Category Archives for "Tactical Marketing"

18 Brand authenticity — Keeping it real, honest, genuine and true.

I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.

Lately, it’s “Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.

In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”

If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.

“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.

trust and brand authenticityMost definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand it’s defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”

I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.” In philosophy of art, “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.

The same holds true for brands.

The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck. They are the exception to the corporate rule.

The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”

I think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. Guilty until proven innocent! And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all 7,694 Facebook Friends.

Ouch.

In a 2004 Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”

Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups. They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.

Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”

It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.

“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”

Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.

In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.

Amway, for instance.

Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”

The front-line culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.

It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. But I digress.

Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?

Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!

Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.

That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that your’re sincere and trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.

In a down economy it’s always tempting for small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.

Align your marketing messages with your brand.

You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose. You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.

Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?

Be consistent.

Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.

Lead by example

 

One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.

So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R & D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.

Hire good PR people

Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.

Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.

4 Class A Offices. Class C Websites.

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

BNBranding new office building

The Alexander Drake Building, Downtown Bend, OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easier said than done.

You can’t just re-write the copy of the “about us” section and call it good web makeover. You have to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.

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

It’s the message, stupid!

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

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

If you don’t have one, call me.

6 A brand worth watching. And flying.

Here’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes it even lived up to the advertised brand experience.

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees and laptop bans, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small start-up airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

Porter airlines brand advertsingIt’s too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International. Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline brandFrom the blog, Design Sponge: “This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog: “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

Many people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.) I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way. So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

How to do a great branding ad — Subaru scores with skier-focused print.

Winter Storm Slams Into Washington.
Travel Advisory For The Entire Mid Atlantic.
Historic Storm Hits Atlantic Coast.
Subaru of America loves headlines like that. Every time a big storm brings traffic to a standstill, the Subaru brand shines.

Subaru brand performs on snowy roads and in ads

The Subaru brand performs on snowy roads and in ads.

You seldom see an all-wheel-drive Outback wagon or a Forrester stuck in a snowbank. And you won’t see the company taking government bailout money.

While the big three automakers were buried in losses, Subaru was cruising right along.
Overall, U.S. sales were up 15% in 2009. In July, they posted a record sales month, up 34 percent from the previous year. In 2008, despite the lowest incentives in the industry, Subaru gained market share.

Not bad for a niche brand with a limited vehicle line up and a miniscule media presence. Subaru’s entire advertising budget is less than what some automakers spend on a single vehicle.

Which brings me back to those dreaded winter storm warnings and an ad I recently spotted in Ski Magazine:

“Snowstorm Advisory. More of a calling than a warning.” Subaru.
No photo of the car. Just a dramatic, black and white photo of a lonely road in a blizzard. It’s taken in the first-person perspective, as if I’m sitting in the front seat.
That ad doesn’t just speak to me. It sings.

Hats off to the creative team at Carmichael Lynch. And a round of applause for the client at Subaru who actually stood up against the industry convention and agreed to leave the car out altogether.

It takes guts to run a full page ad in a national magazine without showing the product. And I’m sure the dealers gripe about it, and say “it’s just a branding ad.”

But it works. It speaks volumes about the brand, and it touches a highly relevant emotional chord with anyone who has ever driven through a blizzard to be first on the chairlift.

Besides, with a limited budget there are plenty of practical reasons to leave out the product shot:

1. There’s no debate over which model to feature.
2. You don’t risk alienating anyone… Just let them imagine whatever Subaru model they like. For a younger, California skier it could be a WRX. For a Birkenstock-wearing telemark skier, it’s a Forrester.

By NOT showing the model, they actually sell every Subaru in the line up.
Damn right it’s a branding ad! You should be so lucky.

The Subaru ad reflects a genuine, empathetic understanding of the core audience.

Kevin Mayer, Subaru’s Director of Marketing, says his brand is as much about customers as it is about products.

Subaru caters to outdoorsy people of comfortable means who opt for function over fashion every time. It’s a well-targeted niche market of skiers, hikers and kayakers who need all-wheel-drive for navigating unpredictable roads. (Not surprisingly, most Subarus are sold in the Northwest and the Northeast, where there’s a lot of skiing, kayaking and hiking.)

But more importantly, “Subaru owners are experience seekers – they want to live bigger, more engaged lives,” Mayer, said. “To them, the car is the enabler of that bigger life. A conscious alternative to the mainstream.”

It’s obvious that the ski magazine ad came directly from that sort of crystal-clear consumer insight and brand strategy.

“We went back to the customer and started thinking again about their values and how our values are alike. We dialed in our strategies back to core,” Mayer said in a 2008 MediaPost.com article.

To me, the message is loud and clear… crummy, snowy roads can’t stop me from doing what I love.

In this ad, it’s benefits over features, all the way to the bank.

Karl Greenberg, editor of Mediapost said, “Subaru has the kind of brand equity and staunch loyalty you usually find in luxury marques, which means they can keep their message on product and brand, not on deals or features.”

Rather than running a headline that touts the features of a Subaru (ie the “symmetrical all-wheel-drive system) the ski magazine ad conveys the benefits of that system:
It sells the idea of all wheel drive.

While everyone else is stuck at home, Subaru owners are out enjoying life. Having fun. Missing nothing. It’s a message of empowerment wrapped in a warm, wintery blanket.
That’s what long term brand advertising is all about… connecting with specific groups of people in a relevant, emotional manner, time after time, after time. Until people start feeing like part of club.

Clearly the top executives at Subaru get it. They know their market. They’re clear on company values. And they’ve designed products that align perfectly with the brand, the message and the medium.

You couldn’t place that Subaru ad in The New Yorker or Parade Magazine, even during a snow storm. It would be out of context and off target. And when you see it in context of ski magazine, it doesn’t come across as hype. It’s as authentic as they come.

But no brand is perfect, and Subaru has had its share of flops. For instance, they ran full page ads featuring the Motor Trend Car Of The Year trophy.

Unfortunately, Subaru drivers don’t care about automotive awards. In fact, they buy Forresters almost because of the derogatory comments from industry insiders.

Subaru Forester brand for outdoor enthusiasts

The usual, stock photo of A 1998 Forrester

Subaru once tried to build a sports car. The SVX was a classic branding faux paus… In the mind of the consumer, Subaru means only one thing: Functionality. No amount of advertising could change that. So it wasn’t a sports car, and it didn’t look like a Subaru. What the hell was it?

It didn’t’ stand a chance.

Subaru CEO Ikuo Mori recently admitted that the “up market migration” with the B9 Tribeca hasn’t worked.

Too big and too flashy for that family of cars. Jim Treece from Automotive news said, “There is nothing especially wrong with the B9 Tribeca, except that it has utterly nothing to do with Subaru’s brand.”

Despite its occasional slip-ups, Subaru enjoys tremendously high brand loyalty. Rally enthusiasts swear by them and people sell their neighbors on Subaru based on their own brand stories.

And the common theme: The cars are relentlessly practical. Especially in a snow storm.

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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