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Naming, rebranding, and the role of your brand origin story.

brand credibility from branding experts

Origin stories are big business in Hollywood. Millions of people pay top dollar at the box office to get the back-story on their favorite superhero or sci-fi villain. (The Joker grossed $849 million in just two months.) Unfortunately, brand origin stories are highly underrated and underutilized in the business world.

Let’s say you’re involved in a start-up and you’re pitching your idea to potential investors. They’re going to want to know where you came from. How you got there. And what you’re all about. A well-crafted brand origin story can answer those questions — in dramatic fashion.

A look back helps illuminate the way forward.

Sometimes it’s the founder’s entrepreneurial journey that attracts a tribe of like-minded people and helps get the company off the ground. In other cases it’s the team that triggers success… their past experiences, skill sets, passions or unique insights.

Sometimes it’s the product itself or the timing of the product launch that gives the company traction. Whatever the case may be, that brand origin story should be an important component of your brand narrative.

 

 

 

At BN Branding our clients never come asking for an origin story, but they almost aways need help with one.

When they come to us for a brand name and identity, we always start with the brand origin story.

When we dive into the heritage of a company, the reputation of the brand, and the past experience of the key players we often find the DNA of the brand hidden beneath the haze of time, growth and outside influences.

A lot of clients are just stuck. They have lost something they had when they first started their business, but they can’t put their finger on it.

That’s why it helps to go back to the very beginning.

Jim Stengel, formerly the Global Marketing Officer at Proctor & Gamble, gives many examples of companies that lost their way and had to look back to their heritage to find a way forward.  Discovery Channel, Max Factor, Pampers, Harley Davidson all had to look back to their origin stories in order to succeed.

“I’ve seen again and again, that the heritage of a business holds vital clues to the potential for success in the present and in the future,”  Stengel said.

“No organization can move forward if people don’t know what it stands for. And quite often, those core ideals get lost as the company grows.”

That’s one reason why origin stories are an important part of any company’s communication strategy.

Let me give you an example, and answer a question I get all the time about the naming of my own company…

This is the brand origin story of BN Branding…

It begins with my childhood crush on a couple of iconic brands. By the age of seven I was smitten was Tonka trucks and Schwinn bikes. I really, really, really wanted a Schwinn Sting Ray with the banana seat, sissy bar and a five-speed stick shifter.

That never happened, and I’m scarred for life from the years I spent riding a cheaper, embarrassing knock-off that my dad bought at a thrift store.

I’ll never forget the Christmas, some years later, when I finally got a yellow, Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. I had truly grown up… Way beyond the JV sting ray.

The other brand I was passionate about during those wonder years was Head skis. I got a hand-me-down pair from a racer friend of mine, and I was in snow-bound heaven. Head skis are the Schwinn of my winters, to this day.

Fast forward to high school when my infatuation with brands really blossomed. Classroom doodles were detailed recreations of skateboard brands and ski industry logos. I could draw perfect replicas of the iconic Rossignol R as well as the Sims logo,  G & S, Nordica, Marker and Sun Valley.

My Peechee was a well-branded work of art and those logos are forever etched in my subconscious.

In graphic arts class I channeled that interest quite successfully. I created logos for imaginary companies, silk screened T shirts, ran a letterpress, worked in the dark room developing my own photos and learned to operate an offset press.

I can honestly say I quickly learned a trade. In fact,  at the age of 15 I printed up a resume, walked into a local print shop and landed my first job, which I desperately needed to pay for my brand-name skateboards, brand-name ski gear and brand-name car.

bend oregon branding firm Origin BNBrandingThat print shop was not exactly what you’d call state-of-the-art. Quite the opposite, in fact.  It was an ancient, run-down relic of a by-gone time. It reeked of ink, acetone and darkroom chemicals.

But I loved it.

The big, hand-fed letterpresses were similar to what we had at school, but the type collection was dramatically larger… Row after row of font drawers, each one full of backward letters and punctuation marks just waiting to be magically transformed into wedding invitations, event flyers or business cards.

That’s where I developed a keen awareness of letterforms, x heights, leading and line spacing.  I learned to set type, literally… Choose a font. Fish out every letter. Set the spacing. “Lock it all up.” Hold the whole thing up to the mirror to check for typos.

Back to the drawer to replace that mistaken b with a d.

I developed an eye for how words look in type and I came to recognize inspired design work, true craftsmanship and high-quality printing.

I learned the hard way that graphic designers can be extremely meticulous, and that I’m a better writer than I am an artist.

But most of all, I learned at a very young age that image really matters. It’s was on-the-job training that serves me well to this day.

I had ink under my nails all through high school and college. My biggest take-aways from that experience in printing?…

1. The Linotype machine is one of the most amazing contraptions ever invented. (YouTube doesn’t do it justice.)

2. All the glamour’s on the front-end — in the planning, writing and design of those promotional materials. Not on the back end in production.

So in college I took all the advertising, writing and marketing classes I could. Then I took my Journalism degree and dove into a career in advertising.

I started as a direct response copywriter selling high-end goods for a company called Norm Thompson. In that environment money talks. Not art.

We tested everything, and routinely produced 25% response rates on direct sales letters to our house list. I learned that the right words translate directly into better response and more cash flow. It was the perfect training ground for a young copywriter.

I gave up the security of that position to pursue my dream of working in a “real” ad agency.

I worked in several Portland agencies where I did print campaigns, radio commercials and lots of collateral projects. (printed sales materials.)  That’s where I learned the magic of the writer/art director collaboration, the toxicity of dysfunctional bosses and the pitfalls of the advertising agency business model.

That’s also where I learned to write award-winning radio ads. (I discovered I had a knack for writing dialog that sounds natural.)

But that agency experience left a gap in my on-the-job training. I wasn’t getting any opportunities to do TV.  I didn’t feel well rounded, so I decided to take a career detour into corporate video work and direct response TV.

That’s where I learned how to write a video treatment and pitch a story idea. That’s where I learned how directors work and how valuable high production values really are.

After a few years of that my career path meandered in a different direction, to the small resort town of Bend, Oregon. It was a lifestyle choice that revolved around raising a family, so I hung up a shingle with just two clients.

What to call my fledgling little agency?

By that time I had done a half dozen naming projects, so I dove into the exercise with a fair bit of bravado, a blank pad of paper and the world’s thickest thesaurus.

I wanted something that would convey my USP at the time, which was an unusual combination of creative wordsmithing and insightful strategic planning. The work had to be creative, but also undeniably effective. So this name and tagline came pretty easily:

AdWords. What to say, and how to say it.

Short. Direct. Precise. Intriguing. Plus, the URL, www.adwords.com was available, so I snatched that up right away. (That was before URLs were the be-all end-all of corporate naming.)

The tagline, “what to say and how to say it” still rings true today. At BN Branding it’s strategy first, THEN execution.

Strategy determines what to say. Creative execution is the “how to say it” part. One without the other is like a Ferarri without a throttle.

So “AdWords” it was!

Over the next seven years I built a team and a substantial body of award-winning advertising work in tourism, technology, golf and real estate development.

Then, on February 10 of 2004, I got a phone call from an attorney who made an offer to purchase the AdWords brand name and URL. I thought it was a birthday prank from one of my buddies, and I politely declined.

But a couple months later he called back with a better offer. Then another, and another. He wouldn’t tell me who his client was, but it didn’t take a big leap of imagination to figure out it was Google. I held out for more than a year.

The windfall from that sale gave me time to write a book, start a non-profit children’s museum, reevaluate the direction of the firm, and rebrand my company.

Back to the drawing board.

As it turned out, the RE-branding process was much more difficult than my original branding effort.

As all Creatives know, doing work for yourself is harder than doing work for clients.

The cobbler’s shoe syndrome is rampant in my business.

First of all, I had to do some serious soul searching. I had to step back and take a realistic look at what the company was. And what is was NOT.

We never offered media buying as a service. That was not in our wheelhouse. So really, AdWords never was an ad agency. We provided creative services, and produced advertising in all forms, but it was more of creative boutique than an agency.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for someone who had dreamed of having an “agency.”  And during that re-naming process I wasted a lot of time comparing my company to advertising agencies.

In that world there are a lot of acronyms… BBDO, CP+B, R/GA, WPP, and even TBD. But I hate acronyms. I’ve never recommended an acronym while doing a naming project. Not once. I have recommended the use of the owner’s name, but never an acronym.

I’ve never seen a cool, start-up ad agency use an acronym. They all gravitate toward hip, one word names like Smoke, Dig, Preacher, Cosmic, Omelet, Stoke or Walrus.

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

The consensus on my team was, “No, nothing like that! That’d be off brand for us.”  So the thousand dollar question was, what would be ON brand for me and my team?

The reality was this:  It wasn’t just about me and my copywriting skills. It wasn’t even about advertising anymore. I had to let that go.

Clients were asking for much more, and our service bundle had evolved to accommodate those requests.

We were still delivering creative advertising work, but we were also working further up stream — doing brand strategy, marketing planning, small business consulting and account planning. It was a broad range of services that all fell under the broad umbrella of branding.

So it was decided… we would be a branding firm. Or a strategic brand consultancy. Or a branding agency. Something like that. But we still needed a name.

We kicked around a whole slew of options, including one that was just a symbolic letter. V.  Not V Branding, just V. That one was interesting, but a bit of a stretch.

We toyed with “Guidon” which was also interesting, but its military connotations caused problems.

Another practical consideration was corporate structure. I was advised to incorporate, but I already had one S corp in the family, so it seemed like a lot of unnecessary legal mumbo jumbo to me. Two corporate tax returns… really? Why not just become part of the family business?

My wife had a market research firm called BN Research, and there was some synergy between the two companies.

BN Branding. Hmmmmm… Seemed kind of boring, but it had a nice ring to it. Good phonetics.

So I put that idea in the drawer and continued down the rabbit hole that is namestorming.  It’s never easy… sometimes it takes weeks to come up for air.

In the end, those two letters kept rising back to the surface… BN, BN, BN.

So we started playing around with this question:  What else could the B and the N stand for? How could we attach meaning to those two letters and extend it into a campaign that has legs… something that would be graphically bold and completely different than anything else in the Branding niche.

Gary Vanyerchuck , aka “Gary Vee,” has built a brand around his hard to pronounce name. When asked about that, he said, “a brand name is not chosen, it’s made. You have to make something out of it.”

That’s exactly what we’ve done with the “Be” campaign. We started with a rather benign name, and built something memorable around it.

It started with two simple words: Be Iconic. That was the spark of the idea… They I said, what’s more iconic than the curves of Coca-Cola bottle?

Then came Be Inspired, which implies a broader role where we’re touching more than just design and advertising. We inspire entire teams, not just marketing guys.

Suddenly the name BN Branding didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

17 years later we’re still working out new ideas for the “Be” campaign. Those two green letters are now iconic, in their own right. You don’t even need to see the name or the logo to know it’s a message from BN Branding.

BN by itself is not an exciting name, but Be Iconic is the main benefit of working with us. Be Inspired is what clients are looking for. Be Nice is how we roll.

We’ve attached meaning to those two letters over time, and the more we repeat those, the stronger our brand becomes. BN is just a trigger for a much bigger, more meaningful idea.

