Search Results for: case study

1 The new normal for Ecommerce — How to sell more stuff online.

the new normal for ecommerce by BN BrandingEcommerce is exploding. The COVID 19 pandemic has created a tidal wave of activity in that industry. One of our clients has seen a 550% increase in online sales. A year ago they were wondering how to sell more stuff online, and now they’re wondering how to handle the operational implications of this new normal in ecommerce.

Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will get their fair share of the buying frenzy. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.



How to sell more stuff online: Don’t do things like all the other ecommerce guys.

The barrier to entry in ecommerce is very low. Every day there’s more and more competition in every category of ecommerce,  and most of the new players are doing things in very standard, predictable ways.

Everyone is using the same ecommerce web platforms.

Everyone is using the same payment methods and the same email marketing plug-ins to boost their online sales.

Everyone is using basically the same approach to Amazon sales.

So success is going to hinge on doing things differently. A lot of things.

For instance, you can’t just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel. You need to customize your product pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want? Most are looking for information. They want insight on the product category and specifics that will help make their purchase decisions easier.

If they’re not quite ready to check out they need facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

Amazingly few e-commerce brands do a good job when it comes to informative content and sharp, convincing copy.

That’s an easy way to sell more stuff online. Hire a writer to craft a better sales pitch for every product you sell.

Take online ski shops, for instance. When I was in the market for new ski boots I couldn’t even get enough information to research boots on line, much less purchase them.

After hours of work I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI –  provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

If you want to sell more stuff online, you need to think more like REI or Nordstrom. Provide a level of customer service that your competitors can’t.
If you want to establish a successful on-line brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else.
You have to differentiate your store. Somehow.

You could offer unique products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Tough if you don’t have the volume of Amazon or Office Depot.)

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

I have to admit, I’m not even entertaining the idea of buying ski boots on line. (For me, it’s hard enough buying sneakers online.) But if I were, I’d want a retailer that obviously understands the pain ski boots can inflict:

Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $90 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the ski shop.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting it wrong. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. That’s how you sells more stuff online… Use emotions. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsBut not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same pitch and the same reviews.

That’s not online retailing. That’s virtual warehousing.

Your ecommerce copy is like direct response copy… If you want to sell more stuff online, you gotta be colorful and convincing.

Early in my career I wrote direct response copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story and filled in the blanks between technical specs and outstanding photography.

When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

For other products we’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more romantic times.






These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories. The narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.

The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry. We routinely got 25 to 30% response rates when we sent sales letters to our house list.

positioning strategy BNBrandingIt’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. (If you know of any brilliantly different online retailers, like Patagonia, please let me know. I’d love to add a positive case study.)

Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. And returns on ski boots must be astronomical.

But on-line retailers could cut down on those returns simply by explaining the single most important thing:


Most boots don’t even come close to fitting my feet, so no technical feature is as important as fit. And yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have a D width foot, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just simple salesmanship . The kind you’d get if you walk into any decent ski shop.

And I guess that’s what I’d like to see more of on line. Better salesmanship. At least for the product categories that require more than just a quick glance at the price. Like ski boots.

And one other thing… If you choose to sell like everyone else, at least make your site convenient to use, and functional from a usability standpoint.

I visited one online shop that didn’t even have a working search function. I typed in “Soloman Ski Boots” and got dozens of Soloman products, but not one ski boot. I’ll never go back.

Online shoppers often know exactly what they want. Might as well make it easy for them to find it.




Successful branding – 3 logical reasons why brands need more emotional thinking

BNBranding logoIn the battle between right-brained marketing people, and left-brained finance people, the left brainers usually win. Our entire culture is driven by the left-brained rationalists.

They have data, spreadsheets, and the graphs to support their decisions.

We have gut instinct, intuition, experience, taste, style and emotion on our side. But we also have neurobiologists who can prove that successful branding hinges more on emotional thinking than on logic. In fact, in the three-step branding process — Gut, Heart, Head — the rational head comes in last.

“Joseph DeDoux, professor of Neuroscience at New York University says, “The amygdala can literally hijack our mind and body, causing us to respond emotionally while completely bypassing our cerebral cortex, the seat of conscious awareness.”

Dodge Viper example of successful branding at Chrysler

The Dodge Viper was not an analytical decision.

Bob Lutz, former CEO of Chrysler and Vice Chairman of GM, once said he vetoed the finance guys and made a gut decision to develop the Dodge Viper.

In a Harvard Business Review column, Lutz said “There were those at Chrysler who thought the budget could be spent more prudently, but those of us who looked at it from a right-brained, emotional perspective saw what the car could do for the company.”

The Viper wasn’t exactly a hot seller – only about 500 were sold in 2016, the last year of production. But the world’s first moderately-priced supercar certainly is a case study of successful branding. And there was nothing rational about it.

“The best companies balance the perspectives from both sides of the brain when making decisions. The problems occur when the left brainers wield too much power in senior management,” Lutz said.



So here are some good, logical reasons to embrace emotional, right brain thinking in your business. It really is the secret to successful branding in the long term.

1. There is no such thing as a completely rational decision. 

Don’t kid yourself. Even when CEOs methodically assess every detail of raw data and attempt to be completely rational there’s still an element of gut instinct at work.

Spock-like analysis is tainted by knowledge of who did the spread sheets, where the data came from, what other, similar data they’ve used in the past, and a dozen other factors.

Humans make decisions in the blink of an eye, and every one is influenced by a hundred factors, beyond the facts.

We like to think we’re rational and fair in our decision making, but we’re not. The human brain reaches conclusions before we even know it has happened.

Before any conscious thought or choice occurs, we FEEL something. Something emotional and completely irrational. It might be curiosity. Amusement. Desire. Arousal, Or, quite possibly, repulsion. But whatever it is, it’s not rational.

So before anyone has a chance to analyze any of the facts, the adaptive unconscious has already sent a gut reaction coursing through their veins. The conscious, analytical brain doesn’t have a chance. Therefore, branding success hinges on powerful, immediate, emotional connections.

In Harry Beckwith’s book You, Inc. he says, “People don’t think, they stereotype. They don’t conclude, they categorize. They don’t calculate, they assume.”  And they do it quickly.

Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller Blink is all about that.

2. Simple is better.

An analytical approach to marketing communications is inherently more complex than an emotional approach. And in the battle between complexity and simplicity, simplicity wins every time.

When the guys in the white lab coats start wagging the marketing dog, you get fact-filled ads and mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations devoid of any emotion at all. There’s no heart in it.

successful branding from BNBrandingIn the absence of emotional context, listeners/viewers/users simply check out and move on to something that does resonate subconsciously.

Say you’re pitching a new idea to your bosses, or to a group of investors. You’ve analyzed the problem from every angle. You’ve devised a brilliant solution and written a compelling argument for it, backed with tons of data. But you never get past the snap judgment.

By the time you get to slide #5 of 75, they’ve already made up their minds.

People don’t wait around for their analytical brain to kick in and say, hey, this is worth my time. That train has already left the station. The gut feeling of irrelevance has already won out, and that gut feeling is far more powerful than any most people care to admit.

So successful branding hinges on the gut.

3. Sometimes the data is just plain wrong.

The market research industry has revealed many useful facts over the years. But when it comes to predicting how new ideas or new products will be received, market research data often misses the mark.

examples of successful branding from BNBranding

Market research could not predict the success of this chair

When the Herman Miller Company first designed the Aeron chair, all the pre-launch research pointed to a dismal failure. It didn’t look comfortable. It didn’t look prestigious. People didn’t even want to sit in it.

It became the best selling chair in the history of the company and the inspiration for countless knock-offs and imitators.

The successful branding of the Aeron chair stemmed from the gut reaction to the feeling of sitting in it. Their butts and backs were talking, which led to a love affair of customers who weren’t shy about sharing their passion.

And what about the famous marketing debacle called New Coke…

“Coke’s problem was that the guys in the white lab coats took over,” Malcom Gladwell said.

First, Pepsi launched something called The Pepsi Challenge, and proved that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over the taste of Coke.  It was a brilliant move in the Cola Wars, and it provoked a bit of panic from Coke.

For the first time in history, the folks at Coke started messing around with their famous, patented formula.  They tweaked it and tested new versions until they had something that beat the flavor of old coke in every taste test.

The executives were absolutely sure they should change the formula to make it sweeter, like Pepsi.  The market research showed people would buy it. But as Gladwell says, in the most important decisions, there is no certainty.

It’s not the flavor that sells so much Coke. It’s the unconscious associations people have with it, including the advertising, the shape of the bottle, the brand’s heritage, the childhood memories associated with it… It’s THE BRAND!

New Coke marketing failure

One of the all-time biggest branding failures

The guys in the white lab coats at Coke-a-Cola didn’t take the brand into account, and they could not possibly imagine the fallout.

No one knew how much Coke-a-Cola was truly loved until it was taken off the shelves and replaced with “better tasting” New Coke.

This was 1985 — way before Twitter, Facebook and blogs — and still, the company was deluged with immediate customer rants.  “How dare you!” was the overwhelming sentiment.

Sergio Zyman, CMO at Coke-a-Cola at the time, called it “an enormous mess.” It took the company only 77 days to reverse their decision, and go back to the original, “Coke Classic.”

The fact is, if the leadership at Coke had listened to their instincts, instead of just the data, they never would have done it.

Which brings me back to Bob Lutz who said the all-powerful voice of finance is a familiar enemy to innovation.

“It’s a classic example left-brained thinking shooting its pencil-sharp arrows straight into the heart of right-brained creativity.”

That’s what kills successful branding.

Here’s more on successful branding of the Dodge Viper

For more on the emotional side of branding, try THIS post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

5 Porter airlines brand advertsing

Airline Industry marketing (One Canadian brand stands out)

BNBranding logoHere’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes the experience even lived up to the airline industry marketing hype.Porter airlines brand advertsing airline industry marketing

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees, dying dogs, laptop bans and physically bouncing people from flights, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

It’s still too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a long-term success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.



In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International.

Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline industry marketingFrom the blog, Design Sponge:

“This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

In terms of airline industry marketing, and a sophisticated brand design, Porter stands 30,000 feet above everyone else.

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog:  “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

launch of Porter Airlines BNBranding Brand Insight BlogMany people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.)

I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way.  So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog


8 ski industry case study from BNBranding

Ski Industry Marketing — New product launch vs. the birth of a brand

ski industry case study from BNBranding

The author, enjoying freshies. Head skis with Knee Bindings.

bn branding's iconic logoIt was the kind of day ski bums live for…  11 inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. And the sky was clearing.

The experts were queued up before the first lift, chomping at the bit for fresh tracks. But for intermediate skiers accustomed to the forgiving comfort of groomed corduroy, it posed a bit of a problem. See, all 10 inches fell in the early morning hours — after the grooming machines had manicured the mountain.

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

These are the days that ski industry marketing revolves around. However, a lot of people struggle in unpacked snow. So once the hounds had tracked up the runs and moved on, into the trees, the masses were left to flail around in cut-up powder on top of an icy base.

