Tag Archives for " BRANDING "

2 Super Sales vs. Super Brands.

It’s discount days in the retail world right now. Everywhere you turn there’s a super sale, an inventory reduction, a clearance event or other equally banal form of discount.

Sign of the times, I suppose. Store owners are desperate to get people in the door, even if it causes long-term damage to the brand.

But does discounting really hurt your brand?

That’s a good question… one that often leads to blazing debates between ad agency folks and their clients. The creatives are quick to condemn anything that involves a price point. But the client wants to “move the needle” and “get an immediate ROI” on every  advertising dollar. He feels that any sort of “image” advertising is a waste of time. Then there’s the agency Account Executive, trying desperately to bring the two sides together in a sort of middle-east accord that will save the account for another year.

Not a good scenario for a lasting client-agency relationship. But I digress. The question is, does it hurt a brand to run a half-off sale?

It depends on the brand.

Before you hire that sign painter to emblazon your front window with “Everything Must Go!”  ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does the promotion complement your brand promise or contradict it?
  2. Who would the sale appeal to? Will you ever see those people again?

images-11

Nordstrom has the right answer to both those questions. When it comes to brand integrity, Nordstrom is the bellwether for the retail industry. It’s a chain known for high prices and bend-over-backward customer service. Bargains are NOT part of the Nordstrom brand ethos. So yes, frequent discounting would definitely hurt that brand. 

If Nordstrom had a Super Bowl sale and a Valentines Day sale and an Easter sale and a Mother’s Day sale like most department stores, consumers would slowly but surely begin to question the entire premise of the business. They’d begin to doubt Nordstrom’s stature as the industry’s service leader and wonder if the chain compromised the quality of the merchandise.

Might as well go to Macy’s.

So here’s how Nordstrom handles discounting without compromising their brand promise: They only have one store-wide sale a year, plus twice-yearly sales in specific departments. They don’t do cheesy newspaper inserts to support the events, just big, tasteful announcements and direct mail to all their devoted customers. Anything more would be off brand. Not Nordstrom worthy. 

To manage the inevitable department store inventory challenges, they opened The Nordstrom Rack. If you don’t want the impeccable service but like Nordstrom’s outstanding merchandise, go to the Rack. It’s like a sale all the time. Same stuff, but a totally different experience.

So here’s the final answer: If you have a high-end brand that emphasizes customer service and outstanding quality, use discounts sparingly. Because every sale will send mixed messages to an already skeptical audience.

Contrast that with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart shoppers aren’t going to Nordstrom for the twice-yearly men’s sale. They’re going to Wal-Mart every Saturday where a constant barrage of markdowns is always expected, and perfectly “on brand.” Wal-Mart’s corporate culture takes frugality to an entirely new level, and it shows up on every isle in every store. Wal-Mart’s brand promise demands big, loud sales, or at least the perception of sale prices all the time. That’s why they have spend more than $600 million a year on advertising… it’s a constant state of “Sale.”

For both Wal-Mart and Nordstrom, the corporate promotional strategy delivers on the brand promise. Their sales appeal to core customers as well as those who are looking for a bargain. And there’s a good change they’ll come back again after the sale.

Unfortunately, most business owners can’t answer the question, “is this sale consistent with your brand promise” because they don’t know what their brand promise is. When pressed, they can’t pinpoint what their business is really all about, beyond making their quarterly numbers.

They’ve never thought about it. They’ve never articulated it. And they certainly haven’t communicated it to the public in a clear, compelling, consistent manner. They’re too busy advertising “value.”

The Gallup Organization has done extensive research regarding brand promises and have found that the vast majority are poorly defined and poorly communicated. “Rather than attempting to convince a skeptical audience that their brand offers something truly meaningful and distinct, some companies have found it easier just to bribe their prospects… Repeat purchases that are driven solely by brand bribery, however, are not the same thing as a brand relationship.”

Successful brands like Nordstrom have lasting relationships with their customers, not one-night stands. So think twice about your promotional strategy. If your brand’s promise is to consistently deliver the cheapest goods and services in your category, then go ahead. Run some sales. But if your brand promise is to deliver value or service or anything else, then find another way to drive traffic. Your brand will be better for it.

 

2 Restaurant Brands — A Recipe For Failure.

In a town the size of Bend, Oregon, three top restaurants closing within weeks of each other is big news. It’s a story that goes way beyond water cooler banter. Beyond the blogosphere. Beyond the business section of the local paper and into the annals of business school curriculum everywhere.

