Tag Archives for " BRANDING "

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.

2

How to create a website that works for your brand.

For some reason, many people think that “branded websites” won’t sell product or produce a steady stream of leads. And on the other hand, they don’t think “Ecommerce sites” will help their branding efforts.

As if the two are mutually exclusive.

Well, here’s the good news: You really can have a branded website that converts well AND presents a strong brand message. But you’re going to have to go beyond the template-driven who, what, when and where approach that’s so common these days.

Here’s what you need to build a branded website that works on both levels: The 4 critical elements of website design and effective web development.

1. A concept.

A concept is the foundation of every great site, and probably the single most overlooked element for all business owners. And let me be very clear…

A wordpress theme is not a concept.

A new logo is not a concept.

A photo of your product is not a concept.

A photo of the exterior of your building is not a concept.

A photo of your team is not a concept (unless they’re doing something rather unusual that conveys an idea about your brand.)

See, a concept is an idea.

In web design it’s an idea in the form of words, visuals and technical features that come together in compelling way. It’s image and presentation and persuasion and storytelling all coalescing to make a great first impression. So even the most casual website visitor says “hell yes, I want to know more about this company.”

branded websites that convert well - Mini Cooper

A concept from the Mini USA website homepage.

And isn’t that the job of your website? Make a great impression. Engage people. Impress them. Leave them wanting more. That’s marketing 101.

If you have a concept behind your site all the other elements will come together seamlessly. The problem is, most website builders don’t have the creativity, or the sales skills or the knowledge of your market, or the necessary budget to actually develop a cohesive concept for your site. That’s just too much to ask of one person. They can’t do all that, and then write the code to boot! That’s like asking the architect of your new house to also pour the foundation, do the framing, the plumbing, the electrical and the heating system, all by himself.

You need a team to do a good site. But let’s look at the other critical elements of web development, and then come back around to who’s going to do all these things.

2. A clear call to action

This one’s pretty simple, and it’s not just a big ass button that says “buy now.” Every page of your site should have an objective and a preferred action for the consumer. Think of it as leading them down the primrose path. You want to take their hand and show them the way…

Click here. Read this. Watch this. Listen to this. Order that.

Give the user something to do that leads them deeper into the site, and further along in the sales process. They will seldom behave how you want them to, but the alternative is a hodge-podge of pages and elements that lead nowhere.

3. Differentiating elements

A good story is your best differentiating element.

As the old saying goes, facts tell but stories sell. Narrative, characters and plot twists are universally appealing, and very few companies present compelling stories.

So find an interesting way to tell your story. Maybe it’s animation, or video, or a prezi-style slide show, or even a game.

A game can be a differentiating element as well as a concept. Can you transform your web experience into a relevant game? Would that be appropriate for your brand?

branded websites for mini cooper

Differentiating elements: Concept, photo, copy, call to action.

Photography can also be a great differentiator. The human brain skips right over familiar images, so don’t settle for the $10 stock photos that everyone else in your category is using. Hire a pro and make your stuff look better. Sexier. More graphic.

Copywriting can be the difference between a boring branded website and a lead-gen machine.

Don’t let anyone convince you that great web copy is only about keywords, search engine optimization and factual “content.” Every sentence is an opportunity to stand out — or be thrown out. (One quick click and they’re gone to the next site.) Your copy should be sharply crafted. Persuasive. And convincingly genuine, so it doesn’t sound like any other brand.

Here’s a test for you… pull up your branded website and the site of your biggest competitor. Side by side. Then imagine that the logos are swapped out. Are the sites interchangeable? The images the same? The copy comparable.

Are you saying anything they cannot say? If not, you better go back to the drawing board and get a differentiating concept.

4. Reasons to believe

Stories, concepts and images are important, but you also need some facts to back them up. That’s where some branded websites go wrong… they’re all fluff. You need proof that your brand delivers, as promised.

For instance, post some testimonials or reviews from your happy customers. Release engineering data. Competitive reports. White papers. Market research. Anything that’s credible that backs up your value proposition.

People make emotional decisions, but they often need facts to justify what they’ve already decided. So give them what they need, and do it in various forms on multiple pages. When they’re checking out, remind them that they’ve made a great decision.

A very clear brand message... this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

A very clear brand message… this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

So this is all great, in theory. But how do you get it all done?

Part of the problem is who’s doing the work… If your web developer doesn’t have anyone to collaborate with, you’re not going to get an big idea, or great imagery, or well-crafted copy.

You just get code.

It might be great code and a functional site, but it’s not going to contain the five critical elements of effective website design.

