Tag Archives for " Brand image "

1 Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.

How to build brand credibility, one little leap at a time.

The brands I work with are not like WalMart. They don’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with advertising. They don’t have enough money to sway public opinion in their favor. And all of them face stiff competition from bigger businesses. So brand credibility is essential.

Last week I had to convince a retail client that he couldn’t change people’s minds regarding his biggest competitor; the big box store.

“You can’t compete on price,” I said. “It’s just not a credible message.”

“Yes we can… They’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”

“No they don’t. No different than what we get.”

“I know they don’t and you know they don’t, but the public believes they do. And you can’t fight that perception. It’s like City Hall. Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. If you want a credible brand, you have to hang your hat on something else.”

In that case, it was service that became the centerpiece of their marketing. That’s a credible brand message. The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it. (Every trip to Home Depot confirms that for me.)

But it’s not enough to just start running digital ads or TV spots that say you have great service. First you have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day. That way, all the reviews and stuff that show up on social media will substantiate the claim.

Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but they are not neutral about it, due to their inherent skepticism. It’s the built-in BS meter they all have.

They don’t believe anything you say.

So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do little things that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief.

It’s a far cry from getting them to believing your pitch or trust your brand, but it’s a start. You have to build credibility, step by step.

The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.

By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment. If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality. Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it.

In fictional works lively, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality make the story more believable, more engrossing. The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Dramatic details and believable situations help you sell your story and sway skeptics. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.

Instead of shoving your product features down their throats, try for a more novel approach.

Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category. Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build brand credibility, if you use them right.

Here’s a simple, practical example: Choosing the right photos for your website. Every image should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy, stock images that everyone in your industry uses, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos. Your brand cred will be shot.

That retail client of ours needed images that would support his story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that idea with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and the store. Good service wasn’t just talk. It was guaranteed.

Headlines are equally important. You should keep your headlines consistent with the images and with the secondary reality of your target audience. (You can’t show one thing, and say something else.)

brand insight blog on brand credibility by John Furgurson at BNBrandingIf you keep all those little executional details in sync with your operation, and maintain good practices over time, disbelief will turn to reluctant acceptance, acceptance to approval and approval to purchase. For a few lucky brands, it’ll even progress to a lifelong love.

As movie goers, game players and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture. The Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.

We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what brand credibility is all about.

For help with your own brand message, call me at BNBranding.

For more on building an authentic brand, check out THIS post.

9 How stock photos can hurt your brand image

Every business needs photos… For ads, websites, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts and powerpoint presentations. Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to stock photo sites. But the problem with stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying ‘I’ve seen this a thousand times.’

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.”

Bend advertising agency article on visual cliches

Use this and your brand’s authenticity goes right out the window.

How many times have you heard that cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your _______ needs, blah, blah, blah fill in the blank.” Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

Crummy stock photos have the same effect. This image is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.

Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world. ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.

Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right.

But clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.

golf industry advertising and photography by BNBranding and Dogleg Studios

Team competition by Mike Houska – Dogleg Studios.

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “They want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

the problem with stock photographyLet me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business? What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

I’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.) There are thousands of decent stock images we could use, but the problem with stock photography is there’s nothing compelling or unique about it… Nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny. (Unpaid plug: If you need photography, you should definitely check out Dogleg Studios.)

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Stock photos can hurt you in all three areas… If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

the problem with stock photography by BNBranding a bend ad agency

This skiing photo is relevant because it’s a shot of the author, John Furgurson, by Mike Houska of Dogleg Studios, at Mt. Bachelor.

So the next time you’re thinking of throwing another stock photo into a presentation or report, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.

Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it!

The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images. The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand will be better for it in the long run.

I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: johnf@bnbranding.com

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brand

How to compete in the booming Kombucha Market

Interview with Steven Lee of Kombucha Wonder Drink.

Steven Lee Kombucha wonder brand insight blogIn the tea business Stephen Lee is a household name. A pioneer. You could also say he’s the father of Oregon’s booming Kombucha market.

Lee first tried the popular elixir of fermented tea on a business trip to Russia, back when the U.S. and the USSR were coldly pitted against one another.

“When I first experienced Kombucha in Russia − I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever experienced,” Lee said. “There was no question in my mind. I knew it was going to be a phenomenon.”

So Lee brought a SCOBY back with him and started brewing his own kombucha in his kitchen. But it would be many years, and several start-ups later, before he would jump into commercial kombucha production.

Over the years Lee built and sold five different tea companies. He literally wrote the book on Kombucha and today he is continuing to help lead Kombucha Wonder Drink, which he recently sold to Harris Freeman, America’s largest private label tea packer.

I sat down with Steve to talk brand building, marketing, business creativity and his long list of successful entrepreneurial ventures. It all started with Universal Tea Company in the early 1970s with $2500 and a basement full of herbs, spices, teas and dreams…

SL: When we started Universal Tea Company back in 1972 there was there wasn’t much competition… Lipton, Celestial, Bigelow and Twinnings. We were selling bulk to natural foods stores, but we really hit on peppermint… We were bringing peppermint in from Eastern Oregon — It’s the finest peppermint in the world — and selling it in bulk. We actually bought a wheat combine for $800, reversed the airflow, got a tractor-trailer license and began processing and hauling. We sold hundreds of tons of mint to Lipton and Celestial Seasonings.
tea and Kombucha market

JF: How did that transition into Stash Tea Company?

SL: We sold universal Tea Company to our bookkeeper for $45,000 in 1977. It had taken us five years to figure out what we wanted to do with Stash Tea, because everything we tried, failed. We finally decided to sell tea bags to the food service industry and through mail order. It was a slow build over 21 years. We did everything as inexpensively as possible.

JF: From what I heard, you had some very innovative marketing programs.

SL: Yes, have I told you the story of Stash? That’ll have to be another conversation… We had more than 100,000 people on our mailing list. We used gifts, discounts and eventually free shipping to create loyal customers. By the late 80’s mail order accounted for 10% of our revenues, but 35% of the company’s total profits. Eventually Fred Meyer called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their chain of stores here in the Northwest. So they were our first retail account.

By 1990 Stash was the second largest purveyor of specialty teas, behind Bigelow. Lee and his partner, Steve Smith, sold Stash tea in 1993 to Yamamotoyama, the oldest tea company in the world.

JF: What did you do differently after that, when you were starting Tazo?

SL: Well, we started Stash tea with $2500. Tazo was capitalized with a half a million. Plus, we had 20 years of experience under our belts. We had a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. We just marched right out there with it. We knew where to go. Who to contact. How to be creative…

branding blog on tazo teaWe got a very talented team of people together. The guys at the design firm and a copywriter worked with my partner, Steve Smith, and they were just brilliant together. Such a creative force!

There are a lot of people who get involved in the brand building process early on who set precedents. The name, for instance… With Stash, from the day we came up with that name, we had to back-peddle. “No, we’re not about marijuana.”

With a name like TAZO, and the right creative team, anything could happen. The writer said, “it’s kinda like marco polo meets Merlin on the crossroads of existence.” That was the beginning of the whole storyline. They pulled that one outta their hats.

Steve Sandoz, the copywriter on the Tazo project, once told a reporter that Tazo was “the name of the whirling mating dance of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and a cheery salutation used by Druids and 5th-century residents of Easter Island.” Proof that sheer creativity can pay tremendous dividends when it comes to building a brand.

JF: It also helped that the specialty tea category was booming by the time you started. Didn’t Republic of Tea pave the way for Tazo?

SL: They certainly did. There were no longer just five or six tea companies out there. There was some real innovation happening and consumers were aware of better teas.

JF: Tazo launched with a product that cost almost twice as much as Stash. Was premium pricing a big part of your strategy, or was it just that the ingredients were more expensive?

SL: Our strategy was to launch with a product that was made of much higher quality ingredients, and that dictated the retail price. We made no more margin. 40 to 45% gross margin.

marketing kombucha tea marketingIn 1998, Steve Smith and Steve Lee noticed that Starbucks was piloting a brand of tea called Tiazzi, which they perceived as an infringement on the Tazo brand. A polite “cease and desist” letter led to a meeting in which Starbucks offered to buy the Portland company. The sale closed for a reported $9.1 million. Only five years from founding to acquisition. Tazo grew to be a billion dollar brand before being replaced by another Starbuck’s brand, Teavana.

JF: So at that point you had the exit that every entrepreneur dreams of. You could have done anything… What drove you to start all over again?

SL: That’s what I do. My forte is getting things started that inspire and motivate me, then surviving through tough times.

JF: (laughing…) That’s your entrepreneurial strategy??? Get it started and then hang on?

SL: Yeah. I’m attracted to esoteric, romantic categories that inspire me. Tea is very romantic. I was very inspired by that first taste of kombucha that I had in Russia.

SL: The first domestic commercial kombucha that I knew of was a brand called Oocha Brew, here in Portland, that started in 94. That was before GT Dave. I was ready to invest in their company. Unfortunately for Oocha Brew, they learned very fast that when you create a raw kombucha you have to be very careful… If it’s not handled properly all the way through the distribution channels to the store and all the way home into the fridge there’s a high risk of being too high in alcohol. In 1998 they sold a large quantity to QFC stores and the bottles all started exploding. The caps were coming off. That was enough to bankrupt them.

