Category Archives for "Management"

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“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Managers make monumental mistakes, but brands endure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

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

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, BN Branding 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.

5 things all iconic brands have in common by BN Branding

 

new approach to website design

A new approach to website design – What’s the big idea?

BNBranding logoI grew up on the creative side of the advertising industry where big ideas are the currency of success. Agency creative teams toil endlessly to come up with the spark of an idea that can be leveraged into a giant, category-busting campaign. Then they pit their ideas, head-to-head, with the big ideas from competing agencies. Winner takes all.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingBig ideas are also the bread and butter of the start-up world.

Entrepreneurs and VCs are constantly searching for innovative, disruptive ideas that solve a problem, attract venture capital and produce teaming hordes of 28-year old billionaires.

And in Hollywood, producers are aways searching for high-concept movie ideas that break out of the normal, predictable patterns and produce box-office mega hits like Avatar or Titanic.

There’s absolutely no doubt that big ideas can transform a brand — from bland to brilliant. And there’s no doubt that your website is great place to showcase that big idea.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the typical website project, big ideas are as rare as a Harry Potter blockbuster.

You’re going to need a new approach to website design.

Most small business websites are nothing more than bad corporate brochures in electronic form. Everywhere you look there are cookie-cutter templates, lousy stock photos and “keyword-rich” copy that sounds like it was rendered by a robot rather than written by a pro.

You wouldn’t take a generic ad template that all your competitors are using, fill in the blanks, and then spend $20,000 to run it in a national magazine. But that’s essentially what a lot of companies are doing with their website design projects.

It’s like paint by numbers, and the results are mind-numbing.

 

 

 

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a whole new approach to website design.

Because the current standard operating procedure for website projects is all wrong. It shouldn’t be a project at all, it should be an ongoing initiative. It should always be evolving and improving, just like your business.

“When’s it going to be done?” is the wrong question to ask.  It should never be done.

Instead, ask “What’s the big idea?” What’s the novel concept that will differentiate this website from all the rest, and move viewers to action?

A new approach to website design BNBrandingEveryone in the web development world knows that web projects get bogged down by one thing: “Content.”

The tech guys who build sites are always waiting for interesting headlines, engaging copy, uncommon offers, authentic stories and brilliant graphics to arrive from the client. Sometimes, it seems, for an eternity.

Because that’s the hardest part. Building a site on a WordPress theme is easy compared to the work that has to be done, up front…

First you need some Strategic Insight. Then the Big Idea. (Think “Got Milk” or “Where’s The Beef.”) THEN execution… That’s where all the elements come together.  1-2-3.

Unfortunately, most companies jump right to Step 3.

In the web design arena, the tail is definitely wagging the dog. It’s technology first, process second, content third, design fourth. Nowhere does the big idea come into play. It’s the most commonly overlooked element of any web project.

So here’s my advice for any business owner or marketing person who’s thinking of “doing a new website”:

Forget about that. Stop thinking of it as a website design project, and instead, launch a campaign that starts with a with a big idea that is showcased on the website.

Think of it as a long-term marketing program, not a short-term project. Think of it as a new approach to web design that’s more wholistic, more integrated, and more effective than the old way.

a new approach to website design by BNBrandingYes, paddling back upstream can be difficult work.

And you often need outside help to come up with the strategic insight and big idea you really need. But the effort will pay off.

The big idea is the branding thread that connects all your marketing efforts… It’s not limited just to your website.

It can be leveraged in your social media campaigns, your paid advertising, your PR and even your customer service procedures.

When you begin with a big idea, the website falls into place quite naturally. It’s just another tactical execution of the big, strategic idea.

When it’s done right, it obviously aligns your marketing strategy and tactics into one, kick-ass idea.

For more on the new approach to website design, try this post.

If you’d like an affordable, honest assessment of your current strategy and website tactics, click here. 

If you want expert marketing assistance, just give us a call. 541-815-0075.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two cultures were sure to clash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not exactly compatible corporate missions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask the engineers at Boeing.

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

another iconic brand by BN Branding

 

3 brand strategy from BNBranding bend oregon

Brands that are built to last. (Jim Collins on brand values)

BNBranding logoBuilt To Last, by Jim Collins, is commonly known as one of the most influential business books ever written. It’s on every consultant’s bookshelf and should be required reading for any executive, business owner or budding entrepreneur who cares about brand values.

It’s also one of the best branding books you’ll ever read.

built_to_lastYou have to read between the lines though, because Collins never used the words “brand” or “branding.” Back in 1994 it just wasn’t on his radar.

Collins and his co-author Jerry Porras focused instead on “visionary” companies and compared them, head-to-head, with not-so-visionary competitors.

It’s a how-to book on building an iconic brand.

They found that “core ideology” is a common element of success among all visionary companies. Those organizations have strong, enduring principles that go beyond just profits. Call it a cause. A purpose. A set of principles… Whatever.

The point is, if you want to build a visionary company – or a great, enduring brand — you have to start by knowing who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist.

Collins used this equation: Core Values + Purpose = Core Ideology. The Brand Insight spin: Core Values + Purpose = the foundation of your branding efforts. Core Ideology is another way to say Core Brand Values.

If you’re launching a new brand or reevaluating an existing one, start with that equation. Dig below the surface, identify those core brand values, and ask yourself these fundamental questions: “What business are we really in? Why are we doing this? What do we fundamentally believe in?”

 

Sounds simple enough, but there are millions of business owners and entrepreneurs who never give those questions a second thought. (Too much navel-gazing, I suppose.)

These are the people who figure “success” is enough of a purpose and you shouldn’t waste time or resources on things like branding. But as Collins proved, it’s those core values that set great companies apart from also-rans.

And the great brands from wannabes.

“Contrary to business school doctrine, maximizing shareholder wealth has not been a dominant driving force or primary objective of any visionary company down through history,” Collins said. “They are guided by a set of core values, and they preserve those core values almost religiously… They change and adapt without compromising their cherished core ideals.”

That’s what brand strategy is all about.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon understands that his brand goes way beyond selling books. And Phil Knight knows it’s not just the shoes at Nike. (Interestingly, both of those brands would probably fit Collins’ criteria of a “visionary” company.)

Branding firm BNBrandingHere’s another important finding from Built To Last: Ideology must be authentic and integrated seamlessly into everything the company does.

Same with brands. If your core brand values aren’t authentic, consumers will figure it out. They’ll see through the marketing hype and recognize the disconnect every time.

brand values on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBranding in Bend OregonHere’s a good example: Tommy Hilfiger used to be the hottest thing in fashion. His clothing was successfully positioned as a more affordable version of Ralph Lauren. Young, somewhat preppy suburban WASPs were buying lots of Hilfiger outfits that would blend well at any yacht club. Tommy Hilfiger was a young, accessible Ralf Lauren.

But in the late 90’s the Hilfiger line caught on big-time in the hip-hop community. When the Hilfiger logo started appearing in rap videos the company saw what was happening and thought, wow, we’re really hot in that market. We should start designing clothes specifically for them.

Hilfiger temporarily abandoned the brand ideology that made the company so successful and tried to cater to the African American market by adding bling to their clothes. Instead of just accepting the business and riding the trend as it was, they altered the Hilfiger aesthetic.

“We jeweled it, we studded it and we really pushed the envelope,” Hilfiger said in a 2001 interview. They also launched an ad campaign focused on the urban, street culture.

The African-American community saw right through it and was immediately turned off. Pandering!

Donny Deutsch once said it was “the single stupidest blunder in the history of advertising.When the advertising went street, he lost the street.”

Plus, Hilfiger’s core audience in the white community saw the ads, said “that’s not me,” and quit buying. Sales plummeted.

As one wall street analyst put it, “that brand will never again be the hot, flashy, overly talked about, fast-growing company it once was.”

Hilfiger might not make the criteria for Collins’s book, but the iconic fashion designer has learned a good lesson through all the ups and downs of the past 30 years. In 2010 he spoke at a Wharton University conference…

“We made the mistake of following a trend that was going to be short-lived,”Hilfiger said. “Because any trend is short-lived. If you keep the heritage of the brand intact when you do another product, and it appears to be coming from the same mother, then you’re doing the right thing. But if it doesn’t conform to the core brand, it is a mistake.”

“Stimulate progress, but preserve the core,” it says in Collin’s book. Hilfiger abandoned the core in order to leverage a pop culture trend, and it backfired on him. The brand has found its way back to its original roots and through strong international growth, posted its biggest year ever in 2015.

Built To Last is, predominantly, a management and operations manual inspired by visionary companies including Ford, Boring, HP, Marriott, Nordstorn, Sony, Disney and other old, Fortune-500 companies.

But the framework of business success can be applied to any business of any size. Not only that, it’s a framework that applies directly to the discipline of branding and specifically, how you establish brand values.

Collins found that visionary companies have “cult-like” corporate cultures. Everyone is indoctrinated into the core ideology and they follow it faithfully. (Ever seen a Wal-Mart sales meeting!) You could say the same thing about today’s most powerful brands… Apple and Amazon.

There are so many parallels I’m tempted to say, just maybe, “Visionary company” is synonymous with “great brand.”

For more on brand values and how to build a lasting, iconic brand, try THIS post.

Keen branding

1

Catching frogs and campfire songs — Branding lessons from summer camp

BNBranding logo

I find branding lessons in some pretty funny places. Like on a wart, on a frog, on a log at summer camp.

Every summer when I roll up the sleeping bag, pack the bug spray and make all the preparations for another camping trip, memories of my childhood summer camps come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. 

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

branding lessons from the Brand Insight BlogThere’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

So what’s what’s that silly old song have to do with branding? Where are the branding lessons there?

 

 

The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, teeny-tiny part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. A new logo mark does not constitute a “branding effort.” Logo and Brand are not synonymous.

If it’s done well, your logo is a graphic reflection of your brand, but it’s just one small part of your branding effort. That’s the branding lesson here.

Branding is everything you do in business that might effect the perception of your company.

It’s the words you choose that go with your logo, or on your website. It’s the people you hire, the vendors you choose, the values you hold dear, the marketing tactics you deploy and the companies you affiliate with.

Branding is more than just the images you show. There’s also an audio component of branding that’s often overlooked… the music you play in the office, the sound effects you use in commercial, the script for answering the phone.

Like it or not, everything matters. Branding lessons can be applied to every facet of your business.

 

Branding lesson from BNBrandingMore branding lessons from Camp Wannalogo. Use songs. Sounds. Hearing.

Branding should employ all the senses, not just sight. You should strive for what Martin Lindstrom calls”sensory synergy”… Sight, sound, touch and smell.

But short of that, at least employ sound.

Echoic memory — the memory of songs, lyrics, tunes and sounds — is dramatically sharper than iconic memory — the memory of what you see.

I remember that old song from summer camp. I remember jingles from my childhood. I all the lyrics from a coke commercial, vintage 1970. I remember the first three notes of thousands of popular songs… name that tune.

And yet most businesses completely ignore the elements of sound in their branding efforts.

They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on high-def video production, and they completely ignore the music. The sound effects. The quality of the voice-over. It’s a shame.

 

Choose one main thing BNBranding

These days, summer camps have learned some important branding lessons of their own… They’ve become very specialized.

The camp owners have figured out that they can’t be all things to all kids, so they’ve narrowed their focus.

There are canoe camps, music camps, space camps, water sport camps, tech camps and camps for any interest under the sun.

They’ve figured out that branding means giving up something.

By catering to very specific interest groups, they have way fewer incidents where the parents have to drive out and fetch a teary-eyed, home-sick camper just a few days into it.

That’s a good branding lesson, right there… Make the experience something the kids want to remember and repeat. Not something they want to flee from.

 

Here’s another element of branding that I picked up at summer camp: Creative names, colorful flags and house identities.

Camp Wannigan. Yes, I wanna go again.

Camp Waziyatah.

Camp WeeHahKee

Camp Funnigan.

Your brand name is probably the most important element of your initial branding effort. If  you have a crappy brand name you’ll have a very hard time designing around that problem.

Design firms will go to great lengths to deliver a beautiful new mark and type treatment for you. They’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution, and it’s usually a huge visual improvement.

But that’s as far as it goes.  All the other components of branding — the bigger issues —  are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. Like one song in a lifetime of campfires. Some stick, but most are quickly forgotten among the overall experience.

So don’t kid yourself. That new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

BN Branding lessonsActions speak louder than logos.

It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper than just the design exercise. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this?

Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

For more on logo design vs. branding, try this post.

For a more wholistic approach to branding, give us a call.

 

4 Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

Class A office space, Class A brand — Brand alignment with your location

BNBranding Bend, Oregon advertising agencyIt was said to be Steve Jobs’ last great obsession… Apple Park.

The new corporate headquarters looks like a spaceship from a 1950’s sci-fi story. 12,000 employees in one building. 2.8 million square feet of space. The world’s largest panels of curved glass. 9,000 draught-tolerant trees. 5 billion dollar price tag.

The ultimate expression of the Apple brand under Jobs. And big-league brand alignment.

Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

 

 

Steven Levy recently wrote a fascinating feature about Apple’s new headquarters for Wired magazine. For that piece, he interviewed Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathan Ive, who recently left Apple to start his own firm.

Ive oversaw the design of every Apple product from 1997 to 2019. Since Design is the heart and soul of the Apple brand, one could argue that Ive is the heart of Apple.

“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive said. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.”

 

More fantastic designs. More signature products from the world’s most valuable brand.

Brand alignment involves a lot of things… It’s how you communicate the Brand to your employees. It’s the events you sponsor and the companies you’re affiliated with. It’s the consistency of your messaging and graphics. It’s product design and yes, it’s even the design of your new office.

In Apple’s alternative universe, the giant circular ring of glass is perfectly aligned with the brand.

All Fortune 500 companies spend enormous sums on corporate headquarters because they understand that it really does matter to their most important brand ambassadors… employees.

Your office space says something about your brand and your culture. No matter how big or small your company is.

brand alignment Chiat Day building in Venice BNBranding.

Famed architect Frank Gehry designed this building for Chiat Day Advertising. Now it’s occupied by Google.

Small professional service firms should also make sure their space aligns with their brand.

When you’re selling a service, and have no tangible product, your workspace is an important physical manifestation of the brand.

(Or at least is used to be, before COVID 19)

In fact, depending on the business you’re in, your office space might be the single most important example of brand alignment.

For instance, when it comes to selecting an ad agency, office space always figures into the equation. The workspace is a tangible display of the agency’s creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. (Or lack thereof.)

Clients love doing business with the cool kids in the cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, more energized or more “free” than their own place of business. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Clients feed off that. (Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.)

If you’re an architect or an interior design firm it’s even more important… Your office space is an everyday opportunity to show off your work. It’s “Exhibit A” in the firm’s portfolio. It better be impressive.

For attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $450 an hour.

Cue the leather sofa and the $20,000 desk.

Harry Beckwith, in “What Clients Love,” tells how State Farm Insurance chose a firm to handle a huge payroll and benefits contract. They looked at all the proposals, narrowed the field, sat through presentations and listened to pitches from several very capable companies. They were all pretty comparable in price and service.

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly.

The State Farm guys walked through the offices of each competing firm, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the office that “felt the best” based on that one visit.

It’s a completely irrational, emotional, gut-instinct thing. (Have you ever walked into a restaurant and just felt an instant, knee-jerkingly negative vibe?)

First impressions matter. Details matter… Location. Colors. Layout. Even the coffee you serve says something about your brand. Is your company percolating along on Folger’s, or is it serving up a hot shot of espresso with a perfect crema on top?

Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see in your marketing materials and what they experience in your office? Be honest.

Is your office space in alignment with your brand and your corporate culture? Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain offices that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overstep their own brand personality.

And vice-versa.

Big banks work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable in their advertising. Then you walk into any branch, and the decor is vintage 1990s institutional snooze fest. And unfortunately, the customer experience is usually aligned with the decor.  (One notable exception is Umpqua Bank.)

TVA Architects BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Ideally, you want to align the look, feel and functionality of your office space with the brand personality, culture and operation of your company.

Easier said than done.

You can’t just take the “about us” section of your website and hand that off to an interior designer and expect a miracle.

If you’re moving into a new space, or thinking of a refresh of your current office, it helps to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.

Your brand needs a bible.

That way, you always have a clear reference point. A testament. A philosophical road map that can be the inspiration for your marketing efforts, your business initiatives and your latest office makeover.

So when you’re looking at colors and carpet and furniture you can hold up the bible and say, “is this on brand? Is this really us?” Is this the right direction?

When I’m working with a new client I always start with that fundamental. I work with companies to spell out their brand and put it down on paper.

It’s not easy. It requires research, a lot of listening on my part, and a lot of soul searching from the client. (More than most people ever have time for.) But it saves tons of time later on by eliminating false starts when we’re working on tactical marketing items like digital advertising, a trade show booth, a powerpoint deck, or a new corporate video.

Or new interiors, for that matter.

“The right input is crucial for corporate jobs,” says Lisa Slayman of Slayman Design. “When clients are wishy-washy about their brand… that’s when things get difficult.”

The same goes for marketing.

“The best clients are the ones who are clear about what their company stands for. What their brand is. When I see it down on paper, that makes it a lot easier to translate to the interior design job. It makes every decision easier.”

Getting the brand message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. You can’t have brand alignment if you don’t have your brand defined.

Your brand bible should inform hiring decisions, marketing decisions, operational decisions and even finance decisions. It should unite people and provide the crystal clear marching orders you need to move continually in the right direction.

If you don’t have one, call me.

When you approach new office space from a strategic, brand perspective the interior design becomes another opportunity to reinforce a specific set of values and beliefs. You can integrate your brand aesthetic into the everyday lives of your people and your visitors. So if some prospective client just happens to pop in, you’ll leave the right impression.

The brand impression.

Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said about the new Apple Park… “Could we have cut a corner here or there? Sure. It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.”

For more on why brand alignment matters, try THIS post. Bend BN Branding Logo

 

1 Branding firm BNBranding

Death in a small business — Brands outlive their founders.

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

Nothing derails a small business faster and more dramatically than death. In many cases, death IN a small business means the death OF the business.

No two ways about it… When a partner dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. If a key employee dies, it’s terribly, horribly disruptive to the typical small business.

The question is, have you built a brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss? Have you done any business succession planning that would allow your small business to survive?

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.

Our lead art director dropped dead shoveling snow a couple winters ago. It was horrible.

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.

Thankfully, 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 literally grief sick and unable to work. Thankfully, I have a great team behind me, and a strong brand to fall back on.

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 often with them.

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some practical tips on what can you do to protect yourself from death in a small business. It’s not just about hiring the right law firm and doing some succession planning. (Although that’s a good idea.) It’s about working ON your brand, from day one.

Protect yourself from a death in your small business by building your brand before you need it.

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 friendly  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, much less a devistating death of a partner.

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 and long-term branding.  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. 

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7 Branding firm BNBranding

Effective Personal Branding — The corporate head shot is not the ticket.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. She didn’t appreciate the fact that we had done something different than the usual, corporate head shot. She said they didn’t look “professional enough”  — didn’t think it was good personal branding.

The problem is, her idea of “professional” translates to invisible. Because everyone has a boring “professional” portrait. And doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts.

Just because you’re in a professional job, such as real estate, insurance or law, doesn’t mean you have to look professional in a boring corporate sense. That’s classic, rear-view mirror thinking… “well, that’s how they’ve always done it in my business, so I better do it too.”

Nonsense.  If that’s how it’s always been done, do just the opposite. Differentiation is the name of the game. Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility. Those are the fundamentals of personal branding.

 

 

 

You’d never differentiate yourself on Match.com with a stiff, corporate photo, so why would you sell yourself that way in professional circles? What sells on Match.com is the same thing that sells in the corporate world: Real life. Personality. Emotions. And Honesty.

Deceptive images might get you one date, but they won’t work in the long run.

Realtors are acutely aware of their personal branding efforts. And yet, they’re notorious for using crummy, outdated photos.

I rejected a realtor once because of her photo. I interviewed her because she had done a lot of advertising. Her face was everywhere! But when I met her in person I was literally taken aback.  She didn’t even look like the same person. She was at least 25 years older than she appeared in her photo.

truth in advertising BNBranding

I didn’t discriminate because of her age, I rejected her because she wasn’t honest with me. She purposely — knowingly — misrepresented herself. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.  It’s not a big leap to think she would also mis-represent my house, or my position in a negotiation.

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

So, no thanks.  Next candidate. There are plenty of other realtors waiting in the wings.

I suspect a lot of hiring managers think the same way. It’s human nature in a superficial world. We make snap judgments without even knowing we’ve made them. We are all biased, especially when it comes to looks.

So unless you’re super-model hot or as handsome as George Clooney, why would you want to show your face on every ad, every card, every page of the website? Besides ego.

A headshot does nothing to differentiate you from the rest of the realtors, lawyers, consultants or insurance agents with boring corporate headshots.

On the contrary.  It lumps you in with everyone else. All the bad moustaches and lousy suits on the guys make you look like you belong in a police line-up. And 90 percent of the women look like they’re trying way too hard. (Can you say “photoshop?”)

Successful personal branding hinges on authenticity, and there’s nothing authentic about most corporate head shots.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSome have argued that Realtors should include a portrait because “they don’t have a product to sell. They are the product. “

I suppose that’s true to some extent. The problem is, they’re all “me-too” products.

That is, they all do exactly the same thing, in the same basic manner. There’s no difference in service from one to the other, and most head shots shot confirm that suspicion.

Realtors, dentists, attorneys, and millions of other “professionals” perform a service. How a head shot looks has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to provide a good, valuable service.

A head shot may, or may not, help establish credibility. Someone might say, “well she looked trustworthy,” but unless you look remarkably different than everyone else in your market area, it will not help differentiate you from the thousands of competitors.

Rosey is a symbol of strength for our client, Morris Hayden. Works much better than the client’s photo ever could.

Instead of showing yourself, why not find something that’s more meaningful…  an image, graphic or a logo that means something to you, and possibly even conveys a benefit.

Use a symbolic, conceptual image that isn’t so darn obvious. A bit of mystery is a powerful marketing tool.

Or better yet, devise a service that actually IS different, and then show that. Find a simple image the conveys that difference at a glance.

If it’s not a relevant photo, it’s not good personal branding.

If you’re selling your services as a bouncer, your physical looks are absolutely relevant. You have to look like a bad ass, so your portrait should be shot in dramatic, intimidating fashion. Black and white. Forced perspective. Arms folded and straight faced.

Same thing if you’re a personal trainer. A photo of your physique is proof that you know what you’re doing.

But that doesn’t work for realtors, lawyers or accountants.  No one says, “Wow, she looks like a great realtor!”  No one makes a purchase decision based only on your photo, but they will judge you, for better or worse.

So if you absolutely must use a headshot, here’s some advice for getting a photo that doesn’t look like it came from the Sears portrait studio:

1. Remember, image matters. Execution matters. If you use sloppy, poorly-lit photos on your website or your LinkedIn page, that’s going to reflect poorly on you. You’ll get judged for that, like it or not.

2. Get a life, and show it.  You’re not a robot. Get photos that are an accurate reflection of the real you. Use props or interesting settings. Do something that conveys your personality.

3. Save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a pro the first time. There’s a HUGE difference between accomplished amateur photographers and professional photographers who can actually make a living from the images they sell.

4. Realize that women are almost impossible to please when it comes to portraits.  If you have a staff of 10 women, nine will be unhappy, no matter what. Show them 90 proofs, and they’ll reject every single one, out of hand.

So if you’re running the show, don’t give them too many choices.  Trust the photographer and just show the top three. And whatever you do, don’t let them take the photos home for a consultation with their sisters, girl friends or daughters.

5. A good photo reveals your frame of mind. If you’re feeling confident, sexy and intelligent, it’ll come through. (Assuming you’re using a good, professional photographer)  If you’re defeated, depressed, or angry, that’ll show too. So do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot. Have a glass of wine. Loosen up. Have fun with it.

6. The camera is just not kind to some people. The minute the lens cap comes off, they freeze up faster than a popsicle in Nome. If that’s you, look for a photographer who has a photo-journalism background and let her do some candid, newsy shots. Don’t pose! Do something natural and let her capture the action.

7. Remember, photography is an art.  So be open minded and let the photographer be creative.  If you go into a photo shoot with very specific, pre-conceived notions, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity to shine.

Bottom line: There is a place for portraits in the marketing world. People like to know that they’re dealing with a real person, so the “about us” page of your website is a natural place for those head shots.

Anything beyond that is probably ill advised. Why show your face at all?  It’s brand recognition you want, not facial recognition. They can always just Google you if they want to see what you look like.

For more on branding fundamentals, try this post. If you want some help with your personal branding, give us a call. 541-815-0075.

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1 waste in advertising BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to avoid waste in advertising

BNBranding logoI took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising…

There are mountains of it.

Despite all the analytics that are available, and the digital targeting, and the plethora of marketing options, waste still happens. And for smaller businesses that are trying to maximize every penny spent, it really stinks.

how to avoid waste in advertising

Often it’s due to a lack of strategy. (Here’s the difference between strategy and tactics)

As an ad agency copywriter I often found myself working on poorly defined assignments. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had a lot of good ideas. The problem was lack of strategic direction.

More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on, which in turn produced waste in advertising… wasted time, wasted talent and wasted money.

Creativity without strategy is like a Ferrari without a throttle.

Many small ad agencies simply don’t have the personnel to provide insightful strategy. Agency Account Executives who manage clients often don’t have the experience they need to provide true strategic guidance.

Or the client doesn’t want to pay for the research and planning that is really necessary.

So the creative teams have to come up with a strategic nugget of their own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something sticks. Not a good arrangement for either party.

 

 

 

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work with your ad agency,  digital marketing firm, or whoever’s handling your marketing communications in order to reduce waste in advertising:

First of all, if you want the creative product to be memorable and effective, you’ll need to do your part as a business owner or Director of Marketing. That means staying involved and providing concise strategic input in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

Avoid the advertising landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every ad agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief. As a client, it’s imperative that you understand that document, and sign off on it!

Jon Steele, the strategy guy on the famous “Got Milk” campaign says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Emphasis on realistic. Honest. Authentic.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address. It should include some real insight on the target audience, not just a one sentence list of the demographic group.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In other words, be clear and be relevant.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog In a nutshell, Steele says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”  When it’s done well, the strategy and the creative execution are perfectly aligned. When it’s not done well, it produces a lot of waste in advertising.

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

It’s perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the sexy stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions.

Brand Insight BlogIn the case of “Got Milk,” the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. That was a HUGE strategic leap. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy.

But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication.

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

And frankly many digital advertising specialists don’t even care about creativity. They just want to put something “out there.” Anything to fill an insertion order.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset.

It’s a two-pronged approach: First, collaborate to answer the question “What are we going to say.” That’s the strategy piece. The let the pros decide “how are we going to say it.” That’s the execution piece.

It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

For more on positioning and how to avoid waste in advertising try this post.

To get some of your own, call us. 541-815-0075

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