A lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.
They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.
They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”
Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots.
They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”
On the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.
So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.
Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.
The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.
It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.
Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.
Tom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values. Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”
As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.
Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.
If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.
If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.
If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.
Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore.Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.
If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.
I grew up on the creative side of the advertising industry. In that world, big ideas produce big bucks. Agency creative teams toil endlessly to come up with the spark of an idea that can be leveraged into a giant, category-busting campaign.
When it comes to winning new accounts, ad agencies pit their ideas, head-to-head, with the big ideas from competing agencies. Winner takes all. In that business, big ideas are the currency of success.
Big ideas are also the bread and butter of the start-up world. Entrepreneurs and VCs are constantly searching for innovative, disruptive ideas that solve a problem, attract venture capital and produce teaming hordes of 28-year old billionaires.
And in Hollywood, producers are aways searching for high-concept movie ideas that break out of the normal, predictable patterns and produce box-office mega hits like Avatar or Titanic.
There’s absolutely no doubt that big ideas can transform a brand — from bland to brilliant. And there’s no doubt that your website is great place to showcase that big idea.
But you’re going to need a new approach to website design.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the typical website project, big ideas are as rare as a Harry Potter blockbuster.
Most small business websites are nothing more than bad corporate brochures in electronic form. Everywhere you look there are cookie-cutter templates, lousy stock photos and “keyword-rich” copy that sounds like it was rendered by a robot rather than written by a pro.
You wouldn’t take a generic ad template that all your competitors are using, fill in the blanks, and then spend $20,000 to run it in a national magazine. But that’s essentially what a lot of companies are doing with their website design projects. It’s like paint by numbers, and the results are mind-numbing.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a whole new approach to website design. Because the current standard operating procedure for website projects is all wrong. It shouldn’t be a project at all, it should be an ongoing initiative. It should always be evolving and improving, just like your business.
“When’s it going to be done?” is the wrong question to ask. It should never be done.
Instead, ask “What’s the big idea?” What’s the novel concept that will differentiate this website from all the rest, and move viewers to action?
Everyone in the web development world knows that web projects get bogged down by one thing: “Content.”
The tech guys who build sites are always waiting for interesting headlines, engaging copy, uncommon offers, authentic stories and brilliant graphics to arrive from the client. Sometimes, it seems, for an eternity.
Because that’s the hardest part. Building a site on a WordPress theme is easy compared to the work that has to be done, up front…
First you need some Strategic Insight. Then the Big Idea. (Think “Got Milk” or “Where’s The Beef.”) THEN execution… That’s where all the elements come together. 1-2-3.
Unfortunately, most companies jump right to Step 3.
In the web design arena, the tail is definitely wagging the dog. It’s technology first, process second, content third. Nowhere does the big idea come into play. It’s the most commonly overlooked element of any web project.
So here’s my advice for any business owner or marketing person who’s thinking of “doing a new website”:
Forget about that website design project, and instead, launch a campaign that starts with a big idea. Think of it as a long-term marketing program, not a short-term project. Think of it as a new approach to web design that’s more wholistic, more integrated, and more effective than the old way.
Yes, paddling back upstream is often difficult work. And you often need outside help to come up with the strategic insight and big idea you really need. But the effort will pay off.
The big idea is the branding thread that connects all your marketing efforts… It’s not limited just to your website. It should carry through to your social media campaigns, your paid advertising, your PR and even your customer service procedures.
When you begin with a big idea, the website falls into place quite naturally. It’s just another tactical execution of the big, strategic idea. When it’s done right, it obviously aligns your marketing strategy and tactics into one, kick-ass idea.
In Eastern philosophy yin yang represents the concept of duality. Two halves working together toward wholeness and harmony. It’s the dance of opposites — where seemingly contrary forces are actually complementary.
Like marketing strategy and tactics.
“Wholeness” — ie optimal results — is only achieved when you strike that delicate balance between the two. When the marketing tactics flow naturally from the strategy.
If your marketing efforts are predominantly tactical, without adequate strategy, you’ll be throwing money at ill-conceived tactics. Ready, fire aim! If it’s tipped the other direction, you’ll spend all your time preparing, planning and aiming, without pulling the trigger.
When you employ both halves of the marketing equation you can touch a glorious chord of emotion while still employing a data-driven strategy. It’s old-school story telling balanced with new technology and analytics.
Right-brain creativity with left-brain analysis. Yin and yang. Marketing strategy and tactics. One cannot live without the other.
All marketing programs are a mix of strategy and tactics, but most small business owners gravitate heavily toward the tactical side of the equation. They forego the strategy part for several reasons: Because they can’t do it themselves, because they perceive it as being too expensive, because they don’t have time, or because they don’t see the value in it.
But they pour a lot of money into tactics.
They use social media specialists and graphic artists to produce content. They purchase TV time and digital ads. They produce videos for YouTube and run radio ads, but there is no thread of continuity. No consistency of voice or message. No strategic platform from which to work. No yin yang balance.
Therefore, the effectiveness of each tactic is compromised.
Let’s look at some of the opposing, yin yang elements of any good marketing program:
Inward vs. outward.
Many businesses are too inwardly focused when it comes to marketing. Instead of addressing the needs, wants and emotions of their prospects, they talk about themselves and their industry. It’s all me, me, me, me, with a bunch of jargon thrown in for credibility purposes.
Not only that, outward facing marketing tactics and messages are often out-of-balance with the internal operation of the company. The ultimate success of your brand doesn’t hinge on what the marketing people say, it hinges on what you actually do. When you do great things, effective marketing messages are much easier to come by.
So what are you doing internally that your marketing department could build a strategy around?
Emotional vs. analytical.
Never underestimate the influence of feelings. Many business owners operate as if cold, calculating characters like Spock make all the buying decisions. They line up the spreadsheets, produce some charts and graphs, and expect facts and data to do all the work.
But the latest brain research shows that’s just not the case. fMRI testing proves that emotion commingles with reason, even in rigorous business-to-business purchasing decisions. In fact, many studies show it’s emotion that triggers action.
As one writer put it, “emotion is in the Oval office while the rational brain is in the press center, justifying the decisions that have already been made.”
Fast vs. slow
Some tactics need to get done quickly. For instance, social media posts are often very time sensitive, so there’s not much consideration for craftsmanship. TV commercials or print ads, on the other hand, demand careful attention to detail, so you need to leave time to do it right.
Strategy also takes time and thoughtful consideration. Strategic issues arise when the strategy is rushed to accommodate the tactical to-do list. Confusion and credibility issues arise when the tactics are produced in a vacuum, with no strategic guidance. All yang, and no yin.
Positive vs. negative.
Some marketers believe that you should never mention the competition. Always stick to a rosey picture of positivity, they say. But there are some strategic situations that demand a negative approach to execution. Sometimes it’s simply stronger to refer to someone else’s weakness than to talk about your own strengths.
The yin yang of competition is often the most poignant and effective approach for campaigns. All great brands have arch enemies. Coke has Pepsi. McDonalds has Burger King. Apple has Microsoft. Don’t shy away from that just because you’re afraid of offending someone. Better to offend some, than be invisible to everyone.
That said, you can’t have a marketing campaign that’s completely negative, all the time. Especially in small town like Bend. It’ll probably come off as snarky.
Male vs. female
A comedian once said that women make 80% of all the decisions — and they have veto power over the other 20%. Keep that in mind when you’re working on tactics, planning your strategy and building a brand. Women remember things! And they’ll attach very strong emotions to those memories, so you better not piss them off.
On the other hand, if you show genuine empathy, and make them feel good, they’ll be great brand ambassadors for you. And don’t forget… Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram skew heavily toward women.
Yin Yang is not static. Neither is your marketing.
The nature of Yin Yang flows and changes with time. So does your marketing. Sometimes it’s stop and go.
Some initiatives are purely tactical, while others are more strategic. Factors outside your control can change your strategy completely or rob you of tactics that you once counted on.
The seasonal nature of most businesses means that tactics may be bunched heavily into one time of year, while planning takes place another. Not only that, goals can change dramatically from one year to another. So you can’t just upload the same marketing plan year after year and expect it to work. You can’t keep running the same ads on the same shows or websites.
The balance point is always shifting. Hot & cold. In and out. Yin and yang. Enlightenment is achieved only when marketing strategy and tactics come together.
If you’re wondering about your own balance point, give me a call. 541-815-0075. For more on marketing strategy and tactics, try this post.
Chocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.
Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.
Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?
It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer. And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.
Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.
So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.
The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.
If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even. Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.
• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.
There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.
• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.
Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea. The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.
• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.
Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)
Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.
These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”
The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.
• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.
The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.
In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.
In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.
Those are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers.
But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.
Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.
In 1980 Absolut was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.
But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.
So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.
TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.
Needless to say, it worked.
The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.
The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.
“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”
That’s my own quote.
Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!
Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)
They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.
This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.
Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.
Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.
But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.
Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.
Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.
Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.
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.
Zappos 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.”
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.
Speaking 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:
Designer 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?”
Target 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 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.
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.
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.
Every year, thousands of American E-commerce startups are launched with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat.
But a few will experience meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)
What’s the difference? Why do some e-commerce start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?
Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail:
They ignore the 4 Ps of Marketing.
Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything that was taught in Marketing 101 simply because they have a new distribution method. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to ecommerce entrepreneurs.
Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because you’re only doing business online. You just have to take a little different route.
Take, for example, the traditional 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place (distribution) & Promotion. It’s an old-school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should also seriously consider.
But before we get to that, let’s look at the originals that make up the 4 Ps of Marketing. Consider it a handy refresher:
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.”
These days, it happens in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer-generated reviews doom bad products faster than you can type “#bankrupt.” So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.
Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product or service.
Not anymore. These days your product or product line-up has to be among the best in class. Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built in to your core product or service. In other words, the marketing needs to be baked right into the product.
Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”
Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!
Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important P of the 4 Ps of Marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.
I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:
• The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases and buyer’s remorse. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged. And we’re much more likely to price shop, since it doesn’t involve driving all over town.
• In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies don’t charge anything.
• It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Walmart, forget about it! There’s always some other website waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.
So you have to go back to the first P.
You have to devise a product or service that has a perceived value that’s higher than your competitor’s, but a sale price that’s equal or lower.
Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. It’s one of their brand fundamentals. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product. This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan.
Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.
That’s a big idea. A purple cow based on the 3rd P.
Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still critically important. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…
Will you sell on Amazon? Use Amazon fulfillment? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell to specialty brick & mortar stores at wholesale? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.
Messaging. Content. Ease of use. Overall design. Product presentation. Back-end functionality. It’s all important.
Historically, the fourth P revolved around mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales promotions, telemarketing, PR and direct response, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.
These days, a lot of people seem to think social media is synonymous with marketing.
But social media is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of other tactics you should consider once you’ve devised a clear brand strategy.
Insight first, then execution. Strategy then tactics.
Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four or five you now have dozens… Content marketing, You Tube videos, paid search, Facebook posts, Twitter, Snapchat and a hundred other online options complicate the mix. The marketing landscape isn’t so much a landscape these days, as it is a landslide. Most business owners are overwhelmed by all the “marketing opportunities” out there.
And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.
But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement. Tracking those click-throughs to conversion allows you to hone in on the message that’s most persuasive and eliminate the promotional efforts that don’t pull.
So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of marketing. Think you can afford to ignore any of them?
What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed from the top down, around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. They’re too inwardly focused.
So here’s a new P for your consideration:
5. Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.
Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1980’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people who are involved and engaged with your brand.
How do you do that?
It starts with market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.
Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice.
Some people simply can’t do it themselves… they’re too far inside the bottle to see clearly. So get some professional help. Talk to your front-line employees, customers, non-customers, competitor’s customers. Do it on the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter. Just do it.
The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that insight is what weaves all the other Ps together.
It should be the starting point, not an afterthought.
You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.
Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s. Put them all together, and sustain the effort, and you’ll have one big, iconic B: A Brand.
“Travel advisory for the entire New England area.”
“Heavy snow accumulations across the Rockies.”
Subaru of America loves headlines like that. Every time a big storm
brings traffic to a standstill, the front page of the newspaper reads like a branding ad for Subaru.
Which brings me to an ad that I spotted in Ski Magazine some years ago. It was pleasantly simple:
“Snowstorm Advisory. (More of a calling than a warning)”
No photo of the car. Just a dramatic photo of a lonely road in a blizzard. It’s taken in the first-person perspective, as if I’m sitting in the front seat on my way to the mountain.
That ad doesn’t just speak to me. It sings.
Hats off to the creative team that did that ad. And a round of applause for the client at Subaru who actually stood up against the industry convention and agreed to leave the car out altogether.
It takes guts to run a full page ad in a national magazine without showing the product. And I’m sure the dealers gripe about it, and say “it’s just a branding ad, it’s never going to sell anything.”
This is the type of product-as-hero image that every dealer wants in every ad.
But nevertheless, it works.
It speaks volumes about the brand, and it touches a highly relevant emotional chord with anyone who has ever driven through a blizzard to be first on the chairlift.
Besides, with a limited budget there’s a good, practical reason to leave out the product shot: The appeal is not limited to any one model of Subaru. It’s not an ad for the Outback, it’s an ad for the brand.
Just let them imagine whatever Subaru model they like. For a younger, California skier it could be a WRX. For a Birkenstock-wearing telemark skier in Vermont, it’s a Forrester.
By NOT showing the model, they actually sell every Subaru in the line up.
Damn right it’s a branding ad! You should be so lucky.
The Subaru ad reflects a genuine, empathetic understanding of the core audience.
Kevin Mayer, Subaru’s Director of Marketing, says his brand is as much about customers as it is about products.
Subaru caters to outdoorsy people of comfortable means who opt for function over fashion every time. It’s a well-targeted niche market of skiers, hikers and kayakers who need all-wheel-drive for navigating unpredictable roads. (Not surprisingly, most Subarus are sold in the Northwest and the Northeast, where there’s a lot of skiing, kayaking and hiking.)
But more importantly, “Subaru owners are experience seekers – they want to live bigger, more engaged lives,” Mayer, said. “To them, the car is the enabler of that bigger life. A conscious alternative to the mainstream.”
It’s obvious that the ski magazine ad came directly from that sort of crystal-clear consumer insight and brand strategy.
“We went back to the customer and started thinking again about their values and how our values are alike. We dialed in our strategies back to core,” Mayer said in a MediaPost.com article.
To me, the message is loud and clear… crummy, snowy roads can’t stop me from doing what I love.
In this ad, it’s benefits over features, all the way to the bank.
Karl Greenberg, editor of Mediapost said, “Subaru has the kind of brand equity and staunch loyalty you usually find in luxury marques, which means they can keep their message on product and brand, not on deals or features.”
Rather than running a headline that touts the features of a Subaru (ie the “symmetrical all-wheel-drive system) the ski magazine ad conveys the benefits of that system: Being in the mountains doing what I love.
While everyone else is stuck at home, Subaru owners are out enjoying life. Having fun. Missing nothing. It’s a message of empowerment wrapped in a warm, wintery blanket.
That’s what long term brand advertising is all about… connecting with specific groups of people in a relevant, emotional manner, time after time, after time. Until people start feeing like they’re part of the club.
Clearly the top executives at Subaru get it. They know their market. They’re clear on company values. And they’ve designed products that align perfectly with the brand, the message and the medium.
You couldn’t place that Subaru ad in The New Yorker or Parade Magazine, even during a snow storm. It would be out of context and off target.
When you see it in context of ski magazine, it doesn’t come across as hype. It’s as authentic as they come.
But no brand is perfect, and Subaru has had its share of flops, Like this ridiculous photoshop job on the right…
Subaru buyers don’t want to forget about winter. They want to embrace it. Be out in it. Conquer it.
Then there’s the granddaddy of automotive cliches: A Subaru on a curvy road is not only off brand, it’s also downright generic… it reads just like any other standard, run of the mill car ad. That one’s definitely not firing on all cylinders.
Subaru’s foray into the luxury, upscale SUV market was a flop. Subaru CEO Ikuo Mori admitted that the “up market migration” with the B9 Tribeca hasn’t worked.
Too big and too flashy for that family of cars. Jim Treece from Automotive news said, “There is nothing especially wrong with the B9 Tribeca, except that it has utterly nothing to do with Subaru’s brand.”
Subaru enjoys tremendously high brand loyalty. Rally enthusiasts swear by the WRX. Forrester owners love the practicality. And defacto brand ambassadors sell their neighbors on Subaru based on their own brand stories.
Which is the basis for Subaru’s excellent print campaign titled “Dear Subaru.”
Fantastic teasers! I want to go to their site, just to get more about these true stories. Two words and an intriguing photo of a car that’s not posed, polished and fake. That’s all you need for a brilliant branding ad.
A lot of people think they need a new logo. Or they’ll talk about a “rebranding exercise” which is usually just a logo revision.
And there are 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.
1. 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.
4. You’re completely blind to the creative possibilities.
This 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.
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.
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.
Because 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” us 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.
Politics and 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.”
Golfers, 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.
The 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.
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 prevailing 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.
Is “25 billion probiotics” an effective claim to make? 50 billion? 100 billion? 200 billion? What’s the number?
Probably none of 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.
It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.
These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.
The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.” In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.
So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…
The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.
So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.
The same can be said for your local listings on Google. Cover the basics, front and center, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it.
But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. In many cases that same website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.
Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.
Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.
Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there, so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a completely different set of needs and expectations.
Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.
The first impression level.
The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.
So how do you do that on a website?
Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.
Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”
The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.
That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high. They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.
The conceptual, branding level.
Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”
More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”
Being distinct is what branding is all about.
Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.
The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.
Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.
For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.
When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.
Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.
It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography. It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!
When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?
Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.
The research or “how-to” level.
The deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.
On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.
Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.
The conversion level.
Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product.
So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.
Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.
If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075. If you want more on Website design and development, try THIS post: