Tag Archives for " brand strategy "

small business branding from BNBranding

Four Ingredients of Great Brands – Learning from breakfast cereal and a four-buck burrito

Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of companies like Tesla, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires. Small-business branding is often overlooked.

small business branding from BNBranding

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.

Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand develops.

It does not happen the other way around.

You can’t just come up with a nice name a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation, you can’t have a great brand.

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:

Relevance.

Credibility.

Differentiation.

Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood. Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small business branding - big fat burrito In Bend, Oregon there’s a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It’s not the best Mexican food in town, but it’s damn good and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing.

Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

For Taco Stand, flavor and low cost are the differentiators. They consistently deliver on a very simple value proposition: You’ll get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

Credibility stems from the genuine quality of the food, the consistency, and the loyal, locals-only reputation. If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list.

Small-business branding – learn from the branding mistakes of the big boys.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easier for big corporations. They can launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. Television presence alone can lead to some degree of credibility. But it won’t necessarily last.

brand credibility in cereal branding Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…

Great name. Great-tasting product. Launched with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues.

Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be. It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup, to be exact. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for brand credibility.

I’ll bet Smart Start doesn’t have the staying power of Cap’n Crunch — my childhood favorite. Because in this day and age, consumers are too smart for Smart Start. When the word gets out, the brand’s going to have a huge credibility issue on their hands.

The brand promise — that this cereal is a smart, healthy start to your day — is out the window.

Kellogg’s will probably fight back with the old line-extension trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs.

brand credibility small business branding(They already have several variations, including “Strong Heart” that has 17 grams of sugar, and Strawberry Oat Bites. )

Also notice that the packaging has devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design has become less and less unique with every variation.

So Smart Start’s credibility is sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to a label. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.

For a big company like Kellogg’s, it may not matter. Maybe Smart Start is doing well enough. Maybe Kellogg’s can chalk up a good profit despite the questionable product claims.  It’s a big company, with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.

Smaller companies don’t have that luxury. You can’t afford to launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances.

What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos?

It’d be a recipe for a small-business branding disaster…

Relevance would be the first to go, since people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. (Just because you can make a claim, doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant to your core audience.) “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition.

Credibility would lost, because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

And, of course consistency would be sacrificed. Consistency of flavor and consistency of their messaging.

After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?

  1. Make sure your product claims are relevant, and not just good-for-nothing add-ons.
  2. Don’t choose a name, like “Smart Start” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
  3. Be consistently authentic. If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do dinners.

For more on what all great brands have in common, try THIS post.

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a free consult with BNBranding. 

 

1 what great brands have in common Patagonia

What do great brands have in common?

What are the common attributes of the world’s greatest brands? And more importantly, what can the average business owner, entrepreneur or marketing director learn from the greats?

I could have done a listicle on the subject: “5 things that great brands have in common.” But that would have been lame… the form of the content would have been contrary to the first, most common attribute that great brands share: Differentiation.

Great brands are highly differentiated from the competition. 

Brands like Ikea, Whole Foods and Nike play by their own rules. They break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture and catch the competition off guard. That’s how they establish leadership positions.

Under Armour has risen past Adidas and grabbed second place behind Nike, and it wasn’t by making me-too products. They broke the preconceived notion of function in a t-shirt and have parlayed that into a sporting goods powerhouse.

common attributes of great brandsZappos differentiated itself in the E-commerce arena by focusing on service.

Tony Hsieh knew, from the very beginning, that it wasn’t just a matter of moving a lot of shoes. He wanted to be the Nordstrom of Ecommerce, and Hsieh built the entire operation around that one, core brand value.

Now it’s actually integrated into the Zappos brand identity. “Powered by Service.”

These days, start-ups commonly pitch themselves as the Zappos of of this, and the Zappos of that… “The Zappos of office supplies.”  “The Zappos of skateboarding.”  “The Zappos of specialty foods.”

They all want to differentiate themselves by emulating Zappos, and then get bought by Amazon for $928 million. Like Zappos did.

Apple has always played by its own rules. It’s not just differentiated, it’s purposely contrarian.

It was born that way, as the counter-culture antithesis to Windows and IBM.

According to a 2002 Wired Magazine article, “they did it by building a sense of belonging to an elite club by portraying the Mac as embodying the values of righteous outsiderism and rebellion against injustice.”

common attributes of great brands

So as I write this article on a MacBook Pro what does that say about me?

It says that I’m consciously creative. That I value design. That I like simplicity. That I’m not a corporate lemming. That I “think different.”

Those feelings were imprinted in me the first time I sat down at at a little Mac. And now those feelings keep replaying every time I pick up my iPhone 7. (Not so much when I have to deal with iTunes.)

Great brands connect on an emotional, gut level.

A hot bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter day triggers feelings of comfort, love and security for millions of Americans. It’s M’m M’m Good! (That slogan is ranked as one of the 10 best of the 20th century, and it was successfully resurrected in 2002.)

The ingrained goodwill that we have for Campbell’s Soup is the only thing that’s sustaining the company amid MSG scares, shrinking category sales, and stiff competition from Progresso and other, healthier choices such as Amy’s and Pacific Foods.

what great brands have in commonSpeaking of emotional attachment, let’s talk Target, the country’s second-largest retailer.

My daughter is an absolute brand fanatic. She lives for those Target shopping trips. The ads speak to her. The experience is superior to any other store. And she loves the products they carry. She jokingly admits to “having a problem.”

According to Harvard Business Review, Target’s business objective was to create an alternative to Wal-Mart’s price leadership. It’s done that through upscale discounting — a concept associating style, quality, and price competitiveness.

This “cheap-chic” strategy enabled Target to become a major brand and consumer-shopping destination, and was built around two interrelated branding activities:

what great brands have in common... Target, Zappos, Apple, Harley DavidsonDesigner partnerships and clever, creative advertising.

Target spends 2.3 percent of its revenues on advertising. Target’s agencies regularly come up with fun, memorable ad campaigns that maintain the brand’s hip design aesthetic that has helped transformed its signature bull’s-eye logo into a lifestyle symbol. As my daughter put it, “Yeah, I follow them on Instagram because it’s aesthetically pleasing.”

Target’s brand promise is summed up very nicely in its tagline, “Expect More. Pay Less.”  In other words, the value is a given, but there’s style too. Otherwise, millennials would dessert it faster than you can say “Where’d Sears go?”

what great brands have in commonTarget has successfully associated its name with a younger, hipper, edgier image than its competitors. It’s not just Target, it’s “Tar-zhay.” And for my daughter, who grew up shopping there, it will always will have a special place in her heart.

If you’re a skier, you might be interested in the emotional attachment I have to my Head skis.

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll be familiar with the cult-like culture of Harley Davidson.

If you’re a driving enthusiast, you’ll relate to BMW’s brand messaging…  “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” And you’ll understand that no one bought a Dodge Viper because of its product features.

Emotion is everything when it comes to building an iconic brand.

Great brands deliver on their promise year after year.

Target stays relevant by keeping up with the latest fashion trends and aligning itself with the right designers. The right stars. The right brand affiliations. It’s a constant effort to always keep things fresh.

Many business owners seem to think of branding as a one-time event — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all. Branding requires constant diligence.

You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not delivering on your brand promise. To remain emotionally connected to your tribe, you have work at it on a day-to-day basis. Because an iconic brand does not guarantee business success.

Was Saturn iconic? Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of the auto industry have stalled, and ended up in the perverbial junkyard.

VW lost millions of fans when they duped the public on Diesel admissions. But the strength of the brand will carry it through. Eventually.

what all great brands have in common Audi

For about 10 years I was a loyal Audi owner. One holiday weekend I had to drive my Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night.  I felt security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.

The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand: Best damn cars for snowy roads. Period.

Ultimately, however, the brand lost me. I gave up that extra sense of security on snowy roads in favor of financial security. I just couldn’t justify the expense of long-term Audi ownership. I literally felt sick every time I had to check into the service department at the dealership.

The Audi brand couldn’t deliver on its promise when my car was in shop.

Great brands have a clear sense of purpose.  

Your brand’s purpose isn’t to make money. That’s the purpose of the business. The brand needs to stand for something deeper and more meaningful than that.

Nike sells shoes and apparel. But it’s purpose is to inspire action, performance and personal achievement. “Just Do It.”

Starbucks sells coffee and fast food. But it’s purpose is to fill a void in our busy lives. As Howard Shultz once said, “A burger joint fills the belly, but a good coffeehouse fills the soul.”

Coke-a-Cola sells sugar water, but the brand’s purpose is to spread American values around the world. It’s a little taste of freedom in a bottle.

Ikea sells cheap furniture that you have to painstakingly assemble. But it’s purpose is to bring affordable, modern design to the masses.

What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

Figure it out, write it down, and then start communicating that purpose. Relentlessly.  If you need help with that, call me.

Great brands are great communicators.

A strong, purpose-driven culture won’t help if you don’t communicate clearly.  So sharp storytelling skill is another thing that great brands have in common.

It’s a challenge, staying “on message.” That’s where many companies go wrong… their advertising says one thing, their social media campaigns say another thing, and their website communicates something else entirely.

Consistency and alignment is something all great brands have in common.

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a consistent, compelling story to match. They use an authentic, visual narrative. No staged shots of pretty boy models. No over-explanation.

It’s an approach that establishes that intangible, emotional connection that fuels success and inspires people… Participate in the outdoors and help save our wild, beautiful places.

For more on what great brands have in common, try this post.  For help with your own brand, make an appointment with me at BNBranding. We’ll get your messages aligned, and your advertising noticed.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

Need a new logo? (5 things to know before you hire professional help)

A lot of people think they need a new logo. Or “rebranding,” which is usually just a logo revision.

newtips for new logo design by BNBrandingAnd there many ways to get that job done… You can hire a big design firm, a strategic branding agency, a freelance graphic designer, a commercial illustrator or even an animator.

Unfortunately, you can also have your cousin’s wife’s kid draw a new logo for you, or you can crowd source it through one of those online sweatshops.

But what you think you want may not be what your business really needs.

To succeed in business, at any level, you need a brand. Not just a logo. And brands are much more than just a graphic design exercise.

So here are five important tips for getting a brand off the ground. This is what you need to know before doing a new logo in order to get the best results from any brand identity team or graphic designer.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding1. Logo design is not the place to start.

Before anyone dives into the design of a new logo, you need an idea. Because brands are built on ideas.

What’s the idea behind your brand? What are the motives that drive the business? What’s your cause or the purpose behind all that hard work you do?

You have to spell it out. You need a clear brand strategy, written down, so the designers have something to work with.

Otherwise, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. Meaningless art.

By dialing in your brand platform and core brand messages you’ll save everyone from frustrating false starts and wasted effort. Unfortunately, most graphic designers cannot help you with this strategy piece. (It’s not just a form you fill out.) So you’ll either need to figure it out for yourself, or hire a strategic branding firm. Here’s a post that’ll help you get started.

2. Be clear about what you stand for.

There’s an old saying in the design business… “Show us your soul and we’ll show you your brand.”

The soul of your brand, and the foundation for your brand identity, begins with core values and shared beliefs. Those beliefs, your passion and your sense of purpose are all critically important for the design team. If you don’t know what you stand for, it’s going to be very difficult to build an iconic brand. Here’s some help on how to define your brand values.

3. A brand identity does not equate to a brand.

The logo is just the tip of the branding iceberg. The logo is what people see, initially, but if you want to establish a memorable, lasting brand – and ultimately an iconic brand – you’ll need to go a little deeper. The vast mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than the design work on top. The logo should be a reflection of what’s going on down there.

Click here for some more insight on that. 

4. You’re completely blind to the creative possibilities.

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingThis is not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. Unless you’ve studied graphic design, you have no idea how great your brand identity could really be. You’d be amazed.

Your expectations are based only on what you see everyday… the ho-hum, literal graphics that are standard fare in your industry, your town, and your local grocery store.

If you can set-aside your preconceived notions and move past those visual cliches, you’ll be much closer to success. Be open minded, not literal-minded. Let your design team explore the ideas that seem most outrageous to you. Those are the ideas that are remembered.

