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Air Jordan Nike's brand narrative

From underdog to big dog: Take-aways from the Nike brand narrative.

brand credibility from branding experts


There’s nothing like a good origin story to remind everyone what your brand’s really all about.  Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, is an exceptional example.

Like all good stories, it has plenty of interesting characters, plot twists and emotional ups and downs. Phil Knight wasn’t always the stadium-building billionaire that he is today. For a long time he was just a struggling small-business bean counter, trying to scrape out a living and stay afloat.

That’s how his once-upon-a-time brand narrative begins.

The early history of Nike shows how the brand narrative got off track. Knight didn’t really understand marketing or the consumer.

In those early days Knight wasn’t thinking about “building a brand.” It was about paying the bills and getting the bankers off his back. It was a constant juggling act – making payroll, paying for their next shipment of shoes, and paying the bank. I suspect the struggles of his first ten years were slightly exaggerated for effect, but there’s no doubt he had cash flow struggles.

Nike brand narrative

So Knight was out there, schlepping shoes at every track meet and fun run on the west coast. He gave shoes to any athlete or coach who would take them. It was a grass-roots effort that paid off handsomely years later.

Knight did it because he was a runner who genuinely believed he could make life better for other runners.

That was the WHY behind the Nike brand narrative: Enable athletes to run faster, prevent injuries, and quite frankly, win.

Competitiveness is in Knight’s DNA. That’s the core of the Nike brand personality. 

Nike was a little company from the little state of Oregon, full of non-conformists who were trying to upset the big, traditional leader; Adidas.

Knight admits to having “an unhealthy contempt” for Adidas and couldn’t bare the thought of losing to them.

Yes, even giants like Nike are underdog brands at some point.





Even though I’ve only owned two pairs of Nikes in my life, I still feel some a connection to the brand. Probably because I grew up in Portland, Oregon in the 1970’s. Nike was everywhere!

Many of our beloved Portland Trailblazers wore Nikes.

When I ran track in high school I wore Adidas, but I wanted Nikes. (Alas, no brand of shoe was magical enough to lift my short-legged self to any great heights in that arena.)

Nike shoes were a status symbol and a fashion statement in high school. The Converse brand was fading, and all the cool, rich  kids wore Nikes. Later, when I was starting my career in advertising, Nike was THE brand that every ad agency in Portland wanted. Only the cool kids at Weiden & Kennedy got to work on that treasured account.

So I’ve admired, followed and studied Nike since its inception. And in hindsight, I see three things:

Relevance, credibility and differentiation. Those three elements are woven into every chapter of Nike’s brand narrative.  Those are the common elements of all great brands. That’s what elevated Nike from underdog to big dog status.

Credibility of the Nike brand narrative.

Phil Knight never had to worry about credibility in the track world. He had Bill Bowerman, the greatest track coach on earth, as his partner. Bowerman coached the 1972 Olympic track and field team. He invented the waffle sole.

They were really good shoes, and all the athletes knew it. So it was easy for Knight and his team to recruit athletes to wear them.

That’s where brand credibility starts; With a good product.  Nike leveraged that product cred in order to land iconic athletes, who in turn raised the brand’s credibility even further.

Expanding the relevance of the Nike brand narrative.

Nike brand narrative relevanceNike became a household name because of the iconic athletes who shared Phil Knight’s mindset; Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar in track. Ilie Nastase in tennis, followed by John MacEnroe. Talk about iconic non-conformists!

Just Phil Knight’s type.

With every new athlete came more credibility and broadening relevance.

However, the Nike brand narrative in those early days spoke only to the top performers. It wasn’t so relevant to the general public outside of Portland, Oregon.

In a 1992 interview for Harvard Business Review, Knight reflected on their early messaging missteps:

“When we started making shoes for basketball, tennis, and football, we did essentially the same thing we had done in running. It was effective—to a point. But we were missing something,” Knight said.

