Category Archives for "Tactical Marketing"

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

I’m a big proponent of market research.

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

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

4 The 4 P's of Internet Marketing. Plus one B.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of businesses are started with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat. But a few will rise to meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)

What’s the difference? Why do some e-biz start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?

Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail: They ignore the most basic tenets of internet marketing and brand management.

Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything you learned in Marketing 101. Apparently, the rules no longer apply.

Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because there’s a new kind of superhighway. You just have to take a little different route.

Take, for example, the 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place & Promotion. It’s an old- school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should seriously consider.

The original 4 Ps

But first, let’s look at the originals that make up the marketing mix:

1. Product
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.” In 2012, it’ll happen in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer generated reviews will quickly doom products that don’t deliver as promised. So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.

Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product.

Not anymore. These days your product or service has to be among the best in class Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built right in to your core product or service.

Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”

Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!

Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important aspect of marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, the Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.

Price.

I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:

First, there’s the economy. Consumers are being forced to pinch pennies and embrace the new frugality.

2. The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged.

3. In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies can’t charge anything.

4. It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Wal Mart, forget about it! There’s always someone waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.

So you have to go back to the first P. You have to devise a product or service that’s worth more than your competitor’s.

Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand. And no economic downturn should ever change that.

Place.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product.
This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan. Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.

That’s a big idea. A purple cow.

Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still an important consideration. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…

Will you sell on Amazon? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell directly to consumers? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Promotion.
Historically, the fourth P hinged mostly on mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales, telemarketing, PR and sales promotions, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.

These days, a lot of people seem to think SEO is synonymous with marketing.
But SEO is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of others you should consider.

Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four choices — TV, radio, print or outdoor — you now have blogging, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other online options to throw into the mix.

And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.

But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement.

So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of the marketing mix. Think you can afford to ignore any of them? What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. Too inwardly focused.

So here’s a new P for your consideration: Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.

Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1960’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people. Mom and Pop.
How do you do that?

It’s market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.

Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice. You can do it in person with your front-line employees. On the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter.

The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that’s what weaves all the other Ps together.

You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.

Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s and one capital B: Branding.
It’s all Branding.

Need help getting that new perspective you need for the new year? Call me. 541-815-0075. You can also follow the Brand Insight Blog on Twitter: Brandsight.

1 A bad idea for brands: The logo contest.

Sometimes the most powerful case studies fall into the “what NOT to do” category. Take, for instance, a new branding initiative from the Australian Ministry of Tourism.

It’s a big deal down under.

This isn’t some neighborhood non-proft looking for a new logo for their newsletter. This is a multi-national marketing effort for a nation of 21 million people that consistently ranks as one of the world’s most popular nation-brands.

They’re going to spend 20 million dollars next year promoting their new brand to the rest of the world. And they’re launching the effort with a logo contest. Grand prize: $2500.

What’s wrong with that picture? How much great branding work do you suppose they’ll get in exchange for a slim chance at $2500?

The problem with contests is they attract the youngest, hungriest designers with the skinniest portfolios around. Serious pros won’t touch it because it’s not enough money and the odds of success are too slim.

The Austrailian government received 362 entries and have now culled the uruly collection down to only 200 or so. (to see some entries click here: )

http://www.designbay.com/brand-australia-contest/

Beyond Kangaroos... Australia's new brand

But I’m not even going to address the subjective, artistic side of this. (I think the samples say it all.) Instead, let’s look at the steps in the branding process that are always ignored in a contest environment. Like brand strategy and a clearly defined creative brief.

Here’s what the brief says for the Australian assignment:

“Designers and contest participants should submit ideas for a contemporary Australia brand that captures the essence of the nation and presents Australia as a great place for living, holidaying, education, business, manufacturing, agriculture and investment. Submissions should articulate as clearly as possible Australia’s brand position in the context of the global marketplace and help the Government capture “the vibrancy, energy and creative talents of Australia”.

What brand position? How can they possibly “capture the essence of a nation” when there’s nothing on the website or on any links that even hints at a brand strategy document? The young art school grads are left to figure out the strategy on their own…

“Designers and contest participants may choose to spend time researching Australia and its current brand.”

“May choose to??? Any good branding firm would insist on it.

Research is the foundation of any truly professional branding effort. But the graphic designers who enter contests are not the people doing the research and the strategic thinking. It’s not in their DNA. They’re involved later in the artistic, execution phase. But if you skip the strategic piece, the designers have no direction. They’re just throwing darts, hoping something will stick.

Taglines are always a good reflection of the strategy. If the lines are random, like the list below, the strategy is clearly missing.

Australia “The heart of many nations.”

Australia “Lighting up the world.”

Australia “Make it real.”

Australia “Live it up down under.”

Australia “It’s real noice.”

Australia “The inside story”

Australia “It all happens here.”

Which is it? Without a thorough brand strategy document it’s virtually impossible to judge the 362 taglines in any objective way.

And here’s where it gets really messed up. The public gets to vote! With no strategy, no experience and no information whatsoever, the average Joe gets a say in the branding of a nation.

I’ve often seen the results of these contests fail completely. The client pays the prize money but ends up with nothing useable. Then it’s back to the drawing board with a firm that actually knows what they’re doing.

Developing a brand strategy is not easy. It takes discipline, creativity and thorough research. But it’s a required element for success. Contest or no contest.

3 On-line shopping — The best thing ever for MANkind.

Twenty five years ago I couldn’t imagine getting all my Christmas shopping done from the comfort of the man den. The idea of a world without malls was pure fantasy, right up there with that scene from Flashdance where Jennifer Beals dances in place until she’s raining sweat.

But today, it’s reality. Men really do have an alternative to the drudgery of shopping. It’s called e-commerce.caveman

For men, shopping harkens back to cro-Magnon days when we’d hunt down the things we NEEDED to survive. Men shop alone, in order to be more stealthy and less visible to people who might recognize us. We know what we want and we go out and get it… Essentials like tools, sporting goods and electronic gadgets. It’s a focused, goal-oriented, testosterone-producing activity. But only after the prize is in the bag.

Women go out in groups and gather things they might need someday, during an unusually hard winter. Frivolous stuff like bed skirts and duvet covers. It’s part of their natural, nesting instincts. They can happily browse for hours without buying anything, because shopping fulfills a physical need for women. Recent brain research is conclusive on this… An afternoon at the mall with friends produces oxytocin — a chemical in the brain known as the cuddling hormone.

Googling “bargain jeans” just isn’t the same.

On-line shopping doesn’t offer the same psychological, sociological and even anthropological benefits that women get from traditional shopping trips. Let’s face it, websites are more logical than they are intuitive. The whole on-line thing is more geared to the male brain than the female brain. It’s the nature of the beast.

Few on-line retailers establish the emotional connection women really need. Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that online shopping is more a chore than an escape. “It’s not like you think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto Amazon.com and get transported.”

Koehn said that while traditional retailers have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, online stores have continued to give shoppers a blasé experience. Well guess what… Men don’t care! They’re not looking for an “experience,” they’re looking for a trophy on the wall.

The last thing men need is a true shopping “experience.” That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid all these years. That’s what we know as sitting outside the outlet mall waiting for the women to return after an hour and a half in the Dress Barn.

In better retail environments, lighting, store layout, background music, graphics and good customer service all work together to make shopping a pleasant, sensory experience that appeals to the emotional center of a women’s brain. It’s a real art.

Unfortunately, most on-line stores are slapped together about as well as a Mexican convenience store. If it weren’t for men, half of those sites would be out of business entirely.

According to Forrester Research, men spend more and take less time than women to make on-line purchases. And once a sale is made, men return only 10% of apparel purchases, while women return more than 20%. As to spending, another market research group found that men dropped an average of $2,400 online compared to women who spent closer to $1,500 in the same, three-month span.

Don’t quibble over price, just locate the target and make the kill. Get in get out.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with sites that present a thousand random choices, right off the bat. Too many choices slows the decision-making process and leads to frustration for men. It’s like standing in the beer isle in an Oregon grocery store … there are so many choices of micro-brews it’s almost ridiculous. Ales, IPAs, Hefes, Lagers, Pilsners, Stouts, Browns and Ambers in a crazy array of packages from all over the world. It’s too much information.

