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small business branding from BNBranding

Four Ingredients of Great Brands – Learning from breakfast cereal and a four-buck burrito

Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of companies like Tesla, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires. Small-business branding is often overlooked.

small business branding from BNBranding

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.

Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand develops.

It does not happen the other way around.

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

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:

Relevance.

Credibility.

Differentiation.

Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood. Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small business branding - big fat burrito In Bend, Oregon there’s a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It’s not the best Mexican food in town, but it’s damn good and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing.

Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

For Taco Stand, flavor and low cost are the differentiators. They consistently deliver on a very simple value proposition: You’ll get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

Credibility stems from the genuine quality of the food, the consistency, and the loyal, locals-only reputation. If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list.

Small-business branding – learn from the branding mistakes of the big boys.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easier for big corporations. They can launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. Television presence alone can lead to some degree of credibility. But it won’t necessarily last.

brand credibility in cereal branding Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…

Great name. Great-tasting product. Launched with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues.

Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be. It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup, to be exact. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for brand credibility.

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

The brand promise — that this cereal is a smart, healthy start to your day — is out the window.

Kellogg’s will probably fight back with the old line-extension trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs.

brand credibility small business branding(They already have several variations, including “Strong Heart” that has 17 grams of sugar, and Strawberry Oat Bites. )

Also notice that the packaging has devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design has become less and less unique with every variation.

So Smart Start’s credibility is sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to a label. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.

For a big company like Kellogg’s, it may not matter. Maybe Smart Start is doing well enough. Maybe Kellogg’s can chalk up a good profit despite the questionable product claims.  It’s a big company, with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.

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

What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos?

It’d be a recipe for a small-business branding disaster…

Relevance would be the first to go, since people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. (Just because you can make a claim, doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant to your core audience.) “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition.

Credibility would lost, because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

And, of course consistency would be sacrificed. Consistency of flavor and consistency of their messaging.

After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?

  1. Make sure your product claims are relevant, and not just good-for-nothing add-ons.
  2. Don’t choose a name, like “Smart Start” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
  3. Be consistently authentic. If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do dinners.

For more on what all great brands have in common, try THIS post.

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a free consult with BNBranding. 

 

1 what great brands have in common Patagonia

What do great brands have in common?

What 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.

what all great brands have in common Audi

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.

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.

For more on what great brands have in common, try this post.  For help with your own brand, make an appointment with me at BNBranding. We’ll get your messages aligned, and your advertising noticed.

4 The original 4Ps of marketing

The 4 P’s of marketing for E-Commerce (Plus one.)

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.

the 4 Ps of marketing and ecommerceBut 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 & 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:

1. Product

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 products that don’t deliver faster than you can type “#bankrupt.” So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.

The original 4Ps of marketing

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.

2. Price.

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:

ecommerce marketing• 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.

3. Place.

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.

One thing’s for sure, when your website is your only storefront as well as your #1 marketing tool, you need to make sure it’s absolutely fantastic on every level. 

Messaging. Content. Ease of use. Overall design. Product presentation. Back-end functionality. It’s all important.

 4. Promotion.

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.

4 Ps of marketing for ecommerceStrategic 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.

Want more on the 4 Ps of marketing and the fundamentals of branding: Try this post.

Need help getting that new perspective you need for the new year? Call me. 541-815-0075. You can also follow the Brand Insight Blog on Twitter: Brandsight.

3 How to make websites work on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of web development and website design 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. 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 IyellowbookpittsburghS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website 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.

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 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.

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, 2349098787_2cd660c18csingle-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

The deepest level of engagement 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, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.

The conversion level.

Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, it’ll happen quite naturally.

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:

 

9 brand core values

Successful brands are built on beliefs. Not products.

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 brand values just aren’t a high priority.

how to define your core brand values on the brand insight blogThat’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. And those 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.”

brand core values

Brands are built on authentic values and beliefs. Not BS.

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…

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.

My partners and I recently did this as part of our website re-vamp. The fact is, prospective customers want to do business with those who share their own 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. They are also 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 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.

core brand values on the Brand Insight Blog by John FurgursonWe 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 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.

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.

 

1 Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.

How to build brand credibility, one little leap at a time.

The brands I work with are not like WalMart.  They don’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with advertising. They don’t have enough money to sway public opinion in their favor. And all of them face stiff competition from bigger businesses. So brand credibility is essential.

Last week I had to convince a retail client that he couldn’t change people’s minds regarding his biggest competitor; the big box store.

“You can’t compete on price,” I said. “It’s just not a credible message.”

“Yes we can… They’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”

“No they don’t. No different than what we get.”

“I know they don’t and you know they don’t, but the public believes they do. And you can’t fight that perception.  It’s like City Hall. Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. If you want a credible brand, you have to hang your hat on something else.”

In that case, it was service that became the centerpiece of their marketing. That’s a credible brand message. The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it. (Every trip to Home Depot confirms that for me.)

But it’s not enough to just start running digital ads or TV spots that say you have great service. First you have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day. That way, all the reviews and stuff that show up on social media will substantiate the claim.

Bend, oregon advertising agency blog post about brand credibility.Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but they are not neutral about it, due to their inherent skepticism. It’s the built-in BS meter they all have.

They don’t believe anything you say.

So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do little things that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief.

It’s a far cry from getting them to believe your pitch or trust your brand, but it’s a start. You have to build credibility, step by step.

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” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys 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.”

In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment. If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality.

Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it.

In fictional works lively, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality make the story more believable. More engagine. The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Dramatic details and believable situations help you sell your story and sway skeptics. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.

Instead of shoving your product features down their throats, try for a more novel approach.

Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category.  Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build brand credibility, if you use them right.

Here’s a simple, practical example: Choosing the right photos for your website. Every image should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy, stock images that everyone in your industry uses, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos. Your brand cred will be shot.

That retail client of ours needed images that would support his story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that idea with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and the store. Good service wasn’t just talk. It was guaranteed.

Headlines are equally important. You should keep your headlines consistent with the images and with the secondary reality of your target audience. (You can’t show one thing, and say something else.)

brand insight blog on brand credibility by John Furgurson at BNBrandingIf you keep all those little executional details in sync with your operation, and maintain good practices over time, disbelief will turn to reluctant acceptance, acceptance to approval and approval to purchase. For a few lucky brands, it’ll even progress to a lifelong love.

As movie goers, game players and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture.

The Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.

We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what brand credibility is all about.

For help with your own brand message, call me at BNBranding.

For more on building an authentic brand, check out THIS post. 

9 How stock photos can affect your brand image – Beware of the visual cliché.

Every business needs photos… (Very few brand images are built on words and illustrations 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.’

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.”

Bend advertising agency article on visual cliches

Use this and your brand’s authenticity goes right out the window.

How many times have you heard that 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.

This image (right) 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.”

don't settle for a mediocre brand image“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.

golf industry advertising and photography by BNBranding and Dogleg StudiosI’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.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

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: johnf@bnbranding.com.

If you want to learn more about brand image, try this post. 

If you want help polishing the brand image of your company, call me: 541-815-0075

Keen branding

Sailing into a big, blue ocean of opportunity.

Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…

Under Armour marketing on the Brand Insight Blog“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said.  “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing.  I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”

Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on. It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.

That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post blue ocean strategyOften the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.

It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…

“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.”  “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”

Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy. The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.

Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.

635951675884228258570468626_ikea-shoppingWhen it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.

Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses. They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer. The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.

Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.

Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”  Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.

Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.  

So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that…  Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?

Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.

 

marketing clarity

The secret to success: Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

Clarity is the key to many things… relationships, international relations, politics and  marketing clarityparenting 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.

Doesn’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.

Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. Complication. Cool persuasion vs. a lot of hot air. Straight talk vs. bullshit. And it starts with your internal communications.

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.

lack of clarity leads to disgruntled workersWhen 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 copywriter and the art director. They can’t do their job 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.

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.

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 – search.

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.

Not 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 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.

Looking for more on how to make your presentations more clear and effective? Click here

4 ipod branding on the brand insight blog

Zero-in on Branding success.

I love this saying: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  I think Steven Covey coined that one.

the main thing for a top 100 branding blogWhen you boil it all down, that’s the essence of branding success: Zero-in on one thing you can honestly, passionately, expertly hang your hat on, and stick with it. Then when it comes to marketing communications, come up with one idea to convey the main thing, and just pound that home in every way, shape and form you can afford. One idea, multiple executions.

Unfortunately, most business owners and brand managers don’t have that kind of focus. Once they get a taste of success in one little niche, the temptation is just too much… They take their eye off the main thing, and dive into a lesser thing, hoping it will become the next big thing.

It seldom works out that way. The single biggest barrier to success, especially for young brands, is lack of focus.

Geoffrey Moore spelled it out in his seminal work, “Crossing the Chasm: “Target a specific niche as your point of attack and focus all your resources on achieving dominant position in that segment. It’s far better to be the big fish in a smaller pond, rather than flopping around in several small puddles.”

Al Ries and Jack Trout call it the most violated of their “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.”  They rail against line extensions and point to IBM, Microsoft, Levis, Heinz and this classic case: Crest.

viewdental116eBay_Store_Jan_1959_Crest_Little_Boy_001It used to be very clear… Crest fights cavities. That was the micro script for the brand. The Main Thing. Crest was the “first mover” in the cavity prevention category and it was a strategy that worked brilliantly, cementing Crest as the #1 toothpaste for more than 30 years.

Unfortunately, over time, other toothpaste brands entered the same niche and everyone seemed to offer cavity prevention. Crest abandoned the claim and didn’t find anything to replace it. After holding almost 40% of the market through the 1970s, Crest’s position began to erode at about the same time they launched their first brand extension”Advanced Formula Crest.”

Now there are 41 different kinds of Crest toothpaste. Count ’em!  Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Extra White, Crest + Scope, Crest Lasting Mint, Crest Pro-Health Clinical Gum Protection, Crest Invigorating Clean Mint, Crest glamorous white, Crest vivid white, Crest baking soda & peroxide, Crest gel, Crest liquid gel, Crest whitening, Crest gum protection, Crest fluoride anti-cavity and sensitivity relief and even Crest Night Toothpaste.

Give me a break! The Main Thing now for Crest is just the next new gimmick. And it’s no longer the #1 brand.

Marty Neumeier in “Zag” says… people want choice, but they want it among brands, not within brands.” All that Crest clutter just dilutes the brand and confuses the consumer. We have no idea what Crest stands for anymore.

It’s natural for successful owners and marketers to lose focus and start adding stuff to their portfolios of goods and services. They don’t want to miss any opportunities, and they argue that many successful companies have a wide range of products. Apple, for instance.maxresdefaultiPodposter

ipod-advertising1But every Apple product is designed around the one Main Thing: Delightful Simplicity. All the innovation, design and technological prowess of Apple comes together in those two words. That’s the heart of the Apple brand.

Remember this spectacular product launch for the iPod. Even the advertising was delightfully simple. The white cord let everyone know you were listening to something different. And the graphic execution of the ads was a huge branding success.

But you’re not running the world’s most valuable company. And chances are, you don’t have the main thing really nailed down. When you do, things will become easier.

Reis and Trout say: “Focus is the art of carefully selecting your category and then working diligently to get your self categorized in people’s minds.”  In other words, branding success is a process.

A good way to start is by saying no. Because what you DON’T do is just as important that what you do do.

Say no to the new investor that thinks you should add a mobile app to your mix. Say no to the engineers who say “we can do this, wouldn’t this be cool.” Say no to the marketing consultant who says you’re missing a great opportunity. Say no to the guy who thinks you should open another location. Sometimes you even have to say no to your biggest customer.

It’s not easy, and it’s often unpopular within the ranks, but that’s what focus is… NOT trying to be all things to all people.