“We understood our “core consumers,” the athletes who were performing at the highest level of the sport. Everything was aimed at them. We said, if we get the people at the top, we’ll get the others. But that was an oversimplification. Sure, it’s important to get the top of the pyramid, but you’ve also got to speak to the people all the way down.”

Air Jordan Nike's brand narrative

Michael Jordon made Nike relevant not only on the basketball court, but on urban streets, as well. Air Jordan, Nike’s sub-brand,  is still  the best selling brand of athletic shoes of all time.


Where the Nike brand narrative just wouldn’t play.

When Nike went public in 1980 Phil Knight’s financial struggles were over. But the company made two gigantic blunders that would hamper growth for most of the decade.

First, Nike went completely off script and tried to enter the casual shoe market. It was a classic line extension blunder that was completely off brand and doomed to fail. Knight called it disastrous.

Nothing Nike could ever say would make it a relevant brand in casual shoes.

“Not only was the casual shoe effort a failure, but it was diluting our trademark and hurting us in running,” Knight said.

“From the start, everybody understood that Nike was a running shoe company, and the brand stood for excellence in track and field. It was a very clear message, and Nike was very successful. But casual shoes sent a different message. People got confused, and Nike began to lose its magic.”

“That whole experience forced us to define what the Nike brand really meant, and it taught us the importance of focus. Without focus, the whole brand is at risk. Just because you have the best athletes in the world and a stripe everybody recognizes doesn’t mean you can take that trademark to the ends of the earth.”

At the same time, the Nike team completely miscalculated the booming aerobics market. Reebok came from nowhere and kicked Nike’s butt. Nike was built on very specific product niches, with a siloed culture, and no one at Nike took that trend seriously.

Nike was irrelevant to millions of women at that time.

Three words that change the world.

It wasn’t until the first Just Do It commercials ran in 1988 that the Nike Brand began to emerge as something much bigger than just product features and demigods of professional sports.

When they finally got the words right, the relevance of the brand narrative exploded.  (And it didn’t hurt that they had Michael Jordan, on the team.)

Scott Bedbury, Nike’s Director of Corporate Advertising at that time says  “Just Do It” codified an ethos that had always existed within the Nike Brand.

“Those three words simultaneously helped us widen and unify the brand,” Bedbury said. I’d say, it was the essence of the brand personality, summed up in eight letters.

‘Just Do It’ possessed as much relevance for a 50-year-old mall walker as it did for a 20 year old triathlete. While each spot was intriguing as a stand-alone, the juxtaposition of the entire campaign transmitted a higher, more noble purpose.

Just Do It was not about sneakers. It was about values. It was not about products, it was about a brand ethos.”


The Nike Brand Narrative: Differentiation

Knight has never been one to shy away from risk and radical differentiation. Putting a waffle pattern on the soles of  track shoes was different. Air cushioning in a sneaker was different. His first 20 years in business was all based on product differentiation.

But by 1990, Knight’s focus was shifting.

“For years, we put all our emphasis on designing and manufacturing the products. But now we understand that the most important thing we do is market the product. We’ve come around to saying that Nike is a marketing-oriented company, and the product is our most important marketing tool.”

So they began to differentiate Nike with their advertising, as well as with their products.

First there was Walt Stack, an 80-year-old toothless runner, in the original “just do it” commercial.

Michael Jordan in a Superbowl spot with Bugs Bunny.

Bo Jackson and Bo Diddly together in the “Bo Knows” commercial.

Later there was Tiger Woods, saying “Hello World, are you ready for me?”

Serena Williams, saying “Show them what crazy can do.”

And, of course, Colin Kaepernick saying “Believe in something. Even if it means giving up everything.”

“The trick is to get athletes who not only can win but can stir up emotion. We want someone the public is going to love or hate, not just the leading scorer.” Knight said.

Knight’s athlete strategy certainly has caused some backlash over the years. But while some people were burning shoes, the Nike brand was standing out, and winning the race in the long run.



semantics of branding & rebranding

The semantics of branding & rebranding: Get the words right, or else.

brand credibility from branding experts


Here’s a worst-case branding & rebranding scenario that every business owner should fear: You’re forced to rebrand your company because of a costly legal dispute. You have 90 days to cease and desist, so you quickly hire a design firm to handle the work.

Of course, your business doesn’t stand still in the meantime.

You have to keep all the usual balls in the air, so you delegate the project to your most trusted employee. She’s your top salesperson. Your head of sales and marketing, and the closest thing you have to a mini-me.

The design firm she’s chosen is young, hip and energetic.  They dive into the assignment with great enthusiasm, brimming with confidence, telling you that you’ll have a new name and brand identity in no time. It’ll be better than ever!

Six months later you’re right back in the same, desperate situation with a business name and identity that’s not memorable, protectable, or workable in any way. Only this time, you have no cash reserves to pay for another re-brand.




Sorry for the doom and gloom, but it happens all too frequently.


Design firms and their clients don’t get the words right before they start the design process.

No one pays attention to the semantics of the brand, so they fail on the first, most important step of a rebranding process: Strategic Clarity.

Lacking clarity and strategic insight, the creative process goes around and around in unproductive circles. I like to help you avoid that.

First, let’s define semantics:

rebranding - how to re-brand my company

In linguistics, Semantics is the  study of meaning, reference and truth. It’s the process of eliminating ambiguity and establishing context and clarity around your brand.

It’s about getting the words right.

Most business owners have no idea how urgent that really is.

George Lois, the hall of fame art director from the by-gone days of Madison Avenue, said it quite well:

“Big ideas spring from words that bristle with visual possibilities. The words come first. Too many designers believe the visual image, the picture, is our common language. Not so. Our common language is always language.”

You won’t get that kind of thinking from the typical design firm.

Design firms are owned by designers. They’re creative, visual and artistic. It’s design-centric business where art comes first.

Messaging, copy, content and strategy are usually treated as after-thoughts, at best.

Most design firms rely on their clients for the strategy part of the branding & rebranding process.

They operate on the assumption that the client knows it like the back of her hand, and can convey it in a meeting or two.

That means it’s up to the client make sure her brand is clearly articulated. She has to get the strategy perfected and the words nailed down before they start the design process. Otherwise, she’s going to lose a lot of money and waste tons of time.

Frankly, that assumption is ass-backwards.

I always assume that the client does NOT know much about messaging strategy, differentiation and positioning. And I’m pleasantly surprised when I’m wrong about that.

Many businesses cruise along quite nicely for a long time without ever pinning down the semantics of their brand. The founders get the gist it, intuitively, but they don’t have the words to describe it. Bits and pieces show up in powerpoint decks, ad copy and blog posts, but there’s no consensus.

It only becomes an issue when they have to redesign their packaging, launch a new ad campaign, or dive into a re-branding exercise.

That’s when it becomes painfully clear: They don’t know what to say, and what NOT to say. Their brand messaging is all over the place.

And since they can’t articulate their brand concisely, it’s very hard for the creative team to be successful when it comes to rebranding or producing a new ad campaign.

Even the most iconic brands have struggled with that.

Nike’s messaging was random and inwardly focused for more than 15 years until the team from Wieden & Kennedy nailed it with “Just do it.” Those three words changed the strategic direction of the entire company.

Scott Bedbury, Nike’s Director of Corporate Advertising at that time, described it this way:

“A lack of clarity on brand positioning was beginning to compromise Nike’s ability to grow the brand intelligently. ‘Just Do It’ codified an ethos that had always existed within the Nike brand. We just couldn’t see it until our backs were up against the wall and had to dig deeply into what made the brand tick.”

semantics of branding & rebrandingThere’s that word again.

When my firm was tasked with conceiving a new brand of frozen foods we started with one word: ethos.

What’s the ethos of this brand going to be?

There were a lot of discussions and debates on that subject. Our client had some inklings, but it was all very vague. We had no choice but to start with the words.

