Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of companies like Tesla, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires.
Small-business branding is often overlooked.
Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.
Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand develops.
It does not happen the other way around.
You can’t just come up with a nice name a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you can’t have a great brand.
If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:
Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood. Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?
In Bend, Oregon there’s a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It’s not the best Mexican food in town, but it’s damn good and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing.
Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.
Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.
For Taco Stand, flavor and low cost are the differentiators. They consistently deliver on a very simple value proposition: You’ll get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.
Credibility stems from the genuine quality of the food, the consistency, and the loyal, locals-only reputation. If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list.
Small-business branding – learn from the branding mistakes of the big boys.
Most people think differentiation and credibility is easier for big corporations. They can launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. Social Media alone can lead to some degree of credibility. But it won’t necessarily last.
Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…
Great name. Great-tasting product. Launched with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.
My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues.
Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be. It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup, to be exact. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.
So much for brand credibility.
I’ll bet Smart Start doesn’t have the staying power of Cap’n Crunch — my childhood favorite. Because in this day and age, consumers are too smart for Smart Start. When the word gets out, the brand’s going to have a huge credibility issue on their hands.
The brand promise — that this cereal is a smart, healthy start to your day — is out the window.
Kellogg’s will probably fight back with the old line-extension trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs.
(They already have several variations, including “Strong Heart” that has 17 grams of sugar, and Strawberry Oat Bites. )
Also notice that the packaging has devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design has become less and less unique with every variation.
So Smart Start’s credibility is sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to a label. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.
For a big company like Kellogg’s, it may not matter.
Maybe Smart Start is doing well enough. Maybe Kellogg’s can chalk up a good profit despite the questionable product claims. It’s a big company with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.
Smaller companies don’t have that luxury. You can’t afford to launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances.
What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos?
It’d be a recipe for a small-business branding disaster…
Relevance would be the first to go, since people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. (Just because you can make a claim, doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant to your core audience.) “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition.
Credibility would lost, because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.
And, of course consistency would be sacrificed. Consistency of flavor and consistency of their messaging.
After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?
Make sure your product claims are relevant, and not just good-for-nothing add-ons.
Don’t choose a name, like “Smart Start” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
Be consistently authentic. If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do dinners.
What are the common attributes of the world’s greatest brands? And more importantly, what can the average business owner, entrepreneur or marketing director learn from the greats?
I could have done a listicle on the subject: “5 things that great brands have in common.” But that would have been lame… the form of the content would have been contrary to the first, most common attribute that great brands share: Differentiation.
Great brands are highly differentiated from the competition.
Brands like Ikea, Whole Foods and Nike play by their own rules. They break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture and catch the competition off guard. That’s how they establish leadership positions.
Under Armour has risen past Adidas and grabbed second place behind Nike, and it wasn’t by making me-too products. They broke the preconceived notion of function in a t-shirt and have parlayed that into a sporting goods powerhouse.
Zappos differentiated itself in the E-commerce arena by focusing on service.
Tony Hsieh knew, from the very beginning, that it wasn’t just a matter of moving a lot of shoes. He wanted to be the Nordstrom of Ecommerce, and Hsieh built the entire operation around that one, core brand value.
Now it’s actually integrated into the Zappos brand identity. “Powered by Service.”
These days, start-ups commonly pitch themselves as the Zappos of of this, and the Zappos of that… “The Zappos of office supplies.” “The Zappos of skateboarding.” “The Zappos of specialty foods.”
They all want to differentiate themselves by emulating Zappos, and then get bought by Amazon for $928 million. Like Zappos did.
Apple has always played by its own rules. It’s not just differentiated, it’s purposely contrarian.
It was born that way, as the counter-culture antithesis to Windows and IBM.
According to a 2002 Wired Magazine article, “they did it by building a sense of belonging to an elite club by portraying the Mac as embodying the values of righteous outsiderism and rebellion against injustice.”
So as I write this article on a MacBook Pro what does that say about me?
It says that I’m consciously creative. That I value design. That I like simplicity. That I’m not a corporate lemming. That I “think different.”
Those feelings were imprinted in me the first time I sat down at at a little Mac. And now those feelings keep replaying every time I pick up my iPhone 7. (Not so much when I have to deal with iTunes.)
Great brands connect on an emotional, gut level.
A hot bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter day triggers feelings of comfort, love and security for millions of Americans. It’s M’m M’m Good! (That slogan is ranked as one of the 10 best of the 20th century, and it was successfully resurrected in 2002.)
The ingrained goodwill that we have for Campbell’s Soup is the only thing that’s sustaining the company amid MSG scares, shrinking category sales, and stiff competition from Progresso and other, healthier choices such as Amy’s and Pacific Foods.
Speaking of emotional attachment, let’s talk Target, the country’s second-largest retailer.
My daughter is an absolute brand fanatic. She lives for those Target shopping trips. The ads speak to her. The experience is superior to any other store. And she loves the products they carry. She jokingly admits to “having a problem.”
According to Harvard Business Review, Target’s business objective was to create an alternative to Wal-Mart’s price leadership. It’s done that through upscale discounting — a concept associating style, quality, and price competitiveness.
This “cheap-chic” strategy enabled Target to become a major brand and consumer-shopping destination, and was built around two interrelated branding activities:
Designer partnerships and clever, creative advertising.
Target spends 2.3 percent of its revenues on advertising. Target’s agencies regularly come up with fun, memorable ad campaigns that maintain the brand’s hip design aesthetic that has helped transformed its signature bull’s-eye logo into a lifestyle symbol. As my daughter put it, “Yeah, I follow them on Instagram because it’s aesthetically pleasing.”
Target’s brand promise is summed up very nicely in its tagline, “Expect More. Pay Less.” In other words, the value is a given, but there’s style too. Otherwise, millennials would dessert it faster than you can say “Where’d Sears go?”
Target has successfully associated its name with a younger, hipper, edgier image than its competitors. It’s not just Target, it’s “Tar-zhay.” And for my daughter, who grew up shopping there, it will always will have a special place in her heart.
If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll be familiar with the cult-like culture of Harley Davidson.
If you’re a driving enthusiast, you’ll relate to BMW’s brand messaging… “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” And you’ll understand that no one bought a Dodge Viper because of its product features.
Emotion is everything when it comes to building an iconic brand.
Great brands deliver on their promise year after year.
Target stays relevant by keeping up with the latest fashion trends and aligning itself with the right designers. The right stars. The right brand affiliations. It’s a constant effort to always keep things fresh.
Many business owners seem to think of branding as a one-time event — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all. Branding requires constant diligence.
You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not delivering on your brand promise. To remain emotionally connected to your tribe, you have work at it on a day-to-day basis. Because an iconic brand does not guarantee business success.
Was Saturn iconic? Certainly for a few years in automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of the auto industry have stalled, and ended up in the perverbial junkyard.
VW lost millions of fans when they duped the public on Diesel admissions. But the strength of the brand will carry it through. Eventually.
For about 10 years I was a loyal Audi owner. One holiday weekend I had to drive my Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night. I felt security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.
The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand: Best damn cars for snowy roads. Period.
Ultimately, however, the brand lost me. I gave up that extra sense of security on snowy roads in favor of financial security. I just couldn’t justify the expense of long-term Audi ownership. I literally felt sick every time I had to check into the service department at the dealership.
The Audi brand couldn’t deliver on its promise when my car was in shop.
Great brands have a clear sense of purpose.
Your brand’s purpose isn’t to make money. That’s the purpose of the business. The brand needs to stand for something deeper and more meaningful than that.
Nike sells shoes and apparel. But it’s purpose is to inspire action, performance and personal achievement. “Just Do It.”
Starbucks sells coffee and fast food. But it’s purpose is to fill a void in our busy lives. As Howard Shultz once said, “A burger joint fills the belly, but a good coffeehouse fills the soul.”
Coke-a-Cola sells sugar water, but the brand’s purpose is to spread American values around the world. It’s a little taste of freedom in a bottle.
A strong, purpose-driven culture won’t help if you don’t communicate clearly. So sharp storytelling skill is another thing that great brands have in common.
It’s a challenge, staying “on message.” That’s where many companies go wrong… their advertising says one thing, their social media campaigns say another thing, and their website communicates something else entirely.
Consistency and alignment is something all great brands have in common.
Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a consistent, compelling story to match. They use an authentic, visual narrative. No staged shots of pretty boy models. No over-explanation.
It’s an approach that establishes that intangible, emotional connection that fuels success and inspires people… Participate in the outdoors and help save our wild, beautiful places.
Every year, thousands of American E-commerce startups are launched with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat.
But a few will experience meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)
What’s the difference? Why do some e-commerce start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?
Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail:
They ignore the 4 Ps of Marketing.
Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything that was taught in Marketing 101 simply because they have a new distribution method. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to ecommerce entrepreneurs.
Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because you’re only doing business online. You just have to take a little different route.
Take, for example, the traditional 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place (distribution) & Promotion. It’s an old-school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should also seriously consider.
But before we get to that, let’s look at the originals that make up the 4 Ps of Marketing. Consider it a handy refresher:
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.”
These days, it happens in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer-generated reviews doom bad products faster than you can type “#bankrupt.” So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.
Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product or service.
Not anymore. These days your product or product line-up has to be among the best in class. Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built in to your core product or service. In other words, the marketing needs to be baked right into the product.
Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”
Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!
Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important P of the 4 Ps of Marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.
I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:
• The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases and buyer’s remorse. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged. And we’re much more likely to price shop, since it doesn’t involve driving all over town.
• In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies don’t charge anything.
• It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Walmart, forget about it! There’s always some other website waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.
So you have to go back to the first P.
You have to devise a product or service that has a perceived value that’s higher than your competitor’s, but a sale price that’s equal or lower.
Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. It’s one of their brand fundamentals. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product. This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan.
Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.
That’s a big idea. A purple cow based on the 3rd P.
Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still critically important. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…
Will you sell on Amazon? Use Amazon fulfillment? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell to specialty brick & mortar stores at wholesale? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.
Messaging. Content. Ease of use. Overall design. Product presentation. Back-end functionality. It’s all important.
Historically, the fourth P revolved around mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales promotions, telemarketing, PR and direct response, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.
These days, a lot of people seem to think social media is synonymous with marketing.
But social media is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of other tactics you should consider once you’ve devised a clear brand strategy.
Insight first, then execution. Strategy then tactics.
Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four or five you now have dozens… Content marketing, You Tube videos, paid search, Facebook posts, Twitter, Snapchat and a hundred other online options complicate the mix. The marketing landscape isn’t so much a landscape these days, as it is a landslide. Most business owners are overwhelmed by all the “marketing opportunities” out there.
And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.
But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement. Tracking those click-throughs to conversion allows you to hone in on the message that’s most persuasive and eliminate the promotional efforts that don’t pull.
So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of marketing. Think you can afford to ignore any of them?
What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed from the top down, around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. They’re too inwardly focused.
So here’s a new P for your consideration:
5. Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.
Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1980’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people who are involved and engaged with your brand.
How do you do that?
It starts with market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.
Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice.
Some people simply can’t do it themselves… they’re too far inside the bottle to see clearly. So get some professional help. Talk to your front-line employees, customers, non-customers, competitor’s customers. Do it on the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter. Just do it.
The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that insight is what weaves all the other Ps together.
It should be the starting point, not an afterthought.
You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.
Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s. Put them all together, and sustain the effort, and you’ll have one big, iconic B: A Brand.
Let me tell you a story that illustrates the shortcomings of the typical golf industry marketing strategy…
I just bought a new driver. Not a two-year-old discounted driver, but a shiny new model from one of the biggest brands in golf. I did it for several reasons, none very rational:
It’s been 8 years since I purchased a new club. I was due. I deserved it.
A client of mine in the golf industry couldn’t shut up about this club. And he gave me a deal.
I couldn’t find any consistency with my old, Adams driver.
It was market research for this article.
It had nothing to do with distance. I had enough distance with the old driver. Just couldn’t find the fairway.
Which brings me to the topic at hand: Golf industry marketing strategy has always revolved around product launches. And every launch promises a few more yards.
But these days, only the most wonky sales reps get fired up about the frequent new product launches.
Because in golf, truly relevant product innovation is remarkably scarce. And when it does come along, it triggers a race of copycats, resulting in product parity across the board.
All the modern drivers are good. All the irons are good. And except for cosmetics, there’s no discernible difference between them. Those tiny little incremental engineering improvements are not relevant to 90% of the golfing public.
TaylorMade’s original “metal” wood was a true breakthrough that every manufacturer immediately copied. “Pittsburgh Persimmon” was a brilliant positioning statement, and it didn’t come out of the TaylorMade marketing department.
So when you’re in a category where there’s product parity, what can you do? What’s the marketing strategy when the marketing story’s not baked into the product?
You have to shift the battlefield away from the me-too product.
Take insurance, for instance. All policies are pretty much the same, so the battlefield has shifted away from product offerings to advertising messaging.
The brand becomes more relevant than the product.
So you have interesting, true-life stories in Farmer’s Hall of Claims. “Been there, covered that.”
That’s where great advertising can really make a difference.
That’s not the case in golf. Product parity seems to have produced messaging parity as well. All the brands are blurring into one.
This headline from a fairly recent Cobra Driver ad sums it up: “Scientifically engineered for insanely long drives.”
Sounds insanely generic to me. (Thumb through some vintage Golf magazines from the early 60’s and you’ll see the exact same messaging.)
You could easily replace the Cobra brand name with Taylormade, Calloway, Ping or Cleveland, and no one would know the difference. They’re ALL claiming the same thing: More Distance. Longer, longer and longer yet!
The execs at Cobra are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars conveying a message that applies to the entire category. So essentially, they’re advertising their competitor’s products as much as they’re promoting their own. TaylorMade and Calloway ought to thank them.
In 2011 the execs at Callaway Golf recognized the need for something disruptive — something other than the next new product. They wanted to stir things up a bit, so they hired Justin Timberlake to be their “Creative Director.”
He said he was going to bring some Rock-n-roll “Kickassery” to the stodgy old golf market and appeal to a new generation of golfers.
Three ads were produced… filmed in Vegas with lots of pyrotechnics. Lots of flash. Starring Phil Michelson, Annika Sorrenstam and some guy named Quiros. The spots weren’t bad, but I suspect that the PR value of having Timberlake involved played better than the commercials.
The Callaway spots didn’t have a compelling story woven into them. It was all sizzle. No steak. Same old story.
Don’t you think that golfers have wised up to that promise by now? How can this month’s new driver be the longest driver ever built when last month’s driver made the same claim? And the one before that, and the one before that.
Give me a break.
In 2016 Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, turned to reality TV in order to generate some kickassery for his brand. Wilson teamed up with The Golf Channel and did a Shark-Tank knock-off called “Driver vs. Driver” where ordinary folks were invited to submit ideas for a “groundbreaking new driver.”
With a $500,000 first prize it made for pretty good TV.
I have to hand it to him… Wilson’s not a major player in the golf club industry these days. (Not like they were back in the 60’s and 70’s.) Wilson drivers are simply not on the radar, and Clarke had the balls to try something completely different.
The result is the Triton driver, which is packed with every technological bell and whistle the Wilson engineers could possibly throw at it. It’s no better or worse than the top 10 drivers in the market, but there’s no doubt that many golfers who never would have thought of a Wilson Driver might at least give it a look. Or a few swings during demo days.
The show must have worked… Clarke recently signed-up for a second season. I’m not sure it’s going to ever product a breakthrough golf club, but it sure is a breakthrough marketing play for Wilson.
No matter what they do for R&D, Wilson and all the other clubmakers have a hard time coming up with genuinely new innovations like what Barney Adams accomplished with his Tight Lies Hybrid club in 1995.
Adams recently wrote:
“The golf equipment industry is a lot more like the fashion industry than many people are willing to admit. The actual differences between products are minor and often subjective. We don’t want to copy, but we are remiss if we don’t look at what seems to be popular and decide how to position ourselves.”
All the major brands now have hybrid clubs that are patterned after the Barney Adams original hybrid. They all have 460cc head drivers patterned after the original Big Bertha. They all have adjustable drivers, patterned after the TaylorMade.
So the question is, what’s the marketing strategy in the golf equipment business when all the equipment is equal? What do you do?
You throw money at it.
But wait. Nike already tried that.
One of the most successful marketing organizations in the history of the world gave up on the golf equipment business.
Despite having unlimited funds, the finest club design facility (The Oven) and the biggest rock star golf has ever seen (Tiger) Nike never managed to gain more than a sliver of market share (3%) against Titlest, Calloway, Ping and Taylormade.
In fact, Phil Knight recently said that they “lost money for 20 years” on golf balls and equipment.
One could argue that it was a classic, line-extension faux pas… They assumed that their success with golf shoes and golf apparel would translate directly into golf equipment.
But Nike is a shoe company. That’s the brand’s position in the mind of every golfer and no amount of money, marketing muscle, or Tiger-inspired fervor could change that perception.
Consumers could understand and embrace Nike golf shoes but not Nike golf clubs or golf balls. It just didn’t compute.
Phil Knight is famous for saying “We’re a marketing organization and the product is our best marketing tool.” But that did not translate to the golf club market. Their clubs were good, but not better. Not differentiated.
So the Nike execs decided to pull the plug and go back to what Nike’s known for…
“We’re committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel,” said Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand.
Nike’s closest competitor, Adidas, also divested itself of its golf equipment business recently by selling TaylorMade Golf to a private equity firm.
That was a different deal altogether. Wisely, Adidas didn’t try to market their own brand of golf clubs. In 1999 they purchased TaylorMade, the originator of the metal wood and #2 in the market at the time.
At that time TaylorMade was owned by a ski boot company and was limping along with an ugly, bubble-shafted driver. Callaway had stolen the lead on the strength of the Big Bertha, so Adidas brought a new management team who decided to shake things up dramatically at TaylorMade.
Their disruptive new marketing strategy was operationally-based… Faster turnaround from one product launch to the next. (If you’re going to compete in a market of me-too products, might as well turn them around faster than anyone else.)
First they launched three different drivers at the same time. Then they jumped immediately from the R300 series to the R500 series, basically doubling the speed of new product intros.
And it worked like crazy.
By the end of 2004 they had transformed TaylorMade from a $330 million second place player into a $552 million market leader (TaylorMade’s reign at the top lasted until January 2017, when they were once again overtaken by Callaway.)
Despite the company’s decade-long run at the top, t it still wasn’t profitable enough for Adidas to hang onto. According to the NYPost, TaylorMade “is deep in the red, losing around $80 million a year.
Perhaps it’s because they created a monster with their ultra-rapid release cycles. (When you’re selling more discounted, out-of-date drivers than you are new drivers, your brand is going to suffer.)
Or maybe it was mass confusion… There’s no way the average consumer could decipher the difference between all those different models.
Or maybe it’s because of the messages that keep getting regurgitated with every new product release. The faster they launch, the more redundant, annoying and inauthentic the message becomes.
See, golfers have an innate sense for bullshit.
When a guy tells you that he crushed a drive 325 yards uphill, just the other day, we know he’s full of it. When a guy miraculously finds his ball, after a long search, and has a clear shot at the green, we smell a rat.
And sandbaggers… forget about it!
So, eventually, the ever-increasing volume and frequency of the same old message starts having a detrimental effect. Not only do we stop believing, we start resenting the ridiculousness of it all. Rocketballz was deemed to be even “Rocketballzier,” and consumers were calling BS on that.
But wait, it gets worse… Even golf shoes can help us hit it farther these days.
Get a load of these he-man headlines from a recent Addidas campaign: “Lock and load… 14 weapons in your bag. Two on your feet.” “Not a shoe, a piece of artillery.”
The brand managers at Adidas are assuming that high tech features and a Rambo tone will sell shoes just as well as drivers. But as Spike Lee once said, “Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes?”
I think not. No one’s going to believe that shoes are equipment, on par with a new driver.
Here’s the copy from one of those shoe ads: “Three distinct power geometry zones in the outsole for maximum energy transfer during the load phase, impact and finish.”
Sounds just like a driver ad. You can tell the engineers wrote that one.
Here’s what consumers will say: “Yeah, Whatever!… They’re not too ugly. Are they comfortable? Do they have them in my size? How much?” That’s what’s relevant to Joe six pack.
The claim that “high-tech features will make you hit it farther” may have worked for drivers, but it’s just too much of a stretch for golf shoes.
Here’s another golf headline that is utterly baffling to me: “GOLF MADE EASY” for Cobra Max.
Really??? That one’s even less believable than the generic “more distance” claim. Please, if you work for Cobra, give me a call. I’ll give you 20 reasons why you should delete that headline from your ads immediately. And I’ll give you 20 alternatives that will improved the click-through rates of those digital ads. Seriously.
Golf is a category that takes itself quite seriously, indeed. In that type of environment, humor can be a refreshingly effective way to differentiate your brand.
Titlest did it with John Cleese for the NXT Tour golf ball. FootJoy pulled if off brilliantly with their Sign Boy campaign. And Mizuno scored with a series of ads poking fun at the almost obsessive loyalty of their customers.
The Mizuno campaign is a rare example of golf advertising that was customer-focused, not product focused.
They leveraged the passion of Mizuno owners… guys who love their clubs so much they buy an extra seat on the plane rather than checking their bags. The ads were purposely, humorously, exaggerated, but they captured the authentic passion for the Mizuno brand that no competitor could claim.
Those ads would absolutely not work for any other club company. I don’t play Mizuno irons, but I aspire to. And those ads spoke to me. With a wink and a nod, Mizuno confirmed what I already thought… that their forged irons are for smart, accomplished players who know something the rest of the golf world doesn’t know.
Sad to say, Mizuno soon dumped that campaign and started running ads that lack the market wisdom, the emotional connection and the brand personality of the old ads. In fact, the new ads are generic enough to speak for any iron on the market.
Another worthless, invisible message about distance. For a brand that’s known for its buttery feel. Go figure.
More message parity.
Successful marketing strategy in the golf equipment business involves some degree of differentiation. In a perfect world, you’d have something different to say, AND you’d say things differently.
Your story would be unique to your brand, AND the execution of the story would be more creative than anything else in the market. That’s the ultimate recipe for advertising success.
Mizuno and Adidas both have great products with a good story to tell. It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with an ad campaign that conveys the core brand benefit in a relevant manner, without resorting to the same, stupid promise of distance.
Remember the boy who cried wolf a few too many times?
My new driver seems to be working pretty well. But maybe my expectations are a little different than most… I don’t expect monumental gains in distance.
I don’t need kickassery. And I seriously doubt that it’ll be “Epic.”
I’m content with a smaller dispersion pattern and a little boost of confidence.
Want to learn more about disruption as a marketing discipline? Try THIS POST. Or e-mail me directly: JohnF@BNBranding.com
He says branding, she says marketing. Is it brand harmonization or brand alignment? Is Brand a noun or a verb? What is the definition of branding?
No doubt, the semantics of marketing and branding can be very confusing. Every advertising firm, consultant, author and marketing professor has a slightly different spin on the subject of branding.
So I’m going to aggregate the best branding definitions, and boil it all down to some branding basics you can actually use in your day-to-day business. I’m going to answer these fundamental questions:
What exactly IS the definition of Branding?
How is that different than Brand?
And why should the average business owner care about either one?
Let’s start with why…
An ad from our portfolio at BNBranding.
Why should anyone who’s NOT in marketing, care about the definition of branding?
Because every business is a brand, of some sort. And everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters…
The words you choose. The way you behave. The conversations you have. The card you hand out. The promises you make. The people you hire. The values you hold dear. The values you could care less about. The vendors you choose. The companies you’re affiliated with. The money you make, or don’t make. And, of course, the experience people have with the product or service you provide.
It’s the culmination of all those little things that makes “the brand.”
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion about the definition of brand and misinformation that suggests the only people involved in branding are the graphic designers and the ad agency dudes.
An article on Entrepreneur.com says “ The foundation of your brand is your logo.”
Nonsense. The logo is a symbolic reflection of your brand.
Another prominent website missed it completely when they defined branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”
Branding is not, exclusively, a marketing practice. It’s also a customer service practice. A management practice. An HR practice. An R&D practice. Even a manufacturing practice.
The first thing to do is distinguish between “brand” as a corporate mark or logo, and “brand” as an overriding business concept.
When business executives talk about “the Nike Brand” or “the Pepsi Brand” with a capital B, they’re not referring to the logo. They’re referring to something more wholistic. More conceptual. And far bigger than just design elements.
This, from Wikipedia: “A brand is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.”
“Symbolic Construct” seems a bit academic to me. How about “gut feeling.” Or “mental concept.”
Or this simplified definition, from the book, BrandSimple: “A brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s minds. Brands live in your head… Mental associations that get stirred up when you think of a particular car or camera or watch or pair of jeans.”
Scott Bedbury, of Nike and Starbucks fame, concurs: “Brands become living, psychological concepts we hold in our minds for years.”
In Brand Warfare, David F. D’Alessandro, CEO of John Hancock said, “A brand is whatever the consumer thinks of when he hears your company’s name. Branding is everything…”
And everything is branding…
Notable New York ad guy, Donny Deutsch, gave this definition of branding: “Great brands present an ethos, a religion, that people bond with. They go, ‘yes, I got that. I like the way you think. We’re on the same page. Let’s go!’ ”
Which leads to another worthwhile distinction: The difference between the noun “brand,” and the verb “branding.”
“Some companies equate branding with marketing,” says Jasper Kunde, author of Corporate Religion. “Design a sparkling new logo, run an exciting new campaign, and voila, you’re back on course. They are wrong. Branding is bigger. Much bigger.”
If a brand is a set of mental associations about a company, then BrandING is the process of helping people formulate those associations. If advertising is “getting your name out there,” Branding is attaching something meaningful to your name.
Your brand is a promise, both emotional and rational.
Branding is a never-ending effort to conduct business in a way that will result in a better “brand”. It goes way beyond advertising or marketing communications. Because what you SAY does not carry as much weight as what you DO.
Branding is really about doing the right thing.
In The Best Of Branding, James Gregory said: “A corporate brand is the product of millions of experiences, with vendors, employees, customers, media, etc.”
If you’re doing right by all those people, your “branding” efforts will pay off in spades. On the other hand, if your company has no heart — and stands for nothing more than making money — then your branding efforts will flounder in a sea of unkept promises and unbelievable marketing hype.
Starbucks stands for something.
Howard Shultz said, “we built the Starbucks brand first with our people, because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. Their passion and commitment made our retail partners the best ambassadors of the brand.”
The foundation of your brand is your values and your beliefs. And at Starbucks, the operational values revolved around two things… the people and the product.
The Saturn Brand was never about the cars. It was about the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant right here in the USA, the no-haggle sales process and the dealer business model. In other words, it was about the whole operation, which really was a fresh new approach in the automotive industry.
Unfortunately, the brand behind the brand was GM.
Management guru Tom Peters says, “Branding is ultimately about nothing more and nothing less than heart. It’s about passion… What you care about. It’s about what’s inside you, your team, your division, your company.”
The trick is figuring that out. Defining your passion. Naming your values. Being true to yourself. And then aligning your operation accordingly. So everything you do comes from the heart.
That’s why every business owner and executive should care about branding.
Do you have a better definition of branding? Let’s hear it.
Here’s a comment you hear in corporate conference rooms everywhere:
“Those marketing guys aren’t dealing in reality.”
Damn right. If we dealt only in reality the operations guys wouldn’t have backlogs. The finance guys wouldn’t have profits to count. The Human Resources department wouldn’t need more resources.
Because perception IS reality. Especially when it comes to natural foods marketing.
A few years ago in a piece on brand credibility I said, “The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.
By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” us on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”
There’s a secondary reality in every market segment. Consumers within that segment share a powerful belief system that is not based on facts at all. It’s what psychologists call Motivated Reasoning.
“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition,” says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. “People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”
We all have a natural tendency to cherry pick the facts. We tune in to the information that fits our existing beliefs, and blow-off everything else.
Politics and our modern media landscape seems to be amplifying the retreat from facts.
“These are wonderful times for motivated reasoners,” said Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland. “The internet provides an almost infinite number of sources of information from which to choose your preferred reality. There’s an echo chamber out there for everyone.”
Golfers, for instance, live in a constant state of delusion about how well they could ever play. It’s wishful thinking based on a skewed reality of hope… “If only I had that new $450 driver I’m sure I’d break 80.” They construct a set of assumptions such as “more distance equals lower scores” and “that big-name pro would never steer me wrong with lousy instruction.”
The fact is, those perceptions drive sales. Reality doesn’t even come into play. In fact, it’s quite perilous if you choose to present a story that contradicts that alternate reality with actual facts.
They just don’t want to hear it.
In the natural foods industry there’s a secondary reality that says if it’s in this category, then it must be good for me. That’s simply not true. The reality is that many so-called “natural” foods have no health benefit whatsoever.
Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.
The tribe of people who who are drinking the natural, fortified kool-aid of the health food industry make certain assumptions and hold a particular set of beliefs that the rest of the world does not share.
So you don’t have to present scientific proof that it’s actually healthy. You just have to work with the existing perception, and present the alternative fact that your product is healthier than the traditional choice.
Vitamin Water is healthier than Coke or Pepsi. It’s less bad for you than the traditional option.
Seth Godin refers to these as “truth” stories. They’re true within the alternate reality of the market segment.
For example… Those natural potato chips that I crave everyday for lunch… probably not good for me. But I believe they’re healthier than the traditional, mainstream choice – Lays. So my own motivated reasoning tells me to buy the natural alternative.
I know it’s not like eating broccoli, but it’s incrementally healthier than what I used to eat, and that’s okay. That’s what fits into my own personal reality. That’s my truth.
So if you’re making “healthy” salty snack foods, remember… You can’t compete with broccoli on healthiness. But you can compete with Lays.
Here are some other examples of alternative facts from the health food industry:
Baked is better than fried. Doesn’t matter if those natural cheese puffs are loaded with fat, the mainstream consumer will buy them as long as they’re not fried. And health foods are moving more and more into the mainstream.
Healthy fats are okay. Forget about the old adage that says “fats make you fat.” The pendulum is swinging the other direction right now, and many companies are using the term “healthy fats” in their product claims. The FDA’s not buying it, and it’s highly debatable in the scientific community, but that doesn’t matter. Consumers are buying it. Just look at the sales of coconut oil.
XYZ secret ingredient is the best thing ever. Health-minded consumers are quick to jump on whatever ingredient is trendy…. Acai, turmeric, ginger, apple cider vinegar, duck fat, coconut water, Aquamin, prebiotoics, probiotics, whatever.
Beware… Those trends are fickle. All it takes is one high-profile “scientific” study to discredit your main ingredient and doom your entire product line.
Here’s the real truth behind ingredients for the supplements industry: Companies that market those ingredients routinely accept anything more than 50% success rate in initial clinical trials. So in other words… even if the ingredient is only effective half the time, it’s still commercially viable.
Are you kidding me? Doesn’t matter. Consumers are swallowing it. Perception IS reality.
In natural foods marketing it’s not just about ingredients – even the best ingredients cannot drive sales by themselves. It’s not about what the product is, it’s what the product could be in the mind of the person who lives in the same, alternative reality. It’s entirely aspirational.
Advertising legend George Lois put it quite well; “Great advertising campaigns should portray what we feel in our hearts the product can grow to become. The imagery should be ahead of the product, not in a way that assails credulity, but in a sensitive way that inspires belief in the product’s benefits and instills a greater sense of purpose to those who produce and sell it.”
Credulity is rampant in natural foods marketing. In every category.
Michael Proctor, a colleague of mine who’s been in the health food industry for 30 years, says you have to dance around the side of things. “The messages are getting more mainstream. The benchmarks and buzzwords keep changing, so it’s like a crab, always moving sideways. But you have to know what the prevailing reality is, in order to skirt around it and find the reality that you resonate with.”
Know the reality. Tap into the prevailing perception.
Getting your messaging right is not an easy task. The good news is, most of your competitors are probably missing it, which means you have room to move in and effectively control the dialog.
Is “25 billion probiotics” an effective claim to make? 50 billion? 100 billion? 200 billion? What’s the number?
Probably none of the above. Those companies are getting caught up in a numbers race and are missing the more relevant point.
Probably time to move like a crab and find another story to tell.
Here’s something I heard from a graphic designer recently: “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally.”
No she’s not. She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference. Let’s get the definition of brand straight, once and for all. It’s not the same as “brand identity” or logo.
So what is the definition of brand identity?
A brand identity project typically includes a logo and graphic standards that dictate fonts and colors for the company’s marketing materials. Sometimes we also do naming and brand messaging for a new product or company as well.
It’s a valuable service, but those graphic elements, in and of themselves, do not add up to a “Brand.”
If it’s done well, your logo is an accurate graphic reflection of your brand. But it’s just the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a “brand.” For the true definition of brand, you have to look deeper.
Tip of the Iceberg… “Brand” is everything above AND below the surface.
The vast, floating mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work that you see on the surface.
Everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters… The words you choose. The images you show. The social media posts you do. The values you hold dear. The vendors you choose and the people you hire.
The sum of all those parts is the Brand.
Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that. Deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.
The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.
The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind. Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future.
The consumer’s idea of your brand is based more on history and personal experience, where one bad experience skews the whole picture.
The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding” combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.
Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”
The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.
You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand.
Branding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand; If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.
Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.
So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.
I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.
Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…
“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said. “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing. I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”
Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on.
It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.
That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.
Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.
It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.”
Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…
“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.” “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.”
Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”
Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy.
The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players in tough tee shirts. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.
Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.
When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.
Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses.
They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer.
The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.
Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.
Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to t
he old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” Every Ikea design begins with one
thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.
Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.
So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that… Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?
Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.
Clarity is the key to many things… Marriage, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity.
But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Clarity in business communication. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising, marketing communications and management in general.
Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. complication. Persuasion vs. nonsense. Straight talk vs. bullshit.
Doesn’t matter what form of business communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.
Business clarity, delivered creatively, is the holy grail of marketing.
It takes discipline and creativity to continually provide clarity in business communication.Eighty percent of my professional life has been spent helping clients clarify things. The message is almost always clear in their own heads — and maybe to a few insiders — but it’s seldom clear to the outside world. A lot gets lost in translation.
The fact is, words matter. Images matter. A single misused word, photo or graphic can derail entire campaigns and leave your most important audience scratching their heads.
Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.
A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity in business communication causes enormous frustration.
When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle.
So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.
Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.
Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things: Whatto say, and how to say it. The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the creative team.
The copywriter and the art director and programmer can’t do their jobs if they’re not clear on the strategy. Unfortunately, most business owners are quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics.
Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives of a well-known natural food company, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.
“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks. “Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…”
No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats.
Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild-ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo. They were in the spotlight, on national TV, and they had no business clarity whatsoever.
One thing you can do to encourage clarity in business communications is to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t!
Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement. Then make sure that it becomes an integral part of your on-boarding procedure.
Because if your own people don’t know what your brand stands for, how will the customer know?
Want traction for your startup? Find a name that’s clear.
Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name. Like these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli. That’s just confusion waiting to happen…
“How do you spell that?” “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”
Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business… Search. Deeper.
Want advertising that actually drives sales?Be clear and overt about the value proposition.
Not just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.
Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with strategy. Then be very clear about the value proposition. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads. That’s how you can achieve clarity in business communication.
Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.
When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear.
There can be no confusion.
You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.
Want a powerpoint presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides.
Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies of clarity in business communication. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor.
Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.
The marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.
Most clients I know can’t possibly wade through the complex maze of choices.
They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one.
Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try.
There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding, blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that’s just the first two letters of the alphabet.
It’s nuts. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.
Even the biggest brands in the world, with massive marketing departments, can’t make sense of it all. Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers summed it up at a recent conference in Orlando.
“Yes, there’s been substantial technological progress. But is that progress getting us anywhere? The answer is no,” Liodice said. “We should not accept this byzantine, non-transparent super complex, digital media supply chain. No one can understand it. ”
Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 30 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.
I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics…
• Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.
• Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.
• Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.
• E-commerce sales copy on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster E-commerce sales.
• High-dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!
• Marketing tactics and strategy get completely out of alignment.
• A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely – one that can’t possibly afford the product.
• Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.
Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.
So what are you supposed to do? How can business owners find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?
First of all, you need to have a general grasp of the complex marketing landscape.
Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing
Second, find someone you trust implicitly to help you wade through all the marketing clutter.
There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time and accept their outside perspective as a positive.
It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.” They may not know it as well as you do, but what we do know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring us for. We can learn the ins and outs of your operation as we go, just as you can learn the basics of marketing and branding.
Third, set clear goals, expectations and metrics.
Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.
Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.
I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me.
He has read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and traveled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. He’s learned a lot, and yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely.
But now he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him choose his opportunities wisely, and maximize every one.