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Naming, rebranding, and the role of your brand origin story.

brand credibility from branding experts

Origin stories are big business in Hollywood. Millions of people will pay top dollar at the box office to get the back-story on their favorite superhero or sci-fi villain. (The Joker grossed $849 million in just two months.) Unfortunately, brand origin stories are highly underrated and underutilized in the business world.

Let’s say you’re involved in a start-up and you’re pitching your idea to potential investors. They’re going to want to know where you came from. How you got there. And what you’re all about. A well-crafted brand origin story can answer those questions — in dramatic fashion.

A look back helps illuminate the way forward.

Sometimes it’s the founder’s entrepreneurial journey that attracts a tribe of like-minded people and helps get the company off the ground. In other cases it’s the team that triggers success… their past experiences, skill sets, passions or unique insights.

Sometimes it’s the product itself or the timing of the product launch that gives the company traction. Whatever the case may be, that brand origin story should be an important component of your brand narrative.

 

 

 

At BN Branding our clients never come asking for an origin story, but they almost aways need help with one. When they come to us for a brand name and identity, we always start with the brand origin story.

When we dive into the heritage of a company, the reputation of the brand, and the past experience of the key players we often find the DNA of the brand hidden beneath the haze of time, growth and outside influences. A lot of clