Category Archives for "Marketing"

content marketing for small business

“High-Quality” Content – Finding or providing something genuinely worthwhile.

High quality content is a completely subjective — and massively broad — subject. For one person it means hilarious Tic Toc videos. For someone else, it means authoritative educational content that helps them finish their PhD.

For the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to focus on the kind of high-quality content that helps small business people succeed. But to do that, we have to look back, to the origins of this whole content marketing phenomenon.

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

What do you mean, “again”?

high quality content marketing for small business

Never in history has the average Joe been afforded unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. The internet is a giant electronic soapbox that delivers unimaginable world-wide reach.

Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe. There’s a 16-year-old-girl who has reached 100,000,000 followers on Tic Toc.

How cool is that?

The democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, dance moves, photos, articles and silly cat videos. It has inexorably changed politics,  journalism, medicine and business. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing, even if you never produce one speck of “high-quality” content.

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

On the other hand, the Internet is also producing more noise, more fake news and more worthless blather than ever before. For the most part, it’s quantity over quality.

 

 

 

Here are a few mind-numbing stats about the growth of the internet and spread of high-quality content…

There are 7.7 billion people in the world. 3.8 billion of us are active on social media. There are more than 500 million blogs, and 77% of internet users read blogs.

As more and more people jump into it, high quality content becomes harder and harder to come by. It now takes a lot more effort — a lot more searching —  to separate the crap from the fact.

Used to be, you had to have genuine, proven expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.”  No one (except for the tabloids) published anything that would not considered high quality content, by today’s standards.

Plus, if you wanted to get published you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky.

The criteria was strict: First, you had to have some expertise. Second, you needed something unique to say… an angle all your own and a unique voice with which to say it. Therefore, publishing articles was not a particularly common element of most small-business marketing plans. And video was prohibitively expensive.

Content marketing is a different story.

There are no editors screening most of the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and blatant plagiarism is now being touted as “content  curation.”

Corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news. Bloggers are now “digital influencers” peddling their soapboxes to corporate marketing managers.

Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind when it comes to high quality content.

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

Most of the articles offered are off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in  a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re rarely well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.

high quality content Brand Insight Blog

Why on earth would I run an article like that? It’s not high quality content unless it’s relevant to my blog’s subject matter. To my audience’s pain points. And to MY brand.

How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my business?

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

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

I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice…

Think about your brand first, and clicks second.

If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. As Gary V. famously says, you have to give, give, give, give and expect nothing in return. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.

Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On any given subject it’s too much information from too many questionable sources. If you don’t have a unique spin on the subject, it’ll just be in one ear, and out the other.

For instance, try wading through all the online resources about social media marketing…

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

I don’t know. It’s still evolving.

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

There are a lot of young wannabes in that field, but few real experts who understand how the business side of it. Guru status only comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.

So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware.

Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.

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

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

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

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

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

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

And that’s great.

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

3 1 Tough Mother, 2 marketing objectives: Image advertising AND results

BNBranding logoIt’s an old debate… can image advertising actually move the needle on bottom-line business objectives?  Ad agency execs say yes, of course. But marketing directors, C-level execs and direct response guys are often skeptical.

My humble opinion… absolutely.

When it’s done well, “image” advertising certainly can achieve both objectives… move product AND cement the brand identity in popular culture.

There are many great examples of image advertising that has done exactly that…  The Got Milk campaign.  Absolute Vodka. Ipod intro advertising, to name a few.

Here’s a brand advertising case study from my hometown, Portland, Oregon: Meet Gert Boyle, the iconic matriarch of Columbia Sportswear.

Gert inherited the family business in 1970 after her husband’s untimely heart attack. At the time, Columbia was generating $650,000 a year in sales, but was teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Although the company made a popular line of fishing and hunting apparel, profitability had been a problem for years.

To make matters worse, Neal Boyle had offered three family-owned homes and his life insurance policy as collateral for an SBA loan. The pressure was on.

After the first year as CEO, Gert seriously considered selling. But when the deal fell apart she dug her heels in, made some tough decisions, and with help from her son Tim, turned the business around.

By 1978 they reached $1 million in sales. By 1983, they were up to $12 million. (In 2018 the company had 2.8 billion in sales. )

 

The first image advertising for Columbia was a big miss.

With the tagline “We don’t just design it, we engineer it.” Columbia touted the technical aspects of their product.  Ooops. It was a message more suited for the biggest competitors, like Patagonia or North Face, than Columbia.

Columbia’s jackets weren’t the most technical on the market, nor the most fashionable. It wasn’t a brand you’d see on an expedition up Everest or in a popular skiing film, so the engineering angle missed the mark. It was image advertising that didn’t capture the heart of the brand.

 

 

 

 

Columbia products represented functional practicality, not high-end technical features.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticTheir jackets sold for half the price of their competitors, and were perfectly suitable for 95% of the population who are outdoor  enthusiasts, but not extremists. The brand was more about braving the Oregon rain than assaulting the seven summits.

So in the fall of 1984, Bill Borders, Wes Perrin and the team at Borders, Perrin & Norrander came up with something completely different.

“All the competitors were doing campaigns with pretty outdoor photos and suitably attractive models,” said Wes Perrin. “Bill wanted to differentiate the brand, and establish more personality.”

At that time, there was a famous campaign running with Frank Purdue, for Purdue Chicken. “We thought we could could do something like that, because we had Gert Boyle,” Perrin said. “She declined at first, but she ended up being great to work with over the next 20 years or so.”

brand advertising columbia sportswearThey portrayed Gert as stubborn, finicky and overprotective. They showed the product and touted benefits, but always in context with a small, family-owned business and Mother Boyle’s strict quality control standards. Nothing gets by her.

As it turned out, Gert embodied everything the Columbia brand is about. She was the most obnoxious, bullheaded, effective pitchman ever, and people loved her.

In her book, Gert said  “The impact of the ads was almost instantaneous. Sales quickly increased, and I was surprised when strangers came up to me on the streets and asked if I was the “Tough Mother.”

“The tall, thin, blonde models in our competitor’s ads may be easier on the eyes, but they don’t care about you like good old Mother Boyle.”

“The image created in the ads took hold. Instead of seeing us as just another outerwear company, our customers thought of us as the company where the cranky, crotchety old broad made sure they were getting a good product at a fair price.”

Once Gert and Tim realized they had a big hit they turned up the heat, outspending their competitors by a wide margin.

They started running TV spots where Gert used her hapless son as a product-testing guinea pig. She sent him through a car wash, dumped him unconscious on the summit of a mountain. Froze him in the ice and drove over him with a Zamboni. All with the tagline: Tested Tough.

Fun stuff. And spot-on from a branding standpoint.

How to differentiate your company - BNBranding“Our ads set us apart from the corporate pack. People related to us because they believe there is a person at Columbia who really cares. And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I really do care.” – Gert Boyle.

Authenticity. Differentiation. Credibility. And increased sales. What more could you want from image advertising?

When the campaign launched in 1984, sales were $18 million. By 1990 Columbia hit the $100 million dollar mark. Today they’re the number one outerwear company in the world, doing $2.5 billion a year.

Unfortunately, Gert was absent from the brand advertising for ten years. While the company continued its growth, the advertising lost the edge that Borders had established. Columbia’s website and on-line marketing efforts didn’t have the brand personality of the old Gert Boyle ads, and began to look more like the predictable, stock imagery of all the other brands.

So in 2015, Columbia’s advertising agency brought Gert back for the “Tested Tough” campaign, proving that her appeal stood the test of time.

For more on brand personality and image advertising, try this post. 

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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

 

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

Absolutely Better Branding Strategies (Lessons from a strong shot of vodka.)

dill pickle vodka BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsChocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.

Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer.  And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.

Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.

So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.

The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.

If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even.

Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.

 

BNBranding can help you do that. ”Here’s how:

• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.

There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.

• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.

Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea.

The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.

• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.

Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)

Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.

These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.

• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.

The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.

In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.

In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers, but they’re virtually invisible to consumers.

But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.

Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.

In 1980 Absolut  was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.

But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.

So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.

TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.

Needless to say, it worked.

The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.

The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

marketing strategy for alcoholic beverages That’s my own quote.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!

Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)

They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.

Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.

But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.

Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.

Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.

Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.

For more on marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, try THIS post. 

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5 Porter airlines brand advertsing

Airline Industry marketing (One Canadian brand stands out)

BNBranding logoHere’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes the experience even lived up to the airline industry marketing hype.Porter airlines brand advertsing airline industry marketing

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees, dying dogs, laptop bans and physically bouncing people from flights, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

It’s still too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a long-term success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

 

 

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International.

Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline industry marketingFrom the blog, Design Sponge:

“This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

In terms of airline industry marketing, and a sophisticated brand design, Porter stands 30,000 feet above everyone else.

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog:  “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

launch of Porter Airlines BNBranding Brand Insight BlogMany people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.)

I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way.  So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

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7 website design BNBranding

As long as first impressions matter, website design will matter.

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website design is a waste of money.”

It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.

One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.”  Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?

website design BNBrandingThis is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.

The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.

This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every website design is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.

As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean”  and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

 

 

So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.

We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.

If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.

One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.

website design BNBrandingI guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse.  There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.

Poor website design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”

When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding.  It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “website design.”  In that case, balance is the key.

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.

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

If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it.  The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.

One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good website up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a very pretty mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

14

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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6

Comparison ads – From Cola Wars to Computer Wars

BNBranding logoA client recently asked me if he should run some comparison ads. It’s a good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors.

There are many examples of successful comparison ads. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war is still popular topic of college marketing classes and business books. It even hit prime time TV on All In The Family and Saturday Night Live.

“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi famously said.

Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to smart phones, software and fast food. Taco Bell’s trying to compare its breakfast to a McMuffins and nerds all over the world are claiming “I’m a PC.”

It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.

software wars on the brand insight blog BNBrandingEvery since 1984, when Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with one of the most famous superbowl commercials of all time, the folks up in Redmond have been paranoid about Apple. So paranoid, in fact, they’ve ignored one of the most basic tenets of marketing and comparative advertising…

Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.

This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft once did, don’t give a puny little competitor like Apple the time of day. Don’t get suckered into a fight, and don’t design an ad campaign that directly mimics the competitor’s campaign.

 

 

Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv6Ah_MVJU Those spots work on so many different levels, it’s ridiculous… probably the most brilliant “talking head” advertising of all time.

comparison ads on the brand insight blog - BNBranding

If the Microsoft execs were smart they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

Duck and cover! Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own.

You’re the market leader, remember!

But noooo… They played right into the enemy’s hands and produced a knock-off version of the Apple spots. They hired an actor who looks like the guy in the original Apple spots, and gave him this opening line: “Hello, I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”

All that did was shine the spotlight back on Jobs & company.

Microsoft’s copycat spots gave the Apple campaign a whole new life. Every time one ran, the audience was reminded of the original Apple spots. Not only that, the media coverage of the comparison ads gave Apple free airtime on the evening news, effectively extending the smaller competitor’s media budget.

I’m not sure if Apple was purposely trying to get a rise out of Microsoft, but they sure did. And every time Microsoft responds in kind, they dig themselves a deeper hole.

Next, Microsoft upped the ante in their ad war against Apple.They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they could find for under $1000. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQOzNDZzZzk   

It’s a nice, authentic feeling spot. Probably the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. From an execution standpoint, it’s very well done. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace…

It’s the computer for cool people. The phone of the hip. The brand of creativity.

Apple has always been a premium brand that’s not for everyone. That’s not news. So why does Microsoft continue to run ads that help cement that message?

In the “Laptop Hunter” spot they’re basically admitting that a Mac is what everyone aspires to. If you can’t afford one you settle for a second-best PC. The spot flat-out encourages people to compare Windows-based laptops to Apple laptops, and the more that happens, the more market share Apple will steal.

Fox News did a nine-minute segment about the misguided Microsoft comparison ads, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSure, there is some low-hanging fruit in the market for low-end laptops, but that’s just a short-term message that hinges more on the economic climate than any genuine brand strategy. Not the type of message a #1 player should even consider.

Tit for tat works for Apple. Not for Microsoft.

The market leader should lead, not follow, in its advertising.

Besides, you can’t take pot shots at a perceived underdog, it just doesn’t look good.

The fact is, Microsoft’s never had a decent ad campaign before landing at Crispin Porter. On the other hand, Apple has a long history of groundbreaking advertising, from “Think Different” to the iconic iPod spots and “I’m a PC.”

Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. They can do comparison ads because the facts back-up the hype. They have superior products, in so many ways.

Microsoft… not so much.

So that’s the first criteria for comparison ads: If you truly, clearly have a product that’s factually better than the competition’s product, by all means, run comparison ads. Truth rules!

But if the product or service is just the same, or even just subjectively different, don’t do it. You’ll get sued.

Every ad, every social media post, every point of purchase display Apple ever creates is a comparison ad of sorts. Not overt, but a subtle comparison nonetheless. Because as consumers, we immediately categorize things.

ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

When these ads for the iPod came out, we immediately thought “Wow… that’s cool. Microsoft sure doesn’t have anything like that.”

In fact, there were a number of functional MP3 players on the market at the time, but they weren’t cool looking. They weren’t branded. And they weren’t as well designed as the iPod.

These print ads summed it all up in one, simple graphic solution. They didn’t have to beat people over the heads with product features and mind numbing facts. They just showed the product in its jamming simplicity.

So here’s another criteria for comparison ads… You can do them when public perception is on your side.  Before Apple ever launched the “I’m a PC”  campaign, the whole world knew the score. The TV spots just confirmed what everyone was already thinking.

And finally, when it’s a David and Goliath situation, only David can throw out comparison ads successfully. Like when the little start-up burger chain called Wendy’s took on McDonald’s.

comparison ads BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOne brilliant comparative ad — three words — solidified that brand and cemented Wendy’s success.

“Where’s The Beef?”

It was a brilliant, humorous twist on comparison advertising. Their hamburger patties really were thicker and juicier than McDonald’s, and the old lady just said it, flat out.

Watch it here. 

Notice that the word “McDonald’s” is nowhere to be found in that script. Doesn’t have to be… everyone knew that they were referring to the market leader. In that case, there’s no denying the success of that comparison advertising.

Unlike Microsoft, McDonald’s was smart enough to NOT respond to the humorous jab.

For more on advertising strategy, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

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

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

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

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

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

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Lead tape and tinkering… The origins of club fitting.

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

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

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

Trial and error.

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

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

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

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

frequency machine marketing in the golf industry BN Branding

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The first consumer brand in the world of club fitting. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My first club fitting experience provided the ultimate purchase rationalization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But did they, really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Blinded by bling – and too many choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was far from sold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency machine numbers club fitting BN Branding

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Good answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusions:  

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Take every number with a grain of salt.

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

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

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

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

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

golf industry branding and advertising

Get my book on Amazon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The real value is in the placebo effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

3 ecommerce and online shopping at REI BNBranding

Ecommerce brands & on-line shopping — The best thing ever for MANkind.

BNBranding logoTen years ago I couldn’t imagine getting all my Christmas shopping done from the comfort of the man cave. For most guys, the idea of a world without malls was pure fantasy.

But today, it’s reality. Men really do have an alternative to the drudgery of shopping. Amazon and other ecommerce brands are the answer to our prayers.

For most men, shopping is just torture.  It triggers the reptilian brain in us that harkens back to caveman days when we’d hunt down the things we NEEDED to survive. Nothing more.

When men shop, we do it alone. We know what we want and we go out and get it… Essentials like tools, sporting goods and electronic gadgets. It’s a focused, goal-oriented, job to be done.

Not a hobby.

online shopping ecommerce BNBranding

shopping photo by Pexels

For women it’s a different story. Women go out in groups and gather things they might need someday, but probably not. Frivolous stuff like bed skirts and duvet covers. It’s part of their natural, nesting instincts. They can happily browse for hours without buying anything, because shopping fulfills a physical need for women.

Recent brain research is conclusive on this… An afternoon at the mall with friends produces oxytocin —  a chemical in the brain known as the cuddling hormone.

Googling “bargain jeans” on a smart phone just isn’t the same.

Ecommerce brands don’t offer the same psychological, sociological and even anthropological benefits that women get from traditional shopping trips. Let’s face it, most websites are more logical than they are intuitive. The whole on-line thing is more geared to the male brain than the female brain.

It’s the nature of the beast.

 

 

 

Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that online shopping is more a chore than an escape.

“It’s not like you think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto Amazon.com and get transported.”

Drunken impulse purchases don’t count.

Koehn said that while traditional retailers have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, most online stores — and even the biggest ecommerce brands — continue to give shoppers a blasé, transactional experience.  Well guess what… Men don’t care! They’re not looking for an “experience,” they’re looking for a trophy on the wall.

The last thing men need is a true shopping “experience.” That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid all these years. To us, a “shopping experience” is sitting outside the outlet mall waiting for the women to return after an hour and a half in the Dress Barn.

Choose one main thing BNBrandingIn better retail environments, lighting, store layout, background music, graphics and good customer service all work together to make shopping a pleasant, sensory experience that appeals to the emotional center of a women’s brain. It’s a real art.

Unfortunately, most on-line stores are slapped together about as well as a Mexican convenience store. If it weren’t for men, half of those sites would be out of business entirely.

According to Forrester Research, men spend more and take less time than women to make on-line purchases.

Duh. We spend more and take less time to make all our purchases. We don’t quibble over price… just locate the target and make the kill.

Get in, get out.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with sites that present a thousand random choices, right off the bat. Too many choices slows the decision-making process and leads to frustration for men.

It’s like standing in the beer isle in an Oregon grocery store … there are so many choices of micro-brews it’s almost ridiculous. Ales, IPAs, Hefes, Lagers, Pilsners, Stouts, Browns and Ambers in a crazy array of packages from all over the world. It’s too much information.

That’s one reason men love brand name products, brand name stores, brand-name beer and big ecommerce brands: We trust the brand to narrow the choices for us and provide some degree of quality control. (Anything from Deschutes Brewery is good.)

ecommerce and online shopping at REI BNBrandingWhen I shop at REI, online or offline, I know I don’t have to wade through a bunch of crap before I find the quality products. It’s all good, because it’s REI. They know what they’re doing when it comes to product curation. They stay well focused on REI’s niche, and the don’t offer too many choices in any one category.

In the brick & mortar world, the choices are limited by the physical floor space. An REI shoe buyer has room for only so many different styles and prices points, so that’s all you get to choose from.

There are no such limitations in the on-line world.

Zappos claims to have 1,095 brands, 165,722 styles, 906,874 UPCs and 2,957,471 products. That might work for women who make shoe shopping a pseudo-profession, but guys want those choices narrowed down.

Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of online consumers research their purchases on-line, then buy off-line. This “clicks-and-bricks” hybrid model is classic male behavior. But it’s not really online shopping, it’s research.

So where’s it all going?

Less than six percent of all retail sales are currently made on-line — a reassuring stat for traditional retail businesses. And yet Amazon is on its way to becoming a Trillion dollar company.

So if you have an e-commerce company, look at it this way… you’ve hardly scratched the surface. The upside potential is astronomical, as long as you do a few little things better than the next site.

If your product line and/or brand appeals to women you have to work hard to establish an emotional connection and emulate the mall experience as close as possible. But realize, e-commerce will never replace the real thing.

If your on-line store is more male-oriented your job’s a little easier. Keep your product selection focused — don’t try to be all things to all men. Offer brand name products and establish your own brand as a name to trust.

And give guys a way to avoid the mall altogether… they’ll reward you for it in the end.

For more on ecommerce brands, try this post.

 

 

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