You need that programmer, but you also need a writer who can devise the concept and write the copy. Then you need an SEO specialist, a project manager and a designer. That’s the team. (Sometimes the writer or the designer can double as the project manager.)

The team approach may cost a little more at first, but it’s cheaper in the long run because you won’t have to re-do your site 9 months later when it’s not performing as you had hoped.

These days your site is a critical part of your business infrastructure. It’s your storefront and your main form of advertising. You can’t do without one, so you might was well invest in a website that builds your brand AND sells product.

Note… this is NOT a paid post for Mini Cooper, just a nod to their agency and their web design team. This is great work. Plus, it’s a cool brand.

For more about successful website, try THIS post.

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.

too much information in your advertising

TMI. How information is killing your advertising.

Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. Too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.

Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.

imagesInformation is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.

Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the bullshit.

Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively. Terrible execution though. The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.

Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.

If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.

too much information in your advertisingAdvertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will. Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.

A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information… unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision. “Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”

The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.

And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.

“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.

yellow-blue-primroses-18237652“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”

I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”

The underlyintoo much information is killing your advertisingg reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.

So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!

 

For more on this subject, check out THIS post.

 

4 ipod branding on the brand insight blog

Zero-in on Branding success.

I love this saying: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I think Steven Covey coined that one.

the main thing for a top 100 branding blogWhen you boil it all down, that’s the essence of branding success: Zero-in on one thing you can honestly, passionately, expertly hang your hat on, and stick with it. Then when it comes to marketing communications, come up with one idea to convey the main thing, and just pound that home in every way, shape and form you can afford. One idea, multiple executions.

Unfortunately, most business owners and brand managers don’t have that kind of focus. Once they get a taste of success in one little niche, the temptation is just too much… They take their eye off the main thing, and dive into a lesser thing, hoping it will become the next big thing.

It seldom works out that way. The single biggest barrier to success, especially for young brands, is lack of focus.

Geoffrey Moore spelled it out in his seminal work, “Crossing the Chasm: “Target a specific niche as your point of attack and focus all your resources on achieving dominant position in that segment. It’s far better to be the big fish in a smaller pond, rather than flopping around in several small puddles.”

Al Ries and Jack Trout call it the most violated of their “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” They rail against line extensions and point to IBM, Microsoft, Levis, Heinz and this classic case: Crest.

viewdental116eBay_Store_Jan_1959_Crest_Little_Boy_001It used to be very clear… Crest fights cavities. That was the micro script for the brand. The Main Thing. Crest was the “first mover” in the cavity prevention category and it was a strategy that worked brilliantly, cementing Crest as the #1 toothpaste for more than 30 years.

Unfortunately, over time, other toothpaste brands entered the same niche and everyone seemed to offer cavity prevention. Crest abandoned the claim and didn’t find anything to replace it. After holding almost 40% of the market through the 1970s, Crest’s position began to erode at about the same time they launched their first brand extension”Advanced Formula Crest.”

Now there are 41 different kinds of Crest toothpaste. Count ’em! Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Extra White, Crest + Scope, Crest Lasting Mint, Crest Pro-Health Clinical Gum Protection, Crest Invigorating Clean Mint, Crest glamorous white, Crest vivid white, Crest baking soda & peroxide, Crest gel, Crest liquid gel, Crest whitening, Crest gum protection, Crest fluoride anti-cavity and sensitivity relief and even Crest Night Toothpaste.

Give me a break! The Main Thing now for Crest is just the next new gimmick. And it’s no longer the #1 brand.

Marty Neumeier in “Zag” says… people want choice, but they want it among brands, not within brands.” All that Crest clutter just dilutes the brand and confuses the consumer. We have no idea what Crest stands for anymore.

It’s natural for successful owners and marketers to lose focus and start adding stuff to their portfolios of goods and services. They don’t want to miss any opportunities, and they argue that many successful companies have a wide range of products. Apple, for instance.maxresdefaultiPodposter

ipod-advertising1But every Apple product is designed around the one Main Thing: Delightful Simplicity. All the innovation, design and technological prowess of Apple comes together in those two words. That’s the heart of the Apple brand.

Remember this spectacular product launch for the iPod. Even the advertising was delightfully simple. The white cord let everyone know you were listening to something different. And the graphic execution of the ads was a huge branding success.

But you’re not running the world’s most valuable company. And chances are, you don’t have the main thing really nailed down. When you do, things will become easier.

Reis and Trout say: “Focus is the art of carefully selecting your category and then working diligently to get your self categorized in people’s minds.” In other words, branding success is a process.

A good way to start is by saying no. Because what you DON’T do is just as important that what you do do.

Say no to the new investor that thinks you should add a mobile app to your mix. Say no to the engineers who say “we can do this, wouldn’t this be cool.” Say no to the marketing consultant who says you’re missing a great opportunity. Say no to the guy who thinks you should open another location. Sometimes you even have to say no to your biggest customer.

It’s not easy, and it’s often unpopular within the ranks, but that’s what focus is… NOT trying to be all things to all people.

 

2 When Branding outpaces the Brand. And vice versa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most of the art is gone.

02_19_13_Tazo_7

The Inside-Out Approach To Building A Brand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, H.R.!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s up to you.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the single most important thing?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

content marketing for small business

Content Marketing – Finding and providing something genuinely worthwhile.

content marketing for small businessWhen The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the web back in 1999, Christopher Locke wrote, “the internet has made it possible for genuine human voices to be heard again.”

What do you mean, “again”?

Never has the average Joe been afforded unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. This giant electronic soapbox delivers a world-wide audience. Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe.

small-business marketing tips on the Brand Insight BlogHow cool is that?

The democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, photos and articles. It has inexorably changed politics and journalism. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing. You could argue that it’s the greatest thing since the invention of the radio broadcast.

On the other hand, it’s also producing a cacophony of epic proportions.

Used to be, you had to have genuine expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.” If you wanted to get published you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky. You had to have something unique to say, and a unique voice with which to say it. It was not a particularly efficient element of small-business marketing plans.

Online publishing is a different story. There are no editors screening the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and plagiarism is now being touted as “content curation.” And corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news.

Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind.

I frequently get solicitations (ok junk mail) offering pre-written “content” for this blog. For me, it’s a business proposition that just doesn’t compute. Most of the time the article offered is off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re never well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.

Why on earth would I run an article like that? How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my brand? Or my audience? Sure, I could probably generate a little bump in short-term traffic, but it’s not going to produce loyal readers. In fact, it’s more likely to drive readers away.

Great brands are built on consistency and quality, not just clicks.

I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice… Think about your brand first, and clicks second. If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.

Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On most subjects it’s too much information from too many questionable sources.

For instance, you could never wade through all the online chatter about social media marketing. “Will it help my small business? Can I build a brand around it? How do social media marketing? Can I generate leads on Twitter? Where’s it all going? What’s it all mean for small business marketing?”

small business marketing advice I don’t know. It’s still evolving. But I know this: Just because you have a blog and a few thousand friends on Facebook doesn’t make you a social media marketing guru. There are a lot of young wannabes in that field who will gladly charge you for consulting, but few real gurus. It’s too new, too experimental. Guru status comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.

So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware. Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.

Locke preached a sermon of hope for the digital pulpit. He predicted that the internet would forever shift the nature of business communications, and he envisioned a world where the consumer would have a voice and corporations would have to listen.

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

Many big brands are embracing the online “conversation” and are getting better at communicating on a one-to-one level. They may not be the earliest adopters, but they’re catching on and beginning to respond to consumer wishes. If nothing else, they’re now painfully aware when people start spreading negative word-of-mouth.

But corporations don’t control the bulk of the internet conversation. It’s the small-business marketing experts. It’s the average Joe on his soapbox with a big ego and a pay-per-click budget. It’s the stay-at-home baker who wants to brag about her latest batch of cookies. It’s the teenage entrepreneur cashing in on Youtube. Those little businesses are popping up faster than you can say, “what happened to Myspace?” And that’s great.

small business marketing tip from the Brand Insight BlogUnfortunately there also are many modern snake oil salesman peddling their wares with content marketing. Despite the advances of social media, (or maybe because of the advances) there’s more phony crap out there than ever before.

The self-help industry. The diet programs. The plastic surgeons. The get-rich-quick guys. And my personal favorite, the golf swing gurus. Every Tin Cup wannabe has an instructional DVD or downloadable E-book available on the web. And they’re all “guaranteed to shave strokes off your game.”

Golf Digest wouldn’t publish any of them on a bet. The quality is no better than the corporate spiel that Locke railed against in Cluetrain Manifesto. “The voice is like a third-rate actor in a 4th rate play reciting lines that no one believes in a manner no one respects.”

Yep.

Sometimes I long for the good old days when websites weren’t free and there was some barrier to entry on the internet. But not really. We’ll all put up with some noise in exchange for the freedom of speech that the internet provides.

Now I’m just hoping for a natural weeding out process.

For more on small business marketing and content marketing, try THIS post..

For affordable small business marketing help, call me at BNBranding.