SL: GT Dave began in ’95, grew very slowly until he got some funding in 2003. At that point, Synergy quickly became #1 in the kombucha world with a raw product, and he never looked back.

We started developing Kombucha Wonder Drink in 1999 and launched in 2001. We had a lot of confidence then too, because all the retailers that I talked with said, “oh yeah, if you do kombucha we’re all over it.” So getting it in the stores was easy for us, but moving it off the shelves proved very difficult at first. What we discovered was, even natural foods consumers didn’t know what it was. We did a lot of sampling, and it was a real love/hate thing. Some people would just gag.

JF: An acquired taste…

SL: Yes. Even though our product was a little more palatable than some. Even now, less than 10% of American consumers are aware of what kombucha is. So it still has a long way to go among the so-called “early adopters.”

We determined from the very beginning that the way to go was shelf stable. Our premise is, most all the benefits of kombucha are in the acids. Those are not affected by pasteurization. But in two years time, in 2003, we were still struggling with consumers accepting the taste. It was a slow process.

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brandJF: Was that a strategic error, not doing raw kombucha? Were you kickin’ yourself then?

SL: There was a five year period there of self doubt and struggle. We grew every year, but it was not like what was happening in the raw segment. The two other founders left… Didn’t want to do it anymore because it wasn’t growing like it had with Tazo or Stash.

We thought we saw the market, but it was tougher than we expected. Then in 2010 there was the mother of all recalls, when all unpasteurized kombucha brands got yanked off the shelves. Even Honest Tea had a raw kombucha that got recalled. CocaCola had a 1/3 interest in Honest Tea at the time, but they had no interest in doing anything with raw kombucha, so they just let it die. It never returned.

In order to get back on the shelves Synergy and all of them had to change the way they made their kombucha. They had to filter out most of the bacteria and prove that they wouldn’t exceed the .5% alcohol limit. We never had a problem with that, with our brand.

JF: So where’s it going now? Around here, every time your turn around it seems like there’s a new brand of kombucha popping up. You have Brew Dr., Eva’s, Hmmm, Lion Heart, and dozens of others just in Oregon. Pepsi bought Kevita. Coke’s investment arm has an interest in at least one kombucha company…

Kombucha market Kombucha Wonder DrinkSL: Yes, everybody’s going to have a kombucha. Good tasting, functional drinks are rising by leaps and bounds right now. There are different sodas with less sugar and different sweeteners. There’s Kefir. It’s changing rapidly.

SL: Our trade association, Kombucha Brewers International has 80 members. And that’s not all… there are well over 100 brands. It’s an easy product for people to launch. You can brew kombucha in your kitchen, go to a couple farmer’s markets, become enthusiastic, find and a couple local stores, and you’re in business.

JF: Sure, the kombucha market is booming, so it’s easy to launch. But it’s not, necessarily, easy to succeed in. Just because they can brew it doesn’t mean they can build a brand, like you did.

SL: That’s true. It’s too hard for too many people.

JF: Even now that’s it’s a $600 million market it’s a relatively small pie. I’m sure it’ll get to a billion dollars soon enough, and it’s going to continue to grow, but the question is, is it growing fast enough to support all the new competitors who are jumping into it?

SL: The answer is no. But time will tell. Everything’s going to happen in kombucha market. Everyone is going to experiment and there will be every form and flavor possible. But there’s always a falling out of brands. Phenomenon or not, only five out of 100 startups make it. The shakeout is happening simultaneously as more brands are launched.

But Steven Lee has launched his last company. His future now is in writing. He recently wrote a book about kombucha for Random House, and he plans to use those connections to do something else that inspires him. Something romantic.

“Once I’m done with Kombucha Wonder, I’m going to go write children’s books,” he said.

 

If you’re thinking about entering the Kombucha Market or if you have an existing natural foods company, BNBranding can provide all the insight and creative inspiration you need. Call me. 541-815-0075.

2

These two words are NOT synonymous: Logo. Brand.

Here’s something I heard from a graphic designer recently: “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally.” No she’s not. She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference. Let’s get the terminology straight.

A brand identity job typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”

In fact, the logo is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

Brand is everything above AND below the surface… The vast, floating mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work.

Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that. Deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.

The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.

brand identity design brand insight blogThe sum of all those parts is the Brand.

The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind. Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future.

The consumer’s idea of your brand is based more on history and personal experience, where one bad experience skews the whole picture.

The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding” combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.

Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”

The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.

You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand.

Branding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand; If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.

Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.

So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.

I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.

Automotive Ads: Another ride down that twisting, mountain road of tired clichés.

I don’t know what it is about automotive advertising. No other category is so rich in promise, yet so void of inspiring insight and unique execution. But there is something any marketer can learn from the long history of mediocre automotive advertising.
automotive advertisingFor instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad that’s running right now. But it’s nothing new… just gorgeous video of a sexy red Italian sports car doing its thing in the curves with a pretty good voice-over that nobody’s going to listen to.

That’s easy. It’s harder producing a decent spot for a mundane automotive product, like a minivan.

Chrysler single-handedly created the minivan market when the Caravan and Voyager debuted in 1984. Sales skyrocketed and imitators quickly sprang up, but only after Chrysler had firmly established itself as the segment leader.

automotive advertisingChrysler’s minivans moved the segment from niche vehicle to the pinnacle of the mainstream. Minivans have become part of the pop culture. And the marketing people at Chrysler/Dodge have a pretty good handle on what their target audience is looking for.

The advertising routinely features simple slices of family life: we see a baby sleeping peacefully in a car seat. Kids playing cards in facing rear seats. Kids watching videos. Moms & Dads reconfiguring the seats and loading up the endless volume of kid’s stuff.

That’s what minivans are all about: Lugging kids, looking for lost binkies between the seats, and running errands. That’s the reality of it. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not the least bit appealing to anyone who doesn’t have kids. But it’s totally relevant for parents who are carting three kids around everyday.

The main benefit of all minivans is practicality. Plain and simple. And Caravan advertising conveys the idea very clearly. They’re not trying to be anything other than that. Honda, on the other hand, once careened off the road with their spots for the Odyssey.

The Honda spot goes like this: There’s an attractive young couple driving along a winding, country road. In a mini van, for pete sake! The husband, who’s doing the driving, glances at his wife suggestively as she reaches up and grips the panic handle above her window. She gives him a quizzical, turned-on look. He gives the van a little more gas and grips the wheel tightly as he lugs into another corner with all the agility of a Winnebego.

She holds on even tighter and looks at him as if to say, “ohhhh yeah, bring it on big boy.” I almost expect them to pull over and jump into the back for a roadside quicky. Instead, she just holds on for the ride while the voice-over chimes in: “Just because it’s a minivan doesn’t mean you have to treat it like one.”

Oh, c’mon. There’s even a more blatant execution of that idea from Britain, where a couple are about to do it in their Honda Odyssey until they get interrupted by an elderly parent. The voice-over on that spot says “It doesn’t seem like a family car.”

First of all, sex and minivans DO NOT go together. No one gets turned on by a minivan. A corvette might help you get laid, but not a dual-sliding, seven passenger, Chrysler or Honda product. Curvy roads don’t go with minivans either. Put a minivan on a windy road and you here’s what you get: Puking children. Horrendous messes of vomit. Leave the windy roads to the Porsche commercials.

There’s no pleasure in getting from Point A to Point B in a mini van. Believe me, I’ve done it. There is some satisfaction in packing up both kids and the entire kitchen sink for a simple, cross-town play date. There’s satisfaction in changing a diaper on the side of the road without hanging your baby out on the tailgate. But not pleasure.

So Honda’s idea of promoting the minivan as something sexier than just a minivan, simply doesn’t wash. They could spend a billion dollars trying to convey that idea, and parents would still buy it for the cupholders. It’s like trying to kitten-up a milk truck.

So how did the message get so messed up, and what can we learn from Honda’s one-spot marketing blunder?

  1. As a brand, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Minivans are not 450 horsepower Italian chick magnets. (Unless maybe Alpha Romeo decides to get into that niche)
  2. Realize that technical specs and insider information is often irrelevant to consumers. The automotive press consistently ranks The Honda Odyssey above its Chrysler competitors in performance and reliability. It’s a great vehicle. Best in class even. And the Honda executives are fully aware of this.

automotive advertising

The problem is, in the minivan category nobody gives a hoot about “chassis refinement and driving feel.” By letting insider information dictate their marketing, Honda ends up with a message that’s relevant to their own executives and to the automotive cognoscenti, but completely irrelevant to the target audience. It’s a classic case of getting in your own way. Of knowing too much.

Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Maybe the ad agency creative team just couldn’t find inspiration in boring old minivan. Maybe there wasn’t any consumer insight or personal experience to go on. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or maybe they were just trying to steer clear of a technical, engineering message. Wise move, but they really blew it with the hot couple concept.

Somewhere, the process took a wrong turn and the end result is a waste of marketing dollars. In the scheme of things, one spot isn’t going to kill Honda. But in the meantime, Dodge is sticking to an approach that simply demonstrates relevant features. Their advertising is not going to win any awards, but at least it’s somewhat authentic. It hits the hot buttons of a specific target audience and it wins the head-to-head battle with Honda. In automotive advertising anyway.

