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Storytelling in business — a good story equals strong leadership.

brand credibility from branding expertsLet me tell you a story about storytelling in business — the most important, most under-appreciated, leadership skill.

All business revolves around persuasion. You have to persuade prospects to buy, investors to invest, employees to perform and suppliers to deliver. There’s no getting around it… if you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to persuade.

You really only have two choices of how to do that:  You can devise a rational argument using conventional facts, data, logic and powerpoint slides. In some cases that might work. Eventually. But it’s going to take a long, hard bludgeoning.

storytelling as a leadership skill BN BrandingOr… you can gently pull people in by tapping the imagination and harnessing the proven, natural power of storytelling.

If you study the greatest brands and business leaders of the last 50 years, they all had a knack for telling stories. Even the introverts.

Successful salesmen have always known that a good story will do most of the work for them. As the old saying goes, “facts tell, but stories sell.”

Harvey Mackay was an old-school envelope salesman who used stories to build a 100 million dollar business and published several best-selling management books. McKay never wrote a word about storytelling in business, and yet every chapter in every one of his books starts with a an anecdote of some kind…

“When I was a kid, my favorite ball player was Eddie Stanky, who couldn’t hit, couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, but he knew how to beat you…”

storytelling in businessMackay’s chapter titles have stories built-in: “Ask an old grizzly.” “The wisdom of Dirty Harry.” “Calling Mr. Otis.” “Send in the clones.”

Plus, he featured real characters like Melvin the Haggler to demonstrate his points much more vividly than most business writers ever could.

Even his titles conjure up stories; “Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive.”

That’s why Mackay’s books sold more than 10 million copies. That’s why he has earned millions on the corporate speaking tour. He has a flair for the dramatic and a natural, friendly way of connecting with people through his home-spun stories.

There are no secrets to great storytelling  It’s in our DNA. It’s as natural as walking or hopping on a bike after 25 years of not riding.

Honestly. Anyone can do it. But in my experience, most business people do not.

They recite facts. They present cases. They try to impress with a lot of industry jargon. They literally talk till they’re blue in the face trying to convince, sell and cajole, when all they really need to do is tell a good story.

Storytelling is the only tried-and-true formula for holding people’s attention. Politicians know that. Comedians know that. Journalists know that. Even scientists and engineers know that stories are the key to getting their work widely accepted.

And now, neuroscientists have seen the fMRI data that proves that storytelling triggers the brain in uniquely positive ways. (Oxitocin synthesis)

 

 

Paul Zak, writing for Harvard Business Review, sums up the importance of great storytelling:

“Our findings on the neurobiology of storytelling are relevant to business settings. They show that character driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall…

When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts, by first attracting their brains. ”

There are many models you can borrow from for your own brand storytelling.

storytelling in business a model from pixarPixar has a very simple framework that guides every movie they produce. Christopher Vogler, in his book “The Writer’s Journey,” lays out a useful formula, as does Donald Miller in “Building a Brand Story.”

Here are the five simple steps that we use at BN Branding when we’re devising brand narratives:

  1. Once upon a time there was a ___________. Introduce the main character. Worts and all.
  2. She lived in a world where ______________.  Set the scene. Paint a picture of what life is like in the hero’s ordinary world. Convey the problem/pain point. Show what’s at stake. This is the “before” part of a before-and-after scenario.
  3. Then, one day, she discovers a possible solution to her problem. This is where your brand comes in. The hero is called to action because she’s been given a clear path to her goal. Your brand becomes the guide/mentor/tool that leads the way.
  4. With this new elixir in hand, she sets out on her journey. But it’s not easy. There are tests, allies and enemies along the way as she gets closer and closer.
  5. Finally, she prevails. She endures the supreme ordeal and comes back a changed person. This is “after” part of the before-and-after scenario, where you paint a very clear picture of how life changes for the better.
Just about every major motion picture and best selling novel fits roughly into this model. And the best selling brands take cues from that.
When it’s storytelling in business, there are a few nuances to remember…

• All good stories include passion, conflict and resolution. Start with passion.

The ability to put your passion into words in a “why” statement is the first step in any brand storytelling effort. Simon Sinek’s massively popular book “Always start with Why” is a must-read on that subject.

“Every business person can explain what they do, but very few can clearly articulate why, ” Sinek says. That’s what stories are for.

Why are you in business, other than purely selfish capitalist reasons? What are you passionate about? Demonstrate that passion so like-minded people can jump on board and put themselves in the story.

That’s the passion part of the equation. Passion is what drives characters in stories. For whatever reason, they care! If you can’t convey your passion for the business you’re in, you’ll never win big.

• For storytelling in business, keep your customer in the center of the story.

Sorry to break it to you, but it’s not all about you! Your customer’s the hero, not your brand. It’s her journey, not yours, that’ll produce the most compelling story.

That means you have to really know your customers. Do the research so you thoroughly understand the conflict that’s driving your prospects toward purchasing your product or service. If you want your story to resonate, you have to get inside their heads and truly feel their pain.

storytelling in business needs villains

• Embrace conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. 

Numbers in a slide deck can represent conflict, but people don’t empathize with numbers.

If you want your story to resonate you have to capture the real, human conflict that is inherent in any business category. Come down from the 30,000 foot view and depict the problem in very personal terms. Find the pain points that produce the most drama, and then build your stories around those.

• For storytelling in business, you need a villain. 

Stories revolve around opposing forces butting heads… The Starks and the Lannisters. The McCoys and the Hatfields. The Force vs. the Dark Side. Apple vs Microsoft. The ordinary underdog vs. The Man.  (Sticking it to The Man is a common theme in business pitches, but it’s almost always watered down with corporate terms like “a paradigm shift”  or “changing the Status Quo”  or “disruptive technology.” )

You have to define your villain and show what’s at stake, in plain english. You can’t be afraid of the dark side of your story or your industry, or even your product. Those imperfections are what make stories interesting, and characters worth rooting for. If you try to paint a completely rosy picture all the time, your stories will never engage anyone, and never ring true.

Branding firm BNBranding

• Tell truth stories.

Authenticity is a popular buzzword these days. Everyone wants authentic stories and an authentic brand, but what does that mean?

I believe authenticity begins by being truthful about your purpose. If you’re not clear on  your ‘why’ you have no chance of being authentic.

Matthews & Wacker, in their book “What’s Your Story” talk about the difference between what’s true, and the bigger truth that a good story conveys. “What’s true is generally expressed as data points, but the truth always comes in the form of a story.”

“Traditional business communications have always been viewed as the simple, direct and timely transmission of true statements. But to be an effective corporate storyteller you must understand that  your job is to build the truth — of your company, of your brands, of your history, and of your values.” (Try this post for more on truth, lies and advertising.)

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, tells of learning an important lesson back in high school; “Sometimes the truth alone isn’t enough. The presentation of the truth is just as important” So when Hsieh speaks at SXSW or at a Ted Conference he always follows a simple formula: Be passionate. Tell personal stories. Be Real.

It’s been said that a brand is a promise. And there’s a popular book on writing titled “A Story Is A Promise.” The parallels are undeniable. 

A good storyteller must know his audience. An entrepreneur must know his, as well.

A good storyteller keeps people’s attention. Good leaders do too.

Great leaders inspire people, just as great stories do.

Tell a good story and you can build a successful business. Tell a great story and you can start a movement that attracts a tribe and builds a brand.

And if you combine a great story with an iconic leader you can change the world.

 

Let us help you tell a more compelling story. Call 541-815-0075.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

Strategy & Tactics – The Yin & Yang of Marketing

541-815-0075

Are your marketing tactics aligned with your strategy? Your operation? Your brand?

Are you struggling to prioritize your tactics and track results?Is your marketing effort out of balance?

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

We can help with a Yin Yang Marketing Assessment.

Marketing programs, like people, need balance. It’s a yin yang thing. And balance begins by finding the truth about your current marketing efforts.

So stop guessing. Get the truth you need to achieve marketing harmony. 

We’ll assess your marketing plan, study your tactics, and dive into any strategy documents you may have. Then we’ll provide a coaching session where we deliver a clear, decisive plan on how to balance your efforts with a harmonious combination of strategy and tactics.