There were a lot of yard sales that day — tumbling falls where skis, poles and goggles were strewn all over the run. One guy I know broke a rib. Some snowboarders had broken wrists. And there were plenty of knee injuries.

Always are. Any ski patrolman will tell you it’s knees and wrists.





Ski industry marketing case study featuring KneeBinding – the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont.

Modern ski binding technology has almost eliminated the broken leg from skiing. Helmets have reduced the number of head injuries, but knee injuries are common. Scary common. In the U.S. 70,000 people blow out their ACL skiing every year. On the World Cup circuit, you rarely find a racer who hasn’t had some damage to an ACL.

But now there’s a new binding brand that aims to put the knee surgeons and physical therapists out of business.

While all modern bindings release up and down at the heel, KneeBinding also releases laterally. The product’s patented “PureLateral Heel Release” is a huge technological leap in binding technology and, seemingly, a slam dunk in ski industry marketing.

In fact, it’s the first substantial change in 30 years and it promises a dramatic decrease in the number of knee injuries on the slopes.

They really can save your ACL in the most common, twisting, rearward falls. And they don’t release prematurely. (At least from what I can tell from the current reviews and my own, personal experience.)

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

KneeBinding has the potential to blow the ski socks off the ski industry. But will it?

If the company’s early advertising is any indication, they don’t have a very good handle on their brand strategy. This may, very well, be a ski industry case study of an under-achieving company.

Springer-Miller has been quoted saying, “This is a serious company with a serious solution to a very serious problem.”

And it’s true: It now costs an average of $18,000 for the initial  repair of a torn ACL.  That makes ACL injuries in skiing a $1 billion-a-year medical problem.  Plus, it takes eight months, usually with intensive physical therapy, for an ACL to heal well enough for the victim to get back on the slopes. One-out-of-five never skis again.

So why, pray tell, would you launch KneeBinding with goofy ads featuring a pair of 3-glasses? “Just tear them out, put ‘em on, and see the world’s first 3-D binding.”

I get it.  The idea of 3-D Bindings might have merit, but 3-D glasses? C’mon. It’s a gimmicky idea that will, unfortunately, rub off on the product. And the last thing you want is people thinking KneeBinding is just another ski industry gimmick.

It was an unfortunate move for a potentially great brand. And frankly, a failure in the annuls of  ski industry marketing.

The tagline/elevator pitch is also problematic: “The only binding in the world that can mitigate knee injuries.”

That line was obviously written by an engineer. Red flag!

First, it’s absolutely untrue: All modern bindings mitigate knee injuries to some degree. If we couldn’t blow out of our bindings there’d be a hundred times the number of ACL injuries. Plus a lot of broken bones.

Granted, the KneeBinding mitigates a specific type of knee injury that the competitors don’t, but that line just doesn’t ring true. It sets off my internal BS meter and puts the credibility of the entire brand in question.

ski industry case study marketing

Besides, it sounds like

something an M.D. would say. Not exactly the stuff of a memorable, iconic brand.

KneeBinding is a perfect example of a company that’s led by an engineer/inventor. Springer-Miller has developed a great product, and hats off to him for that.  But the brand will never become a household name if the marketing is also driven by the engineers. (Is Too much information killing your adveritisng?) 

Even the name is a marketing nightmare. It’s so literal it excludes the most important segment of the market.

“Knee Binding” won’t appeal to fearless, indestructible 20-year olds who star in the ski films and drive the industry trends. It’s for the parents of those kids. The 40+ crowd who have been skiing long enough to see a lot of their friends on crutches.

That group — my peers — will buy the KneeBinding to avoid injury and maintain our misguided idea of youth. And we might buy them for our kids, as well. But that’s not the market Springer-Miller needs if he wants to build a lasting brand in the ski industry.

And guess what… KneeBinding won’t appeal to either audience with technical illustrations of the binding’s components, or with 3-D glasses, like they have in their current advertising.

It has to be way more emotional than that.

Not just the advertising, the brand itself. It needs a hook that goes way beyond engineering and orthopedics. (Three logical reasons why brands need more emotion.) 

I hope this product succeeds. I really do. I hope the KneeBinding technology becomes the industry standard. But I fear that the company and the current brand will not survive unless they get a handle on their brand strategy and their marketing program.

Launching a great product does not always equate to the birth of a lasting brand. KneeBinding needs to build a foundation for the brand that’s as good as the product itself. Right now, the quality of the marketing is not even close.

With the right marketing help and adequate capital, KneeBinding could thrive. (But It’ll never give the major manufacturers a run for their money unless one of the big brands licenses the technology.)

Knee Binding was first in the market, which is big. They’ve won some industry accolades. The product stands up to performance tests. And they’ve established some degree of national distribution.

But this is not the first time someone has tried lateral heel release, and the older target audience remembers those failed attempts. The younger crowd doesn’t think they need it.

Plus, bindings have been a commodity product for the last 20 years. They’re not even on the radar of most skiing consumers. And Knee Bindings are the most expensive bindings on the market…. Not a good combination for ski industry marketing success.

How John Springer-Miller address all those issues could mean the difference between a safe, successful run and a ski  industry marketing face plant.

3 1 Tough Mother, 2 marketing objectives: Image advertising AND results

BNBranding logoIt’s an old debate… can image advertising actually move the needle on bottom-line business objectives?  Ad agency execs say yes, of course. But marketing directors, C-level execs and direct response guys are often skeptical.

My humble opinion… absolutely.

When it’s done well, “image” advertising certainly can achieve both objectives… move product AND cement the brand identity in popular culture.