For more on Brand Authenticity, click here.

1 "Brand" Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence. Honestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule. Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads and nitwits rule the managerial world.

Witness the retail store owner who has no handle on her inventory or her labor costs.

The non-profit executive who has a revolving door of talent, going only one direction.

incompetenceThe managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over- bills his clients.

The director of communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally.

The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything more meaningful than which consultant to hire.

Failures like those are rampant. One leading consulting firm reports “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.” (Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)

So the bad news is, there’s a 50-50 chance that your boss or your manager is incompetent. The good news is, half of companies you compete with are also chock full of managerial incompetence.

And here’s more good news: It’s well documented that strong brands can weather all sorts of managerial miscues.

Strong brand affinity can help companies weather a price war. According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front. And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt.

Look what happened to Toyota.

branding blog about toyotaIn 2009 and 2010 Toyota recalled 8.8 million vehicles due to safety concerns with accelerator pedals. Time magazine ran a feature story titled “Can Toyota ever bounce back.” One industry expert told CBS Anchor Harry Smith, “We’ll be seeing major problems with the Toyota brand for at least a decade, maybe two.”

Toyota’s CEO quipped that he was not Toyota’s top executive as much as the company’s chief apologizer for blunders, mishaps and overall sluggish business. It was a PR disaster, and another example of managerial messiness.

Business Insider reported “The company failed miserably in its initial crisis management, but that’s what makes Toyota’s case so intriguing. Despite its monumental mistakes early on, Toyota still bounced back. Why? It didn’t take long for the public to remember Toyota’s previously stellar reputation.”

Contrary to all the doomsday speculation, the Toyota brand made a quick recovery, recapturing its status as the #1 selling car brand in America. (In 2016 they had the #1 and #2 selling car in America.) Not surprising really, given the consistency and long-term track record of the Toyota brand.

“The Toyota brand showcased its resiliency, with its positive reputation built up over decades of good performance. The company leveraged this, focusing its marketing once again on safety and its proven track record. It had to show that this disaster — including its own horrible mishandling of the situation — was an aberration.”

branding blog about toyotaToyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics. AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

So what does this all mean for the typical small to mid-sized company? Here are a few lessons:

1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise. Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance. Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down. What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?

2. Managers make monumental mistakes. CEOs come and go, often in a flaming blaze of glory. Products sometimes fall drastically short. But if you’ve built a strong brand your devoted fans will cut you some slack. The emotional connection they have will prevail over any short-term disappointment.

3. A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team. They gotta know what you stand for, and they’re not necessarily going to get it unless you spell it out for them. You have to communicate your brand promise all the time, and promote it feverishly with your team. How else are they going to understand the culture, the core values, the expectations of consumers, and the business goals? Don’t assume anything.

4. Great managers are hard to find. No one has the childhood wish of becoming a great manager, so if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.

5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished. They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it. Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion. If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

For more about the power of a great brand, read this post.

3 When Branding outpaces the Brand. And vice versa.

First of all, let me address the common confusion around the two “B” words in this article’s headline. The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with logo design. You’ll hear someone say, “Oh, we’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo.

Branding is much more than that. Branding refers to everything that’s done inside the company — and outside — that influences the perception of the brand. If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your brand.

So branding is not the exclusive domain of the marketing department. It’s not even the domain of your employees… consumers, vendors and partners often do the branding for you, in the form of tweets, posts and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

For this post I’d like to focus one small but crucial aspect of branding: Design. (Yes, art does have a place in the business world!)

nest-thermostat-11There’s no denying that design can make or break a company. Just look at what NEST has done… Started in 2010 with simple, brilliant designs of everyday products and sold for $3.2 billion last January producing a 20x return for its investors.

And yet the simple brilliance of a great product designer, the flair of a graphic artists, the effect of an illustrator, and the poetic power of a great copywriter is often overlooked in favor of finance guys and programmers.

The work of these commercial artists is ridiculously undervalued in the corporate world. Probably because it’s part of a completely irrational, subjective realm that many data-driven executives are not comfortable with. There’s too much intuition and blind trust involved. (You can’t show ’em charts and graphs that prove the new design will work. And let’s face it, evaluating art is not exactly in the wheelhouse of most business owners or C-level execs.)

So what happens, most of the time, is the design lags behind the brand. While the business is moving quickly forward, the brand identity, packaging and advertising get stuck in the past. Then the managers, in an after-thought, say gee, maybe we should re-do our logo. (Whereas with NEST, design was an integral part of the brand from the very beginning. It’s no accident that the founders of NEST worked at Apple.)

tazo-23 smOccasionally, when there’s a really great design firm or ad agency at work, you’ll find design that outpaces the brand. Here’s an example:

When Steve Smith first started Tazo Tea he approached designer Steve Sandstrom and copywriter Steve Sandoz to do some “branding.” (i.e. the usual name, logo and package design exercise for a new product line.) But when that creative team was done, Smith realized something… “Wow, this is really nice work. I think I need to start making better tea.”

The tea guru could envision the success of the new packaging, but not with the product as it existed at the time. The branding had outraced his product.

So the owner of Tazo did what all enlightened business owners do… he followed the lead of his design team and started making a better product. He made sure his tea was in line with his brand identity.

That identity was a brave departure from anything else in the tea market at the time. It was outlandish. And yes, it was completely fictional. And yet, it helped make TAZO the #1 selling brand of tea in the country. They nailed it on several fronts:

tazo-26 smDifferentiation: The Tazo packaging resembled nothing else.

Mystery: The tone of the brand was mysterious and intriguing.

Creativity: When you’re creating a brand from scratch, it helps to employ a little creative license. Without it, you’d have a boring, fact-based brand that wouldn’t stand out.

Alignment: The product was tweaked to align with the design of the brand.

Smith eventually sold TAZO to Starbucks, and look what’s happened to the packaging. Will it move off the grocery store shelves and maintain market share? Probably. Does it fit into the Starbucks brand design guidelines? Sure.

But most of the art is gone.

02_19_13_Tazo_7

1 The Inside-Out Approach To Building A Brand.

I’m always amazed by business owners and CEOs who spend considerable time and money on branding initiatives, only to neglect the most important component of their brand: Their people.

If you want to build a great brand, you better start on the inside and work your way out. Seriously. If you can’t convince your employees to be your greatest brand ambassadors, who can you convince?

If they aren’t drinking the Kool-aid, and building a brand with enthusiasm, who will?

It’s interesting, during a brand audit, to compare the company’s external market research data with prevailing internal attitudes. I’ve seen companies that accurately claim to have a 98 percent approval rating. “Customers love us,” they say. But when we talk to employees, suppliers, past employees, and friends and family, a completely different tune emerges.

thumbs-down-smiley-mdDespite the happy customers, we often find a vocal group that is ready, willing and quite happy to talk smack about the company’s policies, procedures and practices. Not only are those groups NOT great brand ambassadors, they’re brand bashers.

When that becomes a pattern your brand image, and ultimately your business, will take a hit.

That’s why it’s so important to hire wisely, pay people well and treat them fairly. That’s why you start on the inside. That’s why branding is not just a marketing department thing, it’s an every department thing. That’s why the H.R. department actually plays a critical role in building a brand.

Yes, H.R.!

Just as there are sponsorships, ad campaigns and even products that are “off brand,” employees can also be off brand. Especially when it comes to senior management teams. If your VP of Marketing is not on the same page as your CEO, you’re going to have some major challenges. If you have a parade of people leaving the company, your brand will take a hit.

thumbs-up-smiley-hiIn order to avoid those conflicts that create a revolving door of turnover, your H.R. department, or whoever’s recruiting and screening new recruits, needs to be immersed in your brand. They should know your corporate culture inside and out and they should understand your purpose, mission, vision and management style. That’s how they find new employees who will become brand ambassadors rather than brand bashers.

Think about that. Of all the places you’ve worked, how many of those companies do you still talk up, and how many do you talk down? Chances are, you’re still loyal to a few.

I know people who worked at Apple, Amazon and Nike 20 years ago who still follow those companies fervently. They run in the shoes, invest in the stock and remain brand loyal long after they’ve moved on to different jobs. Even when they’re off building a brand of their own, they’re still devoted to the old brand.

There are more than 2000 Starbucks employees who are attending Arizona State University free of charge, thanks to the Starbucks College Achievement plan. I bet those kids will be Starbucks fans for life.

In “Built To Last’ James Collins and Jerry Porrass show that great companies have “cult-like” cultures. (I think the word “cult” is not quite right. It’s more like a club.) The point is, Collins proved that great companies have a very clearly defined ideology that you either buy into, or not. “If you’re not willing to adopt the HP Way or the gung ho, fanatical customer service atmosphere of Nordstrom, then you’re not a good fit for those brands. If you’re not willing to be “Procterized” then you don’t belong at Procter & Gamble.”

You won ‘t see a Walmart executive or store manager leave for a position at Whole Foods. Not going to happen.

blog article from ad agencies bend oregonPatagonia, Nike, Whole Foods… companies with passionate, clearly defined cultures are not always easy to work for. In fact, they often demand more of their people than the competitor next door.

But the alternative is much worse… No culture to speak of. No clearly defined brand. No core ideology for people to rally around. Poor morale. High turnover. Weak leadership. Those are the hallmarks of a brand in decline.

Scott Bedbury uses a nice parenting analogy in his book A New Brand World. “As brands evolve over time, they absorb the environment and karma of an organization, not unlike the way children are influenced by the place they call home. Both brands and kids thrive in an inspiring, learning, caring environment where they are appreciated, respected, protected and understood… So organizations, like parents, must instill values and behaviors that are not only positive, but consistent. ”

If the leadership of a company changes frequently, consistency goes out the door with them.

When you work on your brand from the inside out, your team shows a united front, and front-line employees become what Seth Godin calls “sneezers.” Spreading the gospel of your brand in positive way. When you neglect your people, and focus only on customers, disgruntled employees spread something much worse.

It’s up to you.

 

 

If you want help building your brand, contact me… John Furgurson at BNBranding.

If you want more information on building a brand from the Brand Insight Blog, try this post.

4 Deschutes Brewing going national (How to grow without selling your soul.)

Bend, Oregon is a small town better known for big fun than big business. There are only a few local brands that have grown to national prominence. It’s fitting that one is a craft beer.

When it comes to craft brewing and brewery marketing, Oregon is the undisputed leader. And Bend is #1 in Oregon, with the most brewpubs per capita in the country. (28 at last count, with at least a dozen more in the works. Bend’s population is 80,000.)

brewery marketing in Bend, Oregon by BNBrandingIt all started 26 years ago when Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery. Since then, Deschutes has grown into the 6th largest craft brewery in the country, and the 11th largest U.S. brewery, period. That’s big. And with the planned building of the new Deschutes Brewery back East, it is getting bigger all the time.

So here’s the challenge: How do you grow rapidly and build a national brand without alienating the home-grown early adopters who got you started? Oregon’s full of them… influential beer snobs who drink a lot and blog about hop crops, IBU counts, and the relative benefits of barrel aging.

I sat down with Jeff Billingsley, Director of Marketing at Deschutes, to discuss the Deschutes brand and the lessons learned from his career in brewery marketing.

Billingsley is one of the only employees at Deschutes that has experience in Big Beer. As a Brand Manager for Coors and then Miller/Coors, Billingsley managed some well-known brands, including Miller High Life, Keystone and Hamms before joining Deschutes in 2012.

“After the merger at Miller/Coors the company was completely financially driven. It was all about the bottom line,” he said. “When I started at Deschutes it was just the opposite. The brewmasters ran the show, and they concerned themselves with brewing the best beer, not managing to a certain margin.”

Brewery marketing -Deschutes Brewing goes national Of course Deschutes wouldn’t be so successful if they didn’t have some processes in place. Billingslee said the team has become more business minded in the past few years, but the culture at Deschutes still is firmly rooted in the craft of brewing and the cult of the brewmaster.

“We (in the marketing department ) don’t identify market opportunities and say, “brew this.” Billingslee said. “We still let our brew masters do what they think is right and try to guide the category, rather than follow it. Gary Fish (CEO) has always believed in that. Just because there are many breweries killing it with IPAs doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do.”

The competition in every craft brew category, from IPAs to stouts and sour beers, is fierce. There are now 3,040 craft brewing companies in the country, and that number is expected to double in the next few years. Everyone’s jumping on the local beer bandwagon, and the mind-numbing number of choices is becoming one of the biggest challenges for Deschutes — and everyone else.

“There’s tremendous growth in the industry right now, and every market we enter has some good, local brewers that we have to compete with. I think the local movement is more of a threat than our bigger competitors. We can’t talk to beer geeks in markets outside of the West Coast. To those people, we haven’t established credibility. We’re just another brewing company trying to come in and steal business from the little local start-up.”

Billingslee said that being entrepreneurial is one of the keys to competing on a local level in any market. It also comes from the top at Deschutes. Gary Fish was named Earnst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.

bend branding firm blog post about Deschutes Brewing“It’s a much more entrepreneurial environment than I imagined it would be, Billingsley told me. “We really are empowered to try new things.” That’s one of the keys to Gary’s success. We’re less focused on what the competition is doing, and more focused on what WE should be doing. That’s what motivates our people.”

“You have to define winning for yourselves, on your own terms. For us, winning isn’t just about market share. It’s about the experience of our fans, it’s about maybe getting people to try something new, as much as it is about volume.”

Billingsley said the company recently went through a “deep dive” of self examination and research to get a clear picture of their corporate culture and their brand. They hired a new ad agency out of Boulder Colorado and will be introducing new packaging and new advertising in the coming months.