It’s an easy, risk-free way to get the answers you need from a team of seasoned marketing professionals.

Schedule your personalized, YinYang Assessment today and get the insight you need to align your strategy and tactics.

Instance 1

Apprentice Package

Get the insight you need to align your strategy and tactics.

$589.95

  • Marketing Strategy Assessment. Review of your current marketing strategy to determine how it stacks up against your competitors. 
  • Tactical Plan Review. Analyze the list of your current marketing tactics along with the budget to determine the most cost-effective solutions.
  • Yin/Yang Alignment Roadmap. This deliverable will show you exactly where your strategy and tactics are aligned, and where they go wrong.
  • Accounting and critique of your creative assets. Assess the execution of your marketing tactics. Graphic elements, copywriting, videos, music, photos and key brand imagery.
  • 1 hour of personal coaching. I will walk you through our findings answer questions, and provide clear direction on what your next steps are toward marketing success.

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Questions? Call us at 541-815-0075

Master Package

Get the insight you need to align your strategy and tactics PLUS lots more

$949.95

  • Marketing Strategy Assessment. MBA-level review of your current marketing strategy to determine how it stacks up against your competitors. 
  • Tactical Plan Review. Analyze the list of your current marketing tactics along with the budget to determine the most cost-effective solutions.
  • Yin/Yang Alignment Roadmap. This deliverable will show you exactly where your strategy and tactics are aligned, and where they go wrong.
  • Accounting and critique of your creative assets. Assess the execution of your marketing tactics. Graphic elements, copywriting, videos, music, photos and key brand imagery.
  • 1 hour of personal coaching. I will walk you through our findings answer questions, and provide clear direction on what your next steps are toward marketing success.
  • 30-minutes of follow-up consulting.  One additional phone call for personalized advice on your newly aligned marketing efforts.
  • checkBONUS OFFER: The Yin/Yang Website Review – Great websites are a delicate balance of technology, strategic insight, and creativity. We will provide a thorough assessment of your web site vis – a- vis your current strategy and tactical list. Details include copywriting, brand image, messaging and SEO. 

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

When your marketing efforts are in balance, you will:

  • Avoid costly strategic blunders and tactical do-overs.
  • Stretch your marketing budget by creating and leveraging the right assets.
  • Align your value proposition and marketing messages with your most valuable prospects.
  • Improve awareness, brand image and brand loyalty. 
  • Increase the ROI from every marketing tactic. 
  • Eliminate wasteful tactics and messages that cause confusion.

Here’s what two recent clients have to say about BNBranding:

“I really appreciate the art and craftsmanship of the work they do at BNBranding. Their design work is meticulous and very well thought out. John Furgurson is the consummate professional… always delivers what he says he’s going to deliver. They did my website and some very nice printed sales materials. It’s first rate. I would definitely recommend them.”  

Lisa Slayman

Slayman Cinemas

BNBranding revolutionized how I was positioning my paddle craft invention John took a deep dive into the roots of user preferences for various paddle craft, then helped me recognize a far broader application for my design. The aha! moment in a coffeeshop together was truly remarkable. I will always credit John as the Big Thinker behind what we now call our “crossboat.” 

Michael Grant 

Kittigan Crossboats

An unbiased, outside perspective makes all the difference.

Don’t ask your in-house team how things are going. Ask us instead. We’ll tell you if your strategy and tactics are in alignment. We’ll gladly report that your ads are spot on, or your video production is a true tear jerker.

But we’ll also call a spade, a spade.

If your website is way off base, we’ll give you specific list of to-dos that’ll make it better. If your value proposition doesn’t resonate with the target audience, you need to know that. If your social media posts are coming out of left field, we’ll tackle that one too.

I promise you this… You will have new insight on what’s working, and what’s not working. And you’ll have an actionable plan that you can implement, so you can eventually achieve complete marketing enlightenment.

Schedule Your Personalized, YinYang Assessment today.

Apprentice Package: $589.95

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Master Package: $949.95

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Copyright 2018,  BNBranding  |  541-815-0075

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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

dill pickle vodka BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsChocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.

Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer.  And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.

Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.

So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.

The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.

If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even.

Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.

 

BNBranding can help you do that. ”Here’s how:

• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.

There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.

• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.

Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea.

The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.

• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.

Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)

Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.

These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.

• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.

The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.

In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.

In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers, but they’re virtually invisible to consumers.

But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.

Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.

In 1980 Absolut  was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.

But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.

So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.

TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.

Needless to say, it worked.

The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.

The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

marketing strategy for alcoholic beverages That’s my own quote.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!

Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)

They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.

Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.

But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.

Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.

Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.

Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.

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

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

8 crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Crowdsourcing logo design (Getting literal for little.)

brand credibility from branding expertsCrowdsourcing logo design is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:

1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than hiring a local designer.

2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced their logo design.

 

First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing logo design.

I recently coordinated a crowdsourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.

crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right?

Wrong.

Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.

My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.

Too bad nobody read it.

The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.

The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!

Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “

I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.

“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”

crowdsourcing logo design “The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”

“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”

At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.

That’s when the real work started.

After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.

For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.

We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.

crowdsourcing logos Brand Insight BlogCrowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of  Project Manager and Creative Director…  A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.

Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.

Now for a discussion about subjective quality…

The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.

Advice on crowd sourcing logo designs on the Brand Insight BlogIf you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.

Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.

Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route…  Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.

If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.

There would be no Golden Arches.

If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.

There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.

See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.

So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.

When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”

For more on designing a great brand identity, try THIS post.

If you want to see what real, professional brand identity design looks like, check this out.

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“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

managerial incompetence Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingHonestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule.

Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads, nitwits and nincumpoops seem to rule the world.

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

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

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

• The managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over-bills his clients. (Subsequently, that firm spends way too much time trying to land new clients.)

• The Director of Communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally. She’s completely siloed.

• The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything. The only decision he can make is to hire a consultant to help him make a decision.

 

Managerial failures like those are rampant. There was a study done by a Fortune 500 consulting firm that showed “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.”

(Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)

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

And here’s more good news:  It’s well documented that a strong brand helps companies overcome all sorts of managerial incompetence and unforeseen market forces.

For instance, strong brand affinity can help companies maintain market share during a price war. People are willing to pay a little more for a brand they know and love.

According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front. People are more forgiving when it’s one of their brands that fail.

And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt. Look what happened to Toyota…

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

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

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

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

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

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

branding blog about managerial incompetenceToyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics.

AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

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

1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise.

Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance.

Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down.

What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?

2. Managers make monumental mistakes, but brands endure.

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

3.  A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team.

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

4. Great managers are hard to find. When you find one, treat her well.

No one has the childhood dream of becoming a great manager.  So if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.

5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished.

They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it. Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion.

If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

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

2 Brands and corporate mergers — F15 Fighter vs. the 787 Dreamliner

BNBranding logoIn 1997 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas agreed on a merger. Like most corporate mergers, that marriage looked great on paper:  Boeing’s strength — commercial jetliners — was McDonald Douglas’ weakness. And vice-versa. A match made in heaven — or at least in the clouds.

Boeing’s shortcomings on the military side would be bolstered dramatically by partnering with McDonald Douglas, maker of the F15 Fighter, the Apache helicopter, the Tomahawk missile, and many other successful weapons systems.

Two global brands, both looking to shore-up the weakest parts of their business. Two diametrically opposed corporate cultures. Two distinct brands and one ill-fated corporate merger.

 

 

The Boeing deal demonstrates how brands and corporate mergers usually don’t fly.

I seriously doubt that very many big-league M & A attorneys are sitting around their big, mahogany conference tables contemplating the nuances of the two brands they’re trying to bring together.

The McDonald Douglas brand revolved around blowing things up. Inflicting damage. Killing the enemy. Commercial production of the DC10 and MD80 was not the core of that brand.

Their preferred customers were military men around the world, all cut from the same, heavily starched cloth. And when you sell to the same, homogeneous group of bureaucrats for a long time, you begin to look, and act, a lot like your customers.

At Boeing the culture revolved around two words: Safety and efficiency. The imperative in Boing’s Seattle headquarters was just the opposite of McDonald Douglass… kill no one.

Boeing just wants to get people safely and comfortably to their  destination. And, of course, help the airlines make a lot of money. Boeing’s customers were airline industry execs,  not DOD officials or foreign generals. B to B sales are a lot different than government contracts.

The two cultures were sure to clash.

And as Peter Drucker famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

brands and corporate mergers Boeing and McDonald Douglass BN Brandingbrands and corporate mergers Brand insight Blog

For some first-hand insight on business strategy, brands and corporate mergers, I spoke with a recently retired Boeing executive who was directly involved with that merger and the integration of the two companies.

“There’s always going to be one executive who ends up taking the pivotal lead in the new, merged company. And that person came from McDonald. So he was naturally more inclined toward the military side of things. It’s like having two kids you don’t give equal attention to… Eventually they start fighting. Then if you take the allowance from one of them, you got some real problems. Eventually, both kids will suffer,” the exec told me.

There were the usual leadership problems, plus profound problems at lower levels where manufacturing  integration was supposed to occur.

“Integration starts at the bottom. It’s like zipping up a jacket… You can made progress to a point, but the higher you go, the harder it is to bring the two sides together,” the Boeing exec said. “Literally, we couldn’t find any common ground.”

So if you have two competing corporate cultures merged in one company, what does that mean for the brands?

In this case, the McDonell Douglas brand faded away. It’s now called Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

The Boeing brand certainly is stronger now in the eyes of military customers, but they all know it’s really McDonnell people and McDonnell products with the Boeing logo.

On the commercial side, the Boeing brand has gained little from the merger. In fact, my source contends that the current delay on the 787 Dreamliner can be traced, at least in part, to the merger.

“In military aviation they can push the technology and take more risks. In the commercial airline business, you don’t use unproven technology because the risks are just too great.”

“But with the new leadership, there was a lot of pressure to try new things at Boeing. The 787 Dreamliner is a fantastic platform, but they chose an unproven design for the wing-to-body joints, and now they have to go back and fix it. It’s enormously expensive.”

brands and corporate mergers alignment by Brand Insight BlogAccording to the Seattle Times, Boeing CFO James Bell admitted the delays and problems put pressure on the profitability of this (787) program.

“We’ve always been concerned with the cumulative impact of the schedule delays and the pressure it puts on cost,” Bell said. “We also have been concerned with the delays to our customers and how that converts to penalties or the settlements we have to work through with them.”

Even though Boeing reported strong profits initially from both commercial and military orders, the brand is suffering. The rash of bad publicity is tremendously painful for a brand that has, historically, stayed successfully under the radar.

Because in the commercial airline business, front page news is almost always bad news.

The business world is littered with similarly conflicted cases where brands and corporate mergers were at odds. For instance, the Chrysler/Dalmer Benz merger was doomed from the start. (At least they didn’t try to put the Mercedes nameplate on all the Chrysler minivans.) Now it’s Fiat/Chrysler, and the Chrysler brand is in big trouble.

The McDonald Douglas-Boeing corporate merger was like Mercedes merging with the maker of the Abrams tank.

Not exactly compatible corporate missions.

But then, mergers and acquisitions rarely account for cultural synergy or shared brand values. Often it’s more about eliminating competition, covering up corporate inefficiencies or pleasing wall street.

With branding and corporate mergers, it’s almost always a numbers game, not a branding play.

branding and corporate mergers - BNBrandingIf brands were a consideration, a lot more merged companies would maintain two different brands — rather than trying to integrate under one corporate banner.

McDonnell Douglas would still be the brand for military applications and Boeing would be the brand for all commercial operations.

Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos has the potential to be a more successful example. The two companies have similar, long-term visions. They both emphasize customer service and loyalty. And they’re both on-line retailers.

Not only that, Bezos is smart enough recognize the value of the Zappos brand, and has not killed it.

If you’re seriously considering a merger or an acquisition, include a thorough brand evaluation in your due diligence. Study the corporate cultures.  Talk to the CMOs about a long-term brand strategy for the new, combined brand. Consider the intangible value of each existing brand.

Brands and corporate mergers  almost always clash. And if integration of the two brands under one is the plan, it might be a lot harder than you think.

Just ask the engineers at Boeing.

Learn more about brand value and what all the truly great brands have in common. 

another iconic brand by BN Branding

 

2 Branding firm BNBranding

Restaurant Branding — Recipes for failure and success

BNBranding logoAt what point does a trendy new restaurant become an iconic brand? And when do all the branding efforts under the sun produce nothing but another shuttered dining establishment?

The restaurant business is littered with cases of meteoric success and dramatic failure. It’s an inherently volatile business. This is the story of several competing restaurants in a small but rapidly-growing market. It’s a story of restaurant branding success — and failure  — that any business owner can learn from.

Prior to 2000, the culinary scene in Bend wasn’t much to write home about. Some would say, non existent. So when Merenda opened in 2002 it generated tons of buzz.

Restaurant Branding BNBrandingAs the Bend Bulletin reported, “Chef Jody Denton pioneered a renaissance in fine dining in Central Oregon.”

But the Merenda brand wasn’t about fine dining. It was about partying. It was a loud place in downtown Bend where large groups would gather and drink generously from an outstanding wine list and a good assortment of adult beverages. Not great for a quiet dinner date.

The vibe was more urban — the energy level more electric — than anything previously found in Bend. Many nights you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the bar scene at Merenda became a notorious pick-up joint for older divorcees.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, across town in a nondescript location next to a car dealership, a restaurant called Zydeco quietly began to build a loyal following. The contrast was dramatic.

The first, most fundamental element of any restaurant branding effort is the name.

So let’s compare… What a great name:”Zydeco.”

It’s fantastically memorable with positive associations of fun in New Orleans. It’s authentic. Zydeco serves delicious cajun cuisine, which, years later, is still unique for this town. It’s also an aspirational name that the restaurant has grown into over the last 15 years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOn the other hand, “Merenda” just didn’t work as well.

It sounds nice and has an elegant, upscale ring to it, but it’s so much softer than the product and the experience. The name didn’t fit the vibe and the location.

Plus, if you want to get nit-picky, “Merenda” translates to “snack” in Italian. But it was not an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t a snacky kinda place.

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

Many of Merenda’s customers were only there because it was THE place to see and be seen. It was a superficial relationship, not a genuine bond. Success by association. When new restaurants like Zydeco opened, the crowds thinned out at Merenda.

At Zydeco, it was more than that… It was the service, the friendly, family-owned vibe, and the overall, everyday quality that set it apart. It was upscale, but accessible. Popular but not trendy. It wasn’t trying to be cool, but it was. And still is.

Trendiness is a common problem in restaurant branding, fashion and high tech. The next big thing or hot spot is always right around the corner. So successful brand managers have to find ways to stay relevant with their past customers, or become relevant to a whole new group.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticRelevance, differentiation and credibility. Those are the three key ingredients of restaurant branding success.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda needed a little extra attention he opened another restaurant less than a block away. And his place called Deep never got above water.

Brands need constant attention.

This seems like a no-brainer, but many people dream of having a business that runs on autopilot and generates an endless flow of effortless revenue. That doesn’t work in any industry, much less the restaurant business.

You have to mind the store.

In 2005 Cornell University published a seminal study on why restaurants fail. One of the surprising contributors was simply a lack of attention, time and effort by the owners.

“Failure seemed to stem from an inability or unwillingness to give the business sufficient attention… The immense time commitment was mentioned by all of the survey respondents who had failed.”

restaurant brandingAt Deep, Denton was determined to create something completely different. As he told The Bend Bulletin: “That’s been kind of my business model: finding what Bend doesn’t have and filling that void. I’ve always enjoyed the environment of a sushi bar. It’s always been something appealing, both from the restaurant’s and the chef’s standpoint.”

What he failed to consider was how much attention his other brand required. He was spread too thin and his upscale sushi place was ahead of its time.

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

Being different from the competition is certainly important, but it’s not everything. Tiny morsels of Kobe beef served on a hot rock for eight dollars a bite… That’s different! “Angry Lobster,” Monkfish paté, grilled yuzu and marinated, chopped maguro tataki were all impressively different, but not appealing enough to inspire repeat business by a large group of people in a relatively small market.

Bottom line: Deep was a high-end sushi place in a meat and potato town.

All successful brands have a clear, well-defined concept that goes beyond the product.

As I have said in previous posts, if you want to build an iconic brand, first own an idea. The Cornell study proved that clarity of concept is essential to restaurant success.

“Perhaps the key finding was the focus on a clear concept that drives all activities… Successful restaurant owners all had a well-defined concept which encompassed an operating philosophy and business operation issues. Failed owners, when asked about their concept, discussed only their food product.”

In other words, successful restaurants have core brand concepts that go beyond just the food.

Denton certainly had vision beyond food for both his restaurants. But the concepts behind Merenda and Deep were based more on Denton’s past experience and personal preference than on the realities of the local market.

There’s an old saying… “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

In Denton’s case, his restaurants served the classes. His high-end brands only resonated with a small segment of the population, and he didn’t reinvent Merenda when he needed to.

In the end, Denton’s concept for Merenda was not clear enough to sustain the business over the long haul. (Being first in the market isn’t a sustainable brand strategy for a single restaurant.) And the concept for Deep never had a chance. So both restaurants were shuttered and his investors came away empty handed.

Eventually, Merenda reopened under a new name with a new owner. “800 Wall” never created the buzz of the original, and it’s now cruising along, probably doing fine in the summer, but not exactly inspiring loyalty or write-ups in Gourmet Magazine.

Zydeco, on the other hand, has grown and evolved. When they moved into a larger, fancier location downtown they bought a loyal following with them. It’s now more popular than ever, despite the fact that new restaurants keep popping up around town.

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

If you want help with your restaurant branding, call me.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6 classic positioning strategy

Positioning — It’s not what you SAY. It’s what they THINK.

BNBranding logoIn the 1970’s Al Ries and Jack Trout popularized the concept of positioning strategy. Since then, they’ve written dozens of spin-off books, including Focus, The Immutable Laws of Marketing, Bottom Up Marketing, and even Re-Positioning.

positioning strategyStill, you could have a roomful of MBA’s and no two would agree on what positioning really means. Many people can’t even decide if the word is an active verb or a proper noun.

Most people think of positioning as a simple step ladder. The cheapest, lowest-end products are “positioned” at the bottom of the ladder, and the best, most expensive products are on the top shelf, if you will.

But positioning has little to do with real price or quality. Instead, it’s all about perception.

The whole concept of positioning is based on the simple fact that we form opinions about products and companies based on our own perception. These opinions are influenced by all sorts of things… word of mouth, personal experience, individual prejudices, blogs, the marketing efforts of the brand in question and a hundred other factors.

 

 

 

In our own minds we make some pretty broad — and often rash — assumptions about things. Call it consumer bigotry if you want to. The fact is, we pigeon hole companies and products the same way we pigeon hole political candidates.

As marketers, our goal is to tap into these existing perceptions and use them to our advantage.

Here’s a classic example. Back in 1968, before the term positioning was ever invented, the makers of 7-Up scored a huge coup in the soft drink market.

Taste tests and other forms of consumer research revealed that people saw 7-Up as a refreshing alternative to colas. Respondents said it flat out… “it’s a nice change from all the cola I’ve been drinking.”

So the 7-Up executives decided to market the drink as the alternative to cola. It was a no-brainer, really. They simply took the existing perception in the marketplace and turned it into their strategy.

Like all good positioning strategies, 7Up’s was simple and almost painfully obvious. Once the executives at 7-Up knew what consumers were thinking, there was no other way to go.

classic positioning strategyThe creative execution of the strategy, however, was not so obvious.

J. Walter Thompson’s simple two-word slogan “The UnCola” said it all. Brilliant! The campaign gave the product a personality, cemented the idea in our collective consciousness, and assured 7Up a place in advertising history.

From a positioning standpoint this strategy worked remarkably well for several reasons. First, it didn’t attempt to change anyone’s perception. It simply leveraged the existing public opinion.

Secondly, it effectively repositioned the competition. Without slamming them, 7-Up lumped Coke, Pepsi and RC all together in a single boring category of colas.

classic positioning strategy by BN BrandingFinally, The Uncola tapped into the collective consciousness of the times. The new branding made 7Up relevant to the young people who account for a large portion of soft drink sales.

The campaign tapped into the prevalent anti-establishment mind set of the late 60’s. It actively encouraged defiance against the cola establishment and portrayed 7-Up as a symbol of dissent. The entire campaign summarized the popular values of the public and catapulted 7-Up into the position as the third leading soft drink in America.

While it is possible to build a positioning strategy around images alone, it’s usually a few simple words like “The Uncola” that solidify things in the consumer’s mind. Because you don’t “position” a product, you communicate its position.

“Just Do It” communicates Nike’s position as a brand of everyday athletes. “Pizza Pizza” is a fun way to communicate Little Ceasar’s low-price strategy. “Avis, we try harder” communicated the benefit of being number two in the rental car business.

On the other hand, many automobile companies have struggled with their positioning strategy. Oldsmobile, the now defunct GM brand, is a good example.

automotive marketing positioning strategyIn its last 14 years, Oldsmobile floated no fewer than ten different slogans. Here’s a few of the real gems:

“Olds Quality. Feel it.”

“Demand Better.”

“Look what happens when you demand better.”

“Defy Convention.”

“It knows the road.”

Ironically, the slogan that’s most memorable is the only one that even hints at the reality of Oldsmobile’s perception with American car buyers. “This is not your father’s Olds” used the old, fuddy-duddy perception of Oldsmobile and spun it in a positive way. Maybe if they’d have stuck with it for more than a year, the brand would still be alive today.

You wonder what kind of research Cadillac executives did that led them to believe they could compete with Honda and Toyota in the small car market. The Cimmeron failed miserably back in the 80’s. Then they’re tried again in the 90’s with Caterra, “The Caddi that zigs.”  Nobody believed that!

Now they’re trying to compete against BMW, Audi and Mercedez. GM finally got the product right with the CTS, but it’s still a classic case of force-feeding a product into a position in the market. Cadillac as a sports car just does not compute with the American public. It goes against everything Cadillac has ever stood for. The world’s biggest, most luxurious SUV is one thing, but we’ll never buy the concept of a small, sporty Cadillac.

On the same vein, Porsche is off track trying to compete in the SUV market. “The Porsche of SUV’s”  has a nice ring to it, but it will never really resonate with the public that sees Porsche as a rich-man’s sports car. What’s next, Chateaubriand at McDonald’s?

There’s an important distinction to be made here between niche marketing and positioning.

Cadillac can decide to focus on the luxury sports car niche and can build a car specifically for that purpose. But that does not mean the product will ever be perceived that way in the minds of the consumer. The problem is, Audi and BMW already occupy that space in the consumer’s mind.

positioning strategy BNBranding

Here’s another trap that many companies fall into: They mistake their mission statement for a positioning strategy.

Fortune-500 companies miss the boat all the time on this. There’s a giant health care provider that recently formed an internal committee to study the “position” of the company and draft a “positioning strategy.” What they came up with was a mission statement at best.

But your mission — your statement of purpose — may have nothing to do with your position in the market place. And vice versa.

A mission statement is concocted by a committee and exists in corporate brochures, annual reports, and press releases. A positioning statement is formed in the consumer’s mind. A mission statement is the rose-colored view of your company. A positioning statement is the gritty, 16mm view.

No doubt, the semantics of positioning and positioning strategy can get confusing. But if you want to hedge your bets, think of it this way:

Positioning is not something you do, it’s something that happens. You can choose a narrow market niche, devise a new pricing strategy and launch a giant ad campaign that, together, may affect people’s perception of you. But you can’t technically “position” anything.

Want to transform your business into an iconic brand like 7-Up? Call us. 541-815-0075. Want more classic positioning advice? Read this post.

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