Category Archives for "NAMING"

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Catching frogs and campfire songs — Branding lessons from summer camp

BNBranding logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

But short of that, at least employ sound.

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

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

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

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

 

Choose one main thing BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Camp Wannigan. Yes, I wanna go again.

Camp Waziyatah.

Camp WeeHahKee

Camp Funnigan.

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

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

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

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

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

BN Branding lessonsActions speak louder than logos.

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

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

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

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

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

 

1 Logo contests: A bad idea for any good brand

BNBranding logoSometimes the most powerful branding case studies fall into the “what NOT to do” category. Take, for instance, logo contests. Specifically, a logo contest from the Australian Ministry of Tourism.

It’s a big deal down under.

This isn’t some neighborhood non-proft looking for a new logo for their email newsletter. This is a multi-national tourism marketing effort for a nation of 21 million people that consistently ranks as one of the world’s most popular nation-brands.

logo contests from Australia BNBranding' Brand Insight BlogThey’re going to spend 20 million dollars promoting their new brand to the rest of the world. And they’re launching the effort with a logo contest. Grand prize: $2500.

What’s wrong with that picture? That’s just a giant marketing blunder waiting to happen.

How much great design work do you suppose they’ll get in exchange for a 1-in-10,000 chance at $2500?

Logo contests are a horrible idea, for a lot of reasons:

 

 

 

 

1. Logo contests attract the youngest, hungriest designers with the skinniest portfolios around.

You might just luck into someone with incredible talent, but she’s going to need a lot of direction. Serious pros won’t touch that work because it’s not enough money and the odds of success are too slim. It’s a one-time transaction that never leads to long-term client relationships.

The Australian government received 362 entries and culled the unruly collection down to 200 or so. There might be a few decent designs in that sea of submissions, but I’m not even going to address the subjective, artistic side of this.

Instead, let’s look at the steps in the branding process that are always ignored in a contest environment.

 

2. Logo contests skip over the most important steps in the brand identity design process: brand strategy and a clearly defined creative brief.

Contrary to popular belief, brand identity design is not just about artwork. It’s also an exercise in business strategy. If you can’t define your marketing strategy, clearly and succinctly, you’ll never get a brand identity that sticks.

The creative brief should be a very clear synopsis of your strategy. Here’s what the brief says for the Australian assignment:

“Designers and contest participants should submit ideas for a contemporary Australia brand that captures the essence of the nation and presents Australia as a great place for living, holidaying, education, business, manufacturing, agriculture and investment. Submissions should articulate as clearly as possible Australia’s brand position in the context of the global marketplace and help the Government capture “the vibrancy, energy and creative talents of Australia”.

What brand position?

why logo contests miss the mark BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

How can a designer possibly hit the target and “capture the essence of a nation” when there’s nothing on the website or on any links that even hint at a brand strategy document?

The young art school grads are left to figure out the strategy on their own… “What, exactly is the essence of Australia?

“Designers and contest participants may choose to spend time researching Australia and its current brand.”

“May choose to???  Any good branding firm would insist on it. Diving into the design work WITHOUT it, is a folly.

Research is the foundation of any truly professional branding effort. But the graphic designers who enter contests are not the people doing the research and the strategic thinking.

It’s not in their DNA. It’s often hard to get them to even read the creative brief once the research is done.

Designers are involved later in process. During the artistic, execution phase. But if you skip the strategic piece, the designers have no direction. They’re just throwing darts, hoping something will stick.

 

3. Logo contests exclude a critical member of the team. Or two!

Brand identity design should always be a team effort between a copywriter, designer and brand strategist. Some copywriters are also great brand strategists, but you’ll seldom find a designer who can fill that strategic role. If you’re relying only on a graphic designer, you’re only getting one-third of the value.

George Lois, one of the greatest advertising art directors of all time, spells it out: “My formula for great advertising design is to start with the word. This may sound like an anomaly, coming from an art director, but the word comes first, then the visual. You gotta have a slogan.”

A slogan, or a descriptive tagline, helps cement the brand identity’s overall idea. Taglines are always a good reflection of the strategy work that’s been done. If the lines are random, like the list below, the strategy is clearly missing.