There are many great examples of image advertising that has done exactly that…  The Got Milk campaign.  Absolute Vodka. Ipod intro advertising, to name a few.

Here’s a brand advertising case study from my hometown, Portland, Oregon: Meet Gert Boyle, the iconic matriarch of Columbia Sportswear.

Gert inherited the family business in 1970 after her husband’s untimely heart attack. At the time, Columbia was generating $650,000 a year in sales, but was teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Although the company made a popular line of fishing and hunting apparel, profitability had been a problem for years.

To make matters worse, Neal Boyle had offered three family-owned homes and his life insurance policy as collateral for an SBA loan. The pressure was on.

After the first year as CEO, Gert seriously considered selling. But when the deal fell apart she dug her heels in, made some tough decisions, and with help from her son Tim, turned the business around.

By 1978 they reached $1 million in sales. By 1983, they were up to $12 million. (In 2018 the company had 2.8 billion in sales. )


The first image advertising for Columbia was a big miss.

With the tagline “We don’t just design it, we engineer it.” Columbia touted the technical aspects of their product.  Ooops. It was a message more suited for the biggest competitors, like Patagonia or North Face, than Columbia.

Columbia’s jackets weren’t the most technical on the market, nor the most fashionable. It wasn’t a brand you’d see on an expedition up Everest or in a popular skiing film, so the engineering angle missed the mark. It was image advertising that didn’t capture the heart of the brand.





Columbia products represented functional practicality, not high-end technical features.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticTheir jackets sold for half the price of their competitors, and were perfectly suitable for 95% of the population who are outdoor  enthusiasts, but not extremists. The brand was more about braving the Oregon rain than assaulting the seven summits.

So in the fall of 1984, Bill Borders, Wes Perrin and the team at Borders, Perrin & Norrander came up with something completely different.

“All the competitors were doing campaigns with pretty outdoor photos and suitably attractive models,” said Wes Perrin. “Bill wanted to differentiate the brand, and establish more personality.”

At that time, there was a famous campaign running with Frank Purdue, for Purdue Chicken. “We thought we could could do something like that, because we had Gert Boyle,” Perrin said. “She declined at first, but she ended up being great to work with over the next 20 years or so.”

brand advertising columbia sportswearThey portrayed Gert as stubborn, finicky and overprotective. They showed the product and touted benefits, but always in context with a small, family-owned business and Mother Boyle’s strict quality control standards. Nothing gets by her.

As it turned out, Gert embodied everything the Columbia brand is about. She was the most obnoxious, bullheaded, effective pitchman ever, and people loved her.

In her book, Gert said  “The impact of the ads was almost instantaneous. Sales quickly increased, and I was surprised when strangers came up to me on the streets and asked if I was the “Tough Mother.”

“The tall, thin, blonde models in our competitor’s ads may be easier on the eyes, but they don’t care about you like good old Mother Boyle.”

“The image created in the ads took hold. Instead of seeing us as just another outerwear company, our customers thought of us as the company where the cranky, crotchety old broad made sure they were getting a good product at a fair price.”

Once Gert and Tim realized they had a big hit they turned up the heat, outspending their competitors by a wide margin.

They started running TV spots where Gert used her hapless son as a product-testing guinea pig. She sent him through a car wash, dumped him unconscious on the summit of a mountain. Froze him in the ice and drove over him with a Zamboni. All with the tagline: Tested Tough.

Fun stuff. And spot-on from a branding standpoint.

How to differentiate your company - BNBranding“Our ads set us apart from the corporate pack. People related to us because they believe there is a person at Columbia who really cares. And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I really do care.” – Gert Boyle.

Authenticity. Differentiation. Credibility. And increased sales. What more could you want from image advertising?

When the campaign launched in 1984, sales were $18 million. By 1990 Columbia hit the $100 million dollar mark. Today they’re the number one outerwear company in the world, doing $2.5 billion a year.

Unfortunately, Gert was absent from the brand advertising for ten years. While the company continued its growth, the advertising lost the edge that Borders had established. Columbia’s website and on-line marketing efforts didn’t have the brand personality of the old Gert Boyle ads, and began to look more like the predictable, stock imagery of all the other brands.

So in 2015, Columbia’s advertising agency brought Gert back for the “Tested Tough” campaign, proving that her appeal stood the test of time.

For more on brand personality and image advertising, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 Travel industry advertising – Wales misses the fairway by a mile.

bn branding's iconic logoHumor me for a minute. I seldom use the Brand Insight Blog to critique ads. It’s just too easy to just snipe about details like an idiotic headline or the lazy use of stock photography. But I recently ran across an ad for Wales that’s simply too bad to pass up.

It’s a perfect example of what’s missing from most brand messages and a relevant case study of what NOT to do in travel industry advertising.

First, a little background on golfers and golf travel.

Golfers spend a lot of money supporting their habit. We buy $400 drivers and travel great distances to play exceptional golf courses. We’ll drop $250 to play a truly exceptional golf course, but we’re not stupid. We shop around just like anyone else and make darn sure we’re getting the best experience possible when booking a trip.

For Americans, a trip to Wales is a tough sell. Let’s face it… Scotland, the Holy Land of golf, is right next door and Ireland is just a ferry ride away. Wales isn’t even on our radar.

Here’s another important fact the Welch tourism office didn’t consider: Golfers have a phobic aversion to certain numbers.

We hate 6s and 7s! An 8 on the scorecard is known as a snowman, and is more dreaded than an STD. Nines and 10’s aren’t even spoken of, much less, featured prominently in the headline of an ad. The higher the numbers on the score card, the LESS likely we are to travel for golf.

effective travel industry advertising by BN BrandingEvery industry has its advertising conventions — required elements, if you will. In golf advertising it’s the pretty picture. And more specifically, the pretty drone shot. Just show the beauty shot of the course with sunlight streaming across the fairway.

It’s the price of admission in the category… if you don’t have good photography, don’t even play.

So it’s not surprising that all golf travel ads look alike. Most courses don’t even take time to vett their photos very well.

There’s no story telling. No relevant message that’ll connect with anyone on an emotional level. And there’s very little differentiation.

Same goes for travel industry advertising in general. It’s almost always just a pretty picture and a few throw-away words.





Which brings us to the ad in question. It was a full page in Golf Digest, retail value; $88,000. There’s a mediocre aerial photo of a costal golf course on a dramatic spit of land, with a big headline that reads: 6,7,5,6,7,7,9,7,5,6,6,7,8,6,7,8,5, but happy.

travel industry advertising agency


That’s the most blatantly false headline I’ve ever seen in travel industry marketing.

There’s no way a traveling golfer is going to be happy with a scorecard like that. And the cliché-ridden body copy does little to relive my discomfort with the whole idea:

“We all get those days. Where you seriously consider packing it all in and taking up darts or something. But even a bad round here has its positives. Stunning championship courses. Reasonable green fees. No pretentious nonsense. A good walk through our beautiful countryside. And best of all, in Wales tomorrow’s always another day.”

Tomorrow’s also a fine day to fire your copywriter.

Apparently, the message is: Travel all the way to Wales and magically, somehow, you’ll feel good about all those 7s and 8s and 9s on the scorecard.

Talk about a disconnect!

7s 8s and 9s are even more depressing at a seaside course in Wales than they are back home. It’s every golfer’s worst nightmare… travel 3,000 miles to an epic destination and then stink up the place.

Been there, done that. (Okay not that bad, but bad enough to leave a scar.)

how to avoid bad advertising in the golf industrySo here you have some travel industry advertising that doesn’t just lie flat on the page, unnoticed and ineffective. It screams bad experience!

It conjures up memories that are emotionally scarring to me, and now I associate Wales with that negative experience.


You won’t convince golfers that a terrible round will be more palatable in Wales, and you shouldn’t even try.

It’s an unbelievable, irrelevant message that misses the target audience by a mile. (People who shoot 118 don’t travel to obscure oversees destinations to play golf. They ride busses from one tourist trap to the next.)

But let’s be fair. The Wales Tourism Board isn’t the only organization that misses the mark when it comes to strategic message development in their travel industry ads. Most companies have at least of half-dozen messages they could use for their advertising. The problem is, they never spend the time to figure out which of the six will really resonate.

If you’re faced with that message development problem, here are some guidelines that’ll help:

1. Assess each possible message on a credibility scale. Turn the BS meter to full volume and honestly decide which statements are believable and which ones sound like marketing hype? Being happy with snowmen on the scorecard definitely falls into the unbelievable marketing hype category.

2. Identify the hottest pain point for your best customers, and work from there. Big numbers are definitely a pain point for golfers. Unfortunately, Wales can’t promise to solve that problem. This goes to messaging strategy… Wales has a lot of competition in the golf travel category. Their golf courses are not as great as Scotland’s, so they have to come up with a different angle of attack. A different strategy altogether.

3. Identify the messages that are in line with your core brand concept and move those to the top of the list. Don’t deviate.  Oh, if you don’t have any core brand concepts nailed down, we can help you with that.

4. Beware of plagiarism. If your message sounds a lot like your competitor’s message, throw it out. In that Golf Digest Ad, Wales uses the tagline “Golf as it should be.”  A blatant rip-off of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort tagline: “Golf as it was meant to be.”

On a side-note… When I was working on Bandon Dunes advertising I coined the phrase “Unconditional Love.” The visual was just the opposite of the usual pretty picture… a lone player, braced against the elements, carrying his bag up a rise to a flagstick bent by the wind, rain in his face, ocean waves heaving in the background.

It was a great ad, that didn’t run for long because it didn’t include the conventional pretty picture.

To this day, Bandon Dunes will not publish anything that involves the true weather conditions there. Every single social media post is a pretty picture that’s, quite frankly, not authentic to the Oregon Coast experience.

Golf Advertising by BN Branding

The chances of getting a perfectly calm day at Bandon Dunes, like in this photo, are very rare.  But that’s okay.

For me, and for thousands of other Bandonistas, windy days and a little bit of rain is part of the appeal.




5. Get some professional help. You’re too close to it to make sound judgment on what will resonate, and what won’t. Time after time, our market research proves this point. Travel industry advertising has the potential to be truly great. Don’t waste that opportunity by running mediocre ads.

6. Know your market and the subject matter.  Do the research. It’s pretty obvious that whoever did the ad for Wales had no experience with, or knowledge of, golf travel.

Would you like to learn more about how to develop a message that will really resonate with your target audience? Read this post.

Here are  some better examples of travel industry advertising. 



brand personality from branding experts


BN Branding - Advertising

Successful Brand Advertising: We have the ideas. Do you have the guts?

Successful brand advertising hinges on three things: Creativity, consistency and guts.

If you don’t run your ads with enough frequency you won’t get the results you want.

If your ads are familiar looking, similar sounding, or anything short of unique, they will be ignored no matter where they run.

So if you want successful advertising, at some point, you’re going to have to approve ideas that seem completely “out there.”

Yes, it’s scary.

Yes, it probably feels like a tremendous leap of faith, embracing ads that are unlike anything in your industry.

But look at it this way:

Creative, category-busting advertising is the easiest way to differentiate yourself. Your product might be similar, but it’s easy to make advertising that’s surprisingly different.

If you study your biggest competitor, and learn how they got to be #1, you’ll inevitably find that they broke some rules of their own.

They did not imitate their way to the top. No way.

So don’t mimic the advertising of your biggest competitor.

Look to what they were doing when they were still young and hungry. Be inspired by their early moves and their gutsy execution.

We can help you with that. Whether it’s a digital campaign, radio, a series of videos, or traditional print and broadcast advertising.

We’ll help take your business to a whole new level. Here’s how:

Our brand identity design services vary dramatically from one client to the next. Every case is different, and every solution is custom, so you choose where to start and how far to go. If you just want to put your toe in the water with one small project, that’s okay.

Contact us today at 541-815-0075

bend ad agency portfolio
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.




Smidge Bottle Packaging

Putting Your Best Foot Forward – How to make your products look great online.

brand credibility from branding experts


At BN Branding we’ve been working with more and more ecommerce companies. It’s the nature of business these days…  Everyone wants to know how to make their products look great online so they can join the ecommerce gold rush.

Brick and mortar retailers are adding online operations; Bricks and Clicks, it’s called. Manufacturing companies are side-stepping traditional middlemen and jumping into the direct-to-consumer model. And every little start-up under the sun wants to build a Shopify store.

It’s a great business model that offers all kinds of potential, especially for people who keep an eye on design, persuasion architecture and user experience.

path to marketing success

Unfortunately, most ecommerce sites are plain, templated, and boring-looking at best. At worst they’re schlocky, hard to use and ineffective at selling anything.

So the good news is, if your ecommerce offerings aren’t downright sloppy you’ll actually stand out from the crowd. The bar is pretty low.

If your products are beautifully photographed and persuasively presented you’ll sell a lot more stuff online.

Specifically, you’ll see increases in the number of visitors that convert, the average order value, and the frequency of purchase… the three most important metrics in ecommerce.

But you have to look sharp, be convincing, AND make life easier for the shopper.

I’ve seen many companies spend a lot of money to design their brand identity and develop state-of-the art ecommerce systems, only to neglect the most basic elements of online sales.

Those basics are: Photography and copy. Putting words and pictures together to tell a compelling short story about every product you sell.

The “best practices” in Ecommerce consist of product photos on a white background with just a short, factual description stuffed with keywords from a spreadsheet. But best practices in this case, are nothing more than pooled ignorance. Just the facts won’t cut it if you want to differentiate your ecommerce store and sell a lot of product.

The fact is, words matter. A lot more than you may think.

Many people are NOT visual learners who just go with whatever pretty pictures they find. And a fair portion of your users will click and scour and read and study and fret and circle around three times before they buy.

You need the sizzle, but you also need the steak. You need to put some meat on those marketing messages for people who are seriously interested in products.

You need content that covers all types of buyers:  Lookers and learners. Analytical and emotional. Fast and slow. Male & Female. Optimist and pessimist. It’s a balanced, yin-yang approach that achieves the best response.




Want to make your products look great online? Start with your product design and your packaging design. 

If you’re selling your own products on your own ecommerce store you have a huge advantage. Your product design can be your #1 selling tool. Your packaging design #2. And your website design is #3. In a perfect world, your website design would complement both.

Great product and packaging design takes a lot of the pressure off  your ecommerce presentation, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to cut corners. “We just let the product speak for itself,” is a cop-out phrase I’ve heard too many times.

If you’re selling other people’s stuff on your ecommerce store the photography and online sales pitch become even more important. You can’t just pick up the manufacturer’s product descriptions and stock photos and expect to move a lot of product.

It’s your store. It needs your own special touches. If it looks, feels and sounds just like all the other ecommerce stores in your niche, you’re going struggle.

Customers are attracted to products with unique designs, and websites that showcase those products in innovative and unexpected ways. That’s how you get repeat business and build brand loyalty.


More than just pretty pictures — Great photography pays for years.

According to the US National Retail Federation, 67% of consumers consider the quality of your product images to be ‘very important’ when making online purchase decisions.

Since they can’t touch the products, prospective customers rely heavily on your photography.  So you need to ensure that your images work hard and portray as much detail as possible.

how to make your products look great online BN Branding's designs for Smidge, small batch supplements.There are four types of images that are important to include…

1. Standard, straight-on shots with a white background. Plain visual documentation is a necessary evil in ecommerce.

These not-so sexy images show the practical side of your product from various angles. In the food business, for instance, you have to include a clearly readable photo of the nutrition facts panel. If there are important differentiating features, like zippers in a jacket, include extreme close-ups of those.

2. Hero shots, like this one we did for Smidge through DogLeg Studios. Don’t settle for the same-old standard shots of your product. Give the shopper multiple angles in optimal lighting. Kitten it up a little bit. Even pill bottles can be given a personality.

3. Lifestyle images. Show how the product fits into people’s lives. Get photos that tell stories and take people places. Showing the product in action is also a good idea, preferably in believable, real-word situations.

You don’t need better product descriptions. You need actual copywriting. 

Making your products look good online also means making them sound irresistible in your copy. Unfortunately, most product descriptions are nothing more than an afterthought; The last, nagging, pain-in-the-ass detail in the long, tedious process of building an ecommerce store.

It’s too bad, because those business owners are leaving a lot of money on the table. Descriptions tell. Great copy sells.

In order to write convincing product copy you need to start with a thorough understanding of wants, needs, desires and habits of your customer base.  They might not be buying your product for the obvious reasons. In fact, there’s almost always ulterior motives involved in any purchasing decision.

Knowing those motives and tapping into the emotional side of the decision can mean the difference between mediocre sales and off-the-chart success.

But there are millions of business owners who know their market inside and out and  still can’t write a convincing paragraph of copy. If it were easy there’d be millions of wealthy novelists and there wouldn’t be a market for professional copywriters.

Writing compelling sales copy is completely different than writing blog articles or social media posts. Quite often, it’s what you don’t say that’s the most critical element of the pitch. Writing long is easy. Short and sweet is much more difficult.

If you struggle with that, it’s probably best to outsource it to a pro. Your time will be better spent elsewhere, and your conversion rates will improve.

Whatever you do, don’t outsource your copywriting to an SEO specialist or some sort of AI software that “automatically generates sales copy from your keyword list.”  It might work for on the Google spiders, but it won’t work on humans. It’ll be soulless. Pedantic. And OFF brand.

Obviously, it’s a good idea to incorporate SEO keywords in your sales copy, but that’s not where good writing starts. A real pro starts with the emotional hook — the pain point — and builds a compelling story around that. Along the way, she’ll weave the keywords seamlessly into the narrative.

No computer can replicate that.

If you insist on the DIY approach, here are some of the best tools that can transform your ecommerce presentations from average to amazing.DIY approach to ecommece - how to make your products look great online.

There are countless free or low-cost eBooks and tutorials that explain the design process and help you come up with aesthetically pleasing products yourself.  Free learning hubs like Coursera and ALISON offer plenty of short, interactive courses on product design and eCommerce, as do eLearning platforms like those of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and MIT.

Platforms like Product Design Resources and Inspiration Feed offer plenty of downloadable eBooks packed with tips on designing and photographing products that will sell. Product School also boasts a collection of free online resources for product managers, including courses, webinars, and free product master-classes.

According to Forbes, multiple studies have revealed that larger images improve your sales conversion rates. Tiny thumbnails might look neat at first glance, but they aren’t able to convey the detail, features and quality of your products accurately to your customers.

There are plenty of digital tools that you can use to enlarge your product photographs without sacrificing their quality. Some of the more popular tools among eCommerce store owners include Vance AI Image Enlarger, ImgLarger, Deep Image, and Deep AI. Adobe PhotoShop CC is another great option if your budget allows for it.

You can use tools like to compress your product images to thumbnails while maintaining their quality., RIOT and Puny.png to optimize the quality and orientation of your images. Tools like will help you crop and resize your product pictures so that your products always look great online.

If you don’t have the time or the artistic inclination, you can always reach out to us for help.

Of course, Selling products at the right price also helps, but the price tag won’t matter if your products don’t look good and sound appealing.

Here’s the bottom line from a branding standpoint: You can have a great brand identity, and a nicely designed ecommerce store, but if your products don’t look good and sound appealing your snazzy brand is like icing on a cardboard cake.

Give us a call. The first meetings are always free. Or contact us here. 


Lessons learned from 30 years in a professional services business


brand credibility from branding expertsProfessional services marketing is one of the toughest specialties in my line of work. First of all, marketing an intangible service is much harder than marketing a tangible product, like a tasty new food item. Second, it’s hard to know where to spend your money, and which tactics are appropriate for a professional services firm.

There are a million different things you could do, and a lot of professionals struggle to make sense of all the options. A quick Google search for “business-to-business marketing tips” produces an unprecedented amount of misinformation.

Like this little gem of nonsense:

“While consumers choose products based not only on price but also on popularity, status, and other emotional triggers, B-to-B buyers make decisions on price and profit potential alone.”

B-to-B marketing, they claim, is all about reason and logic.

These misinformed “experts” expect me to believe that emotion plays NO role in B-to-B marketing decisions. As if real people are magically transformed into corporate purchasing automatons the minute they set foot at the office.

honesty in political advertising

Give me a break.

Thirty years running a professional services business, and I can’t think of one single client we ever landed because of some rigorous analytical purchasing process. Not one.

People buy for subjective reasons, then they justify the purchase decision with a logical checklist of excuses. In B-to-B purchases, they just need a little longer list.

In the case of BN Branding, when we ask clients why they chose us, here’s what they say:

“Because I like those ads you did for Smidge.”

“Because I really relate to that article you wrote about the yin and yang of marketing.”

“I just got a good feeling from your website.”

All purely subjective, intangible excuses.

Other clients say it’s because we have a disciplined branding process. But even that’s not an objective reason. Our process produces a FEELING of confidence that allows them to act. But no one’s going to tell you what’s really going on, deep down. They might not even know why they really buy from you.



In B-to-B marketing it’s gut first. Then heart. And then the head.

The psychology of rationalization is well documented. The latest advances in neuroscience and behavioral economics prove, time and time again, that  it’s human nature. That’s how our brains are wired.

So that’s lesson #1 from all my years  in professional services marketing: Never underestimate the power of emotion in B-to-B purchases.

If your marketing efforts revolve around checklists of facts and features, you’re not going to see the results you’d like. Facts can’t be the centerpiece of your marketing. You have to dig deeper than that.

Facts seldom offer an emotional hook, or any reason whatsoever for the brain to pause and seriously consider your service offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over facts and data, and move on to more meaningful things.

Like stories and distinctly different graphics. Facts tell. Stories sell.

What stories are you telling? What proprietary branded graphics have you produced lately?

professional services marketing lessons from the Brand Insight Blog

Lesson #2: Love what you do.

Service businesses are easy to start, but hard to grow.

That’s because the business model for most professional service firms is sub-optimal.  Sales cycles are long and drawn out. Delivery is highly dependent on talent. And every client requires your skill and attention, to some degree.

Most are not scalable because they hinge on the talent of a few key partners.

The challenges are substantial, so you better love your work. In fact, you better be downright passionate about your particular specialty.

Branding, in one form or another, has been my passion since I was 15. I absolutely love producing eye catching ads, effective websites, or inspired content…  whatever it takes to help clients succeed.

I love the collaboration with clients and designers and programmers. I love the collision of art and commerce. I still get a charge out of the creative process, even if it’s just a little digital ad that we’re producing.

That enthusiasm is infectious.

On the other hand, “inspiring banker” is an oxymoron. And I’ve never met an accountant who seemed genuinely passionate about her work.

I’ve tried six different accounting firms over the years, and not one has shown any interest in my business whatsoever. Not one has ever called, in the middle of the year, to check on my progress and offer financial advice. (In fact, not one has ever sent any kind of proactive communication of any kind.)

Not one has positioned herself as anything more than an end-of-year number cruncher. Seems like a great opportunity — for someone. (If there are any really good accountants out there, give me a call!)

A glaring lack of passion is an easy way to UNsell the clients you’ve already sold. The fact is, passionate professionals like me want to do business with other passionate professionals. Or if not passionate, at least interested. Engaged. Semi-helpful!

Harry Beckwith wrote three great books on service industry marketing. In “Selling the Invisible” he says the first priority is the service itself. You gotta get the service right. I believe that starts with your attitude.

If your attitude sucks, the service will too. If you don’t love the professional service you provide, fix it or get out. Go do something else before your business crumbles beneath you.

Lesson #3: Be persistently adaptable.

At my parents’ 50th anniversary my dad shared his secret to a happy marriage: “Persistence,” he said.  “Simple as that.”

The same can be said for successful service businesses. You’d be amazed by how many fail simply because the key partners quit working at it. Sometimes they run out of steam because they don’t love what they do. Sometimes they devote all their energy to one big client, and forget about everything else. Sometimes other priorities prevail.

Over the last 30 years I walked away from my business twice… Once by choice (thanks to an offer I couldn’t refuse) and once because of the economy. For a few years after the crash of 2009 it became a side hustle while I did what I had to do to survive. But I never quit on it. Never lost the passion for it.

One thing’s for sure: Shit happens. Circumstances change. Markets shift. People come and go. And new technology changes the game. You have to be able to adapt.

When I rebuilt the business it took on a different form… Virtual workforce. New processes. Different talent pool. And even more flexibility.

At BN Branding we adapt to the needs of our clients. The services we deliver vary dramatically depending on what they need. Most clients have no idea so we have to figure it out for them, and lead the way. That’s how we’ve developed long term client relationships.

With commitment, patience, consistency, and adaptability. It’s about relationships, not transactions.

Professional services marketing Lesson #4: Keep learning.

In my line of work every new client, every product category and every new project requires study, learning and growth. Without it, we’d never survive.

Experience has taught us a lot, but every business is different. Every marketing situation is unique. We can’t assume anything.

There are a lot of new digital agencies that do nothing but cookie-cutter ads in one particular niche market, like dental practices or car dealerships. They literally run the exact same ads for all their clients. Just swap out the logo.

I’d shoot myself.

It’s variety that keeps things interesting. Wards off burnout. Keeps the creativity alive.

And it’s our thirst for learning that enables us to do great work for all sorts of businesses… One day it’s the nutritional benefits of organic alfalfa in rabbit food, and the next we’re dealing with software as a service in the fintech segment.

Variety is the spice of professional services life.

I often counsel clients to discard products and focus on a more narrow niche. But sometimes you have to sacrifice specialization for your own sanity.

If you’re an architect, do you really want to design nothing but elementary schools your whole life? If you’re a consultant, do you really want to devote your entire practice to cannabis dispensaries?


professional services marketing lessons from BN BrandingLesson #5: Little gestures matter.

There’s an old Jewish proverb that says, “don’t open a shop if you can’t learn to smile.”

At BN Branding we like to celebrate little victories with our clients…  Like when a website goes live. When a new brand that we’ve created hits the store shelves. When one of our ads starts popping up on our phones or on billboards up the road.

That’s just the way we roll, and come to find out, the marketing professors have a name for that: “Managing the evidence.”

In professional services marketing you have to keep proving that you’re delivering on your promises. You have to provide evidence of your performance, or at the very least, proof of life.

Radio silence is the kiss of death.

I’m always annoyed by service providers who disappear in the middle of a project. It doesn’t matter if they meet the ultimate deadline and deliver great work, if they don’t communicate at all during the process I won’t be doing business with that person, or that firm, again.

Process matters! And decent communications is part of any process.

I’m not asking for perfection. I’m just asking for the common courtesy of an email update or a quick text message that says “hey, we got pulled away on an urgent matter, and we’ll get back with you tomorrow.”  That’s all it takes, assuming you actually do get back to me tomorrow.

Success hinges on keeping promises like that. It’s a lot of little gestures over a long period of time. That’s how you nurture relationships and build credibility. That’s one of the fundamentals of professional services marketing.

Lesson #6: Life’s a lot easier when you build a brand.

Beckwith summed it up quite well: “In service marketing almost nothing beats a brand.”

A brand makes your sales efforts easier and more efficient. A brand reduces stress for your prospects and makes buying easier. A brand improves credibility and aids word of mouth.”

“A brand is money.”

We can help you make both.