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marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

Absolutely Better Branding (Lessons from a strong shot of vodka.)

dill pickle vodka BNBrandingChocolate 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.

”Here’s how:

• 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.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose 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.”

marketing strategy for alcoholic beverages 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.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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.

For more on marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, try THIS post. 

BNBranding small business DIY branding

The DIY mentality and small business marketing (2 clearly different paths)

BNBranding logoSmall-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.

BNBranding small business DIY branding

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.

the E Myth on the Brand Insight Blog top 100 branding blog

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.

Marketing strategy first, then tactics. 

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?

small business marketing by BNBranding

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 systesmall business marketing in the veterinary industryms 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.

Looking for more insight on small business 

Keen branding

branding and marketing? Try this post.

 

1 what great brands have in common Patagonia

What do great brands have in common?

BNBranding logoWhat are the common attributes of the world’s greatest brands? And more importantly, what can the average business owner, entrepreneur or marketing director learn from the greats?

I could have done a listicle on the subject: “5 things that great brands have in common.” But that would have been lame… the form of the content would have been contrary to the first, most common attribute that great brands share: Differentiation.

Great brands are highly differentiated from the competition. 

Brands like Ikea, Whole Foods and Nike play by their own rules. They break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture and catch the competition off guard. That’s how they establish leadership positions.

Under Armour has risen past Adidas and grabbed second place behind Nike, and it wasn’t by making me-too products. They broke the preconceived notion of function in a t-shirt and have parlayed that into a sporting goods powerhouse.

common attributes of great brandsZappos differentiated itself in the E-commerce arena by focusing on service.

Tony Hsieh knew, from the very beginning, that it wasn’t just a matter of moving a lot of shoes. He wanted to be the Nordstrom of Ecommerce, and Hsieh built the entire operation around that one, core brand value.

Now it’s actually integrated into the Zappos brand identity. “Powered by Service.”

These days, start-ups commonly pitch themselves as the Zappos of of this, and the Zappos of that… “The Zappos of office supplies.”  “The Zappos of skateboarding.”  “The Zappos of specialty foods.”

They all want to differentiate themselves by emulating Zappos, and then get bought by Amazon for $928 million. Like Zappos did.

Apple has always played by its own rules. It’s not just differentiated, it’s purposely contrarian.

It was born that way, as the counter-culture antithesis to Windows and IBM.

According to a 2002 Wired Magazine article, “they did it by building a sense of belonging to an elite club by portraying the Mac as embodying the values of righteous outsiderism and rebellion against injustice.”

common attributes of great brands

So as I write this article on a MacBook Pro what does that say about me?

It says that I’m consciously creative. That I value design. That I like simplicity. That I’m not a corporate lemming. That I “think different.”

Those feelings were imprinted in me the first time I sat down at at a little Mac. And now those feelings keep replaying every time I pick up my iPhone 7. (Not so much when I have to deal with iTunes.)

Great brands connect on an emotional, gut level.

A hot bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter day triggers feelings of comfort, love and security for millions of Americans. It’s M’m M’m Good! (That slogan is ranked as one of the 10 best of the 20th century, and it was successfully resurrected in 2002.)

The ingrained goodwill that we have for Campbell’s Soup is the only thing that’s sustaining the company amid MSG scares, shrinking category sales, and stiff competition from Progresso and other, healthier choices such as Amy’s and Pacific Foods.

what great brands have in commonSpeaking of emotional attachment, let’s talk Target, the country’s second-largest retailer.

My daughter is an absolute brand fanatic. She lives for those Target shopping trips. The ads speak to her. The experience is superior to any other store. And she loves the products they carry. She jokingly admits to “having a problem.”

According to Harvard Business Review, Target’s business objective was to create an alternative to Wal-Mart’s price leadership. It’s done that through upscale discounting — a concept associating style, quality, and price competitiveness.

This “cheap-chic” strategy enabled Target to become a major brand and consumer-shopping destination, and was built around two interrelated branding activities:

what great brands have in common... Target, Zappos, Apple, Harley DavidsonDesigner partnerships and clever, creative advertising.

Target spends 2.3 percent of its revenues on advertising. Target’s agencies regularly come up with fun, memorable ad campaigns that maintain the brand’s hip design aesthetic that has helped transformed its signature bull’s-eye logo into a lifestyle symbol. As my daughter put it, “Yeah, I follow them on Instagram because it’s aesthetically pleasing.”

Target’s brand promise is summed up very nicely in its tagline, “Expect More. Pay Less.”  In other words, the value is a given, but there’s style too. Otherwise, millennials would dessert it faster than you can say “Where’d Sears go?”

what great brands have in commonTarget has successfully associated its name with a younger, hipper, edgier image than its competitors. It’s not just Target, it’s “Tar-zhay.” And for my daughter, who grew up shopping there, it will always will have a special place in her heart.

If you’re a skier, you might be interested in the emotional attachment I have to my Head skis.

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll be familiar with the cult-like culture of Harley Davidson.

If you’re a driving enthusiast, you’ll relate to BMW’s brand messaging…  “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” And you’ll understand that no one bought a Dodge Viper because of its product features.

Emotion is everything when it comes to building an iconic brand.

Great brands deliver on their promise year after year.

Target stays relevant by keeping up with the latest fashion trends and aligning itself with the right designers. The right stars. The right brand affiliations. It’s a constant effort to always keep things fresh.

Many business owners seem to think of branding as a one-time event — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all. Branding requires constant diligence.

You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not delivering on your brand promise. To remain emotionally connected to your tribe, you have work at it on a day-to-day basis. Because an iconic brand does not guarantee business success.

Was Saturn iconic? Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of the auto industry have stalled, and ended up in the perverbial junkyard.

VW lost millions of fans when they duped the public on Diesel admissions. But the strength of the brand will carry it through. Eventually.

 

Mauro Caviezel

For about 10 years I was a loyal Audi owner. One holiday weekend I had to drive my Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night.  I felt security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.

The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand: Best damn cars for snowy roads. Period.

Ultimately, however, the brand lost me. I gave up that extra sense of security on snowy roads in favor of financial security. I just couldn’t justify the expense of long-term Audi ownership. I literally felt sick every time I had to check into the service department at the dealership.

The Audi brand couldn’t deliver on its promise when my car was in shop.

Great brands have a clear sense of purpose.  

Your brand’s purpose isn’t to make money. That’s the purpose of the business. The brand needs to stand for something deeper and more meaningful than that.

Nike sells shoes and apparel. But it’s purpose is to inspire action, performance and personal achievement. “Just Do It.”

Starbucks sells coffee and fast food. But it’s purpose is to fill a void in our busy lives. As Howard Shultz once said, “A burger joint fills the belly, but a good coffeehouse fills the soul.”

Coke-a-Cola sells sugar water, but the brand’s purpose is to spread American values around the world. It’s a little taste of freedom in a bottle.

Ikea sells cheap furniture that you have to painstakingly assemble. But it’s purpose is to bring affordable, modern design to the masses.

What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

Figure it out, write it down, and then start communicating that purpose. Relentlessly.  If you need help with that, call me. And here’s a great article on purpose-driven companies from HBR.

Great brands are great communicators.

A strong, purpose-driven culture won’t help if you don’t communicate clearly.  So sharp storytelling skill is another thing that great brands have in common.

It’s a challenge, staying “on message.” That’s where many companies go wrong… their advertising says one thing, their social media campaigns say another thing, and their website communicates something else entirely.

Consistency and alignment is something all great brands have in common.

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a consistent, compelling story to match. They use an authentic, visual narrative. No staged shots of pretty boy models. No over-explanation.

It’s an approach that establishes that intangible, emotional connection that fuels success and inspires people… Participate in the outdoors and help save our wild, beautiful places.

Try this article for more on what great brands have in common.

For help with your own brand, make an appointment with me at BNBranding. We’ll get your messages aligned, and your advertising noticed.

3 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website Design & Development – How to make websites work on many levels.

BNBranding logoIt’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.

website design on the brand insight blog

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.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

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.

bmw_uou

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.

BNBranding - too many marketing opportunitiesThe 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:

marketing strategy BNBranding

1 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

How long should that web copy be? Really.

This is a common refrain these days…  Doesn’t matter if the client is selling complex, business-to-business services online or a simple impulse item in the corner market, they often have the same idea concerning web copy…

“This copy’s just too long. No one’s going to read that.” 

“You can’t put that much copy on a website.” 

“How we going to do that on social media?

Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingThey probably read some ill-advised online advice that said “Less is more. Keep it short. Don’t expand on anything. Kick ’em upside the head!”

And do it in 140 characters.

Call it the Twitter effect. Or maybe the Trumpification of corporate communications. Persuasion and word-smithing is being beaten down, tweet by tweet, and reduced to banal snippets designed to get clicks and “improve engagement.”

There are many problems with that approach to web copy, but I’ll just cover a couple…

If you’re going to limit your copy to just a few words, they better be damn good words.

This, I’ve found, seldom rings true.  I rarely find website headlines or digital display ads online ad copy, social media posts or blog articles that are well-written. In fact, they’re more likely to be riddled with typos than ripe with juicy metaphors and well-crafted copy.

That’s probably because most web development firms rely completely on the client for “content.” And he’s way too busy to do that himself. He doesn’t even have time to manage the project through a freelancer, so it usually gets delegated to someone who’ untrained, or utterly inept.

The second problem is this:  Sometimes you absolutely, positively need more than just a factual headline and a quick blurb for your web copy.

Business stories need time to develop. They need dialog and characters and problem/solution scenarios that strike a chord with prospects. You can’t just fill in a few blanks on a website template and expect good results.

Prospects need to know more than just who, what, when and where. But also, why.

They need to see, hear and FEEL the “what’s in it for me” piece that is amazingly absent these days.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsI see it frequently in the natural foods industry… a company will have a delicious new product for sale on Thrive Market and Amazon and various niche websites, but they use the same, truncated, incomplete copy on every site. Not a single one gives an adequate explanation of “why buy.” It’s an obvious, unfortunate, cut and paste job.

There are hundreds of delicious, healthy products languishing on those eCommerce shelves because companies simply don’t articulate the deeply rooted product benefits in an interesting manner. As they say in the venture capital world, “they just don’t have their pitch dialed.”

Heck, they often can’t even convey how tasty their stuff really is.

My job is to dig up those pertinent story lines and deliver the message to a variety of diverse target audiences.

Sometimes it can be done in a few words, but often I have to go deep… I’ll find the real story buried in an old blog article or in a series of Facebook posts from the company’s launch. Or worse yet, I stumble across the meat of the message in some food blogger’s review.

How could that be? How could the owner possibly miss such an important marketing detail?

To be fair, those business owners are up to their ears in production challenges, ingredient procurement issues and sales channel headaches. Most don’t have time to craft their pitch because they’re busy solving problems that are more urgent and more understandable to a CEO mentality.

It’s  human nature… dive into the tasks we’re good at, and procrastinate on the other stuff.

So here’s some advice for all you business owners out there: Don’t put off your messaging. It’s more important than you think. And don’t “outsource it” to someone who doesn’t understand your target audience or the language of your business.

Get some professional help from a well qualified writer, and when you do, don’t pester him about using too many words.

The fact is, engagement is guaranteed if you’re telling a good story in a creative way.

(And believe me, no one buys without first being engaged with your brand.)

But let me answer the original question… “How long should your ad copy be?”

That depends on the context. You need to carefully consider the medium, the audience, the subject matter and the objective of the communication.

billboards like this one from bnbranding need short copy. brand insight blog

Billboards like this one from BNBranding require very short copy.

There are times when you absolutely have to be short and to the point. Billboards, digital ads and Facebook, for instance.

In situations like that, when the character count is literally limited, every sentence needs to be creative and well crafted. Every word counts. No one’s going to flock to your landing page if you just slap up a product shot with a factual caption on Facebook. In that case, a photo alone does not speak a thousand words.

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingThere are other times when long, explanatory copywriting is essential to making the sale and building your brand.

For instance, a sales letter to a known prospect for a complex, business-to-business service proposition. Or the “about” section of a website in categories where credibility is huge issue.

The length of your copy is often dictated by the audience you’re addressing.

Take trade advertising for instance… Natural food marketers need to reach the buyers at retail chains like Whole Foods, and the pitch for that group should be completely different than the copy directed to the end consumer. It’s a different value proposition, altogether. Yet most trade ads in that industry are nothing more than sell sheets, which is not a good use of media dollars.

Facts, data and product photos alone do not tell a compelling story.

Part of the art of effective copywriting is knowing when to go long, when go short, and when to shut up.

I know a company that had 700 words on the homepage of their website. It was a huge mistake… way too long for that particular location. And every powerpoint presentation you ever see has way too many words.

But there are far more companies that have the opposite problem; graphically-driven websites that don’t present a clear case for the product or service at hand.

So, if you’re trying to produce some effective ad copy, first consider the medium. Then the audience. Then the objective of the communication. And of course, the subject matter. Only then can you decide if less really is more.

I could go on and on, but for this particular post, this is the perfect length.

For more advice on how to get better copywriting, try this post.

 

 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Effective TV advertising — How to avoid TV spots that miss the mark.

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.

BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogNo, 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.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

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 recGolf industry tv advertising that misses the markently 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.

Duh.

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.

marketing strategy BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation.

I’m an advertising guy… a writer from way back. Here’s the fastest, easiest way to get better ad copy: Forget about the exclamation marks.

Ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. (“Got Milk?” is not proper english, but it’s brilliant advertising.) We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach. So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related.

But someone has to speak out about all the excexclamation_mark1lamation points popping up in marketing circles.

If I see one more marketing cliche or list of features punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.

Exclamation points are everywhere these days — in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.

“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”

I have news for you…  There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy.  Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.

Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Brakes! Air bags!”

Putting exclamation points on your list of standard features is not going to make them more compelling.

Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)

Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of  exclamation points at the end of  a sentence…

You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!

The longest, straightest driver ever!

Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!

Your whole family will love it!!!

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsReally?  Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility.

If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.

In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.

If you have to use an exclamation mark, you’re not using the right words. Go back to the well. Find words that punctuate the point in a dramatic fashion so you don’t need the extra punctuation.

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You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy and social media posts without adding exclamation points. Or worse yet — emojis.

Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest.

Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test the microscripts on real people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.

I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever.

So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.

It’s not easy. If you need help writing better ad copy, call me. Or if you want more info on how to improve your advertising copy, click here.

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

 

2 marketing clarity BNBranding

The secret to success: Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

BNBranding logoClarity is the key to many things. Marriage, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity.

But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Business Clarity. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising, marketing communications and management in general.

Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. complication. Persuasion vs. nonsense. Straight talk vs. bullshit.

marketing clarity BNBrandingDoesn’t matter what form of communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.

Eighty percent of my professional life has been spent helping clients clarify things. The message is almost always clear in their own heads — and maybe to a few insiders — but something always gets lost in translation.

The fact is, words matter! Images matter. A single misused word, photo or graphic can derail entire campaigns and leave your most important audience scratching their heads.

Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.

A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity causes enormous frustration. So managers need to set clear goals for the company, the teams, and every individual in every department.

When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle.

So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.

Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.

Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things:  What to say, and how to say it.

The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the creative team. The copywriter and the art director and programmer can’t do their jobs if they’re not clear on the strategy.

Easier said than done.

Most business owners are a quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics. If you need help with that, call me.

Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called  “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”  There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.

“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks.

“Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…” 41394

No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats. Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo.

They were in the spotlight, on national TV, and they had no business clarity whatsoever.

Take time to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t!

Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement. Then make sure that it becomes an integral part of your on-boarding procedure. Because if your own people don’t know what your brand stands for, how will the customer know?

Want traction for your startup?  Find a name that’s clear.

Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name.

“How do you spell that?”  “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”

Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business…  Dearch. Deeper.

Then there are these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli.  That’s just confusion waiting to happen.

Want advertising that actually drives sales? Be clear and overt about the value proposition.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsNot just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are  specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.

Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with the value proposition. Then go to strategy. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads.

Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.

When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear. There can be no confusion. You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.

Want a powerpoint presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides. 

Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies in the war against confusion. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor.  Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.

Learn more about more clarity in your powerpoint presentations.

Need help clarifying your messages?  Call me. 541-815-0075

Keen branding

 

 

5

Sorting through the endless “marketing opportunities”

BNBranding logoThe marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.

Most clients I know can’t possibly wade through the complex maze of choices.

They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one.

Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try.

There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding,  blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that’s just the first two  letters of the alphabet.

It’s nuts. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.

Even the biggest brands in the world, with massive marketing departments, can’t make sense of it all. Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers summed it up at a recent conference in Orlando.

“Yes, there’s been substantial technological progress. But is that progress getting us anywhere? The answer is no,” Liodice said. “We should not accept this byzantine, non-transparent super complex, digital media supply chain. No one can understand it. ”

new approach to website designUnless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 30 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.

I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics…

• Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.

• Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.

• Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.

• E-commerce sales copy on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster E-commerce sales.

• High-dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!

• Marketing tactics and strategy get completely out of alignment.

• A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely –  one that can’t possibly afford the product.

• Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.

Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

So what are you supposed to do? How can business owners find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?

First of all, you need to have a general grasp of the complex marketing landscape.

Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing

Second, find someone you trust implicitly to help you wade through all the marketing clutter.

There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time and accept their outside perspective as a positive.

It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.”  They may not know it as well as you do, but what we do know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring us for. We can learn the ins and outs of your operation as we go, just as you can learn the basics of marketing and branding.

Third, set clear goals, expectations and metrics.

Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBrandingYou need to balance your strategy and tactics and possibly even pull all the pieces together with marketing automation tools.

So start with strategy, not tactics.

Social Media marketing is not a strategy.

Digital advertising  is not a strategy.

Marketing automation is not a strategy.

If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to  outsource your marketing.

Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.

I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me.

He has read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and traveled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. He’s learned a lot, and yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely.

But now he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him choose his opportunities wisely, and maximize every one.

Here’s more on how to find the right person to manage the complex marketing landscape.

If you want help navigating it all, call BNBranding. And if you’re thinking about marketing automation tools, we should talk.

1

“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

managerial incompetence Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingHonestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule. Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads, nitwits and nincumpoops seem to rule the world.

These are just a couple examples that I’ve encountered in the last year:

The retail store owner who has no handle on her inventory levels, media expenses or her labor costs.

The non-profit executive who has a revolving door of talent, going only one direction. (Four different marketing directors in five years.)

The managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over-bills his clients.

The Director of Communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally.

The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything more meaningful than which consultant to hire.

Failures like those are rampant. One leading consulting firm reports “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.” (Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)

So the bad news is, there’s a 50-50 chance that your boss or your manager is incompetent. The good news is, 50% of the companies you compete with are also chock full of managerial incompetence.

And here’s more good news:  It’s well documented that strong brands help companies weather all sorts of managerial miscues.

Strong brand affinity can help companies weather a price war. According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front.  And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt.

Look what happened to Toyota.

In 2009 and 2010 Toyota recalled 8.8 million vehicles due to safety concerns with accelerator pedals.  Time magazine ran a feature story titled “Can Toyota ever bounce back.” One industry expert told CBS Anchor Harry Smith, “We’ll be seeing major problems with the Toyota brand for at least a decade, maybe two.”

Toyota’s CEO quipped that he was not Toyota’s top executive as much as the company’s chief apologizer for blunders, mishaps and overall sluggish business. It was a PR disaster, and another example of managerial messiness.

Business Insider reported “The company failed miserably in its initial crisis management, but that’s what makes Toyota’s case so intriguing. Despite its monumental mistakes early on, Toyota still bounced back. Why? It didn’t take long for the public to remember Toyota’s previously stellar reputation.”

Contrary to all the doomsday speculation, the Toyota brand made a quick recovery, recapturing its status as the #1 selling car brand in America. (In 2016 they had the #1 and #2 selling car in America.)

Not surprising really, given the consistency and long-term track record of the Toyota brand.

“The Toyota brand showcased its resiliency, with its positive reputation built up over decades of good performance. The company leveraged this, focusing its marketing once again on safety and its proven track record. It had to show that this disaster — including its own horrible mishandling of the situation — was an aberration.”

branding blog about toyotaToyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics. AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

So what does this all mean for the typical small to mid-sized company? Here are a few lessons:

1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise. Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance. Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down. What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?

2. Managers make monumental mistakes. CEOs come and go, often in a flaming blaze of glory. Products sometimes fall drastically short. But if you’ve built a strong brand your devoted fans will cut you some slack. The emotional connection they have will prevail over any short-term disappointment.

3.  A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team. They gotta know what you stand for, and they’re not necessarily going to get it unless you spell it out for them. You have to communicate your brand promise all the time, and promote it feverishly with your team. How else are they going to understand the culture, the core values, the expectations of consumers, and the business goals? Don’t assume anything.

4. Great managers are hard to find. No one has the childhood wish of becoming a great manager, so if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.

5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished. They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it. Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion. If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

For more about the power of a great brand, read this post