Category Archives for "BRANDING"

18

Brand authenticity (Keeping it real, honest, genuine and true)

I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.

brand authenticityLately, it’s “Brand Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.

In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”

If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.

“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.

Most definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand, brand authenticity is defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”

I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.”

In Philosophy of Art “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.

The same holds true for brands.

The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck.  They are the exception to the corporate rule.

The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”

brand authenticityI think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. We are born skeptics.

Guilty until proven innocent!

And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Instagram fans.

Ouch.

In a Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”

Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups.  They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.

Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”

It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.

“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”

Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.

In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.

Amway is now known for brand authenticityAmway, for instance.

Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”

The front-line MLM culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.

It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. The antithesis of brand authenticity.

But I digress.

Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?

Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!

Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.

That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.trust and brand authenticity

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that you’re sincere and will be more likely to trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.

It’s always tempting for successful small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.

Align your marketing messages with your brand.

You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose.  You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.

Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?

Be consistent.

Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to

put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.

Lead by example. 

One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders

with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.

So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R&D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.

Hire good PR people. 

Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.

Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.

For more about brand authenticity, try THIS post. 

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2

Masterful Brand Management – Golf industry marketing & Tiger Woods

Golf Industry Marketing and The Masters BNBrandingIt’s Masters Week —  the biggest week of the year in golf industry marketing and a tide-turning event for several brands.

Most notably, the TW brand.

Over the last 9 months the Tiger Woods brand has, shall we say, strayed a bit. The “indiscreations” of Tiger’s personal life have cost his brand millions in endorsement deals, and even more in public goodwill. As one sports writer put it, “it’s the most dramatic fall from grace in the history of sport.”

For Tiger Woods and company, The Masters represents the perfect venue for a comeback, and an ideal brand affiliation.

See, Augusta National is considered hallowed ground. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of the golf world and its annual invitational tournament is like Easter Sunday with the Pope.  Every player and every “patron” out there considers himself blessed to be part of it.

Call it the halo effect… TW needs some of that sweet aroma of blossoming azaleas to rub the stink off of him.

truth in advertising BNBrandingSo Tiger started the week in Augusta with a press conference. Every question was personal. Pointed. Charged. Every reporter wanted to rehash the events of Tiger’s private life. To his credit, Tiger’s responses seemed genuine and heartfelt. Not overly scripted. But it was obvious that his answers were thought out in advance. As they should be.

From what I’ve read, the CEO of Toyota, with all his PR advisors, didn’t handle things as well in regards to the recall.  Toyota execs withheld information that put their customers at risk of death, and the press was easier on them than Tiger.

Different rules apply to our sports heroes.

In any case, Toyota has 50 years of dependable performance and customer loyalty to help pull it through this little bump in the road. And ultimately, when it comes to Tiger’s brand, performance will trump everything else.

tiger woods comeback logo brand video

The Tiger Woods logo for Nike

As soon as he gets back to his dominant form and wins a few of these majors, like The Masters, people will begin to forgive and forget. And golf industry marketing can get back on track.

Keep in mind, his Tiger’s brand bordered on superhero status before all this crap came up. But every superhero has his kryptonite, and now we know what Tiger’s is.

The events of the last year have had a polarizing effect on the TW brand. The people who weren’t Tiger fans before really hate him now. And he seems to be universally despised by women.

However, among the men over 45 who make up 75% of the golfing public, he’s still  more admired than despised. He still gets a standing ovation on the 12th tee at Augusta. Still inspires awe with his performance on the golf course. And that’s always good for business.

The other thing that TW and company did this week was launch a new commercial.

In classic, Nike fashion, the black and white spot features Tiger, just standing there looking stoic, while his father’s words hauntingly ask the questions that the entire world has been asking:

“I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are… did you learn anything?”

The mainstream media and general public won’t recognize the voice and might see it simply as PR BS. Some have called it crass and creepy. Others are saying it’s  “Exploiting his father’s memory.”

But the general public isn’t the target. Die-hard golf fans will know it’s the voice of Earl Woods, reaching out from the grave, and for them, it will have the desired effect.

It’s common knowledge that Woods and his father were very tight. One of the most poignant moments in golf history came shortly after Earl’s death… Tiger won the British Open and before he get off the 18th green he broke down completely in his caddy’s arms, grieving in front of the entire world.

So my hat’s off to the guys at Weiden & Kennedy. I think it’s fitting that it’s his father posing the tough questions. In fact, the whole concept hinges on it. Any other voice over and the spot’s not worth running.

Then there’s the look on Tiger’s face. They’re not making him look heroic. In fact, he looks like a guy in the doghouse, licking his wounds. Taking his medicine.

I believe the spot works from a damage control standpoint. And as far as brand personality is concerned, it fits. Tiger never was great at dealing with the fans. Not the most popular guy to get paired up with. Not the most forthcoming with an autograph or quick with a smile.

In other words, he was no Lee Trevino or Phil Michelson.

One thing’s for sure, the new commercial has a high buzz factor. And it makes you wonder, would all this have happened if Earl was still around, keeping an eye on his superstar son?

I was never really surprised by Tiger’s misbehavior. Dissapointed, sure, but not particularly surprised. He’s a rock star, after all. How many rock stars stay at the top of the game without a blemish for 15 years?

Just saying.

The Tiger Woods brand is definitely tarnished. But no matter what they think of his commercials or his off-course antics, no matter what they write about him, Tiger’s brand will recover and thrive because he’s so amazingly good at what he does.

His performance will dictate the script of his branding success. It may not come this week at Augusta, but it will come.

Tiger Woods promises to light up a golf course like no contemporary player can. He’ll always be intensely passionate. He’ll give everything he has to every golf shot he hits, and leave nothing on the course.

But I don’t think the TW brand promise ever went much further than that.

In 2016 Tiger Woods made $43 million without playing in a single tournament.

In 2017 he was the 4th highest paid golfer, behind just Rory McElroy, Phil Michelson and Arnold Palmer.

June 3, 2018 update… Tiger has $1.5 million in on-course winnings so far this year, and another $50 million in projected off-course earnings. In addition to Nike, he also has endorsement deals with Taylor Made, Buick, Titlest, Rolex and many other big names in the golf marketing world.

Could this be the beginning of Tiger’s second coming?

Stay tuned.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

7 fresh hops brew pub branding and marketing

Brewpub Branding: Messaging and attitude from Brewpub Beer Snobs.

BNBranding logoI had an experience in a brewpub recently that was inspiring and insulting at the same time.

It proved that what you say, and how your front-line employees speak, can have a major impact on your brewpub branding efforts. And it proves that branding isn’t just a function of the marketing department.

Because it only takes one bad experience…

craft beer brands and branding tipsKeep in mind, this Oregon, where there are more brewpubs per capita than anywhere on earth. So craft brewing brands are plentiful and the competition is stiff.

If you don’t like the food or the service or the beer in one brewpub, just walk around block and try another one.

So a buddy and I popped into a brewpub for a burger and beer, après golf. We were parched.

The menu offered craft beers in all the usual colors and categories… a blonde, a red, an amber, a black, a pils, a pale ale, an IPA, etc. etc.  Each beer choice had its own whacky name and an elaborate advertising claims that left us scratching our heads…

“Two more pounds of hops per barrel!”

“ 20% rye malt plus five domestic malts and two Northwest hop varieties.”

Ooooookay. Time for a translation.

We flagged down the waiter and asked for his recommendation. We’re not new to the craft beer scene, but we were hoping for a a layman’s answer to a simple question: “What would you recommend for a hot summer day like today,” I asked.

fresh hops brewpub branding and marketing“Oh. Well, the Monkey Fire Red Amber Ale has FRESH Willamette Valley hops,” he said in a knowing, assertive, somewhat snobbish tone.

As if that’s all we’d need to know.

Awkward silence… Wow. I’m thinking, “Uhhhhhhhh. So What?

What does fresh hops mean to my thirsty tastebuds? How is that going to affect the flavor of the beer? Yeah, but which one’s more refreshing?

My friend and I looked at each other, pondered that one, and turned back to the waiter for elaboration. The grungy young man just stood there, looking at us like we were from another planet.

Give me a break. If I wanted this kind of treatment I’d drink fancy wine. It was like an episode of Portlandia. Everybody knows the benefits of fresh hops, right?

Wrong. Boy, did we feel stupid.

Rule number one of Branding 101: Don’t make your customers or prospects feel stupid. Nobody likes that. Even if they are dumb as a post.

It’s pretty much impossible to build brand loyalty when people feel excluded and stupid when they’re contemplating a purchase.

There are plenty of professionals who are good at making people feel dumb: Management consultants, financial advisors, IT guys, golf pros, and most commonly, attorneys and doctors.  It’s easy to make people feel stupid when you’re an expert in a field filled with jargon like medicine or law, but a waiter in a brewpub???

Why would a brewpub waiter obscure beer in a veil of jargon?

Maybe he thinks it increases the perceived value of their brewery. Or maybe, if he appears to be a complete beer nerd,  it’ll earn him a better tip.

It’s understandable, but contrary to the laws of good branding.

With great brands, customers feel included. Not excluded.

Companies like Apple openly invite everyone into the “club.” They don’t use high tech jargon that appeals only to early adapters and computer industry nerds, they use plain, everyday English that excludes no one. And once you’re in, you feel a genuine sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, a lot of business people feel compelled to overload their presentations, websites, sales pitches, ad copy and even waiter speak with esoteric nonsense that excludes everyone except the people within their own company.

And they justify it by saying “yeah, but we know our customers and we’re targeting a demographic niche that understands that stuff.”

Doesn’t matter.

Even if the target audience is brilliant enough to understand reams of engineering data and technical specs, that doesn’t mean you should baffle them with your insider-ese.

Brewpub branding is not unique. Every industry has its own vernacular. For instance, many business owners have heard TV advertising salespeople spewing on about Neilsons and CUME and gross rating points and impact quotients.

Inevitably, most business owners are left thinking, “Huh? So what?”

“What’s that mean to me? How’s that affect my budget? What’s it going to do for my business? What’s in it for me?”

Every time you leave someone with nagging questions like that, you’ve  overlooked the real benefit of your product or service and you hurt the credibility of your brand.

In the end, we didn’t go with the waiter’s recommendation.

The beer we chose was quite good, even without the fresh, Willamette Valley hops, but the flavor was tainted by the experience we had and the nagging question the waiter never did answer.

He was so far inside that barrel of beer, he couldn’t possibly understand the consumer’s perspective.

Think about that. Think about the last conversation you had with a prospective customer, partner or key employee. What kind of language did you use?  Was it loaded with insider information and industry jargon that sounds foreign to anyone outside your inner circle?

If it was, maybe it’s time to shut up and listen for a change. Put your ego aside and get some outside perspective. Turn off the doubletalk and turn back to plain English.

You might be surprised how persuasive plain speak can be.

For more on clear, convincing brand messages for your brewpub branding, try this post.

P.S. If any of you can explain the benefits of fresh hops, please leave a comment. I know we grow good hops here in Oregon, but I still don’t know what the big deal is about being fresh?  Give me a break. And if you’re thinking of opening yet another brew pub around here, give BNBranding a call. You’re going to need help differentiating yourself.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

How to differentiate your company (Disruption as a branding discipline)

BNBranding logoThe word for the day is Disruption, with a capital D. That’s the easiest way to differentiate your company from the competition.

Be Disruptive!

Unfortunately, in our society there’s a stigma against all things deemed disruptive.

When I was in elementary school I learned to not be disruptive in class. Or else! Sit still in church and don’t disrupt the service. By the 6th grade it was “don’t cause a scene or call attention to yourself.”

How to differentiate your business - BNBrandingDon’t be different. Be the same.

Write like everyone else. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else and you’ll get along just fine. That’s the message we got, and it’s the message our kids are getting.

Loud and clear.

Maybe that’s why so many business owners and executives flee from the idea of disruption like a fox from a forest fire. It’s ingrained in our society. Most business owners are deathly afraid that some new competitor with “distruptive technology” is going to come along and threaten their turf.

And yet, if you’re trying to differentiate your business it’s disruption that separates the iconic brands from the ho-hum ones.  Disruptive advertising. Disruptive product ideas. Disruptive marketing messages. Disruptive cultures. And even disruptive social media posts.

Jean Marie Dru, Chairman of the advertising conglomerate TBWA, has written two outstanding books about Disruption, but it’s still a hard sell. To most executives disruption is bad. Convention is good. And the results of this mentality are everywhere.

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

As management guru Tom Peters says, “we live in a sea of similarity.” Social convention and human nature lead us into a trap of conformity where all websites have the same basic layout. All sedans look the same. All airlines feel the same. All travel ads sound the same.

