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!)
There’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 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 jee, 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.)
Occasionally, 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:
Differentiation: 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.
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.
Despite 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.
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.
In 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.
Patagonia, 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.
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.)
It 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.”
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.
“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?
“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.
When 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.
How 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?”
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.
Unfortunately 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.”
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.
I’ll never forget my first pair of skis… Hand-me-down Heads from a by-gone era. Jet black. Heavy as can be, but oh so lovable! Since then, I’ve purchased eight more pairs of skis and four were the same brand: Head.
That’s me. Notice the head logo on the tips. No photoshopping involved!
The latest is a pair of Head Rev 105s, and I’m absolutely loving them. I test drove many different brands — and they were all good — but I chose Head.
Every time I ski on them, and every time I see another Olympic racer on the podium with Heads at their side, I get even more attached to that brand. It’s a life long love affair.
The Head Ski Company was founded in 1950 with the first metal composite ski, a revolutionary progression from the days of hickory. In the 1960’s Head sold more than 50% of all the skis in the U.S., even though they were priced two times higher than the competitors. It was a premium product with plenty of sex appeal. Jean Claude Killy raced on Heads. Today it’s Lindsey Vonn.
To me, buying skis is like buying a car. I can name every ski I’ve ever owned, and I have fond memories associated with every pair. I strayed for awhile, cheating with Atomics, Blizzards and Rossignols, but I keep going back to my first love — to the brand that I first associated with the freedom, thrill and challenge of skiing.
A lot of people gripe about commercialization and marketing as an evil activity. They say they’re being manipulated, somehow, into buying stuff they don’t want or need. But I believe we need MORE relationships like that. More love of any kind!
Just think… If we could all be passionately connected to more of the things we purchase on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Imagine how your day might go if you felt as passionate about your filling station and your pharmacy as I feel about my skis. What if the routine chore of picking up dinner was transformed into a delightful experience that you could look forward to every time. What if you had a genuine love for your dental office?
Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.
It’s human nature to love. We crave strong, loving connections to the things and people in our lives. Brands play that role quite well. We’re naturally drawn to the companies and products that show love to their employees, their customers, their environment. Whole Foods, Patagonia, Clif Bar are three good examples… they’re passionate companies that attract passionate customers.
In his book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about closeness, trust, intimacy, passion and commitment. Those are the traits of any loving relationship, and if you can attain that in your relationship with customers you’ll have what Robert calls a Lovemark. The gold standard of brands.
What you have to remember is that Love is a matter of the heart, not the head. You’ll never achieve Lovemark status by sticking to facts, data and a logical list of product features. Not unless you’re selling to robots. And empty, corporate catch-phrases are even worse. Like a bar-closing come-on by a desperate frat boy… you might lure someone into a one night stand with that approach, but it’s not going to get you a second date, much less love.
In focus groups people talk about love all the time. “Oh, I just love my Subaru.” Or, I just love Tide. I won’t buy anything else.” Subaru took the loving feedback from their customers and built it into its advertising. (It doesn’t move me, but I’m not a Subaru guy. There are a lot of WRX fans and Outback fans who’ll absolutely love that approach.)
So stop thinking about how to improve “customer satisfaction” and start thinking about how to make them LOVE you. Want you. Chose you.
How can you initiate a relationship like the one I have with Head Skis? It’s not easy because that one is connected to some of my fondest childhood memories. Think about that… If you really want to ramp up your branding efforts, start creating memories that your customers will love to recall, 50 years from now.
It takes a lot of extra effort, attention to detail, transparency and goodwill. But it pays off… in better sales, in higher business valuation, and in articles like this one.
Write a comment… Tell me about your favorite brands of love.
I’m a big fan of the winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I’ve even watched some of the curling competition and ice dancing (yikes).
Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.
The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists. But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.
Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.
In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a sad note, with the death of a luge competitor. There have been other unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996. But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.
Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002. As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.
