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.
In Eastern philosophy yin yang represents the concept of duality. Two halves working together toward wholeness and harmony. It’s the dance of opposites — where seemingly contrary forces are actually complementary.
Like marketing strategy and tactics.
“Wholeness” — ie optimal results — is only achieved when you strike that delicate balance between the two. When the marketing tactics flow naturally from the strategy.
If your marketing efforts are predominantly tactical, without adequate strategy, you’ll be throwing money at ill-conceived tactics. Ready, fire aim! If it’s tipped the other direction, you’ll spend all your time preparing, planning and aiming, without pulling the trigger.
When you employ both halves of the marketing equation you can touch a glorious chord of emotion while still employing a data-driven strategy. It’s old-school story telling balanced with new technology and analytics.
Right-brain creativity with left-brain analysis. Yin and yang. Marketing strategy and tactics. One cannot live without the other.
All marketing programs are a mix of strategy and tactics, but most small business owners gravitate heavily toward the tactical side of the equation. They forego the strategy part for several reasons: Because they can’t do it themselves, because they perceive it as being too expensive, because they don’t have time, or because they don’t see the value in it.
But they pour a lot of money into tactics.
They use social media specialists and graphic artists to produce content. They purchase TV time and digital ads. They produce videos for YouTube and run radio ads, but there is no thread of continuity. No consistency of voice or message. No strategic platform from which to work. No yin yang balance.
Therefore, the effectiveness of each tactic is compromised.
Let’s look at some of the opposing, yin yang elements of any good marketing program:
Inward vs. outward.
Many businesses are too inwardly focused when it comes to marketing. Instead of addressing the needs, wants and emotions of their prospects, they talk about themselves and their industry. It’s all me, me, me, me, with a bunch of jargon thrown in for credibility purposes.
Not only that, outward facing marketing tactics and messages are often out-of-balance with the internal operation of the company. The ultimate success of your brand doesn’t hinge on what the marketing people say, it hinges on what you actually do. When you do great things, effective marketing messages are much easier to come by.
So what are you doing internally that your marketing department could build a strategy around?
Emotional vs. analytical.
Never underestimate the influence of feelings. Many business owners operate as if cold, calculating characters like Spock make all the buying decisions. They line up the spreadsheets, produce some charts and graphs, and expect facts and data to do all the work.
But the latest brain research shows that’s just not the case. fMRI testing proves that emotion commingles with reason, even in rigorous business-to-business purchasing decisions. In fact, many studies show it’s emotion that triggers action.
As one writer put it, “emotion is in the Oval office while the rational brain is in the press center, justifying the decisions that have already been made.”
Fast vs. slow
Some tactics need to get done quickly. For instance, social media posts are often very time sensitive, so there’s not much consideration for craftsmanship. TV commercials or print ads, on the other hand, demand careful attention to detail, so you need to leave time to do it right.
Strategy also takes time and thoughtful consideration. Strategic issues arise when the strategy is rushed to accommodate the tactical to-do list. Confusion and credibility issues arise when the tactics are produced in a vacuum, with no strategic guidance. All yang, and no yin.
Positive vs. negative.
Some marketers believe that you should never mention the competition. Always stick to a rosey picture of positivity, they say. But there are some strategic situations that demand a negative approach to execution. Sometimes it’s simply stronger to refer to someone else’s weakness than to talk about your own strengths.
The yin yang of competition is often the most poignant and effective approach for campaigns. All great brands have arch enemies. Coke has Pepsi. McDonalds has Burger King. Apple has Microsoft. Don’t shy away from that just because you’re afraid of offending someone. Better to offend some, than be invisible to everyone.
That said, you can’t have a marketing campaign that’s completely negative, all the time. Especially in small town like Bend. It’ll probably come off as snarky.
Male vs. female
A comedian once said that women make 80% of all the decisions — and they have veto power over the other 20%. Keep that in mind when you’re working on tactics, planning your strategy and building a brand. Women remember things! And they’ll attach very strong emotions to those memories, so you better not piss them off.
On the other hand, if you show genuine empathy, and make them feel good, they’ll be great brand ambassadors for you. And don’t forget… Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram skew heavily toward women.
Yin Yang is not static. Neither is your marketing.
The nature of Yin Yang flows and changes with time. So does your marketing. Sometimes it’s stop and go.
Some initiatives are purely tactical, while others are more strategic. Factors outside your control can change your strategy completely or rob you of tactics that you once counted on.
The seasonal nature of most businesses means that tactics may be bunched heavily into one time of year, while planning takes place another. Not only that, goals can change dramatically from one year to another. So you can’t just upload the same marketing plan year after year and expect it to work. You can’t keep running the same ads on the same shows or websites.
The balance point is always shifting. Hot & cold. In and out. Yin and yang. Enlightenment is achieved only when marketing strategy and tactics come together.
If you’re wondering about your own balance point, give me a call. 541-815-0075. For more on marketing strategy and tactics, try this post.
These days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.
It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.
First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.
According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.
According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point. “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.”
One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.
Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.
We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.
Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…
1. They forget what they’re really all about.
If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.
For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.
Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.
So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.
2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.
There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.
It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.
They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.
You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.
So how are you supposed to do that?
You could offer a unique mix of products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer. So scratch that.)
You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)
You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)
You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.
3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.
Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?
Information. Insight. And peace of mind.
Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.
But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.
In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.
If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.
Early in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.
For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.
Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.
The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.
4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.
It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what? It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.
There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.
Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=
So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:
I recently bought a new pair of walking shoes. I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.
I wanted to feel the difference.
So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.
I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.
REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.
The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.
That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.
It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.
Small-business owners are naturally self-reliant. We’re all in business for ourselves because we have that classic, American mentality that says we should get our hands dirty and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.
Damn the torpedoes!
According to the SBA there are 27.9 million small businesses registered in America and 22.5 million of those are “non-employer” companies. That’s a lot of one-person firms.
Not only that, the vast majority of those small businesses are started by technicians… Skilled specialists such as lawyers, auto mechanics, programmers, artists, plumbers or writers.
They’re experts in a trade, not in business. They might not have one speck of experience in small business marketing, management, finance, or any other business discipline.
They just know how to do the work.
These tenacious, small-business do-it-yourselfers often make the fatal assumption that because they’re good at the technical work of a business, they understand the business itself.
That’s just not true. A plumber knows how to run pipe, fix leaks and do the work. He doesn’t necessarily know how to run a plumbing business.
That’s the crux of The E Myth, by Michael Gerber. If you have a business, or are planning to go into business of any kind, you need to read that book.
There’s a big difference between a DIY business owner and an entrepreneur. The DIY business owner creates a job for herself. The business is entirely dependent on her own skills.
The entrepreneur creates an enterprise that’ll provide jobs for many. It’s built with an eye toward growth and a future acquisition by a corporation. It’s bigger than any one person.
As Gerber puts it, the DIY owner goes to work IN the business, the entrepreneur works ON the business.
The DIY owner does all the small business marketing herself. The entrepreneur hires smart people who implement a systematic approach to marketing.
The DIY owner is constantly scrambling to make widgets and get them out the door. The entrepreneur creates business systems that automatically deliver the widgets.
Architects are almost always DIY owners. Just because you can design great buildings doesn’t mean you can run a great architecture firm.
Talent, by itself, isn’t a guarantee of success.
Yet here’s what often happens: Two or three key people in an established architectural firm leave with a few clients, just knowing they can do it better on their own. But then they start a company that’s cut from the exact same cloth as the last place they worked. They use the same accounting software, the same small business marketing strategy, the same fee structure, and even the same value proposition.
The only thing that’s changed is the location and the letterhead.
The two founders dive right into the work of architects, and they neglect the work of an entrepreneur or manager.
So why are they surprised when they run into the same challenges and problems that their former employers experienced?
Those two DIY owner architects have to do a lot more than just architecture. They also have to wear the marketer’s hat, the manager’s hat, the HR hat and the entrepreneur’s hat.
It’s a tall order.
Nobody’s good at everything. Plus, it’s human nature to gravitate toward what you’re good at, and neglect the other stuff. So in most small businesses there are many tasks that get shoved to the side.
If you’re starting a business, or if your current business is stagnant, do an honest assessment… are you a DIY owner, or a true entrepreneur?
There’s nothing wrong with creating a job for yourself and just being a busy, DIY business owner. You probably won’t ever become a multi-millionaire, but you can make a good living doing the work you love. And you’ll enjoy the freedom that many people covet.
Cheers to that!
If you decide to be a DIY owner, some word of mouth advertising and a little bit of social media might be the only marketing tactics you need.
But if you want to grow your business and be a successful entrepreneur, you’ll need much more than that. You’ll need a systematic approach to marketing, and to your entire business.
If you want to be an entrepreneur you may have to stop doing the work you really love. Either that, or you’ll need to find a true entrepreneur to partner with… an experienced business person whose skill set will balance nicely with your skills as a specialist.
Here’s an example of a specialist who approached his business as an entrepreneur from day one.
In 1985 Scott Campbell graduated from OSU Veterinary School and bought a small-animal veterinary clinic called Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, Oregon. But instead of spending all his time treating fleas and ticks, he immediately started working on the business model.
Campell’s brand was built with one clear purpose in mind: To provide a better level of care for pets and a better model for the veterinary care industry. He did everything that Michael Gerber recommends in The E Myth…
He devised a long-term strategy. He built new business systems and installed computers. He hired BNResearch to do market research and carefully track customer satisfaction. He basically reinvented the way vets do business.
Scott Campbell didn’t work in his business, he worked on it.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Campbell took the lone, Banfield Pet Hospital and built it into Medical Management Inc, (MMI). When the company was acquired by Mars, Inc. in 2008 there were over 500 Banfield Pet Hospital locations worldwide, each doing approximately $2.5 million a year.
That might make Scott Campbell the world’s first billionaire veterinarian.
He wasn’t just passionate about pet care. Every vet is passionate about that. He was obsessive about building a business that would provide better health care for pets around the world.
Every DIY business owner is passionate about her line of work. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gone into that business in the first place. But very few are obsessive about the business of their work.
Most artists are intensely passionate about their painting, or their photos, or their poetry or whatever. But they’re not obsessive about the business part of it. On the contrary… Many absolutely hate it.
But here’s what you need to realize if you’re going to be a successful, DIY owner: You don’t have to do everything well in order to succeed, you just have to do a little more than the next guy.
Yeah. The bar is surprisingly low when it comes to small business marketing and management.
Most of your competitors will also be DIY owners who are NOT following Gerber’s advice. So if you just work ON your business a little bit, you’ll have a competitive advantage over those who only work IN their businesses.
A good place to start is with your marketing.
These days, marketing is a ridiculously confusing jumble of options. Very few small business owners can navigate all that, and still keep up with all their other duties.
So put on your entrepreneur hat, for just a minute. What would she do differently?
She’d hire an experienced marketing person to manage all the moving pieces and put some systems in place that would produce long-term growth. And in the process, she would make life way easier for herself.
That’s the secret to success for DIY owners… find at least one key task that you hate to do, and outsource it to experienced pros. That way, you’ll have more time to work in the business, doing what your love.
If you decide to make the leap in the entrepreneurship, well, either way you’re going to need some help with your marketing. If you want to take your business to the next level give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.
Every year, thousands of American E-commerce startups are launched with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat.
But a few will experience meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)
What’s the difference? Why do some e-commerce start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?
Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail:
They ignore the 4 Ps of Marketing.
Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything that was taught in Marketing 101 simply because they have a new distribution method. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to ecommerce entrepreneurs.
Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because you’re only doing business online. You just have to take a little different route.
Take, for example, the traditional 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place (distribution) & Promotion. It’s an old-school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should also seriously consider.
But before we get to that, let’s look at the originals that make up the 4 Ps of Marketing. Consider it a handy refresher:
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.”
These days, it happens in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer-generated reviews doom bad products faster than you can type “#bankrupt.” So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.
Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product or service.
Not anymore. These days your product or product line-up has to be among the best in class. Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built in to your core product or service. In other words, the marketing needs to be baked right into the product.
Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”
Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!
Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important P of the 4 Ps of Marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.
I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:
• The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases and buyer’s remorse. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged. And we’re much more likely to price shop, since it doesn’t involve driving all over town.
• In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies don’t charge anything.
• It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Walmart, forget about it! There’s always some other website waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.
So you have to go back to the first P.
You have to devise a product or service that has a perceived value that’s higher than your competitor’s, but a sale price that’s equal or lower.
Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. It’s one of their brand fundamentals. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product. This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan.
Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.
That’s a big idea. A purple cow based on the 3rd P.
Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still critically important. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…
Will you sell on Amazon? Use Amazon fulfillment? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell to specialty brick & mortar stores at wholesale? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.
Messaging. Content. Ease of use. Overall design. Product presentation. Back-end functionality. It’s all important.
Historically, the fourth P revolved around mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales promotions, telemarketing, PR and direct response, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.
These days, a lot of people seem to think social media is synonymous with marketing.
But social media is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of other tactics you should consider once you’ve devised a clear brand strategy.
Insight first, then execution. Strategy then tactics.
Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four or five you now have dozens… Content marketing, You Tube videos, paid search, Facebook posts, Twitter, Snapchat and a hundred other online options complicate the mix. The marketing landscape isn’t so much a landscape these days, as it is a landslide. Most business owners are overwhelmed by all the “marketing opportunities” out there.
And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.
But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement. Tracking those click-throughs to conversion allows you to hone in on the message that’s most persuasive and eliminate the promotional efforts that don’t pull.
So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of marketing. Think you can afford to ignore any of them?
What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed from the top down, around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. They’re too inwardly focused.
So here’s a new P for your consideration:
5. Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.
Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1980’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people who are involved and engaged with your brand.
How do you do that?
It starts with market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.
Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice.
Some people simply can’t do it themselves… they’re too far inside the bottle to see clearly. So get some professional help. Talk to your front-line employees, customers, non-customers, competitor’s customers. Do it on the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter. Just do it.
The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that insight is what weaves all the other Ps together.
It should be the starting point, not an afterthought.
You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.
Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s. Put them all together, and sustain the effort, and you’ll have one big, iconic B: A Brand.
It was said to be Steve Jobs’ last great obsession… Apple Park. The corporate headquarters that looks like a spaceship from a 1950’s sci-fi story. 12,000 employees in one building. 2.8 million square feet of space. The world’s largest panels of curved glass. 9,000 draught-tolerant trees. 5 billion dollar price tag.
The ultimate expression of the Apple brand under Jobs. And big-league brand alignment.
Steven Levy recently wrote a fascinating feature about Apple’s new flagship for Wired magazine. For that piece, he interviewed Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathan Ive.
Ive has overseen the design of every Apple product since 1997. Since Design is the heart and soul of the Apple brand, one could argue that Ive is the heart of Apple.
“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive said. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.
More fantastic designs. More signature products from the world’s most valuable brand.
Brand alignment involves a lot of things… It’s how you communicate the Brand to your employees. It’s the events you sponsor and the companies you’re affiliated with. It’s the consistency of your messaging and graphics. It’s product design and yes, it’s even the design of your new office.
In Apple’s alternative universe, the giant circular ring of glass is perfectly aligned with the brand.
All Fortune 500 companies spend enormous sums on corporate headquarters. Because they understand that it really does matter to their most important brand ambassadors… employees.
Your space says something about your brand and your culture. No matter how big or small your company is.
Famed architect Frank Gehry designed this building for Chiat Day Advertising. Now it’s occupied by Google.
Small professional service firms should also spend a lot of time and money on office space.
When you’re selling a service, and have no tangible product, your workspace is an important physical manifestation of the brand. In fact, depending on the business you’re in, your office space might be the single most important example of brand alignment.
For instance, when it comes to selecting an ad agency, office space always figures into the equation. The workspace is a tangible display of the agency’s creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. (Or lack thereof.)
Clients love doing business with the cool kids in the cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, more energized or more “free” than their own place of business. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Clients feed off that. (Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.)
If you’re an architect or an interior design firm it’s even more important… Your office space is an everyday opportunity to show off your work. It’s “Exhibit A” in the firm’s portfolio. It better be impressive.
For attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $450 an hour.
Cue the leather sofa and the $20,000 desk.
Harry Beckwith, in “What Clients Love,” tells how State Farm Insurance chose a firm to handle a huge payroll and benefits contract. They looked at all the proposals, narrowed the field, sat through presentations and listened to pitches from several very capable companies. They were all pretty comparable in price and service.
Then they dropped in, unexpectedly.
The State Farm guys walked through the offices of each competing firm, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the office that “felt the best” based on that one visit.
It’s a completely irrational, emotional, gut-instinct thing. (Have you ever walked into a restaurant and just felt an instant, knee-jerkingly negative vibe?)
First impressions matter. Details matter… Location. Colors. Layout. Even the coffee you serve says something about your brand. Is your company percolating along on Folger’s, or is it serving up a hot shot of espresso with a perfect crema on top?
Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see in your marketing materials and what they experience in your office? Be honest.
Is your office space in alignment with your brand and your corporate culture? Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain offices that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overstep their own brand personality.
Big banks work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable in their advertising. Then you walk into any branch, and the decor is vintage 1990s institutional snooze fest. And unfortunately, the customer experience is usually aligned with the decor. (One notable exception is Umpqua Bank.)
Ideally, you want to align the look, feel and functionality of your office space with the brand personality, culture and operation of your company.
Easier said than done.
You can’t just take the “about us” section of your website and hand that off to an interior designer and expect a miracle.
If you’re moving into a new space, or thinking of a refresh of your current office, it helps to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.
Your brand needs a bible.
That way, you always have a usable reference point. A testament. A philosophical road map that can be the inspiration for your marketing efforts, your business initiatives and your latest office makeover.
So when you’re looking at colors and carpet and furniture you can hold up the bible and say, “is this on brand? Is this really us?” Is this the right direction?
When I’m working with a new client I always start with that fundamental. I work with companies to spell out their brand and put it down on paper.
It’s not easy. It requires research, a lot of listening on my part, and a lot of soul searching from the client. (More than most people ever have time for.) But it saves tons of time later on by eliminating false starts when we’re working on tactical marketing items like digital advertising, a trade show booth, a powerpoint deck, or a new corporate video.
Or new interiors, for that matter.
“The right input is crucial for corporate jobs,” says Lisa Slayman of Slayman Design. “When clients are wishy-washy about their brand… that’s when things get difficult. The best clients are the ones who are clear about what their company stands for. What their brand is. When I see it down on paper, that makes it a lot easier to translate to the interior design job. It makes every decision easier.”
Getting the brand message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. You can’t have brand alignment if you don’t have your brand defined.
Your brand bible should inform hiring decisions, marketing decisions, operational decisions and even finance decisions. It should unite people and provide the crystal clear marching orders you need to move continually in the right direction.
If you don’t have one, call me.
When you approach new office space from a strategic, brand perspective the interior design becomes another opportunity to reinforce a specific set of values and beliefs. You can integrate your brand aesthetic into the everyday lives of your people and your visitors. So if some prospective client just happens to pop in, you’ll leave the right impression.
The brand impression.
Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said about the new Apple Park… “Could we have cut a corner here or there? Sure. It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.”
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:
Most small business owners never think about the important underpinnings of their brand. They just want to deliver a good product, build the business, make some sales and earn a good living. Branding and core brand values just aren’t a high priority.
That’s understandable given the daily workload that business owners endure. But the most successful small businesses — and all the beloved, billion-dollar brands — are built on a solid foundation of shared values and beliefs.
Core brand values go way beyond product attributes or corporate mission statements.
So if you’re launching a new business, or if you’re trying to define the core brand values of an existing one, it pays to think like a beloved brand.
In “Corporate Religion” Jesper Kunde put it this way: “What leads a company to success is its philosophy, values and beliefs, clearly articulated. Communicating the company’s attitudes and values becomes the decisive parameter for success. And it demands that you find out who you are as a company.”
Who you are. (Brand personality)
What you believe in. (Core Brand Values)
In “Good To Great,” Jim Collins says, ” Our research shows that a fundamental element of all great companies is a core ideology — core values and a sense of purpose beyond just making money — that inspires people throughout the organization and remains relatively fixed for long periods of time.”
Here’s an exercise that’ll help you find your passion and articulate the beliefs that become the spine of your brand. My partners and I recently did this as part of our website re-vamp…
Get some quiet, focused time away from the office. Then start a list of all the things you believe in. Personal and professional. If you’re trying to define your core brand values for the first time, you should also make a list of the things that really piss you off. Those hot button issues can be a great source of inspiration for core values and a fantastic differentiator for you business.
The fact is, prospective customers want to do business with those who share their own brand values and ideals.
So if we want to leverage those beliefs, and attract like-minded clients, it’s important to include that content on our website. Your beliefs should also be a constant source of material for social media posts, advertising and PR efforts.
“The better your company communicates its attitudes and beliefs, the stronger you will be.” Kunde said. “When consumers are confronted with too many choices, their decisions become increasingly informed by shared beliefs.”
Our core brand values at BNBranding are helpful reminders for anyone who’s trying to build a lasting, respected brand:
We believe that creativity is the ultimate business weapon.
Inspired, innovative thinking is behind every great brand, from Apple to Zappos. We also believe that it’s hard to be creative when you’re stuck, up to your neck, in day-to-day operations. Most business owners need a creative spark from the the outside.
We believe in the power of disruptive words.
Proven fact: Well-crafted messages with unexpected words and images have more impact. Because the human brain automatically screens out the normal, mundane language of most business pitches. It’s in one ear, and out the other, without disturbing a single brain cell. Great messages, on the other hand, fire the synapses and trigger an emotional response.
We believe that when it comes to selling, emotion trumps logic every time.
Research it yourself… the latest brain science proves that people make emotional purchases, then use reason to justify the decision. No great brand has ever been built on reason alone. Not one. In branding, it’s what they feel, not what they think.
We still believe in the marketing MIX.
Technology is a great new weapon in our quiver of marketing tools, but it’s not the bow. You still need a mix of marketing tactics. Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Snapchat provide exciting new ways to tell stories and make connections, but technology itself isn’t the story. And yes, TV, radio and even direct mail advertising still deserve a spot in the mix.
We believe in the glory of a good story.
Every great business has an engaging story to tell. So tell it! Find creative new ways to spin that tale, and keep telling it over and over again. Tell it in ads, tell it on your site, tell it presentations, tweets and Facebook posts. It does you no good to define your core brand values, and then NOT communicate them. Facts tell, stories sell.
We believe that image matters.
The image you portray − in words, graphics, music, pictures, events, affiliations − can differentiate your business and give you a leg up on the competition. But the style needs substance, as well.
We believe Design belongs in business school.
Tom Peters calls it “the soul of new enterprise.” It’s Design that differentiates the world’s most valuable brand – Apple. It’s Design that made Tupperware a cultural phenomenon. Design evokes passion, emotion and attachment… all required elements of great brands.
We believe in the art of persuasion.
Data is a big deal these days. But effective marketing communications still comes down to saying the right thing, and saying it well. A brilliantly crafted combination of words and images will always be more motivating than data.
So what about you? What are your core brand values?
What do you honestly, passionately believe in, and how can those personal beliefs be translated into core brand values?
You cannot be one thing in life, and another thing in business. It’s called brand authenticity, and if you’re faking it, potential customers will figure it out.
I once worked for a company that was less than upfront about their true values. They posted a mission and values statement on their site, but the words didn’t ring true to those of us on the inside. It was just corporate BS, which we discovered soon enough during a PR firestorm.
I can tell you emphatically… NOT divulging your true values to your team is a recipe for disaster. It’s literally impossible to lead effectively, motivate the troops and employ true brand ambassadors without being upfront about your true self.
The language that companies use for the “core values” often gives them away. Don’t ever say you’re “dedicated to” something or “committed to” whatever. The most common cliche is “committed to quality.” Or “dedicated to excellence.” You can’t build a brand around that. That aint even good english.
Core Brand Values as a Competitive Advantage.
And one final thing… keep in mind that most of your competitors are not thinking about authenticity, core brand values, or anything resembling deep-seated truths. So when you do, you’ll have a significant competitive advantage over them. At least with the people who believe as you do.
If you’re interested in building a strong culture based on honest brand values, check out this post.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.