Category Archives for "brand management"

Advertising in a crisis: Shit happens, but brands endure.

brand credibility from branding expertsEvery entrepreneur experiences setbacks… Markets crash. Key team members leave with your biggest accounts. There are supply-chain snaffus, natural disasters, and now, a novel virus that slams the door on a robust economy. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re advertising in a crisis, but this is when your branding efforts can really pay off.

All the work you’ve done over the years to stay visible and be a responsible, authentic brand will pay off in spades when times are tough.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that a nicely designed logo is going to make you magically immune from the business fallout of the Corona virus. (Logo is NOT synonymous with Brand and everyone will be affected)

brand credibilityI’m just saying that iconic brands are going to be more insulated — and more likely to survive — than the companies that haven’t been paying attention to branding.

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and when people are unsure, scared or threatened, they want to be comforted.

It’s human nature.

We cling to what’s familiar, and we want an escape from the UNknown. We narrow our choices dramatically and don’t entertain new options. We buy Campbell’s soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches. We re-watch lighthearted TV shows from by-gone days to make ourselves feel grounded. Better.

So being known — ie. maintaining top of mind awareness during good times — is crucial in this situation. The best brands know this, and maintain a presence all the time. In good times and bad. They don’t wait for disaster to strike, they’re communicating with people all along. That’s what breeds fondness and familiarity,

If you’ve been invisible in your market you need to be very careful about launching a knee-jerk reaction ad campaign right now. Especially if your ads start with “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need a new Kia.
Now, more than ever, you need to refinance your house.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a lot of Kirkland brand toilet paper.

We saw thousands of fill-in-the-blank ads like that during the crash of 2009, and the same thing’s beginning to pop up on social media, in email campaigns, and on the airwaves. Cliches like that are NOT going to help your brand. They just add to the clutter and fuel the fear. So if you are going to run advertising during a crisis, it better be a complete departure from that.

So this is a good time to step back and re-evaluate the tone, content and context of your brand messages.

Advertising during a crisis should not be business as usual. It makes for bad optics.

Take Kia for instance, the automotive king of “yell and sell” advertising. They’ve established clear leadership in top-of-mind awareness, but it would probably be wise for them to stop running their current advertising that screams “Credit, come and get it.” “Credit, come and get it.””Credit, come and get it.”

More debt is the LAST thing people need right now. Sometimes the best ad strategy is knowing when to shut up!

It’s almost as bad as running TV spots for a “fire sale” when there are forest fires burning all over the West. It sounds dreadfully callous, given the current state of affairs. (I wonder who decided that predatory lending practices should be a key brand attribute for Kia, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Any advertising that attempts to capitalize on the world’s misfortune will be seen for what it is: Cheap profiteering. If you’re not careful, the public will forever associate your brand with the outbreak of 2020 and will never buy into any messaging you attempt in the future.

But when it’s done well, advertising during these “slow” times can help you reach more people and solidify relationships. Media consumption is up, while most companies are pulling back, ducking the exposure.

So if your message is human, heartfelt and kind you have a real opportunity to differentiate yourself. (And ad rates are lower than normal!)

But you can’t pull a Kia-style hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t sell at all. This is not the time to persuade, it’s the time to reassure without asking for anything in return. Just stay aligned with your brand brand values and communicate what’s important, right now.

This is new territory…  even the most hardened business veterans haven’t faced anything quite like this. It’s going to leave a mark on us all, if not a festering wound.

So I’m not going to serve up platitudes like “It’s going to be okay” or “This too shall pass.” I’m sure as hell not going to say you need more advertising during a crisis or “now more than ever you need a branding firm.”

But I will share one of my favorite sayings… it’s an old Japanese proverb:

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

If you don’t know how to proceed and would like some advice, even for the short term, give me a call. We can do a quick assessment and help you devise a smart response to all the mayhem.

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBranding

Brand credibility killers — 5 things guaranteed to set off my BS detector

brand credibility from branding expertsAll great brands share three traits : Relevance, Credibility and Differentiation. It’s like a three-legged stool of success. Today we’re going to focus on credibility, or lack thereof.

Many successful businesses are built around commodities or me-too products, with basically no differentiation. And you can build a trendy business on short-term relevance and one-time transactions. But you can’t build a brand that way.

By definition, Brands require loyalty. And without some degree of credibility, you’ll never establish a loyal following.

So you can’t build a brand without credibility.

And once you’ve established credibility in your niche, you have to work really hard to maintain it. Because a lot of little things can whittle away at that leg of the stool, until you fall on your ass.

So let’s look at some things that can kill brand credibility.

brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBrandingWhile our tolerances vary, everyone is sensitive to marketing bullshit. Consumers are quick to call you out on anything that looks like it, sounds like it, or smells like it.

P. U!

So here are a few things that trigger my own BS detector. I’m talking about business practices, marketing tactics and common oversights that alert, annoy and turn-off prospective customers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a nose for this stuff.

Brand Credibility Killer #1:  A crappy product or service.

The single most important contributor to brand credibility is the product or service you deliver everyday. The work has to speak for itself. Credibility needs to be built in.

Doesn’t matter if you position yourself as a credible “thought leader” in your industry if the product you put out is a stinky, second-rate knock-off.

What you DO carries far more weight than what you SAY.

So if you’re concerned about your credibility in the marketplace, don’t start with a content marketing initiative. Start with a product improvement initiative.  Then build a story around that.

Killer #2: Too many “yeah buts.”

This one is closely related to cred killer #1. Anytime I hear the a lot of  “yeah buts” from a business owner or salesperson, I know it’s more than just a credibility problem. It’s either an issue with the product or the fundamental business strategy.

You often hear it from enthusiastic entrepreneurs who are trying to raise money to get a half-baked idea off the ground with no go-to-market strategy.

A potential investor says, “Wow, that’s a really crowded category with a lot of big-name brands slugging it out for market share.”

“Yeah, but we’re different.”  “Yeah, but they’re too big to capitalize on this opportunity. We’re more nimble.” “Yeah, but our mousetrap is better.”

There’ no way you’re going to establish brand credibility if you’re always making up excuses, playing defense and using “yeah-buts” on a regular basis.

My favorite — from the natural foods industry — is the flavor yeah-but.  I’ve heard this one when companies are fighting for retail shelf space or distribution deals.

The buyer diplomatically delivers the bad news: “Your flavor profile just isn’t up to par in this category.”

“Yeah, but our product is chock full of nutrients.” “Yeah, but ours doesn’t have any additives or fillers.” “Yeah, but ours is Keto!”

Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t taste good.

Do whatever you have to do to eliminate all the yeah-butts from your marketing pitch.

Brand credibility killer #3: Gross exaggerations and/or flat out lies.

Nothing triggers the human defense mechanisms faster than blanket statements and bold-faced lies. You’d be amazed how many companies routinely con people.

The industry I’m in — marketing services — is crowded with inexperienced people scrambling to establish brand credibility.  Self-proclaimed “experts” will hype up the latest “marketing strategy”  and proclaim that “This is it! This is the holy grail of marketing! You’ll never need anything else.”

Then, a few months later, it’s something else entirely.

By chasing the shiny object and short-term sales, they sabotage their own credibility.

One big-name marketing consultant says, flat-out, “there’s no such thing as a visual product.” He contends you don’t have to show what you’re selling, just write about it.

brand credibilityThat’s nonsense, of course.

If that were true there would be no fashion industry and every automobile would have the design aesthetic of a Pontiac Aztek.

Other experts stick to the old adage: “A picture’s worth a thousand words” and insist on a visually-driven advertising for every product under the sun.

That’s not the answer either.

The truth is,  you need visual, written and oral brand messages.  And the marketing mix depends…  It depends on your product or service. It depends on your audience. It depends on the medium. It depends on what the competition is doing.

There are infinite variables.

Blanket statements, pat answers and guaranteed systems simply don’t help the brand credibility of any professional services firm. Your credibility, online reputation, and brand authenticity will be better served by simply admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

Confident, credible companies aren’t afraid to say  “we don’t have the answer for you yet, but we’ll sure find out.” That means they’re genuinely listening, and they’re working with your best interest at heart.

That’s far better than forcing everyone into the same “my way or the highway” mentality.

Killer #4: Ridiculously lower prices.

I’m not an expert on pricing strategy, but I know a stinker when one wafts across my computer screen.

Every time my firm buys another URL  or files another Trademark application we get boatloads of junk mail offering us ways to make that new brand successful.

Like the crowd-sourced “brand logos” for $79.

The sure-fire product launch formula for $29.

“Expertly-written” website content and blog articles for only $12.95

Many of those offers are just too good to be true.

Everybody loves a good bargain, but when I see someone claiming to provide a 1-minute explainer video complete with scriptwriting, animation, editing, sound and talent, for $168, I just laugh.

And it’s not a nice laugh. It’s a scoffing, “no fn’ way” laugh that says you have absolutely no credibility and no chance of making a sale. The ridiculously low price pegs the service as schlocky, unprofessional and downright worthless.

So make sure your pricing is aligned with your competitors, to some degree or another. You gotta be on the same playing field, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. Let someone else jump on that race to the bottom.

Brand Credibility Killer #5: The faceless website.

more effective advertising from BNBranding

No one wants to do business with a faceless corporation or a shell company. And yet, everyday I run across another ecommerce company that’s selling stuff online with absolutely no hint of who’s behind the curtain.

No “about us” page. No blog. No social media links. No background, history or purpose, other than making a few bucks.

I made the mistake of buying something on a site like that. Once.

Unless you’re a felon selling counterfeit fashion items, you need to have some sort of content up on your site that shows who you are and what your company is all about.

Even if it’s just a side hustle, it needs a face,  a brand personality, and a story of some sort. If you think you have nothing to say, be honest about that. Own it.  Even a boring story is better than no story at all.

So, if you want to build a credible brand, here’s the plan:

  1. Build a great product or service that people will want to talk about.
  2. Eliminate all the “yeah buts” from your marketing language. No excuses.
  3. Set your prices strategically, with your purpose and position in mind. Don’t race to the bottom.
  4. Be honest. Stop making blanket statements and bullshit offers.
  5. Put a face to the company. Make it human. Give it some personality.

Oh, and I almost forgot… do what you say you’re going to do. If you don’t do that, routinely, the rest of it won’t matter.

Get more on truth in advertising.

Learn about brand integrity and truth in natural foods marketing.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

Branding the Olympics – leading by example in sports marketing

brand credibility from branding experts

 

In the world of sports marketing one event rises above the competition in terms of branding and worldwide audience appeal… the Olympics.

If you’re thinking of sponsoring a sporting event, signing an athlete as as spokesperson, or marketing your own sporting event, you can learn a lot by studying what the International Olympic Committee does.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be built, and a sub-brand to be designed and marketed.

No other brand in sports marketing can match the symbolic power of those five, multi-colored Olympic rings. One could argue that the Olympics, in fact, is one of the world’s strongest, most meaningful brands. Here’s why:

• Differentiation: The Olympics are dramatically different than any other sporting event.

If you’re marketing any kind of event it better be differentiated from all the other events that are vying for people’s time and attention.

The Masters at Augusta National is different than any other golf tournament. The IronMan Triathalon is different than any other endurance race. LeMans is different than any other car race. And the Olympics are compellingly different:

• More variety.  There’s something for everyone during the two-week span of the Olympics, from mainstream running events and soccer games to exotic, high-adrenalin sports like skeleton and common household games like badminton and table tennis. There’s something uniquely engaging about watching garage games performed at such a high level. Everyone’s played ping pong, but not like they do in the Olympics.

• The Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup. There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they pay hundreds of millions for sponsorship rights, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand at the track, or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

• Authenticity: Branding the Olympics so they mean something beyond just winning.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But the brand goes much deeper than that.

Branding firm BNBrandingOlympic competitors take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event.

They willingly put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central theme of the Olympic brand. Even though the line between amateur sports and professional sports is now blurred, it’s still relatively pure.

Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are professional track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.

The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA or NFL.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

The 2012 London games was the most-watched television event in U.S. history. 40 million Americans watched the opening ceremonies, and NBC’s primetime broadcast averaged 31.1 million viewers a night for a total of 219.4 million viewers. Worldwide, the estimated number was 900 million viewers, according to Reuter’s.

At the Rio Games in 2016 342 million people worldwide watched the opening ceremonies.

By comparison, the most-watched Super Bowl was the 2015 match up between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. That game drew 114.4 million viewers in the U.S., and an estimated 30-50 million internationally.

In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.

• Brand Credibility:  A gold-medal history of unscripted, authentic storylines of ordinary people.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregon

Bend, Oregon’s hometown hero, Ashton Eaton. Decathalon Champ dubbed the world’s greatest athlete.

It’s always interesting when superstars like Tom Brady or LeBron James win another championship. But those guys are from another planet.

Olympic athletes, and their stories, are far more relatable and compelling for the average Joe or Mary at home.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment.

At The Olympics the narrative remains consistent: National pride. Lifelong dreams of glory. Individual triumph over adversity.

Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature.

But not every Olympic story is positive. There has been plenty of heartbreak and unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996.

The 2010 Vancouver Games started with a fatal crash in during luge training. And now, for the first time since World War II, a complete postponement of the Games, thanks to COVID 19.

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0But every time the Games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002.  As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

•  Branding The Olympics — how the games remain relevant after more than 100 years.

There have been hundreds of iconic moments in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Jesse Owens winning Gold in Berlin, in 1936, with Hitler in the stands. Micheal Phelps, with 23 gold medals. The U.S. win over Russia in hockey in 1980.

The stories are what keep the games relevant.

I’m a big fan of the Winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since.

Back then, Klammer’s gold medal run in the downhill was the biggest thing in adrenalin sports. But these days, you have  the X Games, all sorts of hair-raising Red Bull events and a constant barrage of edits on YouTube to pull attention away from Olympic sports.

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

The Olympics has adapted, and upped its game to keep pace. They added snowoarding events and freestyle jumping, and wisely cut some of the most boring stuff, like the compulsary figures in ice skating.

No doubt about it, there’s plenty of danger in the Olympics.

Try plunging head first down an icy, serpentine track on a sled, at 70 miles per hour, like they do in the Skeleton competition.

Try throwing a quadruple-twisting triple flip on skis.

But that’s not what draws so many viewers or corporate sponsors year after year. It’s the mix of danger and artistry. The skill of an archer and the brute strength of a weight lifter.  It’s the juxtaposition of a 7-foot basketball player parading in next to a tiny little gymnast. It’s small, African nations contending with the big, powerhouse countries.

That’s why the Olympic brand is what it is.

For more marketing lessons on brand credibility, try this post on the Brand Insight Blog.

 

 

1 bank branding on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBranding

Is “Inspiring Bank” an Oxymoron? The Branding of Umpqua Bank

It’s interesting, where people find business inspiration. For some, it’s the pages of Forbes or podcasts with big-name entrepreneurs. For me it’s the bookstore, or conversations with clients. I don’t think anyone looks at bank branding as a source of inspiration.

bank branding on the brand insight blogMost banks are not known for their inspiring interiors or creative marketing practices. The most exciting thing to ever happen at my old bank was the emancipation of the counter pens…

They were released from their chains and replaced with crappy logo pens that are now free to take home with just a purchase of a $10,000 15-year Certificate of Deposit.

Nope. The banking industry is the last place I’d look for business inspiration or marketing insight.

That is, until I met Ray Davis, the the former CEO of Umpqua Bank.

 

Turns out, Davis is not inspired by bank branding either.

According to Davis, the key question driving strategy discussions at Umpqua Bank has been, “How can we get people to drive by three other banks to get to ours?”

That question has steered the bank’s team to look outside the financial sector for inspiration. For instance, Umpqua’s brand has been heavily influenced by the retail industry. “Build the branches around interactions, not transactions.”

Umpqua Bank has grown from $150 million to $24 billion in assets during Davis’ time as CEO. Today it has 350 stores in three states. But perhaps more importantly for the brand, Umpqua has been included in Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 best places to work  — eight years in a row.

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

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

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

“Umpqua started to take off once we realized what business we’re really in,” Davis said. “I don’t believe we’re in the banking industry. We’re in the retail services business.”

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

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

bank branding on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBrandingFor that, he borrowed ideas from two great retailers… Nordstrom and Starbucks.

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

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

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

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

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

• They get their customer service training from Ritz Carlton.

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

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

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

• They invented a way to measure customer satisfaction. As Fast Company Magazine put it: Umpqua Bank has a rigorous service culture where every branch and each employee gets measured on how well they deliver on what they call “return on quality.”

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

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

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

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

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

For more inspiration, try THIS post.

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

 

Lessons learned from 30 years in a professional services business

 

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

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

Like this little gem of nonsense:

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

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

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

honesty in political advertising

Give me a break.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All purely subjective, intangible excuses.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

professional services marketing lessons from the Brand Insight Blog

Lesson #2: Love what you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That enthusiasm is infectious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #3: Be persistently adaptable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional services marketing Lesson #4: Keep learning.

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

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

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

I’d shoot myself.

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

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

Variety is the spice of professional services life.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Radio silence is the kiss of death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A brand is money.”

We can help you make both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 a bend oregon branding firm

Marketing lessons from all that annoying political advertising of 2020

brand credibility from branding expertsI’m sure you’re all relieved that the political ads of 2020 are behind us. From a creative standpoint it’s rare to find any political ads that are noteworthy. As a genre, they all suck. But if you can get past the half-truths and the cookie-cutter format you just might find some good marketing lessons from political advertising that you can apply to your business.

In the 2020 election one ad busted through all the rhetoric and made an impact on the advertising community. There’s a lot to learn from this spot, regardless of where you stand politically. Business owners should pay attention, because this is probably the best political ad I’ve ever seen:

 

Here are some of the marketing lessons from this race, and from this political ad, that you can apply to your own business:

First, you have to know the playing field.

That’s the basis for any good marketing strategy. Very few incumbent presidents in the history of this country have been voted out of office. This election was Trump’s to lose, and the Biden camp had to approach it from that perspective. It was going to be hard to win, so they had to help Trump lose it. And that TV spot fits the bill.

The “Silence Him” spot is a dramatic and accurate reflection of the marketing strategy.

Sometimes the best strategy is to just shut up. Biden’s strategy, all along, was to just let Donald Trump do the talking… the more Trump talked, the better Biden looked.

The “silence him”  spot captures that foot-in-the-mouth strategy in a brilliantly simple manner, and it seems to have resonated.

But in business you can’t count on your competitors to make high-profile mistakes. That would be an unlikely gift. So your strategy needs to revolve around authentic benefits of your own, rather than waiting for your competitors to shoot themselves in the foot.

Stay on message. 

COVID 19 was the big, game-changing issue of this election, and this spot drives that issue home in a painfully obvious way. It reminds people about the handling of a pandemic, without dwelling on the horrible reality of it.

 

 

Let others do the talking for you, whenever possible.

If you can get a third party talking up your brand, it’s much more effective than talking about yourself. That’s why testimonials, endorsements and reviews work so well. And if you can get your direct competitor to do the talking for you, that’s  better yet!

Earned media is more valuable than paid.

Paid ads are written off as propaganda, while press coverage of any kind is seen as somewhat credible. If you own a business and you’re not doing any kind of PR outreach, you’re missing the boat. There are many ways to get affordable online coverage these days, and it can do wonders for your online presence and SEO, if nothing else.

Don’t go on the attack unless you’re the underdog.

A big name candidate attacking a no-name, first-time challenger just doesn’t play well, especially in little local races. If you’re the established brand in your niche, you need to behave like a polished, professional leader. You need to show some honest accomplishments in your ads, instead of just bashing the little guy.

Trump’s continued attacks on Biden didn’t sway voters, perhaps because few people believed that moderate Joe is, actually, a closet communist. If you’re going to run comparison ads, you better have the truth on your side. More on comparison ads

Use the facts to your advantage.

The “Silence Him” spot is factual… it used well-know quotes that came directly out of Donald Trump’s mouth. The Biden team could have chosen an even more damning collection of off-color quotes, but they chose to stick with those that referred to the #1 issue — the pandemic. When the facts are stranger than fiction, use them!

marketing lessons from political advertising - BN BrandingIt’s the idea, stupid.

The Silence Him spot proves you don’t need a massive production budget to convey a compelling message that will move the needle for your business.

It’s not about Hollywood lights and a cast of big name actors, it’s the idea that counts. Simpler the better.

Transforming Trump’s mouth into a ballot dot was brilliant. And using simple animation made it even more arresting.

Demonstrate what you want people to do.

In this case the Biden ad demonstrates exactly what every political ad aims to accomplish… a vote for a particular candidate. Just mark your ballot a certain way.

(At some point, it looks like the campaign team decided to add the bit that demonstrates someone dropping the ballot in the drop box, just to be sure people understood that little detail. It was an obvious afterthought. The spot would have been more powerful without that.)

When you’re buying advertising, a good marketing mix is still important.

Omni channel media buying is the best way to get results. Political candidates still rely heavily on TV advertising, but they’re also devoting huge budgets to all the various digital channels, as well as radio and outdoor. You have to cover all the bases, or at least more than just one little social media channel.

Presidential elections are a good time to turn off your ad campaign.

All the stations, outlets and channels raise their rates when political campaigns start ramping up. Plus, the volume of noise is so deafening, it’s hard to get your message across. So you’re paying a premium for less visibility and lower click through rates.

Attack Ads  — Most political advertising takes a negative approach.

It’s proven that in politics the fear of loss has more persuasive power than the hope of any gains. And in this general election it proved out on both sides of the political spectrum. Everyone believed they have a lot to lose, so we set new records for voter turnout.

However, negativity did not win the day in 2020. Biden’s campaign was unusually positive. Only 10% of his ads were attack ads. Trump’s campaign was simply too angry, negative and alarmist to be effective  — a second time.

A negative approach can work in business, but it’s much more complicated. It’s more like running against a dozen like-minded politicians in a primary race. There are many options, so you have to be careful about who or what you choose to attack. More on Fear of Loss in advertising) 

The stakes are much higher in politics than in business.

In a general election it’s a no-holds-barred sprint to the finish every time. Winner takes all. In business it’s a never-ending marathon. You can often cruise along quite nicely with just tiny gains in market share. So pace yourself, but keep making progress. Consistency is what counts. Stopping is what kills you.

honesty in political advertisingHyper-specific messaging helps.

Political operatives are very good at matching the message with the market. Campaigns spend a ton of time and money sifting through the data to identify supporters, find out how they feel about the candidate, and how likely they are to actually vote. They segment audiences very carefully, and employ different language, different images, different music for every individual segment of the population.

The Biden team did another version of the “Silence Him” ad that focused on climate change. (They served that one up to younger audiences.) So don’t just use one generic ad to blast across many different segments in your digital advertising. Get focused. Slice and dice.

It’s NOT all about you. 

In the 2020 race Biden, himself, often took the back seat to the various coalitions he pulled together. In fact, many Democrats were worried that he wasn’t doing enough. He was too quiet. Too modest. But his relatively low-key approach was perfectly on brand for Biden. He was never going to out-shout Trump, so wisely, he never even tried.

Tone matters. 

To me, most political ads are annoying because they sound overly negative. Dramatic voice-overs are commonly accompanied by ominous music and dark, foreboding images. Like the unseen serial killer in horror movies… always lurking.

The “Silence Him” spots didn’t need any of that. The sound of Trump’s voice, his words, and the simple, animated visual approach was much more effective. Instead of fictional fear mongering they used a matter-of-fact approach that came off as actually a bit hopeful… 75 million people were hoping he’d be silenced. Like it or not, now he is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.