So what is the single most important thing?

DeschutesIPAForayBelgianIPA“Understand what your brand really stands for, stick with it, and find the right execution that fits that. Don’t change who you are in order to chase a market or some new opportunity.”

As the old saying goes, “the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” At Deschutes, that’s the beer.

Their craft beer continues to win awards at the most prestigious national and international brewing competitions. Their two flagship beers, Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, do well in every market they enter. Their downtown Bend Brewpub had its biggest month ever in August. And most importantly, they’re introducing new flavors that keep the Deschutes taps relevant even for the most discriminating beer lover.

According to brewery marketing data by the Brewer’s Association, Deschutes currently has three of the top 15 new craft beer brands. I personally think they’re killin’ it with Foray, their seasonal, Belgian style IPA. D-licious. Deschutes.

 

Note: This is not a paid post, although I happily accept gifts in the form of free growler fills.

For more on brewery marketing and more examples of successful local brands that have gone national, try THIS post.

 

5 Brands of love on the Brand Insight Blog by BNBranding

Brands of Love (How to build a lasting relationship with your customers.)

I’ll never forget my first pair of skis… Hand-me-down Heads from a by-gone era. Jet black. Heavy as can be, but oh so lovable! Since then, I’ve purchased eight more pairs of skis and four were the same brand: Head.

John Furgurson BNBranding blog post about brands we love

That’s me. Notice the head logo on the tips. No photoshopping involved!

The latest is a pair of Head Rev 105s, and I’m absolutely loving them. I test drove many different brands — and they were all good — but I chose Head. Every time I ski on them, and every time I see another Olympic racer on the podium with their Heads at their side, I get even more attached to that brand. It’s a life long love affair.

The Head Ski Company was founded in 1950 with the first metal composite ski, a revolutionary progression from the days of hickory. In the 1960’s Head sold more than 50% of all the skis in the U.S., even though they were priced two times higher than the competitors. It was a premium product with plenty of sex appeal. Jean Claude Killy raced on Heads. Today it’s Lindsey Vonn.

Howard Head

Howard Head

To me, buying skis is like buying a car. I can name every ski I’ve ever owned, and I have fond memories associated with every pair. I strayed for awhile, cheating with Atomics, Blizzards and Rossignols, but I keep going back to my first love — to the brand that I first associated with the freedom, thrill and challenge of skiing.

That’s branding!

A lot of people gripe about commercialization and marketing as an evil activity. They say they’re being manipulated, somehow, into buying stuff they don’t want or need. But I believe we need MORE relationships like that. More love of any kind!

Just think… If we could all be passionately connected to more of the things we purchase on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Imagine how your day might go if you felt as passionate about your filling station and your pharmacy as I feel about my skis. What if the routine chore of picking up dinner was transformed into a delightful experience that you could look forward to every time. What if you had a genuine love for your dental office?

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

It’s human nature to love. We crave strong, loving connections to the things and people in our lives. Brands play that role quite well. We’re naturally drawn tbrands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blogo the companies and products that show love to their employees, their customers, their environment. Whole Foods, Patagonia, Clif Bar are three good examples… they’re passionate companies that attract passionate customers.

In his book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about closeness, trust, intimacy, passion and commitment. Those are the traits of any loving relationship, and if you can attain that in your relationship with customers you’ll have what Robert calls a Lovemark. The gold standard of brands.

What you have to remember is that Love is a matter of the heart, not the head. You’ll never achieve Lovemark status by sticking to facts, data and a logical list of product features. Not unless you’re selling to robots. And empty, corporate catch-phrases are even worse. Like a bar-closing come-on by a desperate frat boy… you might lure someone into a one night stand with that approach, but it’s not going to get you a second date, much less love.

In focus groups people talk about love all the time. “Oh, I just love my Honda.” Or, I just love Tide. I won’t buy anything else.” Subaru took the loving feedback from their customers and built it into its advertising. (It doesn’t move me, but I’m not a Subaru guy. There are a lot of WRX fans and Outback fans who’ll absolutely love that approach.)

So stop thinking about how to improve “customer satisfaction” and start thinking about how to make them LOVE you. Want you. Chose you.

How can you initiate a relationship like the one I have with Head Skis? It’s not easy because that one is connected to some of my fondest childhood memories. Think about that… If you really want to ramp up your branding efforts, start creating memories that your customers will love to recall, 50 years from now.

It takes a lot of extra effort, attention to detail, transparency and goodwill. But it pays off… in better sales, in higher business valuation, and in articles like this one.

Write a comment… Tell me about your favorite brands of love.

If you want more on lovable brands, try THIS post.

Or the Lovemarks website.

 

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