A lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.
They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.
They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”
Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots.
They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”
On the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.
So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.
Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.
The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.
It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.
Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.
Tom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values. Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”
As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.
Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.
If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.
If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.
If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.
Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore.Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.
If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.
Chocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.
Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.
Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?
It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer. And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.
Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.
So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.
The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.
If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even. Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.
• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.
There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.
• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.
Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea. The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.
• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.
Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)
Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.
These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”
The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.
• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.
The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.
In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.
In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.
Those are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers.
But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.
Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.
In 1980 Absolut was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.
But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.
So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.
TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.
Needless to say, it worked.
The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.
The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.
“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”
That’s my own quote.
Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!
Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)
They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.
This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.
Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.
Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.
But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.
Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.
Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.
Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.
Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of companies like Tesla, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires.
Small-business branding is often overlooked.
Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.
Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand develops.
It does not happen the other way around.
You can’t just come up with a nice name a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you can’t have a great brand.
If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:
Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood. Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?
In Bend, Oregon there’s a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It’s not the best Mexican food in town, but it’s damn good and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing.
Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.
Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.
For Taco Stand, flavor and low cost are the differentiators. They consistently deliver on a very simple value proposition: You’ll get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.
Credibility stems from the genuine quality of the food, the consistency, and the loyal, locals-only reputation. If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list.
Small-business branding – learn from the branding mistakes of the big boys.
Most people think differentiation and credibility is easier for big corporations. They can launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. Social Media alone can lead to some degree of credibility. But it won’t necessarily last.
Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…
Great name. Great-tasting product. Launched with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.
My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues.
Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be. It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup, to be exact. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.
So much for brand credibility.
I’ll bet Smart Start doesn’t have the staying power of Cap’n Crunch — my childhood favorite. Because in this day and age, consumers are too smart for Smart Start. When the word gets out, the brand’s going to have a huge credibility issue on their hands.
The brand promise — that this cereal is a smart, healthy start to your day — is out the window.
Kellogg’s will probably fight back with the old line-extension trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs.
(They already have several variations, including “Strong Heart” that has 17 grams of sugar, and Strawberry Oat Bites. )
Also notice that the packaging has devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design has become less and less unique with every variation.
So Smart Start’s credibility is sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to a label. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.
For a big company like Kellogg’s, it may not matter.
Maybe Smart Start is doing well enough. Maybe Kellogg’s can chalk up a good profit despite the questionable product claims. It’s a big company with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.
Smaller companies don’t have that luxury. You can’t afford to launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances.
What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos?
It’d be a recipe for a small-business branding disaster…
Relevance would be the first to go, since people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. (Just because you can make a claim, doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant to your core audience.) “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition.
Credibility would lost, because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.
And, of course consistency would be sacrificed. Consistency of flavor and consistency of their messaging.
After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?
Make sure your product claims are relevant, and not just good-for-nothing add-ons.
Don’t choose a name, like “Smart Start” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
Be consistently authentic. If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do dinners.
Here’s a comment you hear in corporate conference rooms everywhere:
“Those marketing guys aren’t dealing in reality.”
Damn right. If we dealt only in reality the operations guys wouldn’t have backlogs. The finance guys wouldn’t have profits to count. The Human Resources department wouldn’t need more resources.
Because perception IS reality. Especially when it comes to natural foods marketing.
A few years ago in a piece on brand credibility I said, “The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.
By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” us on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”
There’s a secondary reality in every market segment. Consumers within that segment share a powerful belief system that is not based on facts at all. It’s what psychologists call Motivated Reasoning.
“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition,” says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. “People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”
We all have a natural tendency to cherry pick the facts. We tune in to the information that fits our existing beliefs, and blow-off everything else.
Politics and our modern media landscape seems to be amplifying the retreat from facts.
“These are wonderful times for motivated reasoners,” said Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland. “The internet provides an almost infinite number of sources of information from which to choose your preferred reality. There’s an echo chamber out there for everyone.”
Golfers, for instance, live in a constant state of delusion about how well they could ever play. It’s wishful thinking based on a skewed reality of hope… “If only I had that new $450 driver I’m sure I’d break 80.” They construct a set of assumptions such as “more distance equals lower scores” and “that big-name pro would never steer me wrong with lousy instruction.”
The fact is, those perceptions drive sales. Reality doesn’t even come into play. In fact, it’s quite perilous if you choose to present a story that contradicts that alternate reality with actual facts.
They just don’t want to hear it.
In the natural foods industry there’s a secondary reality that says if it’s in this category, then it must be good for me. That’s simply not true. The reality is that many so-called “natural” foods have no health benefit whatsoever.
Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.
The tribe of people who who are drinking the natural, fortified kool-aid of the health food industry make certain assumptions and hold a particular set of beliefs that the rest of the world does not share.
So you don’t have to present scientific proof that it’s actually healthy. You just have to work with the existing perception, and present the alternative fact that your product is healthier than the traditional choice.
Vitamin Water is healthier than Coke or Pepsi. It’s less bad for you than the traditional option.
Seth Godin refers to these as “truth” stories. They’re true within the alternate reality of the market segment.
For example… Those natural potato chips that I crave everyday for lunch… probably not good for me. But I believe they’re healthier than the traditional, mainstream choice – Lays. So my own motivated reasoning tells me to buy the natural alternative.
I know it’s not like eating broccoli, but it’s incrementally healthier than what I used to eat, and that’s okay. That’s what fits into my own personal reality. That’s my truth.
So if you’re making “healthy” salty snack foods, remember… You can’t compete with broccoli on healthiness. But you can compete with Lays.
Here are some other examples of alternative facts from the health food industry:
Baked is better than fried. Doesn’t matter if those natural cheese puffs are loaded with fat, the mainstream consumer will buy them as long as they’re not fried. And health foods are moving more and more into the mainstream.
Healthy fats are okay. Forget about the old adage that says “fats make you fat.” The pendulum is swinging the other direction right now, and many companies are using the term “healthy fats” in their product claims. The FDA’s not buying it, and it’s highly debatable in the scientific community, but that doesn’t matter. Consumers are buying it. Just look at the sales of coconut oil.
XYZ secret ingredient is the best thing ever. Health-minded consumers are quick to jump on whatever ingredient is trendy…. Acai, turmeric, ginger, apple cider vinegar, duck fat, coconut water, Aquamin, prebiotoics, probiotics, whatever.
Beware… Those trends are fickle. All it takes is one high-profile “scientific” study to discredit your main ingredient and doom your entire product line.
Here’s the real truth behind ingredients for the supplements industry: Companies that market those ingredients routinely accept anything more than 50% success rate in initial clinical trials. So in other words… even if the ingredient is only effective half the time, it’s still commercially viable.
Are you kidding me? Doesn’t matter. Consumers are swallowing it. Perception IS reality.
In natural foods marketing it’s not just about ingredients – even the best ingredients cannot drive sales by themselves. It’s not about what the product is, it’s what the product could be in the mind of the person who lives in the same, alternative reality. It’s entirely aspirational.
Advertising legend George Lois put it quite well; “Great advertising campaigns should portray what we feel in our hearts the product can grow to become. The imagery should be ahead of the product, not in a way that assails credulity, but in a sensitive way that inspires belief in the product’s benefits and instills a greater sense of purpose to those who produce and sell it.”
Credulity is rampant in natural foods marketing. In every category.
Michael Proctor, a colleague of mine who’s been in the health food industry for 30 years, says you have to dance around the side of things. “The messages are getting more mainstream. The benchmarks and buzzwords keep changing, so it’s like a crab, always moving sideways. But you have to know what the prevailing reality is, in order to skirt around it and find the reality that you resonate with.”
Know the reality. Tap into the prevailing perception.
Getting your messaging right is not an easy task. The good news is, most of your competitors are probably missing it, which means you have room to move in and effectively control the dialog.
Is “25 billion probiotics” an effective claim to make? 50 billion? 100 billion? 200 billion? What’s the number?
Probably none of the above. Those companies are getting caught up in a numbers race and are missing the more relevant point.
Probably time to move like a crab and find another story to tell.
It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.
These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.
The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.” In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.
So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…
The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.
So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.
The same can be said for your local listings on Google. Cover the basics, front and center, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it.
But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. In many cases that same website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.
Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.
Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.
Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there, so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a completely different set of needs and expectations.
Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.
The first impression level.
The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.
So how do you do that on a website?
Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.
Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”
The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.
That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high. They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.
The conceptual, branding level.
Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”
More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”
Being distinct is what branding is all about.
Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.
The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.
Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.
For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.
When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.
Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.
It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography. It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!
When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?
Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.
The research or “how-to” level.
The deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.
On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.
Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.
The conversion level.
Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product.
So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.
Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.
If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075. If you want more on Website design and development, try THIS post:
It’s the age of information, and much of the marketing buzz these days revolves around content marketing. Especially for business-to-business marketers, it’s all the rage.
We have YouTube videos, webinars, blog posts, slide sharing Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, tweets, podcasts, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.
In many cases, all that content just adds up to too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.
The model that’s emerging seems to rely on dry, analytical information. Curated data, not original stories.
Data, data and more data. Most of it is totally devoid of emotion.
Occasionally, when someone gets really creative, they take the data and spruce it up with an “infographic.” So it looks a little cooler, but that doesn’t make the data any more interesting or relevant. It’s still just boring, factual stuff written for 20 bucks by someone in a faraway land who doesn’t know your business, your audience, your market or your brand.
What’s missing is a compelling narrative. A relevant story. An inkling of copy that will touch a nerve, make an emotional connection, and persuade people to do something.
As the old saying goes, facts tell, stories sell.
For better content marketing, be novel – tell a story!
Nothing teaches more effectively than a good story. Stories suck people in and involve the listener/reader/user on a gut level.
The use of character archetypes, metaphors, plot and drama can bring any subject to life. Even if you’re in a highly technical, scientific market niche, you can still use narratives effectively in your content marketing.
And that applies to all forms of content marketing, from cheesy little YouTube videos to elaborate webinars. You need to forget about information for a minute, and think about entertainment. How you can involve the audience, so their eyes don’t just glaze over?
The trick is taking all that data, and pulling a story out of it that will resonate with the target audience.
There aren’t very many people who are good at that.
If you have a marketing staff of ten people, you might find one who can do it. If you’re a department of one, or a business owner/Chief Marketing Officer, forget about it. You don’t have time to research the articles and craft good stories.
So you better outsource it. Very carefully.
You need a good copywriter who can translate all your insider information, market research data, and “repurposed” sales material into something that actually engages people.
It doesn’t matter what type of content is is… could be a script for your next video production, or an investor pitch, or a trade show presentation. You need someone who can come up with a big idea and spin information into a memorable, relevant tale.
Nobody’s better at that than advertising people.
Many business people these days seem to think there’s no redeeming value in advertising. They think content is better, and that consumers will rail against anything that smacks of advertising. But people aren’t dumb… they know your “content” is just advertising in disguise.
Adman George Lois said it well in his book, What’s The Big Idea: “I think people are absolutely brilliant about advertising. They have a microchip in their heads that places any ad in marketing context in lightning speed, enabling them to judge astutely what they see.”
So if they know it’s really advertising, you might as well make it great advertising.
Ad guys know how to tell stories that originate from one big idea. We can synthesize a whole bunch of client input into 30-seconds of entertainment. We can engage an audience quickly and effectively with repeatable sound bites and compelling, memorable images.
“Advertising can crystalize, in a few words, what the client’s business is all about,” Lois said. “If you create both visual and verbal imagery, one plus one equals three. Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system.”
I bet your content marketing doesn’t do that.
Content marketing, like traditional advertising, needs both a strategic foundation and exceptional creative execution. It should be one part science & technology, three parts art.
Advertising people are the only professionals who can bring those elements together. Journalists can report on what’s going on at your company, but they can’t deliver the missing ingredient in most content marketing efforts… art.
Advertising is an artistic mix of images and copy. It’s big, game-changing ideas based on savvy business insight. It’s craftsmanship in design, typography and copy. And it’s painstaking attention to detail.
If companies would apply those same standards to content marketing, we’d all be better off.
Every business needs photos… (Your brand image can’t be built on words alone.) Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to stock photo sites for images they need on the website, in sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts and powerpoint presentations.
The problem with cheap stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying “I’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s nothing new or interesting here.”
How many times have you heard this cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your _______ needs, blah, blah, blah.”
Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.
Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.
Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.” The image above is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.
Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world. ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.
Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.
Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right. And it’s always a better creative product.
Unfortunately, clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.
Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.
“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”
“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.
“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “They want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”
The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?
“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.
Let me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business?
What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?
The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.
I’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.) There are thousands of decent stock images we could use, but the problem with stock photography is there’s nothing compelling or unique about it… Nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.
So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny. (Unpaid plug: If you need photography, you should definitely check out Dogleg Studios.)
I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Stock photos can hurt you in all three areas…
If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.
So the next time you’re thinking that another stock photo will help your brand image, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.
Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it.
The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images.
The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand image will be better for it in the long run.
Another option is to develop your own, proprietary graphics that actually tie-in to the brand identity. For instance, at BNBranding we use a series of images like this to help drive home our points, without resorting to stock photos that are nothing more than borrowed interest.
I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: email@example.com.
Naming a business is tough. I’ve conjured up business names, product names, non-profit names and even names for corporate marketing initiatives. Here’s one thing I’ve learned:
Naming a baby is much easier than naming a business.
First of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. Just mom and dad. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.
When you’re naming a business or a new product you have to build consensus and get buy-in from many people. Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like “Poolife” for a swimming pool cleaning company.
There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.
Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark protection and application work. So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble.
Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks.
When you’re naming a baby you can refer to all sorts of books and websites full of perfectly acceptable names with all their hidden meanings and Latin derivatives. With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.
And then there’s the whole translation issue.
Face it, you probably don’t care what “Clark” means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of product names like the Chevy Nova, which didn’t translate real well. (In Spanish, Nova means “does not go.”)
If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.
And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name. Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career. In business, it’s hard to overcome a really bad brand name.
Most people don’t need professional help to come up with a good baby name. Business names are a different story. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:
• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.
• Totally boring, literal names like the now defunct Third Street Coffee House… Mediocre coffee on a mediocre street.
• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs: Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.
A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that.
This might be a great screen printing company, but the name…
So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration and just hire a branding firm to help from the very beginning. Not a design firm… they focus on the language of images, not words. And not an ad agency… For some reason, ad agencies love to use one-word names that are just too cool for school. Like “North” “Red F” “Citrus” “Fuel” If you want to confuse people, just follow that lead.
Here are a few other examples of names, both good and bad:
• Federal Express decided to shorten its name, and became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called them anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.
• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bring herds of friends in? Tough to be a brand ambassador for a place called the Dress Barn.
• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. “Aspercreme” for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. “Idebenone” for neurological disorders. The list is long.
Viagra, on the other hand, is a great drug name. It says virility and vitality and conjures romantic images of Niagra falls.
Here are a few of my own: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest. “Sit Down Dinners” for a family-style personal chef service. “Aspire” for a smoking cessation program. Widgi Creek for a golf club. (No one knows what Widgi refers to, but they sure remember it.)
Before you spend a dime for your sign or your website URL, spend some focused time naming your business. There are many considerations… How it sounds. How it looks in type. Is it legally protectable? What are connotations of the word? Does it translate? Is it confusing?
Your name is the foundation of your brand. So if your business IS your baby, get started right with a memorable name. Call BNBranding for affordable help with your brand name and identity. Or check out this post for more info.
Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…
“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said. “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing. I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”
Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on.
It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.
That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.
Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.
It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.”
Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…
“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.” “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.”
Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”
Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy.
The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players in tough tee shirts. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.
Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.
When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.
Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses.
They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer.
The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.
Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.
Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to t
he old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” Every Ikea design begins with one
thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.
Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.
So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that… Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?
Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.
I just cringe when I see most local TV commercials. Not because of the horrific script writing or the low, low, low production quality. Not because of the ill-advised choice of “talent,” or the mind-numbing jingle. I expect all that.
No, I cringe because many of the companies paying for those crummy commercials don’t belong on television at all.
I’m talking about those cases where the medium – TV – missed the mark completely.
I’m talking about real cases where a business owner is spending a lot of money to reach the wrong people, with the wrong message. That’s the most most glaring error in TV advertising… the polar opposite of effective TV advertising
Here’s an example of TV advertising that misses the mark:
There’s a retailer in my town that sells lavish, high-end patio furniture. It’s designer stuff, it’s practically bullet-proof, and it costs a lot of money.
Guess what that business owner is doing for advertising? Yep. Cheap TV spots.
Talk about the wrong impression. Nothing in his advertising matches his product line at all. Not the message, not the visuals, not the media schedule. It’s a total disconnect…
He says the ads are generating foot traffic, but it’s clearly the wrong kind of traffic. People walk into his patio furniture showroom (lured, no doubt, by the cheesy jingle they heard on TV) take one look at the prices, and hightail it down to Costco or Walmart.
One of his salespeople told me it’s not uncommon for them to actually cuss her out for wasting their time.
And yet the owner keeps doing the same thing, year after year. It falls into the “epic fail” category of advertising 101. It’s insanity.
If you’re selling high-end, high-cost furniture you need high-end TV production a high-end audience, and a message that whispers elegance. Anything less will be a big whiff.
Here’s another example of how NOT to do effective TV advertising:
There’s a company that offers jet charters for corporate and private use. If you own your own private island and want to sneak away to it for the weekend, you’re in luck. They’re literally selling to the jet set — the top 1% —and yet they’re advertising on local TV to Fred & Barney Rubble.
It’s a total mis-match.
Think about it… The very best outcome the company could hope for is a steady stream of inquiries from people who can’t possibly afford their service. And sure enough, they’re getting a few calls…
“Well gee whiz, I didn’t think it’d be THAT much to fly to my cousin Ethel’s place outside of Winnemucca.”
Filling your sales pipeline with hopeless leads is a waste of money, and probably the worst advertising mistake you can make.
No matter how many spots they buy it’s not going to help sell jet charters.
In that case, better production value wouldn’t matter either. They could hire James Cameron to produce an epic, 10-million dollar 30-second spot and it still wouldn’t move the needle. It’d just generate more phone calls from non-buyers.
Because the company is advertising where the prospects aren’t.
There are digital alternatives now that would deliver their video message much more efficiently than TV. Straight to people who have expressed interest in jet charters. And there are plenty of options that allow the charter company to pay ONLY when qualified prospects actually view the ad.
Look, I am not a media buyer. I don’ t have the propensity for spreadsheets, number crunching and data analysis that’s required for that line of work. However, I know a basic, lousy media buy when I see one, and that is one of them. TV is not the answer in those two cases.
I’m not saying you should dump your entire TV schedule. You should just think adding other options to the media mix that are more targetable.
Here’s one more example, from my experience in golf industry marketing…
I have a client who was recently buying $35,000 worth of TV spots from the local cable company and he wanted my opinion on his media schedule. So I took a quick glance and saw, right off the bat, a whole bunch of time slots during daytime shows that skew heavily toward women.
How much golf equipment do you think women buy? How many golfers do you think are sitting around during the day watching “Psycho Coupon Horders?”
Again, it’s a mismatch. Why would you spend your money running ads that are geared toward affluent men, during daytime TV? It’s just not common sense.
If you’re in the position of reviewing media schedules like that, use your head. Eliminate those time slots. Make the sales guy work a little harder to match his commercial line up with your brand.
And when those salespeople come knocking, always remember this: It’s demand-based selling that hinges entirely on their limited inventory. The popular shows are in high demand, and sell out easily. So the TV salespeople are left trying hard to sell the shows that are NOT in demand.
Yes, the dogs. Sometimes I think they throw-in some dogs on the schedule just to see if you’re paying attention.
I’m not saying that all TV advertising is a waste of money. Not at all. With enough frequency, the right product or service, and a well-honed message, you can do very well with local TV.
If you have an airline that’s selling $49 round trip tickets to Disneyland, by all means! Buy a bunch of TV ads. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. But if you’re selling jet charters to Disneyland, don’t waste your time on TV spots.
If you’d like a review of your current advertising program, we can assess your strategy, your messaging, your value proposition and the creative execution.
We will also collaborate with a media buyer friend who can save you money on that side of the equation and make sure your buy is as targeted and relevant as it can possibly be.
In the end, you will get you fair, honest assessment from pros who have been in the business for 30 years. The cost is very reasonable, so rest assured, it’ll save you money in the long run. Call me. 541-815-0075.