And it works to some degree, because there’s comfort in conformity. (Vanilla still outsells all other flavors of ice cream.)

But in the long run, conformity is the kiss of death for a brand.

Great brands do things that are disruptive. Rather than shying away from the word, the executives embrace the idea of disruption and they make it a part of their everyday operation. They are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their companies, and every new idea is considered productive change that stimulates progress.

But even when they succeed with disruptive products, disruptive technology and disruptive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to sustain.

When Chrysler first launched the Plymouth Voyager the Minivan was a groundbreaking idea that threw the auto industry into total disruption. It was a whole new category, and everyone scrambled to copy the market leader. Within five years, minivans were — you guessed it —  all the same.

There used to be a Television network that was radically disruptive. MTV launched hundreds of music careers and shaped an entire generation, and now where is it? Lost in a sea of mediocre sameness.

When they first burst onto the scene in the 80’s, the idea of a micro brewery was very disruptive. Now, in Oregon, there’s one in every neighborhood and they’re all pretty much the same. Good, but IPAs are everywhere.

Successfully disruptive ideas don’t last because its human nature to copy what works. This process of imitation homogenizes the disruptive idea to the point where it’s no longer different. No longer disruptive.

how to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSo if you want to sustain a competitive advantage and continue to differentiate your company from new upstarts, you have to keep coming up with disruptive ideas. Not just incremental improvement on what’s always worked, but honest-to-goodness newness all the time.

Avatar is a disruptive movie that spawned numerous knock-offs.

The name “Fuzzy Yellow Balls” is brilliantly disruptive in the on-line tennis market.

brand differentiation on the brand insight blogThe American Family Life Assurance Company was utterly forgettable until they changed their name to AFLAC and launched a campaign featuring a quacking duck.

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review, AFLAC’s CEO Daniel Amos risked a million dollars on that silly duck campaign.

Amos could have gone with an idea that tested incrementally better than the average insurance commercial, but he didn’t. He took a chance and went with that obnoxious duck. He chose to differentiate his company. He chose disruption over convention, and everyone said he was nuts.

But it turned out to be a radically successful example of brand differentiation.

The first day the duck aired AFLAC had more visits to their website than they had in the entire previous year. Name recognition improved 67% the first year. And most importantly, sales jumped 29%. After three years, sales had doubled.

AFLAC’s success was based on disruption in advertising and naming. But for many companies, there’s also an opportunity to stand out with disruptive strategy. In fact, Dru contends that breakthrough tactics are not enough, and that the strategic stage also demands imagination.

Here’s another good example of how to differentiate your company…

When Apple introduced the iPod, the strategy wasn’t just about superior product design. It was about disrupting the conventions of the music business. It was about introducing the Apple brand to a whole new category of non-users and establishing Apple as the preferred platform for all your personal electronic needs.ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

You can get away with mediocre tactics if your strategy is disruptive enough. And vice-versa…  If your advertising execution is disruptive, you can get by with a me-too strategy. But if you want to hit a real home run like Apple did with the ipod, start with a brilliantly disruptive strategy and build on it with a disruptive product and disruptive marketing execution.

It’s kind of ironic… In business, no one wants to cause a disruption, and yet they’re clamoring for good ideas. And good ideas ARE disruptive. They disrupt the way the synapses in the brain work. They break down our stereotypes and disrupt the business-as-usual mentality.

That’s precisely why we remember them.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingRichard Branson said, “Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.”

Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.”

Ask yourself this: What are you protecting yourself from? What are the conventions of your industry?  Why are are you maintaining the stats quo? What are the habits that are holding you back? Are you copying what’s good, or doing what’s new?

What are you doing to be disruptive?  What are doing to differentiate your company on a dialy basis? Are you really willing to settle for vanilla or are you really committed to brand differentiation?

For more on disruption and how to differentiate your company, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

8 ski industry case study from BNBranding

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

ski industry case study from BNBranding

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

It was the kind of day ski bums live for…  11 inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. And the sky was clearing.

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

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

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

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

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

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

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

So this is a ski industry marketing case study featuring KneeBinding – the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont.

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

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

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

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ski industry case study marketing

Besides, it sounds like

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has to be way more emotional than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Branding firm BNBranding

5 Things All Iconic Brands Have In Common.

BNBranding logoSimon Edwards, former Brand Manager at 3M, started a lively online discussion around this question: “What are the common attributes of iconic brands?

He opened it up on Brand 3.0 — a Linkedin Group that includes 4,363 branding consultants, practitioners, creative directors, gurus and wannabes. It was an intelligent, worthwhile discussion that hit all the hot buttons of the branding world.

But we were preaching to the choir.

So in an effort to reach a few business people who aren’t completely inside the bottle,  I’d like to cover the high points of the discussion and add a few examples…

•  “Iconic brands plays a valued role in a consumer’s life. They deliver a feeling that the consumer just can’t get from any other brand. That feeling may be security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence or many others.” – Andy Wright

Here’s an example: At one time, I was a loyal Audi owner. Over a Thanksgiving weekend I had to drive the Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night. I felt all those things… security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.

The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand. I couldn’t have felt safer in any other vehicle, short of a semi truck.

“The 5 criteria of iconic brands are:  relevancy, competitiveness, authenticity, clarity of promise, consistency of communication. The hard work is the proactive management of the brand (including product development) to ensure the five criteria are delivered.” – Ed Burghard

Authenticity. Clarity of promise. Consistency.

I like Ed’s point here about proactive, ongoing brand management. Many people seem to think of branding as a one-time event. — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all.

You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not constantly minding your brand.

Always Be Branding.

It’s a never-ending effort that should be intertwined into your day-to-day business.

“One element that has not been discussed is success. No brand can reach iconic status without being successful in achieving it’s purpose. Part is creating these wonderful brand connections – authentically, emotionally, as an experience. Part is communicating with clarity and consistency. Part is delivering on the promise. But a vital component is to have delivered results and exceeded expectations… yes?’    – Ed Holme

what great brands have in common PatagoniaPatagonia is an iconic brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a compelling story to tell.

It is clear and consistent. When that story is retold over time it establishes that intangible, emotional  connection that inspires people and fuels success.

What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit? Are you clear about that? Are you telling that part of your story in a compelling way?

• “I would like to add ‘Leadership’ to the list of attributes already mentioned. It’s not about market share, though; iconic brands play by their own rules. These brands tend to break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture, catching the competition off guard and finding unprecedented loyalty”… – Stephen Abbott

This was a contribution that really stood out. I believe leadership is a highly overlooked component of branding. If you don’t take a genuine leadership position in some aspect of  your business, your brand will eventually flounder. (Can you say GM?)

Iconic brands are not, necessarily, always the market leader.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticLook at Apple. The iconic leader in the computing world only has 9.6% market share in computers. What’s more,  an iconic brand does not guarantee business success. Farrells Ice Cream parlors were iconic in this part of the country, and they went belly up.

Was Saturn iconic?  Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of industry have fallen.

To build on the ideas related to story telling…  Iconic brands often align with an archetypal character and story which is instantly recognizable, psychologically stimulating and meaningful. Coke embodies the Innocent archetype as expressed through their advertising from polar bears to Santa Claus or the classic ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ campaign.” – Brenton Schmidt

Executives at Coke shattered that innocence when they changed the beloved formula to “New Coke.”  Probably the single biggest branding screw-up of the last 50 years. One woman, who hadn’t had a Coke in 25 years, called to complain that they were “messing with her childhood.”  Now that’s brand loyalty!

“Some underlying attributes (of iconic brands) tend to be focus, clarity and authenticity. However, all iconic brands tend to connect customers with an overreaching philosophy that fosters emotional connection between the customer and the brand.

Examples of brands and the emotions they foster:

– Nike = Performance. “I feel like I can run faster or jump higher when I wear my Nikes.”

– Target = Affordable Design. “At Wal-Mart, I get the best price. At Target, I get style and price.”

– Apple = CounterCulture. “I want style, simplicity and usability. My Mac says to the world that I’m different and unique. In short, I hate Windows and everything it represents.”

– Jason Milicki

I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, and I’d add the word Contrarian. Proudly contrarian, even. (My kids helped make sushi for Thanksgiving, and my son dubbed it a “Contrarian Turkey Dinner.” I think I’m handing it down.)

Finally, here’s one parting thought on iconic brands, from yours truly:

You don’t have to be  a multinational company, or even the biggest player in your niche, to become a successful icon in your own right. Gerry Lopez is an icon in the world of surfing, yet unknown to the general public and to Wall Street.

If you want to build an iconic brand — even a small one — start with passion, purpose and focus. Then work your ass off.

Of course, BNBranding can help take some of the burden off  your shoulders. Call us. 541-815-0075. For more on the common attributes of iconic brands, try this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

1 Branding firm BNBranding

If you got hit by a bus, what would happen to your brand?

BNBranding logoDeath and taxes. The two are always lumped together as inevitable parts of life. So why, as business people, do we obsess over taxes and ignore the issue of death?

Nothing derails a small business faster, and more dramatically, than death. When a partner or key employee dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. No two ways about it.

The question is, is your brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss? Have you done any business succession planning at all?

My dentist lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident.  How do you go back to drilling teeth after that?

bnbranding Brand Insight BlogMy business partner lost her 14-year old son to a rare form of brain cancer. Jumping back into her role at work wasn’t exactly a priority.

Children. Siblings. Parents. Clients. Close friends. When you lose them, you also lose hard-fought momentum, motivation and money if you’re in business for yourself. And chances are, you won’t even care.

All those niggling managerial details that seemed like a high priority will almost certainly fall by the wayside. Clients and vendors are usually very forgiving in times like that, but if you don’t have some kind of contingency plan, you’re liable to experience yet another loss… of your business.

Personal loss is particularly hard on professional service businesses. When my mother died, I was physically ill for weeks. I was grief sick and unable to work.

Imagine a key attorney in a small law firm. A star architect. A senior executive recruiter with a big, fat rolodex. These key players are often the lifeblood of a company. Or as CFOs like to call them, “irreplacable assets.”

When those people go, the business goes with them. So what can you do to protect your business in case of a death?

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some practical tips on small-business succession planning. It’s not about hiring the right law firm.

Successful business succession hinges on building your brand.

Once you’ve built an iconic brand, the business is much more likely to survive a traumatic loss. Sounds great, but how do you do that?

BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

Make it about more than just money.

Great brands stand for something beyond business. There are values built into the brand that transcend time and personnel. Patagonia for instance… if Yvonne Chounard were to die in a climbing accident, the brand would endure. Not just because it’s a big company, but because they have a large clan of customers and employees who share the company’s core values.

Have a better hiring strategy.

Business succession planning involves hiring the right people to carry the torch. You want people who share your values and your vision, not your management style. Rather than hiring clones of yourself, find people smarter than yourself, with diverse backgrounds, experience and style. That way you’ll achieve some balance in the organization and it’ll be easier to fill a void, if something terrible happens.

positioning strategy BNBrandingKeep your story straight.

Too many companies get fixated on their logo and forget about the brand story they have to tell. Logos change and evolve, but the core brand story should always stay consistent.

Unfortunately, many C-level executives can’t articulate their brand story. Even Richard Branson has a hard time with the question, “what’s the Virgin brand about.” (It’s not just about Richard Branson) So before something bad happens, put your brand story down on paper. Hire someone to help you craft the story that doesn’t revolve around any one person. Then stick with it.

Build strong alliances.

Successful companies tend to have a large number of brand affiliations.  They don’t operate in a vacuum. The more companies, people, brands and causes that you are affiliated with, the more support you’ll have in tough times. But don’t forget… all those affiliations need to be aligned with your brand. You don’t want just random alliances.

Devise a succession plan before you need it.

It’s kind of ironic… in order to get funding, start-ups have to include a slide about their exit strategy. And it’s usually pie in the sky stuff.

But many established businesses that are actually good targets for acquisitions, never even think about succession.

It’s one of those painful things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile. But you need to make time for business succession planning. If you’re an owner, a manager, or just an employee, you need to know what would happen in the worst-case scenario.

For more on how to build an iconic brand, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 A feel-good brand in a bummed-out world.

It’s being dubbed a “”depressed economy.”  There are nightly reports on our current “ecomonic dulldrums,” and the  “downturn” in consumer spending.

But if you sift through all the doom and gloom you’ll find that some brands are thriving in this “challenging economic environment.”

How do they do it? Here’s the secret:

Make people smile!  It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

WWLogo - smallIf your product or service can elicit genuine smiles, you’ve got a winning brand. Because happiness is contagious.  And when people are experiencing stress caused by circumstances beyond their control, that little dose of happiness becomes more valuable than ever.

Disney does it best. There’s also Great Wolf Lodge. Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Stuff-a-Bear Creations. These are brands that are built on smiles. Locally, the brand that wins the happy, happy, feel-good contest is Working Wonders Children’s Museum. Hands down.

No other business in town elicits more smiles, more Kodak moments, than Working Wonders. (On sunny winter days, Mt. Bachelor comes in a close second, but that’s more of a grown-up playground.) For kids under 11 nothing can match the hands-on play and make-believe worlds of Working Wonders.

IMG_2391

But I have to admit, I’m completely biased. My wife and I started the non-profit on a whim and a prayer seven years ago.  Back when there was nothing, I mean nothing, in town for young kids to do.

First we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits. Then we went around to every summer event and introduced kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play. It caught on. Before the days of Facebook or Twitter, it went viral. We launched in less than one-third the time, and for one-third the cost, of most children’s museums.

And every day we’re open, we see a lot of smiling kids and eternally grateful parents. Here’s an unsolicited comment that demonstrates how happy customers help tell the story of a brand:

“I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter.  What we value most is the way Working Wonders grows along with her – there is always an activity that’s just right for her latest developmental stage and current interests.  She draws confidence and comfort from the stations that remain the same (the grocery store being her favorite) and extends the ways she interacts with them each visit.  The new additions (the creations in the science lab!) keep her curious and provide her with exciting new learning.

I love that Working Wonders is set up to encourage parents to explore alongside their child, rather than “having a break” while their children play independently.  Activities are interesting to learners of all ages, and you can watch the bonding that happens during play.

I love how Working Wonders models ways to be a better community, such as recycled art, and gentle reminders to leave each place just as you found it in consideration for the next person.  Working Wonders also gives a tremendous amount to the community – I teach parenting classes, and they have donated 10-punch cards to each of my families.  How wonderful for me to be able to help parents with their parent-child interactions, and then give them free passes to the best play to try out their new skills!”

You can see the smile on the daughter’s face just by reading her mom’s comments. Look how many times the word “love” appears. That’s brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world 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. Because admissions aren’t enough to sustain the organization, and right now, those donors are harder to come by.

Over the last five years Working Wonders relied heavily on corporate sponsors to help meet its annual fundraising goals. But most of those companies were in the building industry — the most hard-hit by the recession.

So I’m doing something I’ve never done on the Brand Insight Blog… I’m asking directly for your financial support.  Dig deep, and give big!

Working Wonders is an essential community asset, partnering with more than 20 social service agencies throughout Central Oregon. It’s the go-to resource for early childhood education, and it needs your help. Now, more than ever.

There are many ways to give…

Sponsor an exhibit in the museum. Commit to a corporate sponsorship. (It’s a great branding opportunity for any company that targets young families.)  Pledge to an annual giving program. Leave an endowment. Provide financial backing for a Working Wonders event. Or give an in-kind donation.

If Working Wonders doesn’t generate enough support by October 1st, it may not survive to see an economic rebound. So give now. The smiles you’ll get back are priceless.

 

2 F15 Fighter vs. the 787 Dreamliner — Why corporate mergers are seldom good for brands.

BNBranding logoIn 1997 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas agreed on a merger. Like most corporate marriages, the Boeing merger looked great on paper:  Boeing’s strength — commercial jetliners — was McDonald Douglas’ weakness. And vice-versa.

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

Two global brands, both looking to shore-up the weakest parts of their business. Two diametrically opposed corporate cultures.

The McDonald Douglas brand revolved around blowing things up. Inflicting damage. Killing the enemy. Commercial production of the DC10 and MD80 was not the priority. Their preferred customers were military men around the world, all cut from the same, heavily starched cloth. And when you sell to the same, homogeneous group for a long time, you begin to look, and act, a lot like your customers.

At Boeing the culture revolved around two words: Safety and efficiency. The imperative in Seatttle was just the opposite… kill no one. Get people safely and comfortably to their  destination. Boeing’s customers were business people, not DOD officials or foreign generals.

The two cultures were sure to clash.

2-boeing-787f15_eagle_fighter_full

For some first-hand insight, I spoke with a recently retired Boeing executive who was involved with the Boeing merger and the integration of the two companies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In military aviation they can push the technology and take more risks. In commercial, you don’t use unproven technology because the risks are just too great. But with the new leadership, there was a lot of pressure to try new things. The 787 Dreamliner is a fantastic platform, but they chose an unproven design for the wing-to-body joints, and now they have to go back and fix it. It’s enormously expensive.”

According to the Seattle Times, Boeing CFO James Bell admitted the delays and problems “put pressure on the profitability of this (787) program. We’ve always been concerned with the cumulative impact of the schedule delays and the pressure it puts on cost,” Bell said. “We also have been concerned with the delays to our customers and how that converts to penalties or the settlements we have to work through with them.”

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

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

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

TheMcDonald Douglas-Boeing merger was like Mercedes merging with the maker of the Abrams tank.

Not exactly compatible corporate missions.

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

It’s almost always a numbers game, not a branding play.

corporate mergers - boeing merger BNBrandingIf brands were a consideration, a lot more merged companies would maintain two different brands — rather than trying to integrate under one corporate banner. McDonnell Douglas would still be the brand for military applications and Boeing would be the brand for all commercial operations.

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

Not only that, I’ll bet Bezos is smart enough recognize the value of the Zappos brand.

If you’re seriously considering a merger or an acquisition, include a thorough brand evaluation in your due diligence. Study the corporate cultures and take extra time to devise a long-term brand strategy. If integration is the plan, it might be a lot harder than you think.

Just ask the engineers at Boeing.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

1 Pepsi logo redesign – A new spin on the Pepsi logo.

The Pepsi logo redesign is generating hives of buzz in branding and design circles. It’s not surprising… whenever you start messing around with one of the world’s most recognized commercial icons, people are going to talk.

image_pepsi_newcan1But it’s not like grocery carts are piling up in the beverage isle while soccer moms wax eloquent about the new design aesthetic. The general public could care less. Nope, the initial armchair quarterbacking was limited to graphic design forums and beverage industry trade pubs.

“I love it.”

“I hate it.”

“It looks like the Obama logo.”

“It’s not young enough.”

“It’s static, empty and vaguely bland.”

“It’s demonic brainwashing.”

All the usual responses to a major branding makeover. But now, since the “rationale” for the new logo is circulating on the web, the debate has taken on a viral life of its own.

The 27-page design brief for the Pepsi logo redesign entitled “Breathtaking” reads like a scientific white paper loaded with marketingese and unprecedented levels of highly creative BS. In fact, Fast Company Magazine called it branding lunacy…

“Every page of this document is more ridiculous than the last ending with a pseudo-scientific explanation of how Pepsi’s new branding identity will manifest it’s own gravitational pull.”

The L.A. Times was equally critical:

“Behold, then, the scattered and burning debris field of one of corporate America’s most misbegotten image makeovers… According to the brief, the new Pepsi logo lies along a trajectory of human consciousness that includes in its arc the Vastu Shastra, a 3,000-year-old Hindu architectural guide; Pythagoras (the Golden Section); the Roman architect Vitruvius; the Fibonacci series; Descartes; and Corbusier.”

Oooookay.

(Kinda reminds me of the rationale used to justify an empty blue rectangle for the Nationwide Insurance Logo. But in this case, the design itself isn’t that bad.)

Maybe the controversy is what the design firm, Arnell, had in mind all along. There’s talk of the whole thing being a hoax, that Arnell created the document after the fact just to poke fun at their critics and generate media attention. If that’s the case, the stunt has backfired, big time.

The brief makes Arnell look like corporate bandits, it makes Pepsi look bad for buying into the rationale, and it discredits the entire branding industry. It’s hard enough to get C-level executives to take branding seriously, without this kind of nonsense floating around.

Great design speaks for itself. You don’t need a physics thesis to explain it. It just works.

My 11 year-old daughter likes the new Pepsi logo redesign. (Says it makes her happy.)  And now that I’ve read the exhaustive brief, I know why…

pepsi-happy-facesIt’s a smiley face.

An overanalyzed, underwhelming, million dollar smiley face. It even comes in a variety of grin sizes. (Apparently regular ol’ Pepsi gets a smaller grin than the newer versions of Pepsi, like Pepsi Max. Whatever that is.)

Pepsi’s going to spend more than a billion dollars redoing all their packaging, vending machines, trucks, POP materials and everything else. The new logo’s going to be EVERYWHERE!

So I’m kinda glad Arnell changed the old wavy logo into a smiley face. I’m just not sure about their methods.

For more on corporate rebranding and logo design, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog