Tag Archives for " marketing tactics "

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 believing 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 engrossing. 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 hurt your brand image

Every business needs photos… For ads, websites, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts and powerpoint presentations. Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to stock photo sites. But the problem with 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 fill in the blank.” Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

Crummy stock photos have the same effect. This image 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.

But 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.

golf industry advertising and photography by BNBranding and Dogleg Studios

Team competition by Mike Houska – Dogleg Studios.

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “They want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

the problem with stock photographyLet me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business? What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

I’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.) There are thousands of decent stock images we could use, but the problem with stock photography is there’s nothing compelling or unique about it… Nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny. (Unpaid plug: If you need photography, you should definitely check out Dogleg Studios.)

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Stock photos can hurt you in all three areas… If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

the problem with stock photography by BNBranding a bend ad agency

This skiing photo is relevant because it’s a shot of the author, John Furgurson, by Mike Houska of Dogleg Studios, at Mt. Bachelor.

So the next time you’re thinking of throwing another stock photo into a presentation or report, 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 will be better for it in the long run.

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

1 Is the term “inspiring bank” an oxymoron?

It’s interesting, where people find business inspiration. For some, it’s the pages of Forbes or biographies of big-name entrepreneurs. For others it’s an impressive P&L statement. For me it’s the bookstore, the ski slopes, or the golf course.

old-bankThe bank is definitely not where I would look for inspiration.

Banks are not known for their inspiring environments or groundbreaking business practices. The most exciting thing to ever happen at my bank was the emancipation of the counter pens… They were released from their chains and replaced with crappy logo pens that are now free to take home with just a purchase of a $10,000 15-year Certificate of Deposit.

Nope. The banking industry is the last place I’d look for business inspiration or marketing insight. That is, until I met Ray Davis, the CEO of Umpqua Bank.

business inspiration from the brand insight blog and Umpqua BankTurns out, he’s not inspired by the banking industry either.

According to Davis, the key question driving strategy discussions at Umpqua has been, “How can we get people to drive by three other banks to get to ours?” That question has steered the bank’s team to look outside the financial sector for inspiration. For instance, Umpqua’s brand has been heavily influenced by the retail industry. “Build the branches around interactions, not transactions.”

Umpqua Bank has grown from $140 million in assets in 1995 to $24 billion in assets. Today it has 350 stores in three states, but perhaps more importantly for the brand, Umpqua has been included in Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 best places to work — eight years in a row!

Bankers and banking consultants from all over the world visit the Umpqua headquarters in Portland and the San Francisco branch to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And what’s even more impressive is that executives in completely different industries are also looking to Umpqua for inspiration.

Turns out, we really can learn from a bank when it comes to branding.

So what’s behind it? What’s turned this small town brand into one of the fastest growing banks in the nation?

inspiring bank brand insight blog post by BNBranding a bend, oregon advertising agency“Umpqua started to take off once we realized what business we’re really in,” Davis said. “I don’t believe we’re in the banking industry. We’re in the retail services business.”

When Davis applied for the job at Umpqua he warned the Board of Directors that he was going to throw out all the old conventions of the banking industry and start something completely different. Because he believed they couldn’t compete against the big guys in any conventional way.

“Banking products are a commodity,” Davis said. “You can’t differentiate yourself that way. The big guys are just going to copy any good new product we come up with. But they can’t copy the way we deliver the service. They can’t copy our experience.”

For that, he borrowed ideas from two great retailers… Nordstrom and Starbucks. Umpqua stores look more like the lobby of a stylish boutique hotel than they do a bank. You can settle into a comfortable leather chair and read all the leading business publications. Have a hot cup of their Umpqua blend coffee. Check your e-mail or surf the web. Listen to their own brand of music and maybe even make a deposit or open a new account. Who knows.

It’s a dramatic leap when you compare that experience to the cold, marble standards of the banking industry.

Clearly, Davis knows how to execute. He doesn’t talk about “execution” per se, but he obviously has the discipline to match the vision. He’s knows how to motivate and how to manage an organization through dramatic changes. And he’s built a corporate culture that aligns with the brand promise.

2014.10.17_Umpqua_BankHere are some of the things Davis has successfully implemented and some reasons why his bank is now on my inspiration radar…

• Random acts of kindness: Local Umpqua teams just do good stuff, like buying coffee for everyone who walks into a neighboring Starbucks. They don’t have to ask permission.

• They get their customer service training from Ritz Carlton.

• Every Umpqua employee gets a full week of paid leave to devote to a local charity. That’s 40 hours x 1800 employees! Any other banker would do the math and say it’s too costly. Davis says it pays off 100 fold.

• They have their own blend of coffee. Shouldn’t every great brand have its own blend of gourmet coffee?

• Proceeds from Davis’ book “Leading for Growth. How Umpqua Bank Got Cool And Created A Culture of Greatness”go to charity.

• They invented a way to measure customer satisfaction. As Fast Company Magazine put it: Umpqua Bank has a rigorous service culture where every branch and each employee gets measured on how well they deliver on what they call “return on quality.” Our research division, BNResearch, handles that kind of work for another innovative, billion-dollar company in an even less glamourous industry… veterinary medicine.

• They embrace design as a strategic advantage. At Umpqua branches, everything looks good, feels good, and even smells good! It’s the polar opposite of a crusty old bank. It’s a pleasing environment, which makes an unpleasant chore much nicer.

• Davis GETS IT! He knows, intuitively, that his brand is connected to their corporate culture. “Banking executives always ask, ‘How do you get your people to do that?’ It’s the culture we’ve built over the last 10 years. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one day and say, gee, look at this great culture we’ve got here. Our culture is our single biggest asset, hands down.”

Umpqua-bank-interactive• He’s a great communicator. Davis doesn’t use banking stats to motivate and persuade. He uses stories, analogies and real world examples.

• He embraces the idea of a big hairy audacious goal. In fact, everyone answers the phone “Thank you for calling Umpqua Bank, the world’s greatest bank.”

So the next time I’m looking for inspiration, maybe I’ll skip my usual haunts and head down to the bank for a cup of coffee.

For more inspiration, try THIS post.

For inspiration regarding your own marketing efforts, call me at BNBranding.

 

5 marketing strategy vs tactics spock vs kirk

Strategic Thinking vs. Tactical Acting

The single most popular article I’ve ever written focuses on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Thinking and planning vs. doing.

Seems there’s a bit of confusion there. For example, I saw a blog recently titled “Top 10 Social Media Strategies.” But the list was purely tactical. Not a strategy to be seen.

So if you’re one of thousands who is still a bit unclear, here’s another way to look at it…

At BNBranding we talk about Insight vs. Execution. Insight being the crucial strategic thinking that has to happen before you execute the tactical plan. Think, then act.

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands talks about the difference between strategic thinkers and tactical implementers. He writes… “To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.” Whoever wrote that blog post on social media definitely sees answers first, and social media is it.

Strategic Thinkers ask a lot of “what if” questions before they begin to develop solutions. They think, they reflect, they plan and they stew on things before they act. In fact, many never act at all. They deliver a report and walk away, or they delegate the execution to the tacticians.

Tactical people jump right into answers. They believe that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking, so it often turns into a “ready, fire, aim scenario. They are impulsive doers who often get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

marketing strategy vs tactics spock vs kirkIt’s like Captain Kirk in an old StarTrek episode yelling at Spock; “What we need now, Spock, is a little analysis and lot more action!” Spock was the strategy guy. Captain Kirk was the execution guy.

There are many business owners with A-type personalities who fall into the category of non-strategic implementers. They’re the ones who quickly jump on every new marketing bandwagon that comes along, hoping for a home run without ever taking batting practice. They do a lot, but without clear direction they often do a lot of the wrong things. They’re all over the place.

Strategists, on the other hand, often think themselves to death and never get anywhere.

My firm is often brought in for tactical projects because many clients don’t think they need the strategy help. But in most of those cases, we have to work our way “upstream” to answer those key, strategic questions before we jump into creative execution of a website, ad campaign, social media effort or whatever.

marketing strategy rafting the deschutesTactical implementers never paddle upstream. They just go with the flow.

To be a great marketer you have to wear both hats. “While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand, Robertson said. ” They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action. And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff you actually need done. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and tactical, almost equally so.”

A tall order for most marketing people. In fact, Robertson estimates that only 15 to 25% of all marketing people at legitimately “strategic” in their approach to their jobs. There are far more tactical marketing implementers than there are strategic thinkers.

If you’re building a career in marketing you need to pinpoint where your strengths lie. If you’re more of a manager, organizer and list-making delegator, you’ll probably want to find people for your team who can fill in the strategy gap.

You can’t just suddenly decide to “be strategic.” Being strategic means reading between the lines, delving deeper than just factual data, and trusting your instincts. That takes years of practice and a certain personality type. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a good tactical implementer who gets a lot of stuff done.

There are thousands of successful design firms and small ad agencies that have no strategic thinkers at all. The account executives work with the client and coordinate the list of tactics they’re given. The creative specialists — writers, graphic designers, web programmers, SEO guys, photographers, and social media specialists execute those tactical projects.

That can work well for companies that already have a well-defined brand and a clear-cut marketing strategy. But it doesn’t work if the business owner doesn’t have her story spelled out on paper. In that case, those creative implementers will spin their wheels and go through a lot of false starts before they hit on something that strikes a chord with the client.

Launching a FaceBook contest is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. (And by the way, it’s not an effective tactic if you think it’ll replace other forms of paid advertising.)

Social-Media-Cartoon-Top-640x-940x350“Content Marketing” is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. One of many things on your to-do list that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Producing and running a Super Bowl commercial is a tactic.

Deciding which product or service to focus on, in that Super Bowl commercial, is strategy.

The most common mistake in marketing strategy is a lack of focus. A strong strategy demands focus, but a most business owners want to be all things to all people in their particular niche.

I was talking with a real estate firm the other day and they had all their “specialties” listed on their site; “First time home buyers. Second time home buyers. Golf homes. Down-sizers. Upscale, low scale, middle of the road scale. Nothing was left out, which made the whole idea of specialization ridiculous.

Time to start swimming upstream!

But strategic thinking is tough. It involves hard decisions and thoughtful contemplation that many business owners simply don’t have time for. The most important strategic “what-if” question you can ask yourself is this: What are you going to hang your hat on? What’s the ONE thing that you can shout from the rooftops? What if it’s this? What if it’s that?

Imagine that you can only advertise your business on billboards along the freeway. You get one idea and one idea only. Five words max. Otherwise, no one whizzing by at 65 will see it. Good luck with that. Distilling your strategy down to that level is a rare talent.

If you make the strategic decision to NOT specialize, your tactical execution will suffer dearly. Generalizations never work as well as specifics, and when you’re “targeting” “men and women age 35 to 64” you’re really talking to no one. In that case, a good advertising team will simply ignore the strategy-that’s-not-really-a-strategy, and hone in on one very specific idea.

Occasionally, some great business strategies come out of this process. Purely by accident. But it’s much more efficient to have your marketing strategy mapped out first and then match the tactics to that.

Think strategically. Act Tactical.

If you need help thinking strategically, or executing any of your marketing tactics, don’t hesitate to call BNBranding. 541-815-0075

Want to read the original post on strategy vs. tactics? Click Here.

4 Class A Offices. Class C Websites.

Moved into a swanky new office building last week. (Great views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, Three Sisters and the Phoenix Inn parking lot.)

BNBranding new office building

The Alexander Drake Building, Downtown Bend, OR

As I was unpacking boxes, lifting heavy furniture and contemplating the feng shui, it occurred to me that office makeovers are much easier than website makeovers.

Professional service firms spend a lot of time and money on their office space. And rightly so. For companies with no tangible product to sell, it’s a crucial component of the brand.

For instance, when it comes to selecting an ad agency, office space always figures into the equation. The workspace is a tangible display of the agency’s creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. Or lack thereof.

Clients love doing business with people in cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, better, or more energized than their own office. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.

For architects the office is an everyday opportunity to show off their work. It’s exhibit A in the firm portfolio.

For attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $350 an hour.

Harry Beckwith, in “What Clients Love,” tells how State Farm Insurance chose a firm to handle a huge payroll and benefits contract. They looked at all the proposals, narrowed the field, sat through presentations and listened to pitches from several very capable companies.

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly. They walked through the offices, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the firm that “felt the best” based on that one visit.

The details matter… Location. Colors. Layout. Even the coffee you serve says something about your brand. Is your company percolating along on Folger’s, or is it serving up a hot shot of espresso with a perfect crema on top?

When was the last time you freshened things up around your office? Sometimes a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning is just what your people need to get reenergized… Rearrange the furniture. Paint some walls. Change up the artwork. Shuffle offices around. Freak people out!

And what about your website? Many professional service firms with Class A office space still have old, Class C websites. If so, you need a website makeover. Because these days, your site might be more more important than your space.

Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see on your site and what they experience at your office? Be honest. If there is, you should read this post on conversion branding. Then call me.

Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain websites that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overlook their own brand personality.

And vice-versa. Banks, utilities and public agencies work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable online, then disappoint everyone when it comes to actual human interaction. The customer service can’t live up to the brand promise.

Ideally, you want to align the look, feel and functionality of your website with the brand personality, culture and operation of your company.

Easier said than done.

You can’t just re-write the copy of the “about us” section and call it good web makeover. You have to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.

That should be the inspiration for your website redesign, as well as your office revamp. Not the latest advances in widget technology or a new line of Herman Miller office chairs.

It’s the message, stupid!

Getting the message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is the single most important goal for your website makeover. Far more important than impressing people with technology. (Unless you’re in the technology business.)

So before you sign a lease on a new office space or launch a website initiative, go back to your brand book for inspiration.

If you don’t have one, call me.

110

The difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

I’m appalled. A successful marketing guy asked me a question recently — a real no-brainer — which led me to believe he didn’t know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

How can that be? He’s held several high-paying marketing positions. He’s college educated in Marketing 101. And 301, for that matter. He’s gotta know this stuff.

So I started doing some research online and I’ve found the problem: The internet!

There’s more misinformation than information out there. More nonsense than common sense. Even some of the biggest gurus in the industry have posted conflicting information on the subject of marketing strategy. difference between marketing strategy and tactics

I ran across one article that listed “search engines” as a marketing strategy and that “long-term strategies such as giving away freebies will continue to pay off years down the road.” No wonder the guy’s confused.

This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s negligence. Advice like that would never get past the editors of a trade publication for worm farmers, much less a brand-name business magazine. But you can find it on-line!

In any case, the easiest way to clarify the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is to go to the source. I’m sorry if the war analogy doesn’t appeal to you, but that’s where these terms came from, some 3,000 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: Goals first. Then strategy. Then tactics.

Goal: Win the war.

Strategy: “Divide and conquer.”

Tactics:

CIA spies gather intelligence.

Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.

Paratroopers secure the airports.

Armored Divisions race in and divide the opposing army’s forces.

Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.

An overwhelming force of infantry invade.

Hand-to-hand combat.

A marketing strategy is an idea… A conceptualization of how the goal could be achieved. Like “Divide and Conquer.” Another possible war strategy would be “Nuke ‘Em.” (They call them Strategic Nuclear Weapons because they pretty much eliminate the need for any further battlefield tactics.)

A marketing tactic is an action you take to execute the strategy.

But let’s get off the battlefield and look at a successful brand. In business, great strategies are built on BIG ideas. And BIG ideas usually stem from some little nugget of consumer insight.

imagesBack in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their popular Arm & Hammer baking soda were slipping. The loyal moms and grandmas who had been buying the same baking soda all their lives weren’t baking as much as they used to.

Business Goal: Turn the tide and increase Baking Soda sales.

Strategy: Devise new reasons for their current customers to pick up that yellow box at the supermarket and use more baking soda. Specifically, sell Arm & Hammer as a deodorizer for the fridge. That’s a big, strategic idea that led Arm & Hammer in a completely different direction. They’re now marketing a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Every current Arm & Hammer product, from toothpaste to cat litter, originated with that strategy of finding new ways to use baking soda. And in the process, an old-fashioned brand has managed to stay relevant.

bakingsodafridgeTactics: TV advertising. Magazine ads. Digital advertising. Search engine marketing. Content marketing. Infomercials. Retail promotions. Website dedicated to all the various uses of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. All the traditional marketing tactics were employed.