Australia  “The heart of many nations.”

Australia “Lighting up the world.”

Australia “Make it real.”

Australia  “Live it up down under.”

Australia “It’s real noice.”

Australia “The inside story”

Australia “It all happens here.”

Which is it?  Without a thorough brand strategy document it’s virtually impossible to judge the 362 taglines in any objective way. The odds of getting one that’s actually authentic to the Australian Brand is remote, at best.  BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

And here’s where it gets really messed up… The public gets to vote! With no clearly defined strategy, no experience and no information whatsoever, the average Joe gets a say in the branding of a nation.

I’ve often seen the results of these contests fail completely. The client pays the prize money but ends up with nothing useable. Then it’s back to the drawing board with a firm that actually knows what they’re doing.

Developing a brand strategy is not easy. It takes discipline, creativity and thorough research. But it’s a required element for success. Contest or no contest.

If you insist on doing a contest or crowdsourcing your logo design you’d better do some extra-thorough work on the strategy side. Otherwise, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. For more on logo design crowdsourcing, try this post.

 

Here are some winning logo designs that we’ve done. Step by legitimate step.

 

logo design by BN Branding

1 a new approach to website design BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The two names must sound good together.

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

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

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

retail marketing strategy

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

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

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

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

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

brand name and identity for a supplements company

When we proposed the name “Smidge” for a vitamin supplement company, half their staff hated the idea. The other half loved it. There was no in between, so we knew we had a hit.

Most business owners would have caved in immediately.

Like Hopkins said, “Smidge” is an advertisement in and of itself.  It does everything a good name ought to do… rolls off the tongue, inspires creative advertising ideas, pops out on a store shelf, and makes people smile.

Here’s the branding case study on Smidge.    Or check it out in our health & beauty portfolio.

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

naming your company BN Branding

Naming your company – Why is it so dang hard to do well?

If you conducted a poll of 100 people like myself who develop brands for a living, 99 would tell you that naming your company is the hardest piece of the brand identity development process.

Naming is way harder than designing logos or writing brand narratives. Naming a business is harder than naming a baby. Naming is even hard for us pros who have a proven process in place and 30 years of experience under our belts.

For many entrepreneurs, naming their company is often harder than devising the idea for the business in the first place.

I’ve seen plenty of people with a brilliant idea and a solid business plan struggle endlessly for a good business name. I’ve also seen cases where ambitious founders settle for the first name that comes along that’s available in dot com form. Both scenarios are less than optimal.

A good business name set you up for success like a favorable tailwind on a strong, warm current.

A bad business name is like a 10 ton anchor on a 20 foot boat. It’ll drag you down and make every other facet of your business more difficult. You’ll be rowing against the current the entire way.

 

 

Here are three good reasons why business owners have such a hard time naming their own companies:

Reason #1: They fall in love with their own ideas.

When people try the do-it-yourself approach to business naming it’s impossible to be even remotely impartial. They lack the perspective and the process they need to evaluate all their options.

bad ideas for naming your business

I’m not sure what this business owner was thinking when he decided on this name for a screen printing business.

Frankly, they are blind to the shortcomings of their own ideas and they’re just too close to it to make an educated decision.

Back in 2004 I met with an enterprising young coffee lover who wanted to open a chain of coffee shops called Thank The Goat. (Coffee was discovered by a goat herder who noticed his goats eating the fruit of the coffee plant.) He was so enamored with that origin story he couldn’t be open minded about anything else.

Needless to say, Thank The Goat did not give even one Starbucks location a run for its money. Want a good laugh? See the worst business names of all time.

Here’s another case I’m closely familiar with…

Three partners in an E-commerce company were so in love with their new brand name they pushed it into production before anyone fully vetted it with a trademark attorney.

It was not a bad name, but they wasted a lot of time and money developing a brand platform and brand identity around that name, only to find out it was not protectable.

Going back to the drawing board was very costly.

My company uses an 8-point grading system for name evaluation, and legal trademark protection is just one of the points.

choosing a name for your company BN BrandingThis report card approach forces the creative team and the client to look at all the “good” ideas from numerous different angles. It adds an element of objectivity to what is normally a completely subjective process.

Instead of relying only a vague gut feeling, we get a random sample of people to grade each possible name. Then we tally up the scores and let the client make a balanced, well-informed decision.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s way more reliable than the usual, overly-emotional approach that most people take.

Not only has this process produced many great brand names, it’s also helped many companies avoid the problems that arise when owners fall in love with their own ideas.

When clients see the grades on their names next to the grades for good, original names, they often see the method to our madness.

I know how it feels to struggle with a business name.  When I rebranded my own branding firm I found that naming my own company was dramatically harder than doing the same work for clients.

I had plenty of clever ideas, but I wouldn’t say I was in love with any of them. I went back to the drawing board dozens of times, and it was still excruciatingly hard to pull the trigger. Eventually I pulled in a few friends and advertising colleagues to weigh in and help me see things in a different light.

What they provided was radical candor.  They pushed me in a more practical direction… one that has played out well over the years once we attached meaning to our new name.  It was that outsider’s perspective that got me UN-stuck.

The fact is, the best brand names are the ones that create the highest level of disagreement.

When it comes to naming, polarization is a good thing! If the stakeholders are sharply divided — either they love it or they hate it — that’s a good sign.

If everyone agrees the name is  “pretty good” you’re going to end up with a boring, forgettable name. Time to go back to the drawing board.

The problem is, most owner/managers don’t know how to deal with so much disagreement.

A grading system sheds light on that division of preferences, and can help business owners make the difficult call.

honesty in political advertising

Reason #2: They’re not a whiz with words. They don’t have an ear for alliteration or an eye for typography.

Naming is the business of semantic invention. You have to make words up.

It takes a wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in disciplines that have nothing to do with business. Like Etymology. Art. Language. Poetry. Writing. Design.

Then combine all that with a savvy sense of business strategy. It’s a tall order that very few branding firms or ad agencies can deliver.

There aren’t too many entrepreneurs who would consider themselves well-schooled in those disciplines. If you are, great! Do you own naming.

But you’re not adept at the craft of combining words, letters, syllables and sounds in unique new ways, then you’re probably going to have a very hard time.

Your business name needs to sound good when spoken out loud, AND look good in type. It needs both audio and visual appeal. That’s what will make it memorable.

 

If a name looks great and sounds great, it doesn’t have to be literally meaningful or accurate.

That’s where a lot of people get tripped up… they feel the need to spell everything out. Better to find a name that’s suggestive, not literal. Then you can add meaning and context to your brand name with the identity design, a tagline, and your long-term messaging efforts.

Patagonia was named after a literally inspiring climbing location that Yvon Chouinard loved, but the word means much more than that now. It’s not about any one destination. It’s about the attitude, that passion and the lifestyle of getting out there.

naming your company BN Branding

Reason #3: Most people never lay the strategic foundation for the right business name.

Brand identity development doesn’t start by brainstorming clever names and searching for available URLs.  That’s like building a new house without a foundation. You might end up with a beautiful, architectural gem, but it won’t stand the test of time.

No matter who does the actual naming, there’s a lot of homework to do before you dive into the brainstorming process.

You need a deep, fundamental understanding of what the brand’s going to stand for in the long run. The brand framework needs to be spelled out, very clearly, and it needs to be based on real business. Not theory.  Otherwise, you’ll spend way too much time going down bottomless rabbit holes that lead to names that simply aren’t aligned with your brand.

So before you start down that deep, dark rabbit hole of brainstorming business names, give us a call. The cost of doing it wrong is nothing compared to the pay-off when you do it well.

Here are some of the names and identities we’ve done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 ski industry case study from BNBranding

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

ski industry case study from BNBranding

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

bn branding's iconic logoIt was the kind of day ski bums live for…  11 inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. And the sky was clearing.

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

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Ski industry marketing case study featuring KneeBinding – the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont.

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ski industry case study marketing

Besides, it sounds like

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has to be way more emotional than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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