That’s one reason men love brand name products, brand name stores, brand name sites and brand-name beer: We trust the brand to narrow the choices for us and provide some degree of quality control. (Anything from Deschutes Brewery is good.)

When I shop at REI, online or offline, I know I don’t have to wade through a bunch of crap before I find the quality products. It’s all good, because it’s REI. In the brick & mortar world, the choices are limited by the physical floor space. An REI shoe buyer has room for only so many different styles and prices points, so that’s all you get to choose from. There’s no such limitations in the on-line world.

Zappos claims to have 1,095 brands, 165,722 styles, 906,874 UPCs and 2,957,471 products. That might work for women who make shoe shopping a pseudo-profession, but guys want those choices narrowed down.

Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of online consumers research their purchases on-line, then buy off-line. This so-called “clicks-and-bricks” hybrid model is classic male behavior. But it’s not really shopping, it’s research.

So where’s it all going?

Less than four percent of all retail sales are currently made on-line — a reassuring stat for traditional retail businesses. If you have an e-commerce company, look at it this way… you’ve hardly scratched the surface.

If your product line and/or brand appeals to women you have to work hard to establish an emotional connection and emulate the mall experience as close as possible. But realize, e-commerce will never replace the real thing.

If your on-line store is more male-oriented your job’s a little easier. Keep your product selection focused — don’t try to be all things to all men. Offer brand name products and establish your own brand as a name to trust.

And give guys a way to avoid the mall altogether… they’ll reward you for it in the end.

6 Predicting consumer behavior… Brand loyalty vs. the whacky, random ways people often buy things.

Corporations spend billions every year trying to predict consumer behavior. Market research firms have sophisticated modeling protocols, ivy league PHDs and multivariate analysis to help them make sense of what is, inherently, nonsensical behavior.

Take, for example, the time my dad decided to replace his rusting Ford pick-up. He drove two hours to the Big City so he’d have plenty of truck dealers to choose from. He spent the weekend kicking tires, braving the onslaught of old-fashioned salesmen and test driving every make and model.

Then he came home in a Toyota Matrix.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

He was 70 at the time! God only knows what possessed him to switch from a pick-up truck to an urban pocket-rocket. The Matrix is more suited to base-thumping car stereo blast-a-thons than my dad’s easy-listening coastal lifestyle.

No one could have predicted it.

In hindsight, I suppose you could say it was consistent with his car-buying history, which is even more erratic than his golf game. I challenge anyone to find a pattern in this list:

1968 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

1970 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon

1973 AMC Hornet

1974 Chevy Vega

1976 Ford LTD 4-door sedan.

1984 Mazada 626

1991 Ford Taurus

1994 Ford F-150 Pickup

2002 Ford Taurus

2007 Toyota Matrix

Obviously, he has no brand loyalty. The only constant is a sedan of some kind for my mom. (I’ve decided he buys cars the same way he buys fruit… Whatever looks good, smells sweet and is on sale at that particular moment.)

You might think that’s a little weird, but research published by University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasio shows that most purchase decisions are almost as random as my dad’s car buying.

Damasio says marketing messages are processed outside the conscious mind. Emotions push us toward decisions we think are best for us, and we often bypass reason because experience endows us with what he calls “somatic markers in the brain.”

Somatic markers are the most likely biological basis for intuition. These pre-recorded behavior guides are based on inherited behavioral traits and formed by experience. When making decisions, somatic markers are triggered, often making reason irrelevant.

So it’s intuition and emotion that drives real life purchasing decisions. Not logic.

As Dr. Dean Shibata put it, “If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible for people to make decisions in everyday life.”

On the other hand, when people are asked hypothetical questions about purchases, as in a focus group, the brain works on a much different, analytical level.

“Instead of the real reason for buying, researchers get a rationalization based on the respondent’s idealized self-image. If they don’t account for this bias, researchers are left with a model based on how people think they ought to be motivated, rather than their actual motivations.”