Here’s more on the possibilities of logo design. 

5. The agency can only get you so far…

The scope of work among branding firms and graphic design studios varies dramatically, depending on the talent pool. Some firms, like mine, provide research, strategy, planning and brand messaging in addition to design. Others limit their bag of tricks to just the graphics.

In any case, the agency cannot guarantee long-term branding success. We can devise a strategy, point the way, and help communicate things in a breathtaking manner, but we can’t force you live up to your brand’s reputation.

You have to do that. Every day.

The trick to building a lasting, iconic brand is in the operational details. You have to continually prove that you can live up to your brand promise.

Your product has to deliver. Your service has to be up to snuff. Your people have to believe in your brand. Your brand affiliations need to line up. And your marketing communications need to be a reflection of that operational reality.

Otherwise all the branding talk is just wishful thinking.

 

 

 

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBranding

Secondary Reality (Alternative facts in natural foods marketing)

Here’s a comment you hear in corporate conference rooms everywhere:

“Those marketing guys aren’t dealing in reality.”

Damn right. If we dealt only in reality the operations guys wouldn’t have backlogs. The finance guys wouldn’t have profits to count. The Human Resources department wouldn’t need more resources.

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBrandingBecause perception IS reality. Especially when it comes to natural foods marketing.

A few years ago in a piece on brand credibility I said, “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.”

There’s a secondary reality in every market segment. Consumers within that segment share a powerful belief system that is not based on facts at all. It’s what psychologists call Motivated Reasoning.

“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition,” says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. “People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”

We all have a natural tendency to cherry pick the facts. We tune in to the information that fits our existing beliefs, and blow-off everything else.

Our modern media landscape seems to be amplifying the retreat from facts. “These are wonderful times for motivated reasoners,” said Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland. “The internet provides an almost infinite number of sources of information from which to choose your preferred reality. There’s an echo chamber out there for everyone.”

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingGolfers, for instance, live in a constant state of delusion about how well they could ever play. It’s wishful thinking based on a skewed reality of hope… “If only I had that new $450 driver I’m sure I’d break 80.” They construct a set of assumptions such as “more distance equals lower scores” and “that big-name pro would never steer me wrong with lousy instruction.”

The fact is, those perceptions drive sales. Reality doesn’t even come into play. In fact, it’s quite perilous if you choose to present a story that contradicts that alternate reality with actual facts.

They just don’t want to hear it.

In the natural foods industry there’s a secondary reality that says if it’s in this category, then it must be good for me. That’s simply not true. The reality is that many so-called “natural” foods have no health benefit whatsoever.

Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.

natural foods marketingThe tribe of people who who are drinking the natural, fortified kool-aid of the health food industry make certain assumptions and hold a particular set of beliefs that the rest of the world does not share.

So you don’t have to present scientific proof that it’s actually healthy. You just have to work with the existing perception, and present the alternative fact that your product is healthier than the traditional choice.

Vitamin Water is healthier than Coke or Pepsi. It’s less bad for you than the traditional option.

Seth Godin refers to these as “truth” stories. They’re true within the alternate reality of the market segment.

For example… Those natural potato chips that I crave everyday for lunch… probably not good for me. But I believe they’re healthier than the traditional, mainstream choice – Lays. So my own motivated reasoning tells me to buy the natural alternative.

I know it’s not like eating broccoli, but it’s incrementally healthier than what I used to eat, and that’s okay. That’s what fits into my own personal reality. That’s my truth.

So if you’re making “healthy” salty snack foods, remember… You can’t compete with broccoli on healthiness. But you can compete with Lays.

Here are some other examples of alternative facts from the health food industry:

Baked is better than fried. Doesn’t matter if those natural cheese puffs are loaded with fat, the mainstream consumer will buy them as long as they’re not fried. And health foods are moving more and more into the mainstream.

Healthy fats are okay.  Forget about the old adage that says “fats make you fat.” The pendulum is swinging the other direction right now, and many companies are using the term “healthy fats” in their product claims. The FDA’s not buying it, and it’s highly debatable in the scientific community, but that doesn’t matter. Consumers are buying it.  Just look at the sales of coconut oil.

natural foods marketing on the brand insight blog by BNBranding

XYZ secret ingredient is the best thing ever.  Health-minded consumers are quick to jump on whatever ingredient is trendy…. Acai, turmeric, ginger, apple cider vinegar, duck fat, coconut water, Aquamin, prebiotoics, probiotics, whatever.

Beware… Those trends are fickle. All it takes is one high-profile “scientific” study to discredit your main ingredient and doom your entire product line.

Here’s the real truth behind ingredients for the supplements industry: Companies that market those ingredients routinely accept anything more than 50% success rate in initial clinical trials. So in other words… even if the ingredient is only effective half the time, it’s still commercially viable.

Are you kidding me? Doesn’t matter. Consumers are swallowing it. Perception IS reality.

In natural foods marketing it’s not just about ingredients – even the best ingredients cannot drive sales by themselves. It’s not about what the product is, it’s what the product could be in the mind of the person who lives in the same, alternative reality. It’s entirely aspirational.

Advertising legend George Lois put it quite well; “Great advertising campaigns should portray what we feel in our hearts the product can grow to become. The imagery should be ahead of the product, not in a way that assails credulity, but in a sensitive way that inspires belief in the product’s benefits and instills a greater sense of purpose to those who produce and sell it.”

Credulity is rampant in natural foods marketing. In every category.

Michael Proctor, a colleague of mine who’s been in the health food industry for 30 years, says you have to dance around the side of things. “The messages are getting more mainstream. The benchmarks and buzzwords keep changing, so it’s like a crab, always moving sideways. But you have to know what the prevailing reality is, in order to skirt around it and find the reality that you resonate with.”

Know the reality. Tap into the prevmarketing supplements Brand Insight Blogailing perception.

Getting your messaging right is not an easy task. The good news is, most of your competitors are probably missing it, which means you have room to move in and effectively control the dialog.supplements marketing BNBranding

Is “25 billion probiotics” an effective claim to make? 50 billion? 100 billion? 200 billion? What’s the number?

Probably none marketing supplements and natural foods marketingof the above. Those companies are getting caught up in a numbers race and are missing the more relevant point.

Probably time to move like a crab and find another story to tell.

To learn more, give me a call or visit website.

For more on truth in marketing, check out THIS post.

Keen branding

 

 

 

 

9 brand core values

Successful brands are built on beliefs. Not products.

Most small business owners never think about the important underpinnings of their brand. They just want to deliver a good product. Build the business. Make some sales. And earn a good living. Branding and brand values just aren’t a high priority.

how to define your core brand values on the brand insight blogThat’s understandable given the daily workload that business owners endure.

But the most successful small businesses — and all the beloved, billion-dollar brands — are built on a solid foundation of shared values and beliefs. And those core brand values go way beyond product attributes or corporate mission statements.

So if you’re launching a new business, or if you’re trying to define the core brand values of an existing one, it pays to think like a beloved brand.

In “Corporate Religion” Jesper Kunde put it this way:  “What leads a company to success is its philosophy, values and beliefs, clearly articulated. Communicating the company’s attitudes and values becomes the decisive parameter for success.  And it demands that you find out who you are as a company.”

brand core values

Brands are built on authentic values and beliefs. Not BS.

Who you are. (Brand personality)

What you believe in. (Core Brand Values)

In “Good To Great,” Jim Collins says, ” Our research shows that a fundamental element of all great companies is a core ideology — core values and a sense of purpose beyond just making money — that inspires people throughout the organization and remains relatively fixed for long periods of time.”

Here’s an exercise that’ll help you find your passion and articulate the beliefs that become the spine of your brand…

Get some quiet, focused time away from the office. Then start a list of all the things you believe in. Personal and professional. If you’re trying to define your core brand values for the first time, you should also make a list of the things that really piss you off. Those hot button issues can be a great source of inspiration for core values and a fantastic differentiator for you business.

My partners and I recently did this as part of our website re-vamp. The fact is, prospective customers want to do business with those who share their own values and ideals. So if we want to leverage those beliefs, and attract like-minded clients, it’s important to include that content on our website. They are also a constant source of material for social media posts, advertising and PR efforts.

“The better your company communicates its attitudes and beliefs, the stronger you will be.” Kunde said. “When consumers are confronted with too many choices, their decisions become increasingly informed by shared beliefs.”

Our core brand values at BNBranding are helpful reminders for anyone who’s trying to build a lasting, respected brand:

We believe that creativity is the ultimate business weapon. Inspired, innovative thinking is behind every great brand, from Apple to Zappos. We also believe that it’s hard to be creative when you’re stuck, up to your neck, in day-to-day operations. Most business owners need a spark from the the outside.

We believe in the power of disruptive words. Proven fact: Well-crafted messages with unexpected words and images have more impact. Because the human brain automatically screens out the normal, mundane language of most business pitches. It’s in one ear, and out the other, without disturbing a single brain cell. Great messages, on the other hand, fire the synapses and trigger an emotional response.

We believe that when it comes to selling, emotion trumps logic every time. Research it yourself… the latest brain science proves that people make emotional purchases, then use reason to justify the decision. No great brand has ever been built on reason alone. Not one. In branding, it’s what they feel, not what they think.

We still believe in the marketing MIX. Technology is a great new weapon in our quiver of marketing tools, but it’s not the bow. You still need a mix of marketing tactics. Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Snapchat provide exciting new ways to tell stories and make connections, but technology itself isn’t the story. And yes, TV, radio and even direct mail advertising still deserve a spot in the mix.

We believe in the glory of a good story.  Every great business has an engaging story to tell. So tell it! Find creative new ways to spin that tale, and keep telling it over and over again. Tell it in ads, tell it on your site, tell it presentations, tweets and Facebook posts. It does you no good to define your core brand values, and then NOT communicate them. Facts tell, stories sell.

core brand values on the Brand Insight Blog by John FurgursonWe believe that image matters. The image you portray − in words, graphics, music, pictures, events, affiliations − can differentiate your business and give you a leg up on the competition. But the style needs substance, as well.

We believe Design belongs in business school.  Tom Peters calls it “the soul of new enterprise.”  It’s Design that differentiates the world’s most valuable brand – Apple. It’s Design that made Tupperware a cultural phenomenon. Design evokes passion, emotion and attachment… all required elements of great brands.

We believe in the art of persuasion. Data is a big deal these days. But effective marketing communications still comes down to saying the right thing, and saying it well. A brilliantly crafted combination of words and images will always be more motivating than data.

So what about you?  What do you honestly, passionately believe in, and how can those personal beliefs be translated into core brand values?

You cannot be one thing in life, and another thing in business. It’s called brand authenticity, and if you’re faking it, potential customers will figure it out.

I once worked for a company that was less than upfront about their true values. They posted a mission and values statement on their site, but the words didn’t ring true to those of us on the inside. It was just corporate BS, which we discovered soon enough during a PR firestorm.

I can tell you emphatically… NOT divulging your true values to your team is a recipe for disaster. It’s literally impossible to lead effectively, motivate the troops and employ true brand ambassadors without being upfront about your true self.

The language that companies use for the “core values” often gives them away. Don’t ever say you’re “dedicated to” something or “committed to” whatever.  The most common cliche is “committed to quality.”  Or “dedicated to excellence.” You can’t build a brand around that. That aint even good english.

And one final thing… keep in mind that most of your competitors are not thinking about authenticity, core brand values, or anything resembling deep-seated truths. So when you do, you’ll have a significant competitive advantage over them. At least with the people who believe as you do.

If you’re interested in building a strong culture based on honest brand values, check out this post.

 

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.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

I sat down with Steve to talk brand building in the kombucha market, 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. 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 (the grocery chain) called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their 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.

Keen branding

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.  Or view our natural foods portfolio.

4

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.

Sailing into a big, blue ocean of opportunity.

Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…

Under Armour marketing on the Brand Insight Blog“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said.  “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing.  I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”

Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on. It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.

That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post blue ocean strategyOften the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.

It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…

“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.”  “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”

Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy. The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.

Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.

635951675884228258570468626_ikea-shoppingWhen it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.

Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses. They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer. The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.

Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.

Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”  Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.

Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.  

So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that…  Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?

Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.

 

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.