But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.
In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.
The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.
No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.
Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.
Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.
As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:
• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.
At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.
The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.
And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.
Corporate America could learn a thing or two.
• The Olympics are dramatically different.
Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.
There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.
At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.
The competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”
It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.
• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.
The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent: Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.
With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…
Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.
For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.
The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.
And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.
• The brand is way more than a mark.
Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”
That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But it goes much deeper than that.
You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit.
What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.
When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.
How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.
Yessir. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ. On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,” throwing the F word around and the next page you have the Duck Dynasty dudes in their cammo-wear quoting bible passages and promoting their own, quirky brand personality. What’s next? Forbes?
Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too. A branding coup, for sure.
Back in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt. I recently saw a line of camouflaged living room furniture. Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They have the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 13 million viewers at its peak— more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale, and even Hunny Boo Boo.
The Duck Dynasty Brand is everywhere these days. And the brand personality has become legendary. They have deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For holiday season branding Hallmark launched a line of Duck Dynasty cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album of holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. That’s the type of brand affiliation that pays dividends.
What’s the secret to success for this good ol’ boy brand? As the old saying goes: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”
Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little bird hunting niche into mass market appeal.
Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal. If you’re going to turn your business into an iconic brand, you need all three.
In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.” To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.
Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.
“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”
Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.
Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt. The beards are a key component of their branding. Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.
Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”
Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”
Sure enough, the show is ending its run in 2017.
So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. Will they maintain the brand personality they’ve established? That’s the real test.
Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching? The possibilities are endless. I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.
Everyone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the new wave. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.
But it can also be a drag. Here’s an analogy:
In golf, over-analysis never produces good results. If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing, rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — you’re going to fail. (Ever seen Charles Barkley swing a club?)
Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses. People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed. Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.
Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.
Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. “Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”
Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.
In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and “Just Do It.”
When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:
“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”
Widen it they did! In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”
“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wanna be athletes and weekend warriors.
And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.
Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario only applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.
Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”
At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.
And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.”
And how’s that working out?
Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.
They fill their teams with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat. Avoid these people at all costs!
To the insecure over-analyzers I say this: Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!
The best way to gather more data is to get something done. Then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.
If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.
One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing. Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.
Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.
So by all means… gather as much data as you can. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data- driven marketing to be the panacea. What’s much more important than big data is a big idea.
For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, check out THIS post.
The Sears store in my hometown recently closed its doors. Shut down after a 60 year presence in the market.
Can’t say I’m too broken up about it either. I bought a few tools there, once upon a time. And an appliance or two, but I certainly wouldn’t say I had any fond memories of the place, much less brand allegiance.
The recent demise of Sears, once the country’s largest retailer, is replete with valuable marketing lessons for business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing execs and brand managers. It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.
Sears dates all the way back to 1886 when Richard Sears started selling watches to his coworkers at the railroad. Alvah Roebuck was his watchmaker, and in 1893 the name Sears Roebuck & Co. was incorporated.
They grew the business rapidly by selling all sorts of merchandise through the mail at a price that undercut the local mercantile. The offerings were broad — everything from a Stradivarious violin to patent medicines and do-it-yourself houses — but the target market was narrowly defined: small towns where the general mercantile was the only real competition. Western settlers used the Sears catalog for everything under the sun.
It was wildly successful niche marketing, for awhile.
Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago.Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.
By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.
Over the next 50 years Sears became a multi-national retail empire, with 2200 stores and the world’s tallest building as its corporate headquarters. The company obviously did a lot of things right over the years.
For instance, Forbes Magazine reported that “Sears successfully developed some of the strongest and most famous private-label brands in history, in any channel, in the U.S. Those brands include Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Weatherbeater paint, and Roadhandler tires.
One of many successful brands that Sears built.
Those are great names, and the success of those product lines is textbook branding. Someone at Sears was well advised to resist the line extension trap and NOT put the Sears name on a car battery or a paint can.