So beware of market research that demands a rational explanation for irrational behavior.

And here’s another thing that makes consumer behavior hard to predict… Many times we aren’t “qualitatively conscious” of our motivation. “Consumers have limited knowledge of their own values, needs and motivations that affect purchase decisions,” says Neurologist Richard Restack.

So my Dad probably doesn’t even know why he made that decision to drive home in a Matrix.

The point is, all purchases are emotional purchases.

So the next time you’re throwing together a sales presentation, you might want to spend more time trying evoke an emotional response, and less time building charts and graphs.

Reason certainly does play a vital role in the early stages of many buying decisions. But in the end, the actual purchase is entirely emotional.

Here’s an example from my own, personal experience.

I recently bought a new golf club. I’ve read a lot about the new hybrids, and I decided it was time to replace my 5-wood that was never quite right.

So I did some on-line research, studied the reviews in Golf Digest and formulated a short list of clubs to try.

All very thorough and rational.

Then I went to a demo event at a local golf course to see, feel and try them for myself. I ruled out a few right away on a purely subjective basis… what they looked like or how they sounded.

After an hour or so I had it narrowed down to three top contenders. There was very little difference between the three, that I could see. All things being equal, the brand was the tipping point.

After I went through the whole meticulous process, the somatic markers in my brain kicked in, and said “go for it. Get the Nickent. This is the right fit and a good, safe purchase.”

I didn’t choose the biggest selling brand, but one I perceived as being the more specialized upstart. The underdog with an impressive presence on tour. And the company I most admired from a business perspective.

Not exactly a rational decision, when all was said and done. It had nothing to do with the features they tout.

The point is, people are unpredictable. As marketers, the minute you start thinking you really know your audience’s hot buttons and can predict their behavior, forget about it. They throw you a curveball and go for the Matrix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yorba_linda_landfillAvoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

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

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

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

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t let any graphic designer tell you differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 A new spin on the Pepsi logo.

The new Pepsi logo is generating hives of buzz in branding and design circles. It’s not surprising… whenever you start messing around with one of the world’s most recognized commercial icons, people are going to talk.

image_pepsi_newcan1But it’s not like grocery carts are piling up in the beverage isle while soccer moms wax eloquent about the new design aesthetic. The general public could care less. Nope, the initial armchair quarterbacking was limited to graphic design forums and beverage industry trade pubs.

“I love it.”

“I hate it.”

“It looks like the Obama logo.”

“It’s not young enough.”

“It’s static, empty and vaguely bland.”

“It’s demonic brainwashing.”

All the usual responses to a major branding makeover. But now, since the “rationale” for the new logo is circulating on the web, the debate has taken on a viral life of its own.

The 27-page design brief entitled “Breathtaking” reads like a scientific white paper loaded with marketingese and unprecedented levels of highly creative BS. In fact, Fast Company Magazine called it branding lunacy…

“Every page of this document is more ridiculous than the last ending with a pseudo-scientific explanation of how Pepsi’s new branding identity will manifest it’s own gravitational pull.”

The L.A. Times was equally critical:

“Behold, then, the scattered and burning debris field of one of corporate America’s most misbegotten image makeovers… According to the brief, the new Pepsi logo lies along a trajectory of human consciousness that includes in its arc the Vastu Shastra, a 3,000-year-old Hindu architectural guide; Pythagoras (the Golden Section); the Roman architect Vitruvius; the Fibonacci series; Descartes; and Corbusier.”

Oooookay.

Get a load of it at: http://drop.io/pepsipdf/asset/pepsi-gravitational-field-pdf

(Kinda reminds me of the rationale used to justify an empty blue rectangle for the Nationwide Insurance Logo. But in this case, the design itself isn’t that bad.)

Maybe the controversy is what the design firm, Arnell, had in mind all along. There’s talk of the whole thing being a hoax, that Arnell created the document after the fact just to poke fun at their critics and generate media attention. If that’s the case, the stunt has backfired, big time.

The brief makes Arnell look like corporate bandits. It makes Pepsi look bad for buying into the rationale. And it discredits the entire branding industry. It’s hard enough to get c-level executives to take branding seriously, without this kind of nonsense floating around.

Great design speaks for itself. You don’t need a physics thesis to explain it. It just works.

My 11 year-old daughter likes the new Pepsi logo. (Says it makes her happy.) And now that I’ve read the exhaustive brief, I know why…

pepsi-happy-facesIt’s a smiley face! An overanalyzed, underwhelming, million dollar smiley face. It even comes in a variety of grin sizes. (Apparently regular ol’ Pepsi gets a smaller grin than the newer versions of Pepsi, like Pepsi Max. Whatever that is.)

Pepsi’s going to spend more than a billion dollars redoing all their packaging, vending machines, trucks, POP materials and everything else. The new logo’s going to be EVERYWHERE!

So I’m kinda glad Arnell changed the old wavy logo into a smiley face. I’m just not sure about their methods.

Subscribe to my rss feed and get an alert everytime I post. Coming up… more on why ad agency execs and designers just can’t shut up when presenting work.

4 The heart of personal branding.

Personal branding is a hot topic these days. Seems a lot of people are rethinking their options, reevaluating their skill sets and reinventing themselves completely.

An advertising executive goes back to school and turns to teaching. A mid-level manager becomes a business owner. An accomplished professional becomes a resort-course caddy. The transitions are dramatic.

Career paths don’t follow the comfortable, upward path of our fathers. They zig and zag all over the place, often rising radically for a period of time, only to plateau, fall, and rise again. It’s the natural order of things, really. Much more natural than the old, corporate model of life-long employment.

re-imaginebkIn “Re-Imagine,” Tom Peters says the average career will encompass two or three “occupations” and a half dozen or more employers. A job for life is being replaced by a gig for now. Instead of working your way up the ladder you have to leap your way across changing terrain.

It’s a free-agent nation and Tom Peters is a good role model.

When Peters wrote his first book he was toiling away in a small, west coast office of the world’s largest consulting firm. His peers didn’t think the project would amount to anything. In fact, they laughed when Peters suggested he keep the royalties on sales over 50,000 copies.

It sold more than six million copies and established Peters as a rock-star among management gurus. Since then, he’s published a dozen books and transformed himself into a multi-million dollar brand. His fee for a keynote speech: $80,000.

Peters has made millions with his speaking engagements, consulting jobs and publishing contracts. He could retire, or rest on his laurels. Instead, he’s reinventing himself yet again as a blogger.

In a recent interview with Seth Godin, Peters said, “No single thing, in the last 15 years, has been more important, professionally, than blogging. It has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it’s changed my emotional outlook, it has changed my life.”

For Peters, blogging is much more than just another marketing tool. It’s a new skill that helps keep him sharp, and his personal brand relevant. I like Peters because he’s a bit of a rebel. He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, he loves branding, he’s a great communicator, and he appreciates the power of good design. Our brands are strikingly similar.

I used to think if I just kept reinventing myself I’d get it right someday. Obviously, I was missing the point. It’s not the outcome that counts, it’s the process of reinvention that bears fruit. There is no right or wrong in the process of reinvention. As long as you’re learning and growing, it’s all good.

The chapter on branding in “ReImagine” is a must-read… “Branding is not about marketing tricks,” Peters said, “it’s about answering a few simple (and impossible) questions…

Who are you?

Why are you here?

How are you unique?

How can you make a dramatic difference”

Bottom line: “Branding is ultimately about nothing more (and nothing less) than Heart.”

Whether it’s a giant corporation or your own personal brand, if it doesn’t have heart, it’s not going to be a successful brand.

Southwest Airlines has heart, and it’s demonstrated dramatically on every flight.

Bono has heart, and it comes through in his music.

What is the heart of your personal brand, and how can you demonstrate that in your work? That’s the crux of personal branding. If you can define what you’re passionate about and then demonstrate that passion on a regular basis, you’ll have a successful personal brand.

And no matter how many times you reinvent yourself, the heart of your brand will still be tru

6 Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

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

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

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

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

Not any more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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