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Category Archives for "BRANDING"

content marketing for small business

Content Marketing – Finding and providing something genuinely worthwhile.

content marketing for small businessWhen The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the web back in 1999, Christopher Locke wrote, “the internet has made it possible for genuine human voices to be heard again.”

What do you mean, “again”?

Never has the average Joe been afforded  unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. This giant electronic soapbox delivers a world-wide audience. Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe.

How cool is that?

content marketing Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingThe democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, photos and articles. It has inexorably changed politics,  journalism, medicine and business. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing.

You could argue that it’s the greatest thing since the invention of the radio broadcast.

 

On the other hand, the Internet is also producing a cacophony of epic proportions.

Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

Used to be, you had to have genuine expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.”  If you wanted to get published  you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky.

So the criteria was strict: You had to have something unique to say and a unique voice with which to say it. Therefore, publishing articles was not a particularly common element of most small-business marketing plans.

Content marketing is a different story.

There are no editors screening the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and plagiarism is now being touted as “content curation.” Corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news. Bloggers are now “digital influencers” peddling their soapboxes to corporate marketing managers.

Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind.

I frequently get solicitations (ok junk mail) offering pre-written “content” for this blog. For me, it’s a business proposition that just doesn’t compute.

Most of the time the article offered is off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in  a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re never well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.

Why on earth would I run an article like that?

How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my brand? Or my audience?

Sure, I could probably generate a little bump in short-term traffic, but it’s not going to produce loyal readers. In fact, it’s more likely to drive readers away.

Great brands are built on consistency and quality, not just clicks.

I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice… Think about your brand first, and clicks second.

If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.

Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On most subjects it’s too much information from too many questionable sources. It’s in one ear, and out the other.

For instance, you could never wade through all the online chatter about social media marketing…

“Will it help my small business marketing effort? Can I build a brand around it? How do social media marketing? Can I generate leads on Twitter? Where’s it all going? What’s it all mean for small business marketing?”

I don’t know. It’s still evolving.

But I know this: Just because you have a blog and a few thousand friends on Facebook doesn’t make you a social media marketing guru.

There are a lot of young wannabes in that field who will gladly charge you for consulting, but few real gurus. It’s too new, too experimental. Guru status comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.

So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware. Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.

Locke preached a sermon of hope for the digital pulpit. He predicted that the internet would forever shift the nature of business communications, and he envisioned a world where the consumer would have a voice and corporations would have to listen.

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

Many big brands are embracing the online “conversation” and are getting better at communicating on a one-to-one level. They may not be the earliest adopters, but they’re catching on and beginning to respond to consumer wishes.

If nothing else, they’re now painfully aware when people start spreading negative word-of-mouth.

But corporations don’t control the bulk of the internet conversation.

It’s the small-business marketing experts. It’s the average Joe on his soapbox with a big ego and a pay-per-click budget. It’s the stay-at-home baker who wants to brag about her latest batch of cookies. It’s the teenage entrepreneur cashing in on Youtube.  Those little businesses are popping up faster than you can say, “what happened to Myspace?”

And that’s great.

Unfortunately there also are many modern snake oil salesman peddling their wares with content marketing. Despite the advances of social media, (or maybe because of the advances) there’s more phony crap out there than ever before.

The self-help industry. The diet programs. The plastic surgeons. The get-rich-quick guys. And my personal favorite, the golf swing gurus. Every Tin Cup wannabe has an instructional DVD or downloadable E-book available on the web. And they’re all “guaranteed to shave strokes off your game.”

Golf Digest wouldn’t publish any of them on a bet. The quality is no better than the corporate spiel that Locke railed against in Cluetrain Manifesto. “The voice is like a third-rate actor in a 4th rate play reciting lines that no one believes in a manner no one respects.”

Yep.

Sometimes I long for the good old days when websites weren’t free and there was some barrier to entry on the internet. But not really.

We’ll all put up with some noise in exchange for the freedom of speech that the internet provides. And small-business marketing is better for it.

Now I’m just hoping for a natural weeding out process.

For more on small-business marketing and content marketing, try THIS post.. 

For affordable small business marketing help, call me at BNBranding.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2

Brands of Love (How to build a loving relationship with your customers.)

BNBranding logoI’ll never forget my first pair of skis… Hand-me-down Heads from a by-gone era. Jet black. Heavy as can be, but oh so lovable!

That was 5th grade. Since then, I’ve purchased eight more pairs of skis and four were the same brand: Head.

John Furgurson BNBranding blog post about brands we love

That’s me. Notice the head logo on the tips. No photoshopping involved.

The latest is a pair of Head Rev 105s, and I’m absolutely loving them. I tested many different brands — and they were all good — but I chose Head.

Why?

Because it’s one of those brands of love that I grew up with.

Every time I ski on them, and every time I see another Olympic racer on the podium with Heads at their side, I get even more attached to that brand. It’s a life long love affair.

The Head Ski Company was founded in 1950 with the first metal composite ski — a revolutionary progression from the days of hickory.

In the 1960’s Head sold more than 50% of  all the skis in the U.S., even though they were priced two times higher than the competitors. It was a premium product with plenty of sex appeal. Jean Claude Killy raced on Heads. Today it’s Lindsey Vonn.

Howard Head

Howard Head

To me, buying skis is like buying a car. I can name every car and every ski I’ve ever owned, and I have fond memories associated with every one.

I  strayed from Head for awhile, cheating with Atomics, Blizzards and Rossignols, but I keep going back to my first love — to the brand that I first associated with the freedom, thrill and challenge of skiing.

That’s branding.

A lot of people gripe about commercialization and marketing as an evil activity or a “dark art.”  They say they’re being manipulated, somehow, into buying stuff they don’t want or need.

That’s nonsense. I believe we need MORE relationships like that. More love of any kind! Less indifference and more brands of love.

Just think… If we could all be passionately connected to more of the things we purchase on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Imagine how your day might go if you felt as passionate about your filling station and your pharmacy as I feel about my skis.

What if the routine chore of picking up dinner was transformed into a delightful experience that you could look forward to every time. What if you had a genuine love for your dental office?

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

It’s human nature to love. We crave strong, loving connections to the things and people in our lives. Brands play that role quite well. We’re naturally drawn to the companies and products that show love to their employees, their customers, their environment.

Whole Foods, Patagonia, Clif Bar are three good examples… they’re passionate companies that attract passionate customers.

In his book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about closeness, trust, intimacy, passion and commitment. Those are the traits of any loving relationship,  and if you can attain that in your relationship with customers you’ll have what Robert calls a Lovemark. The gold standard of brands.

What you have to remember is that Love is a matter of the heart, not the head.

You’ll never achieve Lovemark status by sticking to facts, data and a logical list of product features. Not unless you’re selling to robots.

And empty, corporate catch-phrases are even worse. Like a bar-closing come-on by a desperate frat boy… you might lure someone into a one night stand with that approach, but it’s not going to get you a second date, much less love.

In focus groups people talk about love all the time.

“Oh, I just love my Subaru.”  Or, I just love Tide. I won’t buy anything else.”

Subaru took the loving feedback from their customers and built it into its advertising. (It doesn’t move me, but I’m not a Subaru guy. There are a lot of W

brands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blog

RX fans and Outback fans who’ll absolutely love that approach.)

So stop thinking about how to improve “customer satisfaction” and start thinking about how to make them LOVE you. Want you. Chose you.

How can you initiate a relationship like the one I have with Head Skis?

It’s not easy because that one is connected to some of my fondest childhood memories. Think about that… If you really want to ramp up your branding efforts, start creating memories that your customers will love to recall, 50 years from now.

It takes a lot of extra effort, attention to detail, transparency and goodwill build brands of love. But it pays off… in better sales, in higher business valuation, and in articles like this one.

Write a comment… Tell me about your favorite brands of love.

If you want more on lovable brands, try THIS post.

Or the Lovemarks website. 

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 What marketers can learn from the Olympics — Branding and the Olympic Rings.

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. I’ve even watched some of the curling and ice dancing (yikes).

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists.

But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.

 

There have been plenty of 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. In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a with a fatal crash in during luge training. And now, for the first time, a complete postponement thanks to COVID 19.

The Summer Games will be back next year, and

But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. 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.

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.

The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating the brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

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.

Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. 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. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

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. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are 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. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.

And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.

Corporate America could learn a thing or two.

• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, 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 paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

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.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregonThe competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to 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 element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.

• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.

The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent:  Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.

With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.

For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.

The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including  a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

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 it goes much deeper than that.

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.

What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.

When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.

 

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

 

 

brand personality of the Duck Dynasty brand on the brand insight blog

Cammo brand personality (Duck Dynasty goes high fashion.)

How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.

branding tips from the Brand Insight BlogYessir. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ. On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,”  throwing the F word around and the next page you have the Duck Dynasty dudes in their cammo-wear quoting bible passages and promoting their own, quirky brand personality. What’s next? Forbes?

Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too. A branding coup, for sure.

Back in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt. I recently saw a line of camouflaged living room furniture. Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They have the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 13 million viewers at its peak— more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale, and even Hunny Boo Boo.

The Duck Dynasty Brand is everywhere these days. And the brand personality has become legendary. They have deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For holiday season branding Hallmark launched a line of Duck Dynasty cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album oduck dynasty brand personality on the brand insight blogf holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. That’s the type of brand affiliation that pays dividends.

What’s the secret to success for this good ol’ boy brand? As the old saying goes: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little bird hunting niche into mass market appeal.

Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal. If you’re going to turn your business into an iconic brand, you need all three.

Brand Personality

In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.”  To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.

Brand Authenticity

Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.

“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”

Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.

Visual Appeal

Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt. The beards are a key component of their branding. Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.

beards-back-490x255

Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”

Sure enough, the show is ending its run in 2017.

So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. Will they maintain the brand personality they’ve established? That’s the real test.

Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching?  The possibilities are endless. I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.

For more insight on brand personality, try THIS post. 

Want to build your own iconic brand? Call me at BNBranding.

1 research for branding strategies

Fake thrills and false advertising — Another automotive marketing misfire.

Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. The big brands seldom produce memorable spots or print ads, and at the dealer level there are many claims of false advertising.

Let’s look at a campaign for the Toyota Camry. This is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and was the best-selling car in America for almost 20 years.

Obviously, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower, handling, sexiness or style.  Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd.

My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

7165c3f5dc0c28a95fd2723b16f34ec0And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great concept… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. That could be great! All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

Classic case of a great advertising idea executed for the wrong brand. Some might even call it false advertising.

Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not. If it was for a new Civic, then yeah. Maybe it would work.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course”  features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel.  There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

 

 

Camry commercial

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?”  Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up!  Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

retail marketing strategyBloomberg News reports that in 2014  the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.”  That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

truth in advertising BNBrandingAnd more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry  differently???  Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plent

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners concerning false advertising or grandiose claims…

If you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

Stick with the core truth.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla like the Camry, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath. And it’s basically false advertising.

For more on truth in advertising, try THIS post.

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2

Non-profit branding (A story of start-up success and failure)

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.”  It was the type of organization that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on little faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day. It was also a great example of non-profit branding.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was non-profit branding “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. (We conducted large-sample phone surveys as well as focus groups.)

Once we saw encouraging results from the research, we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy and built a business plan around that. After our strategy was clear, and the business plan written, we came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

non-profit branding case study by BNBranding bend oregon

Print ad for Working Wonders Children’s Museum

At first, it was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” Initially we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play.

And it caught on! Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping, “museum without walls” strategy achieve the immediate goal: Proof of concept.

Parents and kids loved it. In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point. We had a location and we had enough money to open the doors. Just barely.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years traveling around, trying to raise more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go:  We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net. We were relying on the on-going generosity of a couple key donors and most of all, corporate sponsors.

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. A non-profit branding success and the biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

Working Wonders ran successfully for four years. It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town in 2009. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually branded too well.

Many customers and community leaders thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. (mine) Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about non-profit branding for marketing for 501c3 organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

1.What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.non-profit branding by BNBranding Brand Insight Blog in Bend Oregon

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability. For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors who can provide an endowment.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors. In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships, and those dried up overnight when the economy tanked.

As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives. But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. Non-profit branding is absolutely important! But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people. Solidify the base of financial support first, then open your doors.

more effective advertising from BNBrandingIt’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer. And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?”  Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before  you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

For more marketing tips and non-profit branding advice, check out THIS post:

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1 a new approach to website design BNBranding

Naming — Age-old advice on how to name a new business.

BNBranding logoSo you want to hang up your own shingle. Or you have a great idea for a start-up, but you have no idea what to call it. This might be the closest thing you’re going to find to a DIY guide on how to name a new business.

Bend advertising agency blog post on Claude HopkinsEons ago, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins said “a good name should almost be an advertisement in its own right.”

Now, 100 years later, recent studies in corporate finance, behavioral economics and psychology show that many of his theories were dead on.

There’s a proven correlation between a memorable name and market value of the company.

Fortune 500 companies have figured that out. They pay naming firms huge sums to concoct new words that eventually become iconic brands. Those firms employ teams of poets, neologists, writers, comedians, behavioral psychologists and linguistic experts to come up with names like “Acura” for Honda’s luxury car division. “Pentium” for an Intel Processor. “Viagra” for, well, you know what.

Small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and Marketing Directors of mid-sized firms don’t have that luxury.  Often they try the do-it-yourself approach to naming a business.  (How hard can it be, right?) Or worse yet, they have a contest. They throw the fate of their business into the hands of a faceless crowd that knows nothing about their business model or brand personality.

Naming is one of the toughest creative disciplines you’ll ever find. Alex Frankel, in his book Word Craft, said “naming is like songwriting or Haiku, but it’s even more tightly constrained. You have to evoke shades of meaning in very small words.”

In other words, you really can’t teach the average business owner how to come up with a great business name. It’s even hard to teach a great writer to do naming projects.

Analytical people have a very hard time coming up with business names that have any nuance at all. Their brains simply aren’t wired for the lateral thinking it takes to concoct a name from nothing. So they usually end up borrowed names using terms with very literal, unimaginative meaning that wouldn’t pass muster for old Claude Hopkins, much less a skeptical, modern consumer.

The most common naming trap is the local, “tell ’em where we’re at” business name…  Just borrow a geographic location, and tack on what you do.

In my town it’s “Central Oregon” blank or “High Desert” anything: Central Auto Repair. High Desert Heating. Central Oregon Dry Cleaning. High Desert Distributing. And almost every brand identity involves mountains.

In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate Heating or Bay Area Brake Service. In Seattle it’s Puget Sound this and Puget Sound that.

Unless there’s absolutely no competition in your local area, there’s no differentiation built in to those names. Might as well be “Acme.”(A lot of companies have names that begin with the letter A, due to the old yellow pages listing criteria. I’m glad that’s no longer relevant)

Another naming trap is the business owner’s last name. If it’s Smith, Jones, Johnson or any other common name, forget about it.

If there are a bunch of owners or partners involved, forget that too. You don’t want to start sounding like the law firm of Ginerra Zifferberg Fritche Whitten Landborg Smith-Locke Stiffleman.

If every partner has his name on the door it’s virtually impossible for the human brain to recall the brand. And it’s just not practical in everyday use… Inevitably, people will start abbreviating names like that, until you end up with alphabet soup. Can you imagine answering the phone at that place. “Hello, GZFWLSLS. How can I help you.”

However, there are times when the last name of the partners can work. Here’s the criteria:

1. The last names themselves must have some relevance, credibility and value in the marketplace.

2. The two names must sound good together.

3. The two names put together don’t add up to more than four syllables.

4. They can be connected into one, memorable name.

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

My firm has a client we named MorrisHayden. Both those names are highly recognizable and trusted in their local real estate industry. Literally weeks after they hung up their sign, they had people calling, saying “yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.”

The Morris and Hayden last names together fit every criteria, but those cases are very rare.

Traditionally, the goal of a good  name was to capture the essence of your positioning and deliver a unique selling proposition, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. Precisely what Claude Hopkins had in mind.

Examples: Mr. Clean, A1 Steak Sauce, ZipLoc, Taster’s Choice, Spic & Span.

But literal names are getting harder and harder to come by. The playing field is getting more crowded, forcing us to move away from what the words literally mean to what the words remind you of.

As Seth Godin said, it’s “The structure of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Now the goal is to coin a defensible word that can acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages.”

Examples:  Apple, Yahoo, Jet Blue, Google, BlackBerry, Travelocity.

Frankel says, “the name must be a vessel capable of carrying a message… whether the vessel has some meaning already poured into it or if it stands ready to be filled with meaning that will support and idea, an identity, a personality.”

Starting out, the name Dyson was an empty vessel. Now it’s forever linked with the idea of revolutionary product design in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and who knows what else. The brand message behind that company is very clear. This is not your mother’s vacuum cleaner!

So here’s the deal… The first rule of thumb for how to name a new business… Before you start thinking of names, think about the core brand concept.

If you haven’t already pinned down the underlying premise of your brand — the value proposition,  the passion, the values,  the promise — it’s going to be very hard to come up with a great name that works on several levels.

So get your story straight first. Hire someone to help you spell out the brand platform. That’s the place to start. Then, whoever’s doing the name will have something more tangible and enlightening to go on.

When you nail it, the naming process really is magical. Throw enough images, sounds, thoughts and concepts around, and you come out with that one word that just sticks.

retail marketing strategyLook what BlackBerry did for Research In Motion. That distinctly low-tech name helped create an entire high-tech category.

I’m sure there were plenty of engineers there who didn’t initially agree with the name choice. But those dissenting voices were silenced when BlackBerry became a household word, and their stock options went through the roof.

When I suggested we change the name of a golf course from Pine Meadows to “Widgi Creek” the entire staff thought I was nuts. But the owner vetoed everyone. He was gutsy enough to go with it, and the name stuck. 25 years later it ranks as the most frequently recalled name in the Oregon golf market.

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Click here for more on how to name a new business from the Brand Insight Blog.

If you want a memorable name for your new business, one that can become an iconic brand, give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

 

 

2 positioning strategy BNBranding

Marketing Resolutions (3 easy paths to better branding)

new years resolutions for better branding2018 promises to be a great year for business owners and marketers who are willing to follow a few simple resolutions. I could have written a dozen or so, but that would go against the number one resolution for better branding:

• Resolve to be short and sweet. (Whenever you can)

There’s a proven paradox in marketing communications that says:  The less you say, the more they hear.  So stop with the generalities and the corporate double speak. Instead, try plain English. Hone in one specific idea and pound it home with powerful mental images and just a few, relevant details.

Behavioral scientists have shown, time and time again, that our brains are hard-wired to discard information. Malcom Gladwell touches on this “unconscious intelligence” in his book “Blink.” And Bill Schley spells it out nicely in his book on micro-scripts.

The human brain has a very active built-in editor, so if it sounds complicated or confusing, we just discard it.

The brain automatically defaults to the simplest, fastest, most understandable messages. So sharpen your pencils, discard all the superfluous nonsense and get the heart of the matter. That’s the key to better branding… Use fewer elements. Simple words. And images that can be “read” at a glance. Because the message with a narrow focus is the message that’s widely received.

Don’t get me wrong… there are times when long copy is absolutely the best answer. But even when it’s long, it needs to be direct and to the point. Not a roundabout of facts, figures and corporate nonsense.

tips for better branding on the brand insight blogResolve to stop boring people.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to convince you that boring stuff doesn’t sink in. Usually, if you follow resolution Number One, you’ll avoid this problem pretty easily.

The new year is a great time to refresh and rethink your marketing materials. That old Powerpoint deck you’ve been using… toss it out and start from scratch. Those tired stock photos… commission a pro to replace them. Those little pay per click ads you’ve been milking along… gone. That website that hasn’t been updated in years… don’t shed any tears over that.

Sure, you’re creating more work for yourself, or for a qualified marketer, but the process of re-inventing is well worth it. Without even thinking about it you’ll integrate what you’ve learned this past year and improve things dramatically.

Remember, you can only get their attention and hold their interest by using unusual, distinctive, and unpredictable stimuli. Just the opposite of boring stuff.

Resolve to tell stories.  

bend ad agency portfolioHere’s another way you can avoid boring ’em to death: Tell good stories. Stop reciting data and repeating industry cliches and start using original narratives and colorful metaphors to get your point across.

Stories trigger emotions. Emotions demand attention.

Telling a good story is not that hard. Think about it…You’ve been telling stories your whole life, just probably not in a business context. Everywhere you turn you’re entertained and engaged by stories. Every game you watch is a story. Every YouTube Video and every comic you read has a story. Even email exchanges can become convincing stories.

Storytelling is a wildly undervalued in the corporate world. But if you look at the brands that have been most successful in any given market, they’re all good at telling stories. As are the leaders of those companies.

Think about the role your company plays in stories of your best customers, your key suppliers and even your biggest competitors. Are you the Ruler or the Reformer? The Maverick or the Mentor? The Guardian or the Gambler?

Those archetypes show up in every story ever told.

What’s your story this year, and how are you going to tell it? Do you have a David & Goliath story you could be telling? Or maybe a coming-of-age story. Imagine how well that would play, relative to another, boring Powerpoint presentation.

Resolve to stop throwing money at the latest, greatest deal of the day.

This is for retailers who are constantly barraged by offers to run more and more offers. Stop the madness!

Constant discounting is not going to help build your brand for the long haul, unless your brand happens to be WalMart, Kmart, or Dave’s Discount Deal of the Day Store.

tips on how to get better branding on the brand insight blogOtherwise, it’s just another way of screaming Sale! Sale! Sale! All the time. It undervalues your product, attracts the wrong kind of customers and sabotages your brand narrative. It’s like the cocaine of marketing. Is that the story you really want to be telling?

If you’re going to do Groupon-style discounting, look at it this way: It’s a short-term cash flow band aid. Nothing more. If your business is very seasonal it can help get you through the slow months, but it’s not a long-term marketing strategy, much less good branding.

Most business owners are beginning to see that. According to Fast Company Magazine, the daily deal industry is in a “healthy period of reassessment right now.”  In other words, there’s a big shake-out going on and even the big guys, Groupon and Living Social, are re-thinking their value propositions because their clients are not seeing sustainable results.

Most success stories in that business come from retailers who use daily deals as a loss-leader tactic… get them in the door with a discount coupon, then up-sell them into a much larger, more valuable product or service. But remember, the people who regularly use Groupon are bargain hunters, so that upselling idea may or may not work. For most companies, it’s a profit killer, not a growth strategy.

Obviously, there are hundreds of ways you can do better branding. But these three are a good start. Resolved to do at least one this year, and you will see results.

For more on how to do better branding, try THIS post. 

 

6

Want to build a brand? First, own an idea.

I think all entrepreneurs should study advertising. Entrepreneurs are full of ideas, and advertising is an industry of ideas…

Ideas on how to build a brand. How to build credibility and authenticity for existing brands. How to engage an audience and convert leads into sales. It’s those big ideas — paired with exceptional execution — that produce growth for clients and vault agencies into the national spotlight.

The same can be said for start-ups. Businesses that start with a big idea, and then stick to it, are the ones that become iconic brands.

Maytag owns the idea of worry-free appliances. For more than 30 years their advertising has brilliantly communicated the idea of dependability with the lonely Maytag repairman who never has anything to do.
Now he even has an apprentice. The Leo Burnett Agency introduced a strapping new version of Maytag repairman… a side-kick who can talk about technological advancements and appeal to younger women.
The Maytag repairman character is so iconic Chevy actually used him in a television spot touting the Impala’s reliability.
Maytag owns the idea. Chevy’s just borrowing it.
Maytag’s core brand idea helps segment the market and differentiate them from the competition. Nobody else in that category will try to claim the idea of “reliability.” Won’t work because everyone knows that Maytag = dependability.

Google knows how to build a brand. They own the idea of online search. So much so, it’s become a verb. “Google it.” It’s the world at your fingertips.

Campbell’s owns the idea of “comfort food.” That brand is not about flavor, it’s about the rainy day when your kids are home for lunch and you sit down for a bowl of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Campbell’s warms, comforts, nourishes, takes you back in time and puts a smile on your face.

For only about one dollar.

Volvo owns the idea of safety. That’s their clearly perceived position in the automotive market.

own an idea BNBrandingEven though driving an automobile is inherently risky, people believe they are safe in a Volvo. And that belief feeds the folklore that sustains that idea and Volvo’s brand image.

Even though Volvo models have all the glamorous features of a luxury brand, they’ll never be seen as luxury cars. Just safe cars.

Funny story about Volvo shopping… Some years ago I seriously considered buying a Volvo SUV for my family. I did the research and went to the local lot for a test drive. But the salesman blew it. He was so adamant about the brand’s safety record, he tried to convince me that Volvo actually used Swedish convicts as live test dummies. True story, he claimed. That’s how Volvo developed such a safe car… by crashing them with convicts at the wheel.

Needless to say, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s luxurious ride couldn’t trump the salesman’s idiocy. I bought an Audi.

Who owns the idea of “fast food?”

McDonald’s, of course. But when people began to realize that fast food wasn’t so good nutritionally, Subway had their own idea… “Healthy Fast Food.”  It was healthier than McDonalds, and Jerod proved it by losing like a thousand pounds while eating Subway Sandwiches.

That simple idea has propelled Subway to #1 in the fast food category. There are 44,800 subway Subway stores to 36,500 McDonald’s stores.

Jimmy Johns owns the idea of fast sandwich deliveryNow Jimmy John’s owns the idea of FAST sandwiches. Not fast food, or sandwiches like Subway, but sandwiches delivered quickly, wherever you may be.

That’s a good strategy of differentiation, especially because their sandwiches aren’t all that great. If they stick with the idea, and execute the idea religiously by actually delivering every sandwich faster than anyone expects, they’ll have a winning business formula.

It’s a core brand concept that’s easily demonstrable in advertising.

And that’s particularly important when it’s a category of parity.  The sandwiches at Quiznos, Tomo’s, Jimmy John’s and Subway are all pretty much the same, so the advertising idea becomes even more important.

Insurance in another such category. It’s a fairly even playing field in a low-involvement category. (Let’s face it, dealing with insurance is about as much fun as going to the dentist.)

Allstate owns the idea of mayhem. In their current advertising campaign the agency  put a face on mayhem, and gave him a smart-ass personality. Everybody knows somebody like that, you just hope your daughter doesn’t date the guy

State Farm has a long-running slogan, “like a good neighbor.”  Unfortunately, neither the advertising nor the customer service support that idea.

Geico saturates the airwaves with humorous advertising and outspends everyone in the insurance category. Thanks to an annual budget of $500 million a year the Geico Gecko and the cavemen have become fixtures in American pop culture. But the message is all over the place. There’s no core brand idea that anyone can grasp.

Guess who owns the idea of sparkling white teeth?  It’s not Colgate. Not Crest. Not a toothpaste, at all.  It’s Orbit chewing gum, a fairly new brand from the master marketers at Wrigleys.

The Orbit girl “cleaning up dirty mouths” campaign helped them capture the #1 spot in the chewing gum market.

(I think Orbit copied the Progressive Insurance advertising. Progressive is the sparkling white insurance brand, for whatever that’s worth.)

Coming up with a core brand concept is hard work. You really have to dig. And think. And explore.

Most of the good ideas have already been done, or can’t be owned authentically. That’s the trick… finding a conceptual framework that honestly fits with your product or service offering.  (BNBranding can help you with that.)

Many big brands don’t own an idea at all.  JCPenny, or JCP as they’d like us to say, doesn’t own an idea. They’re trying desperately to be younger, cooler and more hip than they used to be, but the name change and the slick new execution of  of their print advertising doesn’t make up for the lack of a relevant idea.

Whether you’re selling insurance or chewing gum, building a brand begins with a simple idea.

Anybody can borrow some money, hang up a shingle and start their own business. But the companies that last — the ones that become iconic brands — almost always start with a clearly defined, highly demonstrable idea that goes beyond just the product or service.

Do you need ideas? Need help with your brand messaging? Get started right away. Click here. 

Want to learn more about how to build a brand? Try this post.

4 research for branding strategies

Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

BNBranding logoI don’t comment on politics. However, the constant flood of blatant falsehoods from the President has certainly inspired this post on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud, tweet utter nonsense, and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll just sling it back. Or the populace will simply look the other way.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. “You suck, we don’t” isn’t a good messaging strategy.

Consumers are quick to call you out, via social media, if your advertising is BS. And if you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass.

truth in advertising BNBrandingIn marketing, advertising and selling, there’s a big, gaping grey area when it comes to the claims you make and the image you portray.

Many people believe “truth in advertising” is an oxymoron.

Of course burgers always look bigger and juicier in ads than they do in real life. All women are rail-thin and perfectly endowed in fashion advertising. And it’s always clear skies and mai-tais in the travel brochures for Kaui. (No one really expects them to show the island in a downpour.)

So critics jump to the conclusion that all advertising is false advertising. That all marketers use dishonest “trickeration” to get us to buy things we don’t want or need. They say there is no truth in advertising. Alternate facts, maybe, but not truth.

Not so.

Great brands are built by business owners (and their agencies) who know how to tell good stories. And good story telling always involves elements of truth, plus a little “creative license.” Your brand stories don’t have to be literally true, but they must ring true to a particular group of people.

Even the most well-documented non-fiction stories are not 100% true.

Ken Burns, the famous documentary filmmaker once said, “all story is manipulation. Truth is a by-product of our stories. And emotional truth is something you have to build.”

As marketers, that’s what we’re really after… emotional truth. Nothing works better.

When your brand story strikes an emotional chord that matches someone’s personal world view, you have a truth in his mind, and a winning campaign.

It’s more like suggestion than manipulation. In this age of instantaneous customer reviews, manipulation won’t fly. You have to be more subtle than that.

BNBranding truth in advertisingIn Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” he reminds us that the brand story you tell isn’t really your story at all. It’s the consumer’s story that he tells himself that really matters.  You might try to “sell your story,” but in the end it’s the consumer who convinces himself why he wants or needs your product.

In an old 60-minutes episode, the producers tried to paint the Italian eyeglass company, Luxottica, as irresponsible and phony because they make eyewear for dozens of different designer brands, including Oakley, RayBan, Prada, Polo, Coach, Vogue and many others.

60 Minutes says it’s misleading, that all those fancy brands are made out of the same factory.

Perhaps. But I don’t think anyone cares. The factory that produces the glasses, and the parent company behind the factory, are not the story that’s relevant to consumers. The brand is what’s relevant.

Sometimes truth just doesn’t resonate.

Regardless of the fact that all those glasses come from the same factory, consumers will convince themselves that their brand is better. Different. More desirable. That’s the power of great, long-term branding.

When you buy designer glasses from DKNY or Tiffany & Co. you’re buying into a different story than if you choose Oakleys. For some people, the Oakley story is more personally meaningful. More “true.”

For me, it’s not Oakley or any of the designer brands. It’s the Maui Jim story that rings true. Or at least, the most truthful for me.

As consumers, we constantly frame and reframe “truth” to fit our own values and beliefs. 

Marketing helps the process along, basically enabling us to continue telling ourselves stories that justify our purchases. Even ridiculous ones like $300 sunglasses.

brand credibility

The famous, old Avis campaign is a good example.  By adopting the tagline “we try harder,” Avis helped people reframe the truth… that Hertz is #1 in the market.

Avis planted the seed of doubt… that bigger is NOT necessarily better. Suddenly, that market leadership position didn’t equate with the best.

That long-running campaign rang true for millions of people, and helped Avis grow tremendously.  It was an idea that lasted more than 40 years.  Was it absolutely true? No, probably not. I doubt that every Avis employee actually tried harder than the guys at Hertz. But inside the company it was a truthful effort. “We try harder” became one of the company’s internal core values.

So here are some tips for truth in advertising, marketing and branding:

1. Facts are far less interesting than stories. If the facts are truly on your side, that’s great, your marketing job will be a lot easier. But you still need to find a creative way to present those facts. That means weaving them into a compelling narrative.

2. If you have a me-too product, you’re going to have to “bluff with fluff.”  That’s when your advertising messages are even more critical to success. You have to come up with something beyond the product or service to hang your hat on. That’s what Avis did. That’s what Allstate’s doing with the “mayhem” campaign. That’s what every golf club manufacturer does. Product parity demands an effective use of exaggeration. A little more “spin.”

truth in advertising anchored in truth BNBranding3. Make sure your marketing communications are anchored in truth. The premise of your campaign, and the meat of your message, has to hold water. Otherwise, consumers will tag it immediately as B.S.  The mayhem campaign for Allstate is anchored in a common truth… that trouble lurks around every corner.

4. Be consistent. Once you figure out what that emotional truth is, stick with it!  You can vary the execution, but the underlying message and the “voice” of the campaign needs to stay the same. The more your messages bounce around, the less credibility you’ll have. Click here to get help from BNBranding.

5. Always portray your product in the best light possible. Being “authentic” doesn’t mean you should use crappy photos of your product, or cheap packaging. If you have to, leave out the facts that point to another choice. Steer the conversation your way.

6. Admit it when don’t know or can’t stack up. Admitting a true shortcoming of your company or your product is a great way to disarm prospects and build trust. Be truthful about what you don’t do, and use that to your advantage.

7. Never pay people for “reviews,” and don’t write fake testimonials. Verbatim comments from happy customers carry a lot of weight, but people can tell if you’re writing them yourself.  There are subtle little language clues that give you away, every time.

8. Remember, your story is what the consumer believes it to be. And one person’s truth is another person’s lie.  You’ll never please all the people… Just those who share the alternate reality of your particular market segment.

9. Business is about relationships. Relationships hinge on trust. So lying, cheating or doing anything that betrays trust, also hurts the brand. As Marty Neumeier said, “Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision, and the bedrock of modern branding.”

10. Remember that consumers are deeply, contagiously skeptical.  And if they feel they’re being duped, they’ll shout it out any way they can. In fact, there’s a small, but vocal, segment of the population that has nothing better to do than lurk around on Twitter just waiting for something to snark about.

11. Be Novel.  Great novels aren’t true but they reveal truths. They involve deep, meaningful characters and a storyline that grips, moves, builds. Brands should do the same.  If you’re staying static, you’re losing relevance. And great writing is a differentiator, all by itself!

Click here for more on truth in advertising. 

Click here to get help from BNBranding.