Our clients can fill in the blanks. They can “be” whatever they want to be.

So that’s our brand origin story, and the answer to the common question “why do you call it BN Branding?”

 

 

 

So, what can the average business owner learn from the branding of a branding company?

• Naming is probably the hardest step in the brand identity development process. It’s even hard for professionals who have 25 years experience. Don’t assume that you can do it  yourself.

• Details, visual aids, and quality writing makes a big difference in the value of your brand origin story. Like any good story, it needs characters and conflict. It needs to ebb and flow… you can’t just go straight to success.

 • Look to the past for inspiration and a compelling brand origin story, but don’t hang on too tightly to what you thought you were. You gotta Be Nimble.  Circumstances change, people leave, markets shift, but brands endure.

• When evaluating possible names it’s often helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture. Get away from the word and the URL hunt, for a bit, and think big. It has to start with a big idea.

• Your company name is only one component of your brand identity. It’s important, for sure, but it seldom stands alone. It’s always “consumed” within the context of something else. You have to support the brand name, and make something of it.

• Names that may not seem all that great at first can become quite powerful as context and meaning is revealed over time.

• Context matters. A well-crafted brand origin story provides context for people, and can create greater understanding of your real value.

• Brand origin stories are especially important for service business and companies that revolve around a few, key people.

•  A good origin story can become the stuff of urban legend, told and retold to your benefit.

If you’d like some help exposing your brand DNA and telling your origin story, give us a call. We’d love to hear it.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About

BN Branding - BeNoisy
 

Here's what we're all about:

Our sole purpose is to help you succeed. Simple as that. Nothing gets us more fired up than seeing our clients achieve their dreams. So we contribute in three key areas:

Strategic Branding.

First we help uncover the DNA of your brand. Then we develop an honest, relevant brand strategy that drives all the rest of our services. It’s creative work based on a disciplined branding process.

Advertising.

Once the the story is mapped out, you need an ad agency to execute the strategy in creative new ways. You’ll get effective, award-winning advertising in all forms; print, TV, radio and digital. Portfolio

Marketing management.

We can help you navigate the complex landscape of modern marketing by prioritizing tactics and aligning all the pieces with a clear cut strategy that will move the needle for your business.

Getting started with a branding firm BN Branding

 

Here's who we are:

John Furgurson, CEO/ Ad Agency Creative Director

John Furgurson branding expert and bend oregon ad agency owner

John’s been called an anomaly… A creative guy with a penchant for business. A poetic entrepreneur.

He can devise an insightful strategy in the morning, and craft award-winning ad copy over lunch. It’s a left-brain, right-brain one-two punch that few marketing executives offer.

John cut his teeth writing direct response ads — where sales were the only litmus test of success. From there, he worked for several Portland-area ad agencies on a vast array of print and radio campaigns.

John also did a stint in the video industry where he wrote scripts and helped produce long-format videos and direct-response TV for big brands such as HP, Tektronix and WearEver.

John Furgurson CEO of bend oregon ad agency

Eventually, John moved to Bend, Oregon to raise his kids and strike that delicate balance between work and play.

His first Bend ad agency was named AdWords, which worked out well until Google decided they really, really wanted that URL.  So he took their offer and rebranded the firm in 2004.

Learn more about John’s origin story and his rebranding effort.

BN Branding has touched many of Oregon’s most iconic brands, such as Black Butte Ranch, Sunriver Resort, and Bend itself. John and his team have helped plan, manage and execute marketing programs for companies across the U.S. and Canada.

John shares his expertise regularly on the Brand Insight Blog, which he’s been writing since 2007.

Get to know him on the podcast of “Bootstraps & Business. Find John Furgurson on LinkedIn:

Mattie Limon, Accounts and Business Manager

We need Mattie like an orchestra needs a conductor.

Mattie is the master of social media, project management and finance.  Under Mattie’s watchful eye our operation sings along in relative harmony… Our creative teams can operate way more effectively and our clients aren’t ambushed with surprises.

Mattie’s very handy in the kitchen, and with a camera, which works out well for our food industry clients. Her good-natured approach keeps everyone on task, including freelancers, vendors and, yes, even the CEO. It’s a win-win.

Connect with Mattie on LinkedIn

Dan Franklin, Sr. Art Director

Dan Franklin, Sr. Art Director

Dan believes that subtle, aesthetic considerations have a pronounced affect not only on your brand, but also your sales. That’s why he’s been a key team member at BN Branding since 2018.

Dan has the uncanny ability to help translate brand strategies into gorgeous, relevant design work. His talents extend far beyond brand identity design into packaging, print, video, web design, signage and digital advertising.

But he’s particularly good at packaging design in the food and beverage industries. Over the years, Dan’s been the design talent behind many great food brands, like Reser’s Fine Foods, Boyd’s Coffee, and Eathos.

He sweats every detail. From the psychological effects of a color change to the usability implications of a specific website font, he works with the precision and care of a true craftsman and artist.

Erik Zetterberg, Web developer

EZ head shot for website

Erik’s our web master/programmer/technology consultant. Here’s how it usually goes with Erik…

We approach him with our initial concepts for a website or a digital advertising campaign. He tells us it can’t be done. No way. Then we go back and forth arguing the merits of the idea vs. the realities of HTML programming. (We’ll spare you the details on that.)

Eventually Erik goes deep down into some technological rabbit hole, and we don’t hear from him for a couple days. But he always emerges with a workable solution. Every time.

The results are stunning… Websites that look as good as they perform. Web-generated leads that actually lead to something. With Erik’s help you get higher conversion rates and analytics that your CFO will love. It’s better with Zetter. Berg.

 
BN Branding - Be Honest

Here's what we believe:

Successful brands have meaning beyond money. They’re built on a solid belief system and authentic values that attract like-minded people. As a Bend ad agency, BNBranding is built on these core beliefs:

We believe that words come first. Before art.

BN Branding is the only words-first branding agency. While everyone else starts with art, we focus on getting the words right. It’s semantics. That’s the foundation of every great branding effort… Distilling the idea down to a few poignant words that inspire great design.

We believe creativity is the ultimate business weapon.

Inspired, creative thinking is behind every great brand, from Apple to Zappos. We also believe that it’s hard to be creative when you’re up to your neck in day-to-day operations. Most business owners need a creative spark from the outside.

We believe strategy is a creative exercise.

Strategy drives the execution that produces results. If you have a me-too strategy, no amount of creative trickeration is going to produce the outcome you’re looking for. Creative strategy plus creative execution is a formidable combination.

BNBranding bend oregon ad agency branding process

We believe that process matters.

This is a service business, so how we work is often just as important as what we produce. For us, it’s insight first, then execution. Every time. It’s a branding process designed specifically to produce maximum results with minimal headaches.

We believe  every company needs a seasoned marketing generalist.

A generalist can help you navigate the entire marketing landscape and make sure you’re maximizing every marketing tactic you can afford. Something you’ll never get from a digital ad agency.

We believe in the persuasive power of disruptive words.

Fact: The human brain automatically screens out the normal, mundane language of most business pitches. It’s in one ear, and out the other. Creative, well-crafted messages, on the other hand, fire the synapses and trigger an emotional response. Here’s an example of great messaging from our bend ad agency.

We believe that emotion trumps logic every time.

Research it yourself… the latest findings in Neuroscience prove that people make emotional purchases, then use reason to justify the decision. No great brand has ever been built on reason alone. Not one. In branding, it’s what they feel, not what they think.

We believe the marketing mix is more important than ever.

The marketing landscape is evolving quickly. Social media provides exciting new ways to tell stories and make connections, but you still need a healthy mix of marketing tactics. Some high tech, some high touch. Some old school, some new school.

BE NOVEL

We believe in the glory of a good story.

Every great business has an engaging story to tell. So tell it! Hire an ad agency that can help you find creative new ways to spin that tale… in ads, on your website, in presentations, tweets and Facebook posts.

We believe in skeptical optimism.

As creative thinkers we’re naturally skeptical, but not in a pessimistic way. We question the status quo in order to move your business upward. Tell us that something can’t be done, that it’s too hard or too “out there,” and we’ll be positively skeptical about that.

We believe Design belongs in business school.

Tom Peters calls it “the soul of new enterprise.”  It’s Design that differentiates the world’s most valuable brand – Apple.  It’s Design that made Nest a billion dollar brand. Design evokes passion, emotion and attachment… all required elements of great brands.

We believe in the art of persuasion.

Data is a big deal these days. But effective marketing communications still comes down to saying the right thing, and saying it well. That’s what a good ad agency brings to the table… A brilliantly crafted combination of words and images that can move the needle. Here’s a relevant case study.

 We believe in the power of collaboration.

Ad agencies can be pretty possessive when it comes to creative work. But great ideas can come from anywhere. We don’t have a corner on that market, so we collaborate with you to uncover ideas and insight that we may never have thought of. Then we take that ball and run with it.


Here's where we choose to work:

Yep, it’s a Bend, Oregon ad agency, but we serve clients from all over.

They come from Toronto and Detroit. They come from Florida, California and even Costa Rica.  The fresh air, the beauty and the outdoor action in Bend is a mecca for creativity. It’s the juice that keeps the ideas — and the clients — coming.

Won’t you join us? We can arrange a rejuvenating, brand-building business trip that will inspire you – and tire you.

Bend Oregon branding company ad agency



Air Jordan Nike's brand narrative

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

brand credibility from branding experts

 

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

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

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

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

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

Nike brand narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Many of our beloved Portland Trailblazers wore Nikes.

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

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

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

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

Credibility of the Nike brand narrative.

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

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

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

Expanding the relevance of the Nike brand narrative.

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

Just Phil Knight’s type.

With every new athlete came more credibility and broadening relevance.

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

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

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

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

Air Jordan Nike's brand narrative

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

 

Where the Nike brand narrative just wouldn’t play.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nike was irrelevant to millions of women at that time.

Three words that change the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Nike Brand Narrative: Differentiation

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

But by 1990, Knight’s focus was shifting.

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

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

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

Michael Jordan in a Superbowl spot with Bugs Bunny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

definition of branding and brands BN Branding

6 good questions about branding agencies and their owners

brand credibility from branding experts

Questions always arise when people ask  me “What do you do?”

“I have a branding agency.”

“Oh, you mean like Coke, or like cattle branding?”

“Coke. Only smaller. We help the little guys become big-name brands. ”

Inevitably, that leads to even more questions. Branding is a broad, misunderstood term that often requires explanation. Our scope of work is far-reaching and always evolving, so I thought I’d help spell it out for you.

These are some of the questions I’ve heard over the years:

 

“Why the hell do we need a branding agency? We’re not a packaged goods company and we already have a logo.”

branding agencies do more than just package design

Brand strategy, naming and package design for Smidge.

Many business people think that branding agencies only design logos and packaging. So if they don’t have a product on a grocery store shelf they have no use for a branding firm.

That’s not the case.

Packaging certainly is a big part of our business. And we love building new packaged good brands from the ground floor, like we’ve done with Smidge vitamins and Eathos frozen foods.

But service businesses also need a lot of help. Maybe even more, because their offerings are intangible and often commoditized. For those companies, branding makes all the difference.

Like in the insurance business, for example. GEICO spent more than $2 billion on advertising in 2020. State Farm, Allstate and Progressive aren’t far behind. They’re all trying to bank some brand goodwill and top-of-mind awareness for the next time you decide to switch insurance carriers. It’s a low-involvement, no difference business, so their brand advertising becomes the only differentiator.

Every business in every category needs help with their branding, to some degree or another.

 

 

Branding agencies produce business magic BN Branding

“Do branding agencies have some sort of process that you follow, or is it just random magic that you’re pulling out of your hat?”

Sure, just about every branding agency has some sort of process graphic that outlines the basic steps we follow along the way. We need that visual aid in order to help set budgets and demonstrate that there is some method to our madness. CFOs always gravitate toward toward the process.

But quite honestly, those graphics are simply window dressing on what is inherently a chaotic, creative endeavor.

Volumes have been written about the secret to creativity. Academics try to deconstruct it, explain it, and wrap it up in context that business people can get their heads around. But at the end of the day it’s a highly intuitive, unapologetically unstructured process.

But it is a process, and it starts with good habits.

My team and I are in the habit of creation. We’re in the ideas business, so we come up with ideas every day, often starting in the early morning hours before we’re fully awake. We create, we iterate, and we throw away tons of crappy ideas. The more prolific we are, the easier the creative process gets and the more magic we create.

We also maintain balance in our lives so we don’t get burned out. Being outside having fun on the ski slopes, bike paths, hiking trails or golf courses, is also part of the creative process.

When it comes to naming businesses, we employ our own namestorming process that brings objectivity to a rather subjective exercise. It’s the hardest part of our overall branding effort, so every little bit of process helps.

 

“What’s the difference between branding agencies and design firms?”

Design firms approach everything as a visual exercise. Every problem has a visual solution. It’s very art oriented.

Branding firms approach things from a broader, business-oriented perspective. It’s more holistic. We do design, but we also work further upstream, on the foundational strategic work that informs the design. At my firm it’s strategy first, then copy and design.

Our job is to help you convey, communicate and build trust with your audience. Because trust is the root of all brand growth. To do that, you need words and well-written content as much as you need stunning visuals.

services of branding agencies like BN BrandingEvery business category has its own lingo. Food industry folks talk about SKU rationalization and store velocity. Golf industry insiders talk about coefficients of restitution and straight line frequency matching.

In the marketing business it’s CTRs, PPC, GRPs and UX iteration. It’s unfortunate because all the acronyms can be very confusing.

One of our jobs is to translate the industry insider mumbo jumbo into compelling story lines that anyone can decipher.

Ours is a business of creative reduction… we reduce down your messaging into its most impactful form and then serve it up in a variety of ways. It all involves design on some level, but it’s not limited to the visual arts.

The real magic is in the combination of all elements — words, visuals, sounds, textures — into a coherent, unforgettable brand experience.

 

“Do I really need a marketing consultant AND a branding firm? Seems like overkill to me.”

branding agency BN Branding

Marketing consultants are infamous for charging exorbitant fees and leaving clients with tons of data and impressive reports that never see the light of day.

Just about every client I’ve ever worked with has been burned by a “consultant” of some kind.

In a perfect world management consultants would team up with branding firms on strategy and then stick around long enough to see their vision through to the logical conclusion.

Unfortunately, that rarely happens. For 25 years I’ve been trying to find a management consultant who would like help implementing the consulting plan they just delivered.

Branding firms work all the way through, from early strategy development to execution. It is, without a doubt, the broadest, most all-encompassing mix of services in the entire world of marketing.

The best of the breed have serious consulting chops, as well as creative skills.

In a business filled with specialists, we are the ultimate generalists. We bridge the gap between management consultants and marketing tacticians. Art and commerce.

For smaller companies and start-up brands, that’s a good thing. We can work efficiently, leverage our skills and resources and save our clients money while producing long-term results.

 

“We already have a digital marketing agency. Why would we need a branding firm?”

Digital Marketing Agencies know a lot about technology, marketing automation, social media platforms and pay-per -click advertising. They operate deep in the rabbit hole of their respective specialties, like SEM, SEO or web programming. They can help you with some tactical planning and technical details, but they know nothing about persuasion, image and the power of a long-term brand strategy.

Producing clicks is not the same thing as producing trust.

At my firm we spent three years researching digital marketing firms. We talked to dozens and tested several before we settled on one. Now that company is an integral partner. Their technical know-how allows us to extend our branding services even further down stream, much to the delight of our clients who don’t have to try to understand and manage that digital world themselves.

It’s all part of one, big branding effort that’s led and inspired by us and executed by many.

rebranding - how to re-brand my companyWe help our clients sort through the endless array of “marketing opportunities”  in order to prioritize their efforts and remain focused on long- term strategic objectives.

Because let’s face it… there’s always something else you could throw money at, some new techno marketing platform, but is it really a good move strategically? Is is on brand, or are you just chasing short-term results at the expense of the brand experience?

Branding agencies produce strategic campaigns that play well in any media outlet, from websites and print ads to outdoor, digital banners and social media posts.

For us, it’s not about the form or medium, it’s about the idea. When you have a great idea it’ll find its way into everything you do. From a branding standpoint, that continuity is critical. What you don’t want are social media ads saying one thing, and your website and sales presentations saying something else.

 

“What kind of background do most branding agency owners have? Where do you guys come from anyway?”

I’m an anomaly among branding agencies. I’m a writer, not a designer, and I’ve held a variety of marketing positions which all led up to this. My origin story is unique, including stints in the video production business, advertising, marketing and even printing.

Most branding agency owners have had only one job title their entire lives:  Graphic designer. They rise up through the ranks at a design firm and then hang up a shingle of their own. They might be extremely good at design, but their scope of work is limited.

My broad experience and big-picture understanding of all things marketing is what makes BN Branding a better choice.  For us, it’s strategy first, THEN design.

Some owner/designers team up with copywriters or brand strategists to form their agencies. That’s a better solution for clients because it always takes a team to produce the best work. The real magic happens when an art director and a copy writer team up and collaborate closely with the client. We don’t have all the answers, but we know how to get you moving in the right direction.

 

Do I have to find a branding firm with expertise in my specific product category?

No. Not necessarily, but it is helpful when the product category matches up with the passion of the branding team.  At BN Branding we’ve done work in a wide variety of niche markets, and we pride ourselves on being able to grasp the marketing challenges for any business, quickly and efficiently.

Some people know us for our golf industry advertising. We love golf and we have a lot of insider information we can bring to the table.

Others are familiar with our work in the natural foods business or in tourism. But we’ve also done work for technology companies, software start-ups, medical practices, ecommerce companies and pet food brands.

It’s more about the match between the people than it is about a match of industry experience.

You have to find a marketing/branding/advertising partner who you’re excited to work with. Someone who can inspire, lead and push you when you need pushing. If you just hire junior-level specialists you’ll never get top-notch results.

 

Want to see some of the branding we’ve done? Visit our portfolio. And here’s the full list of services we can provide.

If you have more questions about branding firms, ad agencies or anything else related to marketing, click here. Or just be dialing. I’d be happy to take your call. Fire away!

 

 

naming your company BN Branding

Naming your company – Why is it so dang hard to do well?

If you conducted a poll of 100 people like myself who develop brands for a living, 99 would tell you that naming your company is the hardest piece of the brand identity development process.

Naming is way harder than designing logos or writing brand narratives. Naming a business is harder than naming a baby. Naming is even hard for us pros who have a proven process in place and 30 years of experience under our belts.

For many entrepreneurs, naming their company is often harder than devising the idea for the business in the first place.

I’ve seen plenty of people with a brilliant idea and a solid business plan struggle endlessly for a good business name. I’ve also seen cases where ambitious founders settle for the first name that comes along that’s available in dot com form. Both scenarios are less than optimal.

A good business name set you up for success like a favorable tailwind on a strong, warm current.

A bad business name is like a 10 ton anchor on a 20 foot boat. It’ll drag you down and make every other facet of your business more difficult. You’ll be rowing against the current the entire way.

 

 

Here are three good reasons why business owners have such a hard time naming their own companies:

Reason #1: They fall in love with their own ideas.

When people try the do-it-yourself approach to business naming it’s impossible to be even remotely impartial. They lack the perspective and the process they need to evaluate all their options.

bad ideas for naming your business

I’m not sure what this business owner was thinking when he decided on this name for a screen printing business.

Frankly, they are blind to the shortcomings of their own ideas and they’re just too close to it to make an educated decision.

Back in 2004 I met with an enterprising young coffee lover who wanted to open a chain of coffee shops called Thank The Goat. (Coffee was discovered by a goat herder who noticed his goats eating the fruit of the coffee plant.) He was so enamored with that origin story he couldn’t be open minded about anything else.

Needless to say, Thank The Goat did not give even one Starbucks location a run for its money. Want a good laugh? See the worst business names of all time.

Here’s another case I’m closely familiar with…

Three partners in an E-commerce company were so in love with their new brand name they pushed it into production before anyone fully vetted it with a trademark attorney.

It was not a bad name, but they wasted a lot of time and money developing a brand platform and brand identity around that name, only to find out it was not protectable.

Going back to the drawing board was very costly.

My company uses an 8-point grading system for name evaluation, and legal trademark protection is just one of the points.

choosing a name for your company BN BrandingThis report card approach forces the creative team and the client to look at all the “good” ideas from numerous different angles. It adds an element of objectivity to what is normally a completely subjective process.

Instead of relying only a vague gut feeling, we get a random sample of people to grade each possible name. Then we tally up the scores and let the client make a balanced, well-informed decision.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s way more reliable than the usual, overly-emotional approach that most people take.

Not only has this process produced many great brand names, it’s also helped many companies avoid the problems that arise when owners fall in love with their own ideas.

When clients see the grades on their names next to the grades for good, original names, they often see the method to our madness.

I know how it feels to struggle with a business name.  When I rebranded my own branding firm I found that naming my own company was dramatically harder than doing the same work for clients.

I had plenty of clever ideas, but I wouldn’t say I was in love with any of them. I went back to the drawing board dozens of times, and it was still excruciatingly hard to pull the trigger. Eventually I pulled in a few friends and advertising colleagues to weigh in and help me see things in a different light.

What they provided was radical candor.  They pushed me in a more practical direction… one that has played out well over the years once we attached meaning to our new name.  It was that outsider’s perspective that got me UN-stuck.

The fact is, the best brand names are the ones that create the highest level of disagreement.

When it comes to naming, polarization is a good thing! If the stakeholders are sharply divided — either they love it or they hate it — that’s a good sign.

If everyone agrees the name is  “pretty good” you’re going to end up with a boring, forgettable name. Time to go back to the drawing board.

The problem is, most owner/managers don’t know how to deal with so much disagreement.

A grading system sheds light on that division of preferences, and can help business owners make the difficult call.

honesty in political advertising

Reason #2: They’re not a whiz with words. They don’t have an ear for alliteration or an eye for typography.

Naming is the business of semantic invention. You have to make words up.

It takes a wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in disciplines that have nothing to do with business. Like Etymology. Art. Language. Poetry. Writing. Design.

Then combine all that with a savvy sense of business strategy. It’s a tall order that very few branding firms or ad agencies can deliver.

There aren’t too many entrepreneurs who would consider themselves well-schooled in those disciplines. If you are, great! Do you own naming.

But you’re not adept at the craft of combining words, letters, syllables and sounds in unique new ways, then you’re probably going to have a very hard time.

Your business name needs to sound good when spoken out loud, AND look good in type. It needs both audio and visual appeal. That’s what will make it memorable.

 

If a name looks great and sounds great, it doesn’t have to be literally meaningful or accurate.

That’s where a lot of people get tripped up… they feel the need to spell everything out. Better to find a name that’s suggestive, not literal. Then you can add meaning and context to your brand name with the identity design, a tagline, and your long-term messaging efforts.

Patagonia was named after a literally inspiring climbing location that Yvon Chouinard loved, but the word means much more than that now. It’s not about any one destination. It’s about the attitude, that passion and the lifestyle of getting out there.

naming your company BN Branding

Reason #3: Most people never lay the strategic foundation for the right business name.

Brand identity development doesn’t start by brainstorming clever names and searching for available URLs.  That’s like building a new house without a foundation. You might end up with a beautiful, architectural gem, but it won’t stand the test of time.

No matter who does the actual naming, there’s a lot of homework to do before you dive into the brainstorming process.

You need a deep, fundamental understanding of what the brand’s going to stand for in the long run. The brand framework needs to be spelled out, very clearly, and it needs to be based on real business. Not theory.  Otherwise, you’ll spend way too much time going down bottomless rabbit holes that lead to names that simply aren’t aligned with your brand.

So before you start down that deep, dark rabbit hole of brainstorming business names, give us a call. The cost of doing it wrong is nothing compared to the pay-off when you do it well.

Here are some of the names and identities we’ve done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About (old)

Smiles make sales. Disarm them with optimism, and build on a friendly platform of genuine passion.

 

Here's what we're all about:

We’re here to help you succeed. Simple as that. Nothing gets us more fired up than seeing our clients achieve their dreams. So we contribute in three key areas:

Strategic Branding.

First we help uncover the DNA of your brand. Then we develop an honest, relevant brand strategy that drives all the rest of our services. It’s creative work based on a disciplined branding process.

Advertising.

Once the brand strategy is set and the story is mapped out, you need an ad agency to execute the strategy in creative new ways. You’ll get an award-winning ad agency that can help you produce all forms forms of advertising, from print and TV to websites and digital advertising. Portfolio

Marketing management.

We can help you navigate the complex landscape of modern marketing by prioritizing tactics and aligning all the pieces with a clear cut strategy that will move the needle for your business.

Getting started with a branding firm BN Branding

 

Here's who we are:

John Furgurson, CEO/ Ad Agency Creative Director

John Furgurson branding expert and bend oregon ad agency owner

John’s been called an anomaly… A creative guy with a penchant for business. A poetic entrepreneur.

He can devise an insightful strategy in the morning, and craft award-winning ad copy over lunch. It’s a left-brain, right-brain one-two punch that few marketing executives offer.

John cut his teeth writing direct response ads — where sales were the only litmus test of success. From there, he worked for several Portland-area ad agencies on a vast array of print and radio campaigns.

John also did a stint in the video industry where he wrote scripts and helped produce long-format videos and direct-response TV for big brands such as HP, Tektronix and WearEver.

John Furgurson CEO of bend oregon ad agency

Eventually, John moved to Bend, Oregon to raise his kids and strike that delicate balance between work and play.

His first Bend ad agency was named AdWords, which worked out well until Google decided they really, really wanted that URL.  So he took their offer and rebranded the firm in 2004.

Learn more about John’s origin story and his rebranding effort.

BN Branding has touched many of Oregon’s most iconic brands, such as Black Butte Ranch, Sunriver Resort, and Bend itself. John and his team have helped plan, manage and execute marketing programs for companies across the U.S. and Canada.

John shares his expertise regularly on the Brand Insight Blog, which he’s been writing since 2007. Find John Furgurson on LinkedIn:

Mattie Limon, Accounts and Business Manager

We need Mattie like an orchestra needs a conductor.

Mattie is the master of social media, project management and finance.  Under Mattie’s watchful eye our operation sings along in relative harmony… Our creative teams can operate way more effectively and our clients aren’t ambushed with surprises.

Mattie’s very handy in the kitchen, and with a camera, which works out well for our food industry clients. Her good-natured approach keeps everyone on task, including freelancers, vendors and, yes, even the CEO. It’s a win-win.

Connect with Mattie on LinkedIn

Dan Franklin, Art Director/Designer

Dan believes that subtle, aesthetic considerations have a pronounced affect not only on your brand, but also your sales.  That’s why Dan’s been a key team member at BN Branding since 2018.

Dan has the uncanny ability to help devise brand strategies and translate them into gorgeous, relevant design work. His talents extend far beyond brand identity design, into print, video, web design and digital advertising.

But he’s particularly good at packaging design in the food and beverage industries. Over the years, Dan’s been the design talent behind many great food brands, like Reser’s Fine Foods, Boyd’s Coffee, and Eathos.

He sweats every detail. From the psychological effects of a color change to the usability implications of a specific website font, he works with the precision and care of a true craftsman and artist.

Erik Zetterberg, Web developer

EZ head shot for website

Erik’s our web master/programmer/technology consultant. Here’s how it usually goes with Erik…

We approach him with our initial concepts for a website or a digital advertising campaign. He tells us it can’t be done. No way. Then we go back and forth arguing the merits of the idea vs. the realities of HTML programming. (We’ll spare you the details on that.)

Eventually Erik goes deep down into some technological rabbit hole, and we don’t hear from him for a couple days. But he always emerges with a workable solution. Every time.

The results are stunning… Websites that look as good as they perform. Web-generated leads that actually lead to something. With Erik’s help you get higher conversion rates and analytics that your CFO will love. It’s better with Zetter. Berg.

 

Raise your right hand. Find your truth. Use it as a competitive advantage.

Here's what we believe:

Successful brands have meaning beyond money. They’re built on a solid belief system and authentic values that attract like-minded people. As a Bend ad agency, BNBranding is built on these core beliefs:

We believe that words come first. Before art.

BN Branding is the only words-first branding agency. While everyone else starts with art, we focus on getting the words right. It’s semantics. That’s the foundation of every great branding effort… Distilling the idea down to a few poignant words that inspire great design.

We believe creativity is the ultimate business weapon.

Inspired, creative thinking is behind every great brand, from Apple to Zappos. We also believe that it’s hard to be creative when you’re up to your neck in day-to-day operations. Most business owners need a creative spark from the outside.

We believe strategy is a creative exercise.

Strategy drives the execution that produces results. If you have a me-too strategy, no amount of creative trickeration is going to produce the outcome you’re looking for. Creative strategy plus creative execution is a formidable combination.

BNBranding bend oregon ad agency branding process

We believe that process matters.

This is a service business, so how we work is often just as important as what we produce. For us, it’s insight first, then execution. Every time. It’s a branding process designed specifically to produce maximum results with minimal headaches.

We believe  every company needs a seasoned marketing generalist.

A generalist can help you navigate the entire marketing landscape and make sure you’re maximizing every marketing tactic you can afford. Something you’ll never get from a digital ad agency.

We believe in the persuasive power of disruptive words.

Fact: The human brain automatically screens out the normal, mundane language of most business pitches. It’s in one ear, and out the other. Creative, well-crafted messages, on the other hand, fire the synapses and trigger an emotional response. Here’s an example of great messaging from our bend ad agency.

We believe that emotion trumps logic every time.

Research it yourself… the latest findings in Neuroscience prove that people make emotional purchases, then use reason to justify the decision. No great brand has ever been built on reason alone. Not one. In branding, it’s what they feel, not what they think.

We believe the marketing mix is more important than ever.

The marketing landscape is evolving quickly. Social media provides exciting new ways to tell stories and make connections, but you still need a healthy mix of marketing tactics. Some high tech, some high touch. Some old school, some new school.

bend ad agency BN Branding We believe in the glory of a good story.

Every great business has an engaging story to tell. So tell it! Hire an ad agency that can help you find creative new ways to spin that tale… in ads, on your website, in presentations, tweets and Facebook posts.

We believe in skeptical optimism.

As creative thinkers we’re naturally skeptical, but not in a pessimistic way. We question the status quo in order to move your business upward. Tell us that something can’t be done, that it’s too hard or too “out there,” and we’ll be positively skeptical about that.

We believe Design belongs in business school.

Tom Peters calls it “the soul of new enterprise.”  It’s Design that differentiates the world’s most valuable brand – Apple.  It’s Design that made Nest a billion dollar brand. Design evokes passion, emotion and attachment… all required elements of great brands.

We believe in the art of persuasion.

Data is a big deal these days. But effective marketing communications still comes down to saying the right thing, and saying it well. That’s what a good ad agency brings to the table… A brilliantly crafted combination of words and images that can move the needle. Here’s a relevant case study.

 We believe in the power of collaboration.

Ad agencies can be pretty possessive when it comes to creative work. But great ideas can come from anywhere. We don’t have a corner on that market, so we collaborate with you to uncover ideas and insight that we may never have thought of. Then we take that ball and run with it.


Here's where we choose to work:

Yep, it’s a Bend, Oregon ad agency, but we serve clients from all over.

They come from Toronto and Detroit. They come from Florida, California and even Costa Rica.  The fresh air, the beauty and the outdoor action in Bend is a mecca for creativity. It’s the juice that keeps the ideas — and the clients — coming.

Won’t you join us? We can arrange a rejuvenating, brand-building business trip that will inspire you – and tire you.

Bend Oregon branding company ad agency



Link/Advertise/Write for the Brand Insight Blog

Started in 2007, The Brand Insight Blog is one of the longest running, most credible sources of branding and marketing information on the web.

It’s no wonder we get dozens of blind requests every day from people looking to leverage that authority. Lots of people want to ride on our coattails and write for the Brand Insight Blog.

There ARE opportunities here — for the right brands.

But to be honest, we’re very selective about the brand affiliations we choose. Most requests are ill timed, poorly researched and completely worthless. This is our stock reply to most guest-blogging email inquiries:

I don’t know who you are.

I don’t know your company. You have no brand recognition.

I don’t know what your company stands for. You have no reputation in the marketplace. No cred whatsoever.

I don’t know if you can write worth a hoot. You missed a chance to demonstrate that you can. 

I don’t know if you have any actual experience.  Have you done any marketing, or just written about it?

I don’t know that you’ve done your homework. Nothing in this pitch proves you have.

 

research for branding strategiesSorry if this sounds harsh, but we have to weed out the cooks and the crooks and the hail-mary pitches from people who know nothing about the subject at hand.

On the other hand, if you’re a credible expert in the marketing or creative fields, and you have a unique POV to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Please use the Contact form to submit your story pitch.

 

 

 

If you want to write for the Brand Insight Blog:

Guest-post submissions are the most frequent request. I get it… a lot of writers would love to have our brand in their portfolio of published works.

And a lot of companies are looking for high-authority links in the B-to-B space.

The average cost for this type of linking-through-guest-post-content is $360. And SEO specialists charge three times that to chase down linking opportunities like this.

Our Guest Post fee is $429.

That’s if the article arrives well-researched and polished to perfection.
Our editing fee is $349. Payable through PayPal.

Here are some friendly writer’s guidelines that’ll improve your chances dramatically if you choose the guest-post approach:

• Re-read the stock reply copy above before you write your pitch letter.

It better address those issues head on. If you’ve never worked in the marketing industry, you better have some very strong sources you can cite.

• Read the details below about the Brand Insight Blog audience.

Demonstrate that you know something about this niche. Don’t pitch something that’s designed to appeal to “all women, 19 to 54.”

• Read at least five or six of our blog posts.

You need to get a clear sense of the Brand Insight Blog style and our areas of interest. Generic, regurgitated topics like “5 ways to improve your marketing” will never have a chance.

• Toss out anything that’s been previously published.

Every article on the Brand Insight Blog is original content. And 90% is evergreen. So avoid trends and timely posts that won’t play well five years later.

Please use the Contact form to submit your story pitch.

 

choosing a name for your company BN Branding

If want to advertise on the Brand Insight Blog:

You’re probably out of luck. As you can see — if you’ve read any of our articles —  this is an advertising free zone.

Our readers don’t want crappy looking banner ads popping up five times in every post. So we don’t belong to any of the popular digital advertising markets.

However, if a highly relevant brand comes with a very specific advertising proposal, then we’ll be happy to listen. We might even make an exception and create a premium position or a long-term sponsorship opportunity.

 

 

If you just want to buy a link.

Sometimes the whole guest-post approach is not worth the effort. Because let’s face, many people are only interested in the link.

So pick a very specific blog post that’s perfectly aligned with your offering. Then show us how you would like to embed your link into the article in an unobtrusive way.

If the brand affiliation makes sense, and if the link is well-placed within the right article, we will embed it for $249/year. Payable through PayPal.

 

If you want to License our content.

All content on the Brand Insight Blog and BNBranding.com are covered under standard Copyright Law.

Direct licensing agreements are available, on a case-by-case basis. Please call us, or use the Contact form for more info.

 

 

Get to know the readership of the Brand Insight Blog

Our readers are just that – avid readers! They’re not afraid to go deep into a particular subject when they believe it’ll help their business or their career. They are curious, well-educated and driven to succeed.

  • Small-business owners who feel they have to do some of the marketing themselves.
  • Professionals in corporate marketing departments, big and small.
  • Entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • Academics — marketing professors,  biz-school professors and entrepreneur program advisors.
  • College students and young professionals getting their start in marketing.
  • Colleagues in the marketing & branding business.
  • Graphic Designers and social media specialists.

 

1

Words matter! Why you need a tagline as part of your brand identity.

bn branding's iconic logoCadillac stole my tagline. Back in 2004 I wrote “Be Iconic” to support my name change from AdWords to BN Branding. That tagline was a critical element in my decision to go with that brand identity.

“Be Iconic” worked perfectly in context with the name and the mark. It has staying power because it sums up the benefit of working with us, AND it plays off the brand name.

“Be Iconic” was the germ of a much bigger idea that is still a wellspring of inspiration to this day. Now Cadillac’s using it as the slogan for the launch of its new electric SUV.

The line doesn’t work nearly as well for a car. I’m not going to worry about it. It’ll change, soon enough.

 

 

 

There’s a difference between slogans that anchor ad campaigns and a tagline written specifically for brand identity purposes.

why you need a tagline - brand insight blog

The new electric Cadillac. Photo Credit: media.cadillac.com

Slogans come and go. Taglines are more permanent. Let’s look at the lovely list of slogans that have popped up in Cadillac advertising over the last 20 years:

“Never stop arriving.”  

“Dare Greatly”

“Break Through.”  Not exactly a break through slogan.

“A new standard of the world.”  This one sounds like something you’d get from one of those automated tagline generating tools. Everyone at GM knew this one really sucked, so they “fine tuned” it over the years:

“Standard of the World.”  Removing two words didn’t help.

“A higher standard.”  This isn’t a tagline, it’s a bullet point pulled right out of the corporate mission statement.

And then there’s this twisted gem of boardroom nonsense, which I simply don’t understand at all…

“The penalty of leadership.”

In light of all those, “Be Iconic” is absolutely brilliant!

 

Quite often, companies need a tagline to hold the brand identity together.

Taglines are often overlooked by designers who are cranking out logos and by business owners who just want to get on with it. But  strategic message development should always precede design. In fact, ignoring the need for a tagline can be the kiss of death for any brand identity design projects.

Without “Be Iconic,”  BN Branding would fall flat.

Without “Just Do It” Nike doesn’t win the race.

Without  “Eat Fresh”  Subway goes nowhere.

Think about these four, iconic words: “A Diamond is Forever.”  That tagline has appeared in every single De Beers ad since 1948, and in 1999 AdAge named it the best slogan of the century.

It’s more than just an advertising slogan, it’s forever etched into the brand identity of DeBeers.

That’s the definition of a tagline vs a slogan: Taglines are for branding. They’re long-term, far-reaching and holistic. Slogans are more tactical and usually advertising-based, like “Be Iconic” for the new Cadillac.

Slogans often begin life as the headline of a single ad. Like “Got Milk?” “Mmm-mmm good” for Campbell’s soup.  “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” for Alka Selzer.

Of course the lines are blurred, as great headlines often become strategic taglines that are employed for years.

The classic, 1984 slogan “Where’s the Beef” effectively repositioned McDonald’s and Burger King, and increased same-store sales at Wendy’s 10% that year.  That one-liner also cemented the chain’s place in pop culture. “Where’s the Beef?” became a popular euphemism for anything that lacked substance, including politicians and pop stars.

 

Many people think all taglines need to be catchy and clever, but that’s not necessarily true.

Sometimes it’s more important to have a straight, descriptive tagline that eliminates confusion and defines what you do.

If you have an impressionistic logo, and a brand name that doesn’t really describe what you do, you damn well better have a tagline that adds clarity to the mix.

Sometimes a good tagline can double as an effective positioning statement that gives your business a tremendous competitive advantage.

For instance, in our rebranding work for Organic 3 Inc, our namestorming process produced the name “Smidge”  for their line of vitamins, minerals and probiotic supplements.

It’s a great name.. . friendly, a little bit whimsical and absolutely on brand. But it begged for a tagline.

The creative process doesn’t discriminate between taglines, slogans and headlines. It all fits under the umbrella of ideas. You don’t discard any of them just because they don’t fit into someone’s definition of a tagline.

The process of writing taglines often produces a tremendous bounty of headlines and big ideas that can sustain your advertising efforts for years.

While writing taglines for Smidge I actually invented a whole new market niche; Small Batch Supplements.

Advertising and branding of health and beauty products

The idea behind Smidge is infinitely extendable into all their marketing tactics. See more examples.

There were plenty of other taglines that were catchier, more creative, but none that worked as hard as those three words.

Smidge is the first and only brand that’s making Small Batch Supplements. And since they’re first to market with a trademarked product category/tagline no one can compete on the same level.

Ever.

As long as they’re willing to aggressively pursue all trademark infractions, they will have the market all to themselves.

That’s the power of a good tagline…  Those three words effectively reposition every competitor as mass-produced, so inferiority is implied.

That simple tagline sums up the Smidge value proposition and shifts the playing field to their advantage; Instead of competing in a big, generic, ill-defined category of supplements, they have their own sub-category.

That’s a textbook, blue-ocean marketing strategy, and it wasn’t delivered by some high-falutin consulting firm.

Just me and my team at BN Branding.

For our own branding, “Be Iconic” was just the beginning. That line is still attached to our brand identity, but we’re always thinking of new ways to leverage that original tagline idea… New variations appear in our digital ads, on webpages, in videos, on the pages of this blog, and in our email campaigns.

 

why your company needs a tagline BN Branding

Sometimes you only need a tagline and a logo. Great taglines work that way. Nothing else needs to be said.

 

you need a tagline for your brand identity BN Branding

Other times we add a simple graphic element and a few words of copy to drive the point home. We can help tell your story.

 

why your company needs a tagline BN Branding

If you’re launching a new company or changing directions significantly, you need a tagline and branded graphics.

Some companies need a tagline to compensate for a crummy brand name. 

The importance of your tagline is directly proportionate to the quality of your brand name. If you skimp on the naming of your company, you’re going to have to spend a lot more time on the tagline.

The brand name and the tagline should work seamlessly together to add a whole new dimension of understanding. Like Smidge – Small Batch Supplements. If the brand name was Giant, that tagline’s not going to fly.

If I owned this company, I’d definitely add a tagline… Something that dispels the notion of screen printing jobs gone horribly wrong.

One thing’s for sure; no slogan or tagline is going to save a dying brand, help a bad idea get off the ground, or generate repeat business for a lousy service.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “Nothing kills a terrible product faster than great advertising.”

Taglines can have the same effect on start-up ideas.

Approving a tagline forces the founders to do a lot of strategic thinking — soul searching even — that they probably skipped over.

One partner says, “Wow, that’s a really powerful line! I love that.” Then he turns to his partner and says, “You think we can really deliver on that?”

“Uhhhhhhhhhhh… I don’t think so. ”

So what you’re really buying with a good tagline is clarity about what, exactly, you can successfully deliver AND what’s going to resonate in the marketplace.

It answers the all important question: What are you going to hang your hat on?

A surprising number of start-ups are unsure about that until they see a tagline that sums it up. Sometimes it forces founders to re-program their software, re-design their product or improve a feature set. Other times it triggers a complete pivot.

In any case, it’s a creative process that triggers invaluable strategic thinking.

That’s why every company needs a tagline. Even if it doesn’t become an integral part of your brand identity, you’ll have the strategic messaging you need to see the road ahead quite clearly.

If you have any doubt about your current tagline, or if you’re starting something new, give us a call.  It’ll cost you a lot more if you don’t do it.

 

 

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Custom club fitting:  Path to perfection, or folly of the fragile golf psyche?

brand credibility from branding expertsOne of the hosts of an immensely popular golf podcast recently stated, on the air, that “club fitting is a total waste of time for most people.” It was the type of statement that boosts ratings and incites debate among those of us who do marketing in the golf industry.

His reasoning was pretty weak; “It’s not like real life,” he said.

But just because club fitting isn’t conducted on the course — with wind, rotten lies, competitive pressure and incessant heckling from beer-drinking buddies —  doesn’t mean it’s worthless. If it was, no one would be doing it.

The question is, does the average 18-handicapper, who forks over thousands of dollars for a club fitting analysis and custom club building, actually come away with a better game?

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Is he a savvy, well-informed equipment consumer who knows something the rest of us don’t know, or is he just a sucker, throwing away money on the great, shiny placebo of the modern golf world?

On one hand, a dynamic club fitting session is the only way to know, for sure, that you’re getting what you paid for. But as I’ve recently learned, it’s also an easy way to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on shiny new clubs that only produce miniscule improvement in track man numbers that may or may not translate to better golf scores.

Is club fitting a waste of time for people who do NOT play at an elite level? And what do you really get from a $350 club fitting session at one of the fancy new club fitting boutiques?

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here: I do branding, consulting and marketing in the golf industry. I’ve worked with several companies that offer club fitting services but this is NOT a paid post or a promotion of any kind. Just my overview of what’s happening in that business.

Basically, I’ve been drinking the club fitting kool-aid for more than 20 years, but what I’ve experienced recently really tests my faith. Even though custom club fitting is more prevalent than ever, I’m not sure that business is moving in a direction that benefits the average consumer.

One other thing:  I am not an equipment junkie. I’m not one to run out and buy the latest greatest anything. I hang onto my clubs, probably longer than I should, and I play more by feel than by data analysis. I play well to 9 handicap; but I was a 5, once upon a time, while playing with a set of Ping knock-offs made for me by a trusted old craftsman we called Uncle Milty.

It’s a story with more wrinkles than an Arizona centenarian and it begins back in the day of leather-wrapped grips and persimmon woods.

 

Lead tape and tinkering… The origins of club fitting.

marketing in the golf industryClub fitting, to some degree or another, has always been popular on the PGA tour. Arnold Palmer was famous tinkering with his clubs. He probably set his hands on more golf clubs than anyone in the history of the game. He was on a lifelong search for the perfect club, and said he never found it.

Palmer based his preferences on two things: how the club felt and how it looked. He believed that if it looked good, and felt right in his hands, he’d make it work.

Pros of Arnold’s era would add a little lead tape here and there, grind the soles, whittle the persimmon and bend the lie angles just so. It was more art than anything. They had no way to measure what they were doing; they were just eyeballing it and testing it on the course.

Trial and error.

That’s pretty much the way it was until the 1970s when Dr. Joe Braly added a little bit of science to the art of club fitting.

Braly was a fighter pilot, Veterinarian, aeronautical engineer and avid golfer who invented a way to sort shafts according to stiffness. His goal was to turn untested blank shafts into a matched set that the tour pros could trust.

To understand club fitting you have to understand Braly’s game-changing invention: The frequency machine. To this day it’s one of the main tools of the trade.

Frequency analyzers measure the oscillation of a shaft using a laser beam. The stiffer the shaft, the faster the rate of oscillation; the more flexible the shaft, the slower the oscillation.

frequency machine marketing in the golf industry BN Branding

Here’s how they work: Clamp the grip end into the frequency machine, then pull the clubhead back, let it go and watch the shaft oscillate back and forth.

The frequency analyzer counts the oscillation rate and displays it in the form of “cycles per minute” on an LED display. So Braly could assign a number to each shaft. He then built a set of clubs using only the shafts with matching numbers.

The idea caught on… Working with his son, Kim, they opened a repair van on the PGA tour circuit and by 1978 they had more than 100 tour players using their FM Precision Shafts. The two went on to start Project X and now KBS shafts.

The general public, however, didn’t see the benefit of Braly’s invention until a small, Idaho-based company called Henry Griffits brought custom club fitting to the masses and set the bar for every other company that wanted a piece of that untapped, unproven market.

 

 

 

The first consumer brand in the world of club fitting. 

I was first introduced to the wonky world of club fitting by the CEO of Henry-Griffitts in 2001.  Jim Hofmeister treated me to a tour of their facility and gave me thorough briefing on their unique approach to fitting and hand-crafting personalized golf clubs.

HG developed the processes and patented many of the tools that club fitters still use, and it was quite an eye-opener. The closest thing was PING’s color coding system, but that paled in comparison to what HG offered. It was a first in golf industry marketing. 

That was the first time I ever saw a frequency machine used to test the consistency of shaft flex, and I have to admit I was stunned. I had no idea that a “set” of brand name irons could be so completely screwed up.

They had a whole stack of reject shafts that were set to go back to the manufacturer. Hofmeister put one on the frequency machine and showed me the problem; He couldn’t even get a reading. Instead of oscillating back and forth, it just bounced all over the place.

That was lesson #1: The shaft manufacturing process is far from perfect. Discerning club makers who set tight tolerances for shaft flex consistency routinely send 15 to 25% of their shafts back. Every time.

Lesson #2: You can throw the labels right out the window. Shaft flex can vary dramatically from one club to the next within a set of so-called regular flex clubs. Especially when you’re talking graphite shafts. Not only that, every shaft manufacturer and every big golf brand has a whole spectrum of “stiff” shafts, “ladies” shafts and every other shaft category. And the spectrum shifts from one company to the next. There are no industry standards for shaft flex. One company’s “stiff” shafts is another company’s regular shafts.

Lesson #3: Lie Angles matter. If a golfer is playing with clubs that are way too flat or too upright, he’s going to adopt all sorts of bad habits in order to compensate for the mis-fit clubs and make the ball go where he wants.

As Hofmeister told me, “Golf clubs create golf swings.”

 

 

 

That look behind the curtain at Henry-Griffitts planted a seed of doubt in my head that will never go away.  Once you’ve seen a set of brand name, off-the-shelf irons tested and plotted on a frequency chart, you can’t unsee it.

So I left Idaho thinking “how can anyone trust the clubs they’re swinging if they buy right off the shelf? There’s no way the big manufacturers take time to test every shaft before assembly.”

When I returned home I contacted Andy Heinly, the local Henry-Griffitts guy, and went through the entire club fitting process. I was sold, hook line and sinker.

Upon delivery Andy confirmed the lie angles and the launch trajectory for every HG club in my bag, and that was before the days of the Track Man. He could tell, just by watching ball flight, that I got exactly what I paid for.

I’ll never forget how well I was hitting the ball after getting those HG clubs and doing a lesson with Andy. That was their secret sauce; They recruited and trained PGA teaching professionals to do fittings and sell their clubs. If you couldn’t teach, you couldn’t sell Henry-Griffitts.

It was a great way for PGA certified teaching pros to earn extra money and find new students. But with the advent of simulators and launch monitors, that model has fallen by the wayside.

Many people in the golf business today believe club fitting and instruction should be completely separated. Like church and state. Master club fitters do the best they can with the swing their clients bring on any given day. And they get very squirrely when a teaching pro encroaches on their rarified turf.

But here’s what both camps have in common; they’re trying to help build your confidence. Whether it’s with one new club, or a series of lessons, or a combination of a full club fitting session plus lessons, the end goal is the same.

I can testify to how that feels when it all comes together.

That buying process I went through with Andy provided the one thing that every golfer will pay for: Confidence.

I had confidence in the irons themselves, confidence in HG’s building process, in the fitter and perhaps even in even my swing.

It seemed like I was making a better swing with my new clubs. Maybe that was Andy’s expert tutledge or maybe that was just my imagination. It doesn’t really matter, because the confidence was real.

 

Golfers are drawn to shiny objects and we’re suckers for empty promises of more distance. We buy for completely irrational, emotional reasons and then conjure up all sorts of logical rationale for our purchase of those objects.

My first club fitting experience provided the ultimate purchase rationalization.

“Of course I needed new clubs honey, my old ones didn’t fit me. The lie angles were off and they weren’t frequency matched.”

There’s another subtle mental benefit to club fitting that’s worth mentioning… That little voice in your head that says “my equipment’s better than your equipment.”

At the amateur level If you’re playing in a tournament head-to-head against a guy with stock clubs, your equipment becomes a competitive advantage.

At the elite level club fitting is standard operation procedure. So you have to do it just to keep up with everyone else in the field. You can’t NOT get fit because you can’t afford any tinge of doubt about your equipment.

Doubt sells a lot of golf clubs, and it seems to be a key selling point for the new breed of club fitting operations. Doubt and the fragile golf ego.

Doubt is what drove me to replace my reliable HG driver after five years of good performance. Somehow I got it in my head that I was giving up distance by playing steel shafts. So on a whim during a trip to Bandon Dunes, I “upgraded” to an Adams driver with a lighter, graphite shaft.

If I had compared the two drivers on a launch monitor I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have made that purchase.

Instead, I spent the next five years trying to convince myself that it was a smart buy. Ego prevailed over buyer’s remorse and prevented me from cutting my losses and moving on. Even though I was missing more fairways I couldn’t admit that I had made a bad purchase.

Finally, a couple summers ago, I swallowed my pride and decided it was time for a do-over. The driver needed to go. I wanted that feeling of confidence again. Plus, I had a hankering for something shiny and new. I wanted an entirely new set. I deserved it.

Luckily I didn’t have to walk into a big box store completely blind and trust some random sales guy to fit me properly. I went back to my fitter/instructor who sold me my HG irons all those years ago. Andy Heinly now owns a golf shop offering all the big name brands and all the latest, greatest launch monitors to help gauge what’s best for me.

He adheres to the old truism in club fitting that says “90% of you are going to be better off with a shaft that’s more flexible than what you think you need.”

Plus, Andy knows my swing and he recognizes that I’m not getting any younger. So he put me in a set of Callaway Apex irons with lightweight graphite shafts that seemed significantly more flexible than my steel shafted HGs.

They felt weird, fast and easy to swing. But Andy assured me that it was the right move, and I had no reason to doubt his opinion. Besides, the launch monitor data confirmed that they “worked better” across the board.

But did they, really?

I don’t recall any detailed A-B testing on the dispersion pattern of the Callaways versus the old HGs. But I do remember that I was getting more distance.

Maybe I was momentarily taken by the age-old golf industry sales pitch of a few more yards. But I know better!

It’s common knowledge that the big brands have been steadily decreasing the loft on their irons in order to deliver on that overused promise. In his book, The Search For The Perfect Club, Tom Wishon calls it The Dreaded Vanishing Loft Disease. So that new Callaway 7 iron was probably equal to my HG 6 iron.

I was not comparing apples to apples, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was dead set on getting new clubs so those Track Man numbers fit perfectly with my pre-conceived notion of what I needed.

I only saw what I wanted to see. Heard what I wanted to hear.

Even though it was bit of a blow to my golfing ego I went with Andy’s recommendation to use iron shafts that were on the softer side of the “regular” flex spectrum. From that particular shaft manufacturer anyway. (Matrix Recoil ES 760/F3)

When my new set of Callaways arrived Andy took time to check the lie angles and confirm the launch parameters, especially with the driver. A quick click click with his handy wrench and my new driver was launching them quite nicely with a “smash factor” that was very close to perfect. I was getting every inch of distance I could get out of my swing speed.

marketing in the golf industry BN BrandingI started feeling pretty good about myself, especially when I realized I was wielding a 9 degree driver. That’s contrary to everything I’d heard about how most people need more loft with the driver, not less.

But the dynamics of club fitting are such that a 9 degree driver in my hands behaves differently than the same 9 degree driver for the next guy.

It’s the way I deliver the club into the ball, in addition to an endless combination of other variables. There are so many different variables involved, it’s ridiculous.

Wishon lists 21 different variables in club fitting, but he’s only talking about the measurable stuff that he can control, like lie angles, swing weight, shaft spine alignment, shaft torque, frequency, etc etc.

We can’t forget about the “real life” variables that the podcast host was referring to. Like “feel,” how the club interacts with the grass, and they type of ball you play. (He contends that hitting practice balls off a matt just doesn’t cut it.)

In real life my new clubs have been performing quite well. My handicap went down 3 points and I’ve hit some of the best iron shots of my life. And perhaps, more importantly, my misses have been better.

I had absolutely no complaints about the clubs Andy sold me until I started doing research for this article. The deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the worse it got.

 

 

Blinded by bling – and too many choices.

High-end boutique club fitting firms have popped up all over the country in the last 10 years. Companies like Cool Clubs, True Spec, Hot Stix, Club Champion and GOLFTEC didn’t exist when I bought my last set, so I was very curious to see what they offered.

The first stop was a master club fitter with one of the fastest growing club fitting chains in the country. It’s a “brand agnostic” operation, meaning they carry a dazzling array of colorful shafts and high tech clubheads from dozens of major manufacturers. One of the chains claims to offer more than 50,000 different possible combinations.

Perfect for the guys who buy golf clubs like women buy jewelry. For me it was more like mix and match till my head explodes!

After a nice warm up period and a couple quick questions about my game, the fitter fired up the Track Man and started assessing data from my 6 iron shots. 173 yards of carry from 82 miles per hour of clubhead speed. “Not bad,” he said.

With that data point established he headed over to the frequency machine. (He did not check the lie angles.) He tested three random irons and determined that 291 was the frequency number.

“Oh, these shafts are way too soft for your clubhead speed,” he announced. “These are like super soft ladies flex.”

All I heard was “Why are you playing Granny shafts?” “Those are so soft you couldn’t smash a rotten pumpkin.”

My head was spinning and my ego was bruised. The seed of doubt was firmly planted.

At that moment, if I didn’t know any better, I would be really angry with my friend Andy. But he’d never put me in Granny shafts. No way. Something was amiss.

I told the master club fitter that I was absolutely sure I had ordered regular flex shafts. Then I asked, “How could they possibly end up being Granny shafts according to your frequency machine?”

He said it was clear that I didn’t get what I had paid for. “It was the build that they did at Callaway,” he said. “They probably tipped ‘em wrong so they came out much softer than what the factory specs say.”

Oooookay. Never heard of that, but since my Callaways had never been on a frequency machine I couldn’t deny that possibility.

But the more I thought about that, the more unlikely it sounded. Andy and I confirmed the lie angle and the launch of each club after delivery. I’m pretty sure we would have seen some weird dispersion pattern or launch angle anomalies on the Track Man if Calloway mistakenly gave me a whole set of Granny-shafted irons.

In any case, I went along with the fitter’s assessment because I wanted to see what other nuggets of wisdom he might provide. Besides, there were all those pretty shafts to try out.

One that looked particularly enticing was $400. For one shaft. I opted to NOT test that one for fear that it would produce the best numbers of the bunch and I would be somehow morally obligated to buy the entire bank-breaking set.

As he changed out clubheads and tried different shaft combinations one thing became quite clear: the shot pattern produced by my Callaway irons was pretty damn good. The baseline was high. Nothing I tried that day showed a dramatic improvement in both ball speed and dispersion, relative to the clubs I already had.

The fitter told me, “Your driver’s fine. Don’t change a thing.”

He also told me that my Apex clubheads were very good, and were out performing many of the clubheads that we tried. So one option, he said, was to re-shaft my current Apex irons with stiffer shafts.

Not a bad idea, except that alone would cost me $1000 — if they generously re-used my existing Golf Pride grips. For $2400 I could have a whole set of the new-and-improved Apex irons with stock grips that I don’t like.

I was far from sold.

The track man data showed that I would gain one to three yards with my six iron. That’s not going to make one bit of difference in my scoring. No freakin’ way. In my book, two extra yards with the same dispersion isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or $20 for that matter.

So the good news was, my set current performed well compared to all the new options we tested. According to the Track Man data there was no compelling evidence to suggest I needed anything different. The bad news was, I was left scratching my worried old head regarding his comment about 291 being granny shafts. It was like a parent being told his child is “a little slow.”

At that moment of vulnerability and confusion I turned to friends and family for support.

Word of advice: Don’t ever ask your arch-nemesis for club fitting advice. Any concerns you share about your set of clubs will be amplified 1000 times. On every tee box. At every opportunity. Especially when you’ve made a couple birdies in a row. Imagine his delight when he heard I’ve been playing with Granny shafts all my life. I’ll never live that down.

So I was on my own trying to decide whether I should I stick with the advice of my trusted friend Andy and his Track Man numbers, or believe this guy’s interpretation of the frequency machine data?

Now at this stage of the story I’m compelled to explain, as briefly as possible, the numbers that club fitters attach to the frequency machine results. One article on Golf WRX calls it the biggest can of worms there is in club making, so I’m going to barely scratch the surface.

Remember how I said that each company offers a spectrum of flex variation within each label? And the spectrum varies from one company to the next…

According to that particular master fitter, a frequency of 310 cpm is what I need. He described that as “the stiff side of regular flex,” and he was quite sure about that. He showed me his frequency matching chart to prove it.

But frequency matching charts vary dramatically. One says 310 is “Stiff.” Another says it’s “Regular.” On several of the charts that I found 291 looked perfectly fine, falling on the soft side of “Regular” or the stiff side of “Senior.”

Almost every one of them showed 310 with a 6 iron is way out of my physical league. None showed 291 at the bottom of the chart in the granny shaft column.

So I asked Jim Hofmeister about that. “Every company does it differently, uses a little different numbers, and then they’ll turn around and tell everyone else they’re doing it wrong.” he said.

So if you’re an unscrupulous salesman whose only job is to sell a ton of high-end golf clubs on commission, you’d create your own frequency chart and show that to every guy who walked into the shop: The one that bruises his ego and paints a grim picture of his current set of whimpy, granny shafts.

And vice versa; you could show every lady a chart that paints her clubs as way too stiff and manly. Impossible to play with.

It’s like the psy-ops of golf industry sales strategy.

Luckily I had one more ace up my sleeve. I have a friend who learned how to fit, build and design golf clubs at McGregor, back in the day when Jack Nicklaus and many of the other big names were playing that brand. He worked with Arnold Palmer and many other tour stars.

I call him the club whisperer. You can blindfold the guy and he’ll tell you if you’ve hit it on the heel, the toe, or the sweet spot. He’s also one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever met. Everything he knows and does has been proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, over the span of 50 years in the business.

So I boxed up my perfectly good irons and sent them to Florida for his expert opinion. I specifically requested confirmation of the frequency numbers and on the overall “build” of the set.

What he found didn’t exactly align with what I heard at the fancy, boutique club fitting studio.

Frequency machine numbers club fitting BN Branding

The perfectly matched frequency numbers of my irons. The white area indicates “Regular” flex. The blue area is “Ladies” flex. Green is extra stiff.

 

First of all, he saw nothing that would indicate my clubs were built incorrectly or “not to spec.” Six out of seven were absolutely consistent with the 6 iron: 296 on his frequency machine. The five iron was the only club that was slightly off, and he fixed that by puring the shaft and reassembling the club.

Compared to the thousands of sets he sees every year, the club whisperer said that my Callaway irons were an A grade. “Those matrix shafts are really good,” he said. I hardly ever see any big issues with those.”

All of my irons fell within the spectrum of what he categorizes as “soft regular flex” or “Stiff Senior.” Grandpa shafts, perhaps, but definitely not granny shafts.

Whew! What a relief. Two out of three fitters said my current shafts are fine. I can put my wallet away.

His final assessment was this: “Most fitters would just look at your swing speed and say you need a slightly stiffer shaft,” he said, “but the only difference would be trajectory. If you’re not hitting it too high — If your launch angle numbers look good on the Track Man — then forget about it! I wouldn’t worry about the frequency machine numbers or the labels.”

Good answer.

While I waited for my Callaways to return from the club whisperer in Florida I decided to dispense with all the technical club fitting nonsense and just go play golf. My cousin happily offered to loan me an old set of Ping i3 irons, vintage 2000, that were gathering dust his garage. They had the original, crusty grips and steel shafts marked “stiff.” He was playing the odds. Messing with my head.

My first few swings with those eyesore irons were a little bit shaky, but after a few holes I was beginning to believe I could actually play with shafts as stiff as 310.

At the par-5 ninth hole I hit that crusty old Ping 8 iron to four feet. Made an easy birdie.

On the 11th hole – a par 3 – I hit 8 iron again and made birdie from 6 feet. Of course I did!

By that point the irony of it was laughable, to say the least.

Then, on the par-four 13th, I hit the most perfectly humorous golf shot of my life. It was that magic old 8 iron again. The one that seemed unfit for human consumption. This time, from 154 yards in the light, winter rough.

The instant the ball left the clubface we started laughing. It was dead straight, right at the flagstick. Even my nemesis was rooting for it. The ball bounced once on the front fringe and rolled straight into the cup. Dead center for eagle.

No amount of club fitting or over-analysis could possibly replicate that.

After all research involving launch angles, spin rates and frequency numbers, I hit, quite literally, the perfect golf shot with a crappy old 8 iron that fit like my grandfather’s suits.

What the hell!  I couldn’t have scripted a more fitting, more golf-y, ending.

 

Conclusions:  

So what’s the average struggling golfer supposed to conclude from all this? Here are my key takeways that I hope will help anyone who’s thinking of diving into the same club fitting rabbit hole.

 

The human element is the most crucial piece of the club fitting puzzle. It ain’t the track man.

That podcast host didn’t say anything about the biggest, most important variable all: The experience and skill of the fitter. Or lack thereof.

All the data in the world don’t mean squat unless you have someone well trained and impartial to interpret the numbers for you. The fitting technology is only as good as the club fitter.

I’m lucky. I have a club fitter who’s also my swing instructor. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years so he can read between the lines and piece this puzzle together intuitively. I have complete, utter faith in him. I doubt very many people can say that about the kid at Golf Galaxy who just sold you last year’s TaylorMade driver.

So if you’re determined to spend a lot of money on new, custom-made golf clubs, don’t just do a fitting. Shop for a fitter. Find someone with a skilled eye, years of experience, and in-depth knowledge of swing mechanics. Don’t settle for a salesman with a Track Man.

 

Take every number with a grain of salt.

I could have easily been swayed into a big purchase by one number: 310. That was the frequency that I was told I needed in my iron shafts.

Was that master fitter just gaming me into buying a new set of clubs for a ridiculously inflated price? I don’t know. I’d rather believe that it was an honest mistake; he just read the numbers wrong, or he grabbed the wrong frequency matching chart, or he didn’t clamp the grip quite right, or my extra-thick grips affected the read out, or the frequency machine was unclean or uncalibrated.

All I know is, his number was incorrect and I’m very glad I didn’t spend $2500 on a set of clubs based on that inflated number. I probably would have gone to my grave trying to make those irons work.

310 is not some goal that I should swing to achieve. And if you want to get even more confused, many fitters use numbers ranging from 3.5 – 6.0. You should only use frequency matching to identify faulty shafts and ensure consistency across the set.

Swing speed another misleading number that’s routinely over-played by inexperienced club fitters. There’s absolutely no way you can correlate swing speed to a specific shaft flex. The shaft manufacturers provide rough guidelines, but every person is different. Every 80 mph swing is unique. You have to look at the bigger picture.

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Sometimes, the problem really IS the club, and not your swing.

Faulty shafts are a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, you probably have at least one club, out of the 14 in your bag, that’s just plain wrong in relation to the rest of your set.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but it does take a different mindset to do something about it. Most people just blame their golf swing for any bad shots. Even though they haven’t hit a single good shot in three summers with that new 3-wood, they’ll keep trying to figure it out.

Regardless of how much you paid for that unruly golf club, take it out of your bag. Stop trying to make that one work, like I did for years with my Adams driver. It’s an outlier. Stop making excuses. Just get rid of it.

The fact is, even lousy golfers can groove a swing that matches the majority of their clubs. My friend, the club whisperer, sees it all the time.

“I had a guy in my shop just recently who was playing with custom fit clubs that were 5 degrees off on the lie angles,” he said. “He was trying like hell to make those things work. He didn’t have very good golf swing, but it was definitely consistent. And when he saw that ball going right every time, he started changing his swing to compensate. It went from bad to worse.”

You’re likely to develop a lot of bad habits trying to make mis fit clubs work for you. Then, if you get clubs that are more “correct,” you’ll have to UNlearn whatever it was you were doing to compensate. So you’re likely to get worse before you get better.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have a club fitter who’s also a good instructor. Guys like Andy can tell the difference between swing faults and equipment issues.

 

Don’t let ego and confirmation bias sabotage your fitting or your golf game.

We all have our preconceived ideas of what works and we like, but if you want to get your money’s worth from a club fitting session you have to be open minded and honest with yourself.

This comment recently popped up on a golf group on Facebook: “Just got done with a club fitting. Had to swallow my pride. No more blades for me.”

If a guy believes that he needs blades, or stiff shafts, he’ll find data to back up the belief and he’ll pretty much ignore any facts that are contrary to that. Andy sees it all the time…

“Even if a guy sees great data from the launch monitor; perfect launch angle, perfect dispersion pattern, perfect spin rate, he won’t buy if the shaft says “senior” on it. He stubbornly insists on what he wants, instead of what you know he needs.”

Skewed perception outweighs reality. Ego wins over common sense. But if you eliminate the senior label and show him the same numbers he’ll defer to the launch monitor data without hesitation.

Several industry insiders I’ve talked with believe they should do away with shaft labels entirely, but no one can agree on numbers that would standardize the process from one manufacturer to another.

So consumers like me are left to believe what the “expert” club fitter tells us. Or not.

 

The real value is in the placebo effect.

In reality, there’s no way a $400 shaft is going to be four times better than a $100 shaft. You’re not going to get 4x better dispersion pattern. And four extra yards with a five iron isn’t really going to bring your handicap down or make you a better person.

But it’s not about reality. It’s about perception. Belief. Faith. And confidence.

Who cares where the confidence comes from? If money’s no object, knock yourself out. Go ahead and pay top dollar for a very expensive sugar pill.

There’s no doubt that more and more golfers are interested in fitting, and the industry is stepping up to provide it, not only at high-end studios but also at a growing number of big-box stores and pro shops

But debate about the value of club fitting isn’t going away.

On one end of the spectrum you have guys who wouldn’t touch custom clubs with a ten foot pole. “When they show me a shaft that’s guaranteed to eliminate my snap hook, then I’ll talk to a fitter. Until then, I’m buying off the rack.”

On the other end you have people who have convinced themselves that their $400 driver shaft is radically superior to any $100 shaft and you’d be an utter fool to settle for anything less. “If you’re not getting fit, you’re crazy.”

I believe club fitting is quite useful, to a point, but I definitely crossed over into an area that falls into the realm of too much information. The more I researched it, the less I believed.

Club fitting, to some degree, IS important for beginners and high handicappers. Because if they’re trying to play with clubs that are way, way too stiff, or way too upright, it’s going to be very hard to see any improvement. And golf’s hard enough.

There’s also a clear benefit in club fitting for elite amateurs and pros. No doubt about it. They need every little edge they can get just to stay on the same playing field.

But for the players like myself, who fall in between, I’m not so sure.

I could spend an entire golf season, and $5000, futzing around with my equipment and never see one iota of improvement. It can be a costly, time-sucking endeavor.

I’d be better off spending my time on the practice green and my money on a good instructor. $1000 worth of instruction is going to get me much further than $1000 in club fitting expenses.

If you’re shooting in the 70’s or low 80’s consistently, chances are you could shoot similar scores with just about any set of clubs. Stiff, Regular or Senior shafts, it wouldn’t matter. You’d make some small adjustments, figure it out, and manage to score.

Or maybe even hole out from 150 yards, like I did with that old Ping iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2021 John Furgurson – BN Branding All rights reserved. Not for posting, copying or plagiarizing.

Packaging design — unwrapping a critical element of your brand

Management guru Tom Peters once said, “Too damn few of us take packaging design as seriously as we should. When we consider it at all, it’s nothing more than a patina… a little something on top.”

He was referring to CEOs and CMOs of multi-national corporations.

In start-ups and medium-sized companies packaging design is usually relegated to a graphic designer with little or no useful input. There’s no brand-narrative to go from. No big idea. And certainly no strategic brand platform that would inspire and guide the designer’s thinking.

But for packaged goods companies, the package itself is, quite often, the most critical piece of the entire branding puzzle.

Outstanding package design can stop people in the aisle of a grocery store and entice shoppers to pick up a brand name they’ve never seen nor hear of.  A great package can tell a story and connect consumers to the crux of a brand. It can create an immediate emotional connection and improve the experience of using or consuming the product within.

Great packaging can compensate for less-than-stellar branding efforts on many other fronts.

 

 

Here’s an example of surprisingly delightful packaging design from an industry that you probably never imagined: backyard barbecues.

packaging design story on the Brand Insight BlogTraeger is the original brand of pellet barbecues and smokers. They invented the category, and they’re the undisputed leader in high-end barbecues.

As you would imagine, these grills come in big boxes with a lot of parts.

Some people see the Ikea-like assembly process as a pain in the ass, but the folks at  Traeger recognized that and designed their package accordingly.

The first step in the instructions is to crack open a beer — the box actually provides cup holders for that exact purpose.

And when you’re all done, the box becomes a playhouse for the kids.

Not only is it unexpectedly great branding, Traeger’s new packaging is also good for the environment. They eliminated all the styrofoam from their boxes and improved their supply chain efficiency without increasing costs.

That’s where good design intersects with smart business, honest-to-goodness brand values, and authentic brand personality. 

I expect great performance out of a Traeger grill, and now, for the first time, their packaging is designed as well as their products. It’s what we call brand alignment, and it touches all facets of a business…

You don’t want your advertising saying one thing, and your packaging saying another. Or your customer service staff. Or your HR dept. Or your social media posts.

It all matters. Your brand is the soul of your company and it should be engrained in everything you do, not just in packaging design and marketing.

Business owners are challenged by package design projects, because they think it’s all art.

But it’s not. It’s time to change your perspective on package design.

Packaging design is only 1/3 art. It’s also 1/3 brand strategy and 1/3 operations. It’s a holistic mind meld of art, science and business. Ignore any part of it at your own peril.

Most business owners just go with what looks cool, hip, colorful or trendy. Or even worse, they go with what they personally find personally appealing. They’re not able to separate their own, personal aesthetic tastes from a wise marketing decision.

But that’s kinda like asking your husband to decorate your living room — complete with carpet, drapes, furniture and art on the walls. Not much chance of it all coming together perfectly.

Packaging design is way harder, and way more important that what your living room looks like. Re-branding is much harder than re-painting.

Packaging design BN BrandingIn the 1986, after CocaCola went through their misguided “New Coke” marketing debacle, they managed to regain a bit of goodwill by going back to the old, curved coke bottle shape that they had abandoned in the U.S.

It was a nod to the history of the brand, and to better times. They knew they could always fall back on that iconic package.

That shape, all by itself, conjures up all sorts of positive brand affiliations. It connects generations of consumers to a cultural, national ethos that really meant something to them.

Is your package making any kind of connection with people? What is it saying? Does it evoke any sort of positive emotion or is it just pissing people off?

How many times have you been frustrated by packaging over-kill and those annoying, plastic clamshells that no one can open without the use of vice grips and a Sawsall? All from companies that claim to be environmentally aware.

Nowhere is package design more important than in the aisle of the grocery store.

Modern American grocery stores offer a mind-numbing plethora of choices in any category.

I can’t just run into the store and pick up a six pack of beer. I have to stand there and ponder… Do I want a light ale, dark ale, IPA or stout? Local micro-brew, import or regional brewery?

Do I want something light that my wife will also like? If so, that narrows the choices to only 20 or so. Hazy IPA or clear IPA? How many IPAs do we really need?

Am I really worthy of this Arrogant Bastard Ale? It says on the package that I’m not. I don’t know. I’m so confused! Oh dear God, how long can I stand here before I start looking like a completely clueless beer idiot?

Screw it… I’m just going to grab what I always get.

That’s what shoppers go through every day, in every aisle of the grocery store. Thankfully, great packaging can clear up a lot of that confusion and help paralyzed beer buyers or tooth paste pickers make a relatively safe, informed purchasing decision.

The first job of the package design is to catch the shopper’s eye and get her to pick up your package.

If she touches yours, instead of the competitor that’s sitting right next door, you’ve won half the battle. Then she needs a reason to turn it over and read more. In the process, she’ll make the decision to buy or not to buy.

It’s not a rational decision, it’s an emotional one.

That’s why design can have such a tremendous influence… aesthetics alone can turn the tables.

There are many other, completely unrelated reasons why she might choose you. In “Why We Buy” Martin Lindstrom points out that unconscious personal rituals, family routines and even superstitions can have a huge influence.

It could be status or belonging that she’s longing for. Or simply risk avoidance, like my choice in beer.

Or maybe it’s just familiarity that triggers an impulse purchase… The stronger the brand, the better she feels and the more likely she is to buy.

If it’s aligned properly, your packaging design is the tactile incarnation of the brand’s mythic storytelling.

It brings the subconscious to the surface and connects the dots for people who may have been exposed to the brand through social media, advertising or public relations.

Like this package my firm recently did for a new frozen food brand, Eathos.

The name we came up with, the tagline, the package design and the brand narrative are all aligned because we did the strategy work up front. We laid the foundation of the brand story long before we started designing anything.

George Lois, the great advertising art director famously said that design projects should always start with the words. That word, or phrase, is the big idea in a nutshell, and that’s the basis for the brilliant communications that help establish iconic brands.

A good example is the story of Tazo Tea. When Steven Lee and his partners launched that brand it was story first, all the way. The myth, and the packaging that went with it, enabled them to stake out a leadership position almost from the get-go. The words led the way.

Facts tell. Stories sell. And the fact is, your packaging deserves a lot more attention than you’re probably giving it.

As Peters says, “Even the most mundane, humdrum product can be revolutionized by a mindful approach to design and packaging. ”

So this the year. Give us a call and let’s start a dialog about the story behind  your brand. Then, and only then, we’ll talk packaging.

 

 

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