These are lessons worthy of any MBA program in the country.

The obituaries sounded all too familiar for this town, at this time: “Merenda’s demise was hastened by prevailing economic conditions.” “The bottom dropped out of the restaurant business. Everyone’s feeling the pinch.” “The seasonal nature of business in this town makes it very difficult…”

But the story goes way beyond recessionary economics and touches on many of the fundamental principles of branding. The restaurant business is littered with cases of meteoric success and dramatic failure. For whatever reason, it’s an inherently volatile business.

Prior to 2000, the culinary scene in downtown Bend wasn’t much to write home about. Some would say, non existent. So when Merenda opened in 2002 it generated more buzz than Steve Jobs with a doctor’s appointment.

As the Bend Bulletin reported, “Chef Jody Denton pioneered a renaissance in fine dining in Central Oregon.” But the Merenda brand wasn’t about the cuisine. It was about partying. The brand promise seemed to boil down to “good friends, good times.” It was a loud, raucous place where groups would gather and drink generously from an outstanding wine list. The vibe was more urban, the energy level more electric, than anything previously. Many nights you couldn’t hear yourself think.

Lesson # 1: Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  Many of Merenda’s customers were only there because it was THE place to be. It was a superficial relationship, not a genuine bond. Success by association. When new restaurants opened the crowds thinned out.

Trendiness is a common problem in the restaurant business, fashion and high tech. The next big thing or hot spot is always right around the corner. So successful brand managers have to find ways to stay relevant with their past customers, or become relevant to a whole new group.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda neeed a little extra attention he opened another restaurant less than a block away. And his place called Deep never got above water.

Lesson #2. Brands need constant attention. This seems like a no-brainer, but many people dream of having a business that runs on autopilot and generates an endless flow of effortless revenue. That doesn’t work in any industry, much less the restaurant business. You have to mind the store.

In 2005 Cornell University published a seminal study on why restaurants fail. One of the surprising contributors was simply a lack of attention, time and effort by the owners. “Failure seemed to stem from an inability or unwillingness to give the business sufficient attention… The immense time commitment was mentioned by all of the survey respondents who had failed.”

At Deep, Denton was determined to create something completely different. As he told The Bulletin: “That’s been kind of my business model: finding what Bend doesn’t have and filling that void. I’ve always enjoyed the environment of a sushi bar. It’s always been something appealing, both from the restaurant’s and the chef’s standpoint.”

What he failed to consider was the customer point of view.

Lesson # 3: Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success. Being different from the competition is certainly important, but it’s not as crucial as being appealing. Tiny morsels of Kobe beef served on a hot rock for eight dollars a bite… That’s different! “Angry Lobster,” Monkfish pté, grilled yuzu and marinated, chopped maguro tataki were all impressively different. But not appealing enough to inspire repeat business by a large group of people in a relatively small market.

Bottom line: Deep was a high-end sushi place in a meat and potato town.

Lesson #4: All successful brands have a clear, well-defined concept that goes beyond the product. The Cornell study proved that clarity of concept is essential to restaurant success. “Perhaps the key finding was the focus on a clear concept that drives all activities… Successful restaurant owners all had a well-defined concept which encompassed an operating philosophy and business operation issues. Failed owners, when asked about their concept, discussed only their food product.”

Denton certainly had vision beyond food for both his restaurants. But the concepts behind Merenda and Deep were based more on Denton’s past experience and personal preference than on the realities of the local market.

There’s an old saying… “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” In Denton’s case, his restaurants served the classes. His high-end brands only resonated with a small segment of the population, and he didn’t reinvent Merenda when he needed to.

In the end, Denton’s concept for Merenda was not clear enough to sustain the business over the long haul. (Being first in the market isn’t a sustainable brand strategy for a single restaurant.) And the concept for Deep never had a chance. So both restaurants were shuttered, his investors came away empty handed, and there are two more empty storefronts in downtown Bend. Hopefully, the next restaurateur who comes along can learn a lesson from Merenda.

4 Truth & Transparency — How one ski area is managing customer’s expectations.

By John Furgurson

Ski area managers live and die by the whims of Mother Nature. Already this winter high winds and heavy ice have toppled trees and wrecked havoc at Mt. Bachelor. Flooded roads cut access to Crystal Mountain. A lift tower at Whistler snapped. A landslide took out a lift at Snoqualmie Pass. And some poor guy at Vail found himself hanging upside down and naked from a chairlift. 

So how do you keep your customers happy through all the drama and mayhem? How do you handle those days that don’t qualify for the chamber of commerce brochure? As Mt. Bachelor has discovered, it’s a matter of managing expectations by educating skiers about mountain operations and reporting the truth in a timely, credible manner. A significant departure from the industry norm.

Ten years ago they could get away with little white lies on the morning ski report. But now cell phones make it hard to pull one over on anyone. The lift ride is plenty of time for skiers to Twitter or send simple, pointed text messages to their friends down in town that either confirm or deny the morning report.

“Is sucks, stay home.”  “It’s Epic. Get up here.” “Fogged in. Can’t see two feet.” With minute-by-minute updates like that, sugar-coated reports from the marketing department just don’t cut it any more.

images2

 

 

 

Last season Mt. Bachelor suffered a string of PR problems… Unexplained lift closures, safety violations and some questionable policy decisions by the new parent company caused a lot of grumbling in the skiing community. And quite frankly, the Mt. Bachelor brand took a hit. For the first season in 30 years, it slipped to # 2 among Oregon’s ski areas.

So this year a new management team is working hard to improve the overall experience, and that starts by managing expectations.

From what I’ve seen so far, they’re using their website pretty effectively to paint a realistic picture of what it takes to operate a modern ski area on a 9,000-foot Pacific Northwest Volcano. And it’s a lot harder than I ever imagined.

Since the latest storm, they’ve been uploading videos that show what the lift crews are faced with. It’s harder to complain about a lift not opening promptly on time when you’ve seen the manual labor required to do the job… Time lapse photography of an employee climbing up a 40-foot lift tower, tentatively chipping away at ice two feet thick.  Loggers and snow-cat drivers working together to clear 60-foot fir trees from the middle of a run. That’s powerful stuff that I haven’t seen on any other web site or in any other industry.

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlYZUlHzby4

The daily conditions report has also improved dramatically. It’s now updated several times every morning, and it’s written in a first-person, man-on-the-slopes tone. Not only that,  it’s refreshingly truthful. Last week, in the midst of the worst ice storm in 30 years, the author said, “I walked around the base area, and it’s not the kind of day you don’t want to set foot outside. It’s raining hard and it’s below freezing.”

And I love this one from a day in early December when everyone was still praying for the season’s first big dump: “We had nine inches overnight, with high winds. It’s deep in some places, and other spots look just like they did two days ago.”

Now that’s authentic!

The amusement park industry should take note. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a park, with your kids all jacked-up and ready for the latest, greatest roller coaster, only to find the ride closed for some unknown reason.

The golf industry would also benefit from such frank assessments. A detailed superintendant’s report would be tremendously useful in a country club environment where guys have been known to complain about the fairways being TOO perfect. If you show members all the work that goes into keeping all 18 greens rolling at 11 on the stimpmeter, they might not complain as much about miniscule variations in the height of the rough.

But honesty isn’t about shutting up your biggest critics. It’s about cementing a relationship with your best customers and maintaining the goodwill of your brand. Because every time you leave out important information, fudge a bit in a press release, or overstate a marketing claim, you’re chipping away at your credibility. Like ice on a lift tower, eventually it’ll all come crashing down on your head.

 

Curiousity got the best of you? See the unlikely lift ride here: 

www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/06/vail-chairlift-accident-l_n_155578.html

 

 

 

 

5 The ultimate, feel-good retail experience.

Why Powell’s is one of the sweetest franchise brands in the country.

images2     

I never knew a store like this when I was a kid. Even back then, a neighborhood candy store was purely fictitious. More cliché than everyday. So when I wandered into Powell’s Sweet Shoppe for the first time, it really was a first.

Industry consultants call Powell’s Sweets “an involving retail experience that taps into deep-seated emotional connections with long-forgotten childhood brands.”

To me, it’s a mood-altering drug.

It’s virtually impossible to leave the store without feeling warmer. Younger at heart. And at least a little giddy. It’s more fun per square foot than any store I’ve ever seen.  My 11-year-old daughter says it’s even better than the American Girl Doll store in Manhattan.

Powell’s is banking on the power of nostalgia to sell everything from collectable lunch boxes and pez dispensers to gelato and old-fashioned candy. They have all the brands you haven’t seen since childhood, and all the flavors that linger in the palette of your memory.dsc_0476

Powell’s is a store full of stories. And good, authentic stories are the main ingredients of success for any business. As I browse through Powell’s, or even just peer in the window, the stories come flooding back… My little sister, hair in braids, eating Fun Dip in the back of the station wagon. My older sister hording her tube of Flicks. The penny candy selection at Jack’s Country Store.  The red, black and purple licorice I loved so much at summer camp. 

That stuff sticks with you.

But Powell’s triggers more than just memories. It also triggers the imagination. It ignites the senses and conjures a latent, childlike creativity in us that gets beaten down by the demands of modern society.

Maybe that’s why I want to linger so long. It’s not just satisfying my sweet tooth, it’s filling a need for creative inspiration and optimism. I can feed off the energy of the kids and the delight of the parents. There’s laughter and smiles and buzz you just don’t find at the Starbucks next door.

There aren’t many brands that can honestly say that.

So what can you learn from a little candy store in downtown Bend, Oregon? You want customers to tell stories about you. You want products and service that create lasting memories. You want positive word-of-mouth that’s more powerful than anything you can say yourself.

images-1

Here are a few, random reviews of Powell’s from Yelp.com:

“Move over Disneyland – this is the happiest place on earth.  I feel like I step into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time I come here.”  

“This candy store rocks. It has everything you want especially if you’re looking for some candy that will blast you right back to your childhood.”

“The best candy shop. Period.”

“I want to hug the person who came up with the concept of this store…they are pure genius and manage to put a huge smile on my face the minute I walk through the door!”

Interestingly, the nostalgic theme of every Powell’s store seems to work equally well on children. Because the appeal of it is timeless. The candy cigarettes that we thought were so cool, still are. The element of surprise and the sense of discovery works just as well now as it did 40 or 50 years ago.

I’m glad Powell’s came to town. Because for my children, the idea of a kid in a candy store will be very, very real. 

7 Marketing lessons from GM — Will a $30 billion bailout buy them some focus?

images

The top guns of the American auto industry parked their private jets, piled into their big, luxury hybreds, and headed back to Washington last week. The goal: 50 billion dollars in loans, credit and other forms of bailout money. The second installment of what one reporter called, “a long term payment plan in $35 billion installments.”

There’s no doubt GM’s failure would a terrible economic blow. Those jobs would be sorely missed, but would anyone miss the mediocre brands that GM’s been consistently producing for the last 35 years?

I don’t think so. Other than some loyal Chevy truck fans, consumers won’t miss a beat.

GM’s business problems are far reaching and complex. The Wall Street Journal says “it’s a bloated organization with too many dealers and too many factories producing too many cars for the marketplace.” (GM has 7000 dealers in the U.S. Toyota outsells them with just 1500.) The company is burning through cash faster than a Suburban sucks gas — $75 million a day, according to one account. Turning that land yacht around is is going to be much harder than anyone’s predicting. As one consultant said… “Even with a generous series of government loans, GM is likely to go bankrupt within the next two years.”

Let’s face it. GM has been losing ground slowly but surely since muscle cars were killed by the oil embargo of the 1970’s. If congress looks at the situation from a marketing standpoint, they wouldn’t cough up a dime.

According to Automobile magazine, “it’s been 50 years since GM built a car that was the standard of the industry in any category.” Overall, GM products have been poor in all respects, from design and driveability to safety and fuel efficiency.

I believe that GM’s quality issues and their current financial crisis is a direct reflection Alfred P. Sloan’s famous, flawed strategy of “a car for every purse and purpose.” Sorry, but quantity over quality just doesn’t work in the modern automotive industry.

GM’s business model for the past 30 years has been built around the assumption that they can keep making money off products that are unremarkable, at best. But even when you’re as big as GM, you can’t be all things to all people. Over time, that lack of focus is going to kill you.

Look at GM’s track record in the small-car market. First they had the Chevette and the notorious Vega, a car reknown for being the first aluminum block engine ever produced… (not exactly the type of innovation that propels a company into a new era.)

While Honda, Toyota and Nissan were dominating that market in the 80’s, GM introduced The X-cars… the Citation, Omega, Phoenix and Skylark. Yikes! Those weren’t economy cars, they were just awful, underpowered sedans.

GM fumbled around for 20 years trying to build a small car under the wrong brand: Cadillac. Remember the Cimmeron? It’s on Time Magazine’s list of the worst cars ever built. And the Catera, “the caddy that zigs.” The advertising was unbelievable and the product, unbelievably bad. For consumers, a small, sporty Cadillac just doesn’t compute.

Then there was Saturn, GM’s great hope of 1990. Nothing in the history of GM could match the enormity of this brand’s launch. They built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Springhill Tennessee. They opened a new dealer network and adopted innovative new marketing and customer service programs, including a policy of “no haggle pricing.” To their credit, they did everything differently in order to compete with the Japanese.

Despite the plastic body panels, Saturn succeeded for a while. The cars were affordable, and they even won some industry accolades in the subcompact category. Unfortunately, GM starved that division of cash, kept them from launching new products for 10 years, and now is contemplating a shutdown of that brand.

So they can’t compete in the small car market. But what about GM’s bread and butter categories, like vanilla-flavored sedans? Unfortunately, they’ve even been losing on that front as well. The Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the country for years, followed by the domestically produced Toyota Camry. In the meantime, The Oldsmobile brand limped along for years before GM execs finally pulled the plug in 1999. They tried all sorts of marketing ploys to save it, including more than a dozen different slogans for the brand over a 15 year period. They did everything BUT build a car that appealed to anyone.

GM missed the boat entirely on the minivan craze, and they were slow to market with their SUVs. (But no one will deny the success of the Suburban.) GM actually had the lead in green technology in the late 90’s with the EV1 electric car, but they pulled the plug on that for short-term financial reasons. Now, while the Toyota Prius flies out of showrooms, GM’s playing catch-up yet again with the Chevy Volt. The volt is not a hybred. It’s actually an electric car, leaps ahead of Toyota in the green car game. It plugs in and it looks racy too, but it might be too late to the starting line.

Clearly, GM has been all over the place strategically. Now it looks like the bailout will force them to focus their efforts a bit. There’s already talk of paring the product line-up, and in the recent Senate hearings GM execs said their new strategy is “to focus available resources and growth strategies on the companies profitable operations.”

I guess that means four core brands… Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. And potentially four more marketing failures: Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and the king of them all, Hummer. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

Even with the forced focus on just four brands, GM will have a difficult time turning a profit. According to Automobile Magazine, the Cadillac CTS is actually one of GM’s small glimmers of hope for something better down the road. “It’s not relevant at $60k, but it’s a reminder that GM knows how to build a very special automobile. It’s the pride of Lansing Michigan and proof positive that GM has a lively pulse.”

Hmmmm. How can a car be “not relevant” in the market, but hopeful? And why does the mainstream press assume that GM will suddenly “start building fuel efficient cars that people want to buy” as soon as this bailout comes through? They haven’t done it yet. And no marketing blitz or government bailout can turn a lousy product into a branding success.

There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “great advertising just kills a bad product faster.” Sadly, GM’s history is littered with products that died fast, deserving deaths.

15 Four secret ingredients of all successful brands.

PLEASE refer to the updated version of this post. Thanks.

 

(What you can learn from a healthy bowl of cereal and a four-buck burrito.)

Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of Coca-Cola, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved for the Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires.

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants. Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, and over time a great brand develops.

It does not happen the other way around.

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

If you look, you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business.

In addition to the multi-national brands that have become household names, there are successful regional brands and millions of small but prosperous local brands. Conversely, many big, international companies don’t adhere to any principles of Branding. It can go both ways.

This isn’t the Harvard Business Review, but if you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:

Relevance.

Credibility.

Differentiation.

Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses in your town that have a loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into a successful local brand?

In Bend, Oregon there’s a tremendously popular restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.”It’s the best Mexican food in town, and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing. Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure. It has always been relevant to young people living the ski bum life who can’t afford fifteen bucks for lunch. It appeals to the masses.

For Taco Stand, differentiation and credibility stem from the genuine quality of the food and the loyal, locals-only reputation.If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list. And consistency… you’re never going to walk into Taco Stand and find they’ve changed the menu on you. They do simple Mexican fare, and that’s that.

But, you say, “my business is a lot more complex than that. We have a sales force and a supply chain to deal with.”

It doesn’t matter. You still need the same four ingredients. Leave one out and you can have a successful business, but not an enduring brand.

Differentiation and credibility used to be easy for big corporations. They could launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. And the television presence alone equaled credibility.

Smart Start brand case study on brandingKellog’s tried this with a new brand of cereal called Smart Start. Great name. Great-tasting product. And an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort. Lots of full page, full color ads in smart magazines like Shape and Parenting.

My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues. Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be.It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

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

Kellog’s will probably fight it with the old line-extension strategy trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs. (They already have several variations.) But in the process, the brand will lose another key ingredient… consistency.

So Smart Start’s credibility is questionable. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings.

I predict the brand will eventually die out because it doesn’t live up to the promises of its marketing. But even if it dies, Kellogs might consider Smart Start a branding success. Maybe it’s done well enough. Maybe Kellogs can chalk up a good profit with new brands that have short life cycles. It’s a big company, with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.

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

What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos without changing the way they cook. It’d be a recipe for branding disaster. Relevance and credibility would be the first to go, followed shortly by consistency. After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

 

8 Scott Bedbury brand insight blog

Living The Brand, Scott Bedbury Style.

In branding circles, Scott Bedbury is kind of famous… He worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. Helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world. Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Scott Bedbury brand insight blogBedbury’s a very genuine guy, which is good, because that’s part of his branding mantra; the importance of being genuine.

These days, you can’t get away with being disingenuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you on it faster than you can say, “Where the hell’s our PR firm?” As Bedbury said, “the days of the corporate comb-over are gone.”

The brand assessment work we do is designed to reveal the truth behind a brand, not a well-polished corporate version of it. But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming with the comb-overs and other cosmetic improvements because the genuine attributes of their brand just aren’t pretty.

I’ve seen plenty of cases where a company’s internal perception of the brand doesn’t jive with the consumer’s reality. If that’s the case, your branding efforts will have to reach much deeper than just the marketing department. You’ll actually have to change the product, tweak the operation or hire a different team. Because “everything matters.”

bend oregon advertising agency BNBrandingIt’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes. As he says, great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits. “Give a damn, and give back,” to be exact.

Patagonia is a company that gives a damn. There’s nothing fake about Yvonne Chouinard’s dedication to environmental causes, and it shows in everything the company does. The Patagonia brand, the operation and the products are aligned perfectly around a single, unifying idea… Save the environment so we can all enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, few companies are as focused or philanthropic as Patagonia. Several business plans came across my desk in the past week, and it reminds me why Bedbury’s branding message is so important. All too often, the startup is only about cashing out. Nothing else.

Jim Collins, author of Built To Last, has something to say about that: ” The entrepreneurial mind-set has degenerated from one of risk, contribution, and reward to one of wealth entitlement. I developed our business model on the idea of creating an enduring, great company — just as I was taught to do at Stanford — and the VCs looked at me as if I were crazy. They’re not interested in enduring, great companies, just an idea that you can do quickly and take public or get acquired within 12 to 18 months. “

Anyway, even if you don’t have a great company that donates a portion of your profits like Patagonia does, you should still have a cause that drives your operation. You need a purpose the employees can rally around… something more meaningful than just boosting the stock price.

Scott Bedbury’s boss at Nike, Phil Knight, was adamantly against his employees watching the stock price. When Bedbury got to Starbucks it was posted by the hour, up on a bulletin board for everyone to see. Not sure if Bedbury was able to change that practice or not, but it never sat well with him. He’d rather think long term.

Another thing about Bedbury is that he can still laugh at himself. (Or at least he could the last time I saw him speak in Bend, Oregon.) Again, he’s following his own advice. An amusing anecdote and an easy chuckle are perfectly “on brand” for Scott Bedbury.

oregon advertising agency BNBranding shares Scott Bedbury quoteHe’s not the type of guy you’d find as a Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 500 company, that’s for sure. He’s more storyteller than suit.

Storytelling is a big part of branding. Once you’ve figured out the real crux of your brand, you have to communicate it in a form that people can understand. And nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned story. Doesn’t matter if it’s delivered via the latest, greatest mobile technology, it’s still just a story. Tell it well. Tell it often. And keep it real.

One last piece of advice, inspired by Scott Bedbury… Don’t be afraid to reinvent your brand from time to time. Every summer he “shuts it down,” and hangs out with his family in Central Oregon. He writes, plays a little golf and recharges the batteries. So his own, personal brand will be fresh and ready for the next, big brand adventure.

For more insight on brand stories and similar case studies, try THIS post. 

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo. I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

1 4 5 6