Some Wall Street insiders believe it’s those proprietary brands that could save Sears from its current “slow motion liquidation.” In fact, there have been rumors that Sears will begin selling some of those brands through other retailers, including Costco. Maybe there’s a future for Sears as a wholesaler???
Sears is a good example of how success often leads to temptation and complacency. Temptation to expand and diversify into other businesses and complacency when it comes to the core of the brand. (I’m not sure anyone in the last 30 years could even define the core of the Sears brand. They were all over the place!)
Sears got into the insurance business with AllState, the financial services business by buying Dean Witter Reynolds, the real estate business with the purchase of Coldwell Banker and even the credit card business, with the launch of the Discover Card.
In the meantime, they missed an opportunity to dominate the direct marketing business, they neglected their retail stores, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular private label brands languish.
So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.
For 20 years Sears has been trying to re-position itself as a competitor to Macy’s, JCPenny, Kohl’s and Target. Remember the slogan, “The softer side of Sears?” That was an ill-fated attempt to sell clothing. Now they have the Kardashian Collection. Yikes!
The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?
Forbes magazine reported: “Sears is relying mainly on inauthentic celebrity exclusives (does anyone really believe that Kim Kardashian would actually shop at Sears?) to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers, and it is clear that Sears has lost its way.”
As Laura Ries put it, “When faced with a broadening of its category, Sears should have narrowed its focus and become a specialist. Instead of shifting to the “softer side of Sears,” the retailer should have further embraced its harder side.”
The department store niche is not the answer to Sears’ problems. Walmart has taken both the price and one-stop shopping advantage. Target is positioned as the aspirational trendy choice. Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement. Amazon has the online convenience advantage. Best Buy dominates in electronics. Lowes is succeeding with appliances. There’s just no room for a general purpose department store that’s trying to be all things to all people.
Even if there wasn’t all that competition, you’d still never convince people that Sears is a good place to buy clothing. That was never going to fly!
Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.
It will be very interesting to see what becomes of the company now that it’s merged with Kmart and owned by infamous hedge fund manager Eddie Lampbert. The stock has lost half its value. They’re closing 120 stores this year. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to revive it.
The company’s latest hail-mary strategy is “a free social shopping destination and loyalty rewards program called “Shop Your Way.” (Note to management: A loyalty program’s probably not going to work too well in all these towns where the stores have been shuttered.)
Even the most beloved retail chains have a hard time with loyalty programs. A recent study by McKinsey & Co. found that despite their general growth and popularity, loyalty programs actually erode margins and destroy value for their owners. Companies with them grew no faster than — and sometimes slower than — those without loyalty programs.
The latest update on the Sears saga has Lampbert borrowing a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, blaming irresponsible media coverage for Sears’ troubles.
According to the Business News, Sears has not shown a profit in the last six years. And talk about spin… Lampbert went so far as to liken that performance to Amazon’s early years.
That’s delusional leadership.
Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up the best: “If the hedge-fund mogul knew how to fix Sears, he’d have done it by now.”
There are only two things the company has going for it: massive real estate holdings, and some great brands NOT named Sears.
For more marketing lessons and insight on marketing leadership, try this post.
Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. And the Toyota Camry is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and has been the best-selling car in America 15 of the past 16 years. (Camry was No. 1 from 1997 to 2000, lost to the Honda Accord in 2001, and has reigned since then.)
Apparently, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower or handling or sexiness. Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd. My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.
And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”
I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great idea… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.
Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.
Classic case of a great advertising idea executed poorly for the wrong brand. Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not.
The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)
And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.
The so-called “thrill course” features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel. There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.
I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?
Why leap all the way to “thrilling?” Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”
Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?
“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.
But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up! Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.
Bloomberg News reports that in 2014 the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”
Good luck with that.
Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.
With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.
At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.” That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.
And more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry differently??? Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plenty.
So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners… if you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.
For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.
If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.
If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath.