until a lawsuit forced them to abandon it. Now Jimmy John’s owns the “Super fast delivery” niche in the fast food industry.
At Arm & Hammer someone asked, “What if we could come up with a bunch of new uses for baking soda?” That’s a strategy.
On the other hand, “What if we do search engines?” doesn’t make sense. Must be a tactic.
“What if we increase market share?” There’s no idea in that, so it must be a goal.
What if we could screen all web content for factual errors and eliminate some of this confusion? Wouldn’t that be nice.
In the 1970’s Al Ries and Jack Trout popularized the concept of positioning strategy. Since then, they’ve written dozens of spin-off books, including Focus, The Immutable Laws of Marketing, Bottom Up Marketing, and even Re-Positioning.
Still, you could have a roomful of MBA’s and no two would agree on what positioning really means. Many people can’t even decide if the word is an active verb or a proper noun.
Most people think of positioning as a simple step ladder. The cheapest, lowest-end products are “positioned” at the bottom of the ladder, and the best, most expensive products are on the top shelf, if you will.
But positioning has little to do with real price or quality. Instead, it’s all about perception.
Positioning happens in the brain, not in the boardroom.
The whole concept of positioning is based on the simple fact that we form opinions about products and companies based on our own perception. These opinions are influenced by all sorts of things… word of mouth, personal experience, individual prejudices, blogs, the marketing efforts of the brand in question and a hundred other factors.
In our own minds we make some pretty broad — and often rash — assumptions about things. Call it consumer bigotry if you want to. The fact is, we pigeon hole companies and products the same way we pigeon hole political candidates.
As marketers, our goal is to tap into these existing perceptions and use them to our advantage.
Here’s a classic example. Back in1968, before the term positioning was ever invented, the makers of 7-Up scored a huge coup in the soft drink market.
Taste tests and other forms of consumer research revealed that people saw 7-Up as a refreshing alternative to colas. Respondents said it flat out… “it’s a nice change from all the cola I’ve been drinking.”
So the 7-Up executives decided to market the drink as the alternative to cola. It was a no-brainer, really. They simply took the existing perception in the marketplace and turned it into their strategy.
Like all good positioning strategies, 7Up’s was simple and almost painfully obvious. Once the executives at 7-Up knew what consumers were thinking, there was no other way to go.
The creative execution of the strategy, however, was not so obvious. J. Walter Thompson’s simple two-word slogan “The UnCola” said it all. Brilliant! The campaign gave the product a personality, cemented the idea in our collective consciousness, and assured 7Up a place in advertising history.
From a positioning standpoint this strategy worked remarkably well for several reasons. First, it didn’t attempt to change anyone’s perception. It simply leveraged the existing public opinion.
Secondly, it effectively repositioned the competition. Without slamming them, 7-Up lumped Coke, Pepsi and RC all together in a single boring category of colas.
Finally, the new strategy made 7Up relevant to the young people who account for a large portion of soft drink sales. The campaign tapped into the prevalent anti-establishment mind set of the late 60’s. It actively encouraged defiance against the cola establishment and portrayed 7-Up as a symbol of dissent. The entire campaign summarized the popular values of the public and catapulted 7-Up into the position as the third leading soft drink in America.
While it is possible to build a positioning strategy around images alone, it’s usually a few simple words like “The Uncola” that solidify things in the consumer’s mind. Because you don’t “position” a product, you communicate its position.
“Just Do It” communicates Nike’s position as the shoe for serious sports. “Pizza Pizza” is a fun way to communicate Little Ceasar’s low-price strategy. “Avis, we try harder” communicated the benefit of being number two in the rental car business.
On the other hand, many automobile companies have struggled with their positioning strategy. Oldsmobile, the now defunct GM brand, is a good example.
In its last 14 years, Oldsmobile floated no fewer than ten different slogans. Here’s a few of the real gems: “Olds Quality. Feel it.” “Demand Better.” “Look what happens when you demand better.” “Defy Convention.” “It knows the road.”
Ironically, the slogan that’s most memorable is the only one that even hints at the reality of Oldsmobile’s perception with American car buyers. “This is not your father’s Olds” used the old, fuddy-duddy perception of Oldsmobile and spun it in a positive way. Maybe if they’d have stuck with it for more than a year, the brand would still be alive today.
You wonder what kind of research Cadillac executives did that led them to believe they could compete with Honda and Toyota in the small car market. The Cimmeron failed miserably back in the 80’s. Then they’re tried again in the 90’s with Caterra, “The Caddi that zigs.” Nobody believed that!
Now they’re trying to compete against BMW, Audi and Mercedez. GM finally got the product right with the CTS, but it’s still a classic case of force-feeding a product into a position in the market. Cadillac as a sports car just does not compute with the American public. It goes against everything Cadillac has ever stood for. The world’s biggest, most luxurious SUV is one thing, but we’ll never buy the concept of a small, sporty Cadillac.
On the same vein, Porsche is off track trying to compete in the SUV market. “The Porsche of SUV’s” has a nice ring to it, but it will never really resonate with the public that sees Porsche as a rich-man’s sports car. What’s next, Chateaubriand at McDonald’s?
There’s an important distinction to be made here between niche marketing and positioning. Cadillac can decide to focus on the luxury sports car niche and can build a car specifically for that purpose. But that does not mean the product will ever be perceived that way in the minds of the consumer. The problem is, Audi and BMW already occupy that space in the consumer’s mind.
Here’s another trap that many companies fall into: They mistake their mission statement for a positioning strategy.
Fortune-500 companies miss the boat all the time on this. There’s a giant health care provider that recently formed an internal committee to study the “position” of the company and draft a “positioning strategy.” What they came up with was a mission statement at best.
But your mission — your statement of purpose — may have nothing to do with your position in the market place. And vice versa.
A mission statement is concocted by a committee and exists in corporate brochures, annual reports, and press releases. A positioning statement is formed in the consumer’s mind. A mission statement is the rose-colored view of your company. A positioning statement is the gritty, 16mm view.
No doubt, the semantics of positioning and positioning strategy can get confusing. But if you want to hedge your bets, think of it this way:
Positioning is not something you do, it’s something that happens. You can choose a narrow market niche, devise a new pricing strategy and launch a giant ad campaign that, together, may affect people’s perception of you. But you can’t technically “position” anything.