We studied the semantics of the word ethos, and explored all its connotations. We studied the ethos of the competition in the natural foods industry, as well as consumer trends, nutrition, and relevant culture codes.

From that one word, an idea emerged: We put the “eat” in ethos.

Ah ha! That’s it. EATHOS. With an A.

Thankfully, the trademark attorney’s due diligence showed a clear path to ownership. (Don’t ever forget that important step.)

Next we had to nail the tagline, distill the concept down to three words and provide clear, precise marching orders for the design team.

We wrote the book on the brand before they ever started working on logos. It’s not etched in stone — brands do evolve over time — but our brand bible provides a clear roadmap for all the work that follows.

Packaging, website, blog content, videos, and even social media posts. It all flows naturally out of the brand bible.

Along the way we had to answer a lot of tough questions;

• How does one specific logo design change the connotation of that name?

• What might someone infer from a particular tagline? Does is broaden the appeal, or narrow it?

• How does the elevator pitch expand on the idea that’s implicit in the identity design?

• Does a particular logo design convey the core brand concepts? Our three words?

These are the crucial questions that are part of every branding project.

There aren’t too many designers who would agree that words come first in a branding exercise. And even fewer who have ever thought of the concept of brand semantics.

But at the same time, I’ve never worked with a designer who did not LOVE my words-first branding process. As I’ve heard many times, “This is great! I’ve never had such a thorough brief.”

It makes her job way, way easier. It eliminates all the guesswork, provides laser-like focus, and helps her produce her very best work.

branding & rebranding

One of many iconic magazine covers designed by George Lois.

Very few designers have George Lois’s talent for words. (He came up with “Lean Cuisine”) And what’s even more rare is a designer who can wear three hats: designer, writer AND strategist.

Branding & rebranding simply isn’t a one-person job.

You need a creative team to do your branding & rebranding.  It should always be a balanced team effort between a writer, designer and strategist — with a ton of good input from the client.

It’s not entirely their fault if they do not hit a home run with their first attempt. Nor is it the fault of your head of sales and marketing. It’s a team failure. You need to work closely with the team to ensure that that strategic direction is correct.

They need to know you well enough to crystalize everything you’re about into a few simple words and images.

It’s not just art, and not just words. It’s both elements married together into a commercially viable big idea.

That’s how you tee up successful branding & rebranding projects. First you spell things out. Eliminate confusion. Establish clarity.

Then you start the design process.

If you don’t, you could waste a lot of money re-printing sales materials, re-doing websites, repainting trucks, rebuilding signs, and re-shooting commercials.





Back to Basics (A working definition of Branding and Brand)

BNBranding logoYou say tomato, I say tahmahto. He says branding, she says marketing.

No doubt, the language of marketing and branding can be very confusing. It has been for more than 50 years…

An article in the Journal of Marketing, way back in 1969, cites a clear problem with the imprecise, vague and misleading language of marketing.

“There is a plethora of fuzzy terms, contradicting definitions, and definitions that are not explicit enough… People have many different meanings for the same word.”

And it’s way worse now that we have so much questionable content floating around on the internet. What branding is, and branding is not, seems to be a subject of some debate.

Every advertising agency, consulting firm, author and marketing professor has a slightly different spin on the subject of branding.

There’s brand positioning, brand personality, brand narrative, brand advertising, brand management, brand strategy, co-branding and brand experience.  What’s it all mean?

Is Brand a noun or a verb? What exactly is the definition of branding?

I’m going to aggregate the best branding definitions and boil them all down to provide some branding basics you can actually use in your day-to-day business. Even if you’re not in marketing.

Branding defined. The definition of Branding on the Brand Insight Blog

The goal is to answer these fundamental questions:

  1. What exactly IS the definition of Branding?
  2. How is that different than Brand?
  3. Why should the average business owner care about either one?
  4. Why branding is important.

Let’s start with why…

Why should anyone who’s NOT in marketing, care about the definition of branding?

• Because branding will happen with or without you. Do you really want to leave it to chance?

• Because your competitors will kill you if they get good at it, and you’re not.

• Because the world’s most successful businesses are built on good branding fundamentals.

• Because you can’t be in business without doing branding. Of some kind.

• Because even the smallest business is a brand, of some sort. And everything you do in business is branding.

Like it or not, it all matters…

The words you choose. The way you behave. The conversations you have. The card you hand out. The promises you make. The people you hire. The values you hold dear. The values you could care less about. The vendors you choose. The companies you’re affiliated with. The money you make, or don’t make. And, of course, the experience people have with the product or service you provide.

It’s the culmination of all those little things that makes “the brand.”




Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the definition of branding and what goes into building a brand.

For instance, one article on says “ The foundation of your brand is your logo.” Nonsense. The logo is a symbolic reflection of your brand.

Another prominent website missed it completely when they defined branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”

David Ogilvy, the granddad of modern advertising defined “brand” as the “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.”

With all due respect, that’s not right either. Ogilvy’s definition is completely product-focused.

It’s not just about your product, it’s also about the people, and their values, and the company culture, and so much more…

Branding is not, exclusively, a marketing practice. It’s also a customer service practice. A management practice. An HR practice. An R&D practice. Even a manufacturing practice. Because making a great product that people will talk about is the best form of branding.

definition of branding and brands BN BrandingThe first thing to do is distinguish between “brand” as a corporate mark or logo, and “brand” as an overriding business concept.

Stop thinking of “The Brand” as icing on the cake that makes your business more tasty. The Brand is the whole recipe. Every last ingredient.

When business executives talk about “the Nike Brand” with a capital B, they’re not referring to the logo or to the “Just Do It” tagline.  They’re referring to something more holistic. More conceptual. And far bigger than just design or advertising.

This, from Wikipedia: “A brand is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.”

“Symbolic Construct” seems a bit academic to me. How about “gut feeling.” Or “mental concept.”

Or this simplified definition, from Alan Adamson’s great book, BrandSimple:  “A brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s minds. Brands live in your head… Mental associations that get stirred up when you think of a particular car or camera or watch or pair of jeans.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

A brand is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world; the corner of someone’s mind. You need two things in order to occupy that valuable space:

  1. An idea.
  2. Trust.

Adamson, from Landor & Associates continues: “You can’t do branding unless you have a meaningful brand idea. Brand is an idea. Branding is the transmission of the idea, the signals your send”…

Your brand name is a signal. Your logo is a signal. Your tagline is a signal. Every ad you run and every social media post is a signal.

Branding is the cumulative effect of all those signals. It’s how you  how you communicate that differentiated meaning, the signals people receive, and the perception in people’s minds.

It’s about associative memory, and those associations are different for every individual.

One of the best analogies for branding that I’ve found comes from Jim Stengel, former CMO of Proctor & Gamble. He likes to think of it as tree:

Brands are like trees. BN Branding analogy on the Brand Insight Blog

“Brands are living things. Like trees, they have roots that people do not see, they thrive in the right conditions and they die without care, feeding and the freedom to grow.”

Scott Bedbury, of Nike and Starbucks fame, concurs: “Brands become living, psychological concepts we hold in our minds for years.”

In Brand Warfare, David F. D’Alessandro, former CEO of John Hancock said, “A brand is whatever the consumer thinks of when he hears your company’s name. Branding is everything…”

And everything is branding…

Notable New York ad guy, Donny Deutsch, gave this definition of branding:

“Great brands present an ethos, a religion, that people bond with. They go, ‘yes, I get that. I like the way you think. We’re on the same page. Let’s go!’ ”

Your brand is a promise, both emotional and rational.

Which leads to another worthwhile distinction:  The difference between the noun “brand,” and the verb “branding.”

“Some companies equate branding with marketing,” says Jasper Kunde, author of Corporate Religion. Even more equate it with design.

“Design a sparkling new logo, run an exciting new campaign, and voila, you’re back on course. They are wrong. Branding is bigger. Much bigger.”

If a brand is a set of mental associations about a company, then BrandING is the process of helping people formulate those associations.

If advertising is “getting your name out there,” Branding is attaching something meaningful to your name.

Branding is the intentional, strategic, day-to-day shaping of what people think, feel and say about your company.

Branding is a never-ending effort to conduct business in a way that will result in a better “brand”. It goes way beyond advertising or marketing communications. Because what you SAY does not carry as much weight as what you DO.

Branding is really about doing the right thing. It’s getting people in your niche talking about you and your company.

In The Best Of Branding, James Gregory said: “A corporate brand is the product of millions of experiences, with vendors, employees, customers, media, etc.”

If you’re doing right by all those people, your “branding” efforts will pay off in spades.

On the other hand, if your company has no heart — and stands for nothing more than making money — then your branding efforts will flounder in a sea of unkept promises and unbelievable marketing hype.

Starbucks stands for something.

BNBranding Brand Insight Blog post Howard Shultz said, “we built the Starbucks brand first with our people, because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. Their passion and commitment made our retail partners the best ambassadors of the brand.”

The foundation of your brand is your values and your beliefs. And at Starbucks, the operational values revolved around two things… the people and the product.

The Saturn Brand was never about the cars. It was about the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant right here in the USA, the no-haggle sales process and the dealer business model. In other words, it was about the whole operation, which really was a fresh new approach in the automotive industry.

Unfortunately, the brand behind the brand was GM.

Management guru Tom Peters says, “Branding is ultimately about nothing more and nothing less than heart. It’s about passion… What you care about. It’s about what’s inside you, your team, your division, your company.”

The trick is figuring that out. Defining your passion. Naming your brand values. Being true to yourself. And then aligning your operation accordingly. So everything you do and say comes from the heart.

That’s why every business owner and executive should care about branding.

Stengel did an exhaustive study on the subject and found that the leaders of the world’s greatest companies excel in these five critical areas:

  1. Discovering or rediscovering the essential core of their brand.
  2. Building the business around that core purpose.
  3. Communicating core brand values internally and externally.
  4. Delivering a customer experience that’s aligned with the essence of the brand
  5. Evaluating business progress against the core purpose of the brand.

For personalized help on your brand, and branding, give us a call: 541-815-0075.

The Inside-Out Approach To Building A Brand — Start with your people

brand credibility from branding expertsI’m always amazed by business owners and CEOs who spend considerable time and money building a brand, only to neglect the most important component of their brand: Their people.

If you want to build a great brand, it’s wise start on the inside and work your way out. Seriously. If you can’t convince your employees to be your greatest brand ambassadors, who can you convince?

If they aren’t drinking the Kool-aid, and building a brand with enthusiasm, who will?

more effective advertising from BNBranding

It’s interesting what we learn during a brand audit. We often compare the company’s external market research data with prevailing internal attitudes. I’ve seen companies that accurately claim to have a 98 percent approval rating. “Customers love us,” they say.

But when we talk to employees, suppliers, past employees, and friends and family, a completely different tune emerges.

thumbs-down-smiley-mdDespite the happy customers, we often find a vocal group that is ready, willing and quite happy to talk smack about the company’s policies, procedures and practices.  Not only are those groups NOT great brand ambassadors, they’re brand bashers.

When that becomes a pattern your brand image, and ultimately your business, will take a hit.

That’s why it’s so important to hire wisely, pay people well and treat them fairly.

That’s why you start on the inside. That’s why branding is not just a marketing department thing, it’s an every department thing.

That’s why the H.R. department actually plays a critical role in building a brand.

Yes, H.R.!




Just as there are sponsorships, ad campaigns and even products that are “off brand,” some employees can also be off brand.

Especially when it comes to senior management teams. If your VP of Marketing is not on the same page as your CEO, you’re going to have some major challenges. If you have a parade of people leaving the company, your brand will take a hit.

thumbs-up-smiley-hiIn order to avoid those conflicts that create a revolving door of turnover, your H.R. department, or whoever’s recruiting and screening new recruits, needs to be immersed in your brand.

They should know your corporate culture inside and out and they should understand your purpose, mission, vision and management style.  That’s how they find new employees who will become brand ambassadors rather than brand bashers.

Think about that. Of all the places you’ve worked, how many of those companies do you still talk up, and how many do you talk down?

Chances are, you’re still loyal to a few.

I know people who worked at Apple, Amazon and Nike 20 years ago who still follow those companies fervently. They run in the shoes, invest in the stock and remain brand loyal long after they’ve moved on to different jobs. Even when they’re off building a brand of their own, they’re still devoted to the old brand.

There are more than 2000 Starbucks employees who are attending Arizona State University free of charge, thanks to the Starbucks College Achievement plan. I bet those kids will be Starbucks fans for life.

In “Built To Last’ James Collins and Jerry Porrass show that great companies have “cult-like” cultures. (I think the word “cult” is not quite right. It’s more like a club.)

The point is, Collins proved that great companies have a very clearly defined ideology that you either buy into, or not. “If you’re not willing to adopt the HP Way or the gung ho, fanatical customer service atmosphere of Nordstrom, then you’re not a good fit for those brands. If you’re not willing to be “Procterized” then you don’t belong at Procter & Gamble.”

You won ‘t see a Walmart executive or store manager leave for a position at Whole Foods. Not going to happen.

blog article from ad agencies bend oregonPatagonia, Nike, Whole Foods… companies with passionate, clearly defined cultures are not always easy to work for. In fact, they often demand more of their people than the competitor next door.

But the alternative is much worse…  No culture to speak of. No clearly defined brand. No core ideology for people to rally around. Poor morale. High turnover. Weak leadership. Those are the hallmarks of a brand in decline.

Scott Bedbury uses a nice parenting analogy in his book A New Brand World. “As brands evolve over time, they absorb the environment and karma of an organization, not unlike the way children are influenced by the place they call home. Both brands and kids thrive in an inspiring, learning, caring environment where they are appreciated, respected, protected and understood… So organizations, like parents, must instill values and behaviors that are not only positive, but consistent. ”

If the leadership of a company changes frequently, consistency goes out the door with them.

When you work on your brand from the inside out, your team shows a united front, and front-line employees become what Seth Godin calls “sneezers.” Spreading the gospel of your brand in positive way. When you neglect your people, and focus only on customers, disgruntled employees spread something much worse.

It’s up to you.



If you want help building your brand, contact me… John Furgurson at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

If you want more information on building a brand from the Brand Insight Blog, try this post.

1 branding blog by BNBranding in Bend Oregon

Paralysis by Analysis (How fear and big data can kill great marketing)

BNBranding logoEveryone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the holy grail of marketing. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.

But it can also be a drag.

Here’s an analogy:

date-driven marketing post on the brand insight blog

Thanks to new technology, golfers can now get data on every little nuance of the golf swing. Hop on a launch monitor for 30 minutes and you’ll have more swing data than you could ever possibly decifer. And with shot-tracking technology, you can analyze every last shot of every round.

But in golf, over-analysis never produces good results.

If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing — rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — your execution will fall short.

Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses.

It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the data that comes along with your long list of marketing tactics.

People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed.

Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.


Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.

Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. For a lot of these people, date-driven marketing is a safety play.

“Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”

Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.

In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and  “Just Do It.”

Branding blog on data-driven marketing from BNBranding in Bend Oregon When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:

“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”

Widen it they did!  In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”

“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wannabe athletes and weekend warriors.

And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario only applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.

Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”

At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.

And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.” Their institutional memory overrides good new ideas or any insight that might be generated by data-driven marketing.

And how’s that working out?

Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.

Advertising agency for real estate developersThey fill their teams with clones of themselves and with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat.

Avoid these people at all costs!

To the insecure over-analyzers I say this:  Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!

The best way to gather more data is to get something done and then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.

If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing.  Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.

Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.

So by all means… employ data-driven marketing. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data-driven marketing to be the panacea. Big data doesn’t replace the need for a big idea.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, check out THIS post.


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6 Scott Bedbury brand insight blog

Living The Brand, Scott Bedbury Style.

bn branding's iconic logoIn the world of branding consultants, Scott Bedbury is kind of a big deal…

He worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. He helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. His book, “A New Brand World” is a must read in our business.

Tom Peters calls him “perhaps the greatest brand maven of our time.” And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world.

Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Scott Bedbury branding consultant - from the Brand Insight BlogBedbury’s a very genuine guy, which is good, because that’s part of his branding mantra; the importance of being genuine.

These days, you can’t get away with being disingenuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you on it faster than you can say, “Where the hell’s our PR firm?”

As Bedbury said, “the days of the corporate comb-over are gone.”

Speaking of corporate comb-overs… The first step in our process as branding consultants is the brand assessment. Like it or not, we have to do the research  to get the truth behind a brand, instead of a well-polished corporate version of the truth.

But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming because the genuine attributes of their brand just aren’t pretty.

I’ve seen plenty of cases where a company’s internal perception of the brand doesn’t jive with the consumer’s reality.

If that’s the case, your branding efforts will have to reach much deeper than just the marketing department. You’ll actually have to change the product, tweak the operation or hire a different team. Because “everything matters.”



It’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes these days. As he says, great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits. “Give a damn, and give back,” to be exact.

Patagonia's purposePatagonia is a brand that gives a damn.

There’s nothing fake about Yvonne Chouinard’s dedication to environmental causes, and it shows in everything the company does.

The Patagonia brand, the operation and the products are aligned perfectly around a single, unifying idea… Save the environment so we can all enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, few companies are as focused or philanthropic as Patagonia. Several business plans came across my desk in the past week, and it reminds me why Bedbury’s branding message is so important.

All too often, the startup is only about cashing out. Nothing else.

Jim Collins, author of Built To Last, has something to say about that:

” The entrepreneurial mind-set has degenerated from one of risk, contribution, and reward to one of wealth entitlement. I developed our business model on the idea of creating an enduring, great company — just as I was taught to do at Stanford — and the VCs looked at me as if I were crazy. They’re not interested in enduring, great companies, just an idea that you can do quickly and take public or get acquired within 12 to 18 months. “

Anyway, even if you don’t have a great company that donates a portion of your profits like Patagonia does, you should still have a cause that drives your operation. You need a purpose the employees can rally around… something more meaningful than just boosting the stock price.

Scott Bedbury’s boss at Nike, Phil Knight, was adamantly against his employees watching the stock price. When Bedbury got to Starbucks it was posted by the hour, up on a bulletin board for everyone to see. Not sure if Bedbury was able to change that practice or not, but it never sat well with him. He’d rather think long term.

Another thing about Bedbury is that he can still laugh at himself. (Or at least he could the last time I saw him speak in Bend, Oregon.) Again, he’s following his own advice. An amusing anecdote and an easy chuckle are perfectly “on brand” for Scott Bedbury.

branding consultants BN BrandingHe’s not the type of guy you’d find as a Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 500 company, that’s for sure. He’s more storyteller than suit.

Storytelling is a big part of branding. For branding consultants, storytelling comes with the territory.

Once you’ve figured out the real crux of your brand, you have to communicate it in a form that people can understand. And nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned story.

Doesn’t matter if it’s delivered via the latest, greatest mobile technology, it’s still just a story. Tell it well. Tell it often. And keep it real.

One last piece of advice, inspired by Scott Bedbury… Don’t be afraid to reinvent your brand from time to time. Every summer he “shuts it down,” and hangs out with his family in Central Oregon. He writes, plays a little golf and recharges the batteries. So his own, personal brand will be fresh and ready for the next, big brand adventure.

For more insight on brand stories and similar case studies, try THIS post. 


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