All good marketing strategies share some common components:

• Thorough understanding of the brand’s status and story. Arm & Hammer has a strong heritage that dates back to the 1860’s. That yellow box with the red Arm & Hammer logo is instantly recognizable, and stands for much more than just generic sodium bicarbonate.

• A realistic assessment of the product’s strengths & weaknesses. Market research proved what Arm & Hammer executives suspected… that people don’t bake as much as they used to. But it also showed that people use their baking soda for all kinds of things besides baking. That was the insight that drove the strategy.

• A clear picture of the competition. Arm & Hammer has always been the undisputed market leader in the category. However, when they decided to introduce toothpaste and laundry detergent, the competition became fierce. Arm & Hammer’s long-standing leadership position in one vertical market gave them a fighting chance against Procter & Gamble.

• Intimate knowledge of the consumer and the market. The shift away from the traditional American homemaker directly affected baking soda sales. Church & Dwight kept up with the trends, and even led the charge on environmental issues.

• A grasp of the big-picture business implications. Good strategies reach way beyond the marketing department. When you have a big idea, execution of the strategy will inevitably involve operations, R&D, HR, finance and every other business discipline.

A great strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics for success. If the idea is strong enough, you can get by with mediocre tactical execution. However, even the best tactics can’t compensate for a lousy strategy.

Some people confuse marketing strategy with goals. They are not synonymous. Here are a few examples of “marketing strategies” from seemingly credible on-line sources:

“Create awareness.” “Overcome objections.” “Boost consumer confidence.” “Refresh the brand.” “Turnkey a multiplatform communications program.” That’s just marketing industry jargon!

These are NOT strategies, they’re goals. (And not even very good goals.) Remember, it’s not a strategy unless there’s an idea behind it.

Any number of strategies can be used to achieve a business goal. In fact, it often takes more than one strategy to achieve a lofty goal, and each strategy involves its own unique tactical plan. Unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers simply throw together a list of the tactics they’ve always used, and call it a strategy.

unnamedSometimes you can build a hell of a strategy around a simple, tactical idea. Like Dominoes did with their 30-minute delivery guarantee. If you’re still wondering about the difference between marketing strategy and tactics, try the “what-if” test. Someone said, “Hey, what if we guaranteed 30-minute delivery?” and a strategy was born. Dominoes couldn’t compete on product quality, but they could compete on speedy delivery. After that, their entire operation revolved around the promise of 30-minute delivery. That’s strategy.

“What if we came up with a bunch of new uses for baking soda?” That’s a strategy.

On the other hand, “What if we do search engines?” doesn’t make sense. Must be a tactic. “What if we increase market share?” There’s no idea in that, so it must be a goal.

What if we could screen all web content for factual errors and eliminate some of this confusion? Wouldn’t that be nice.

For more on the basics of marketing and branding, try this post.

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

By John Furgurson

When it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. At the first sign of an economic downturn they go to the list of tactics and start trimming off the bottom of the spread sheet. Or worse yet, they go for a military-style buzz cut and just chop it all off.

images4First thing to go is ”image” advertising”… anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window. Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Next is community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernable ROI. (It’s too easy to say no to those poor beggars.)

Website upgrades are also on the chopping block. As long as the site still comes up when you type in that URL, it’s all good. Right???

Wrong. The website should probably be the most sacred of all cows, but that’s another story.

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cost cutting. You need more than just the bosses’ orders to “cut 20%, but don’t touch this, and don’t cut that.” You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

Here’s an idea… why not start with the message?

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem. Print ads say one thing, the web site says another. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Reevaluate every marketing message and every “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness.

Then scalp all the wild hairs. If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.” No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

It’s also easy to neglect the messaging process. In my Feb. ?/ post I wrote about an ad for Wales. A classic case of saying the wrong thing. As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.” Even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

Any decent marketing person can choose tactics that will drive traffic and buy media that will reach the desired target audience. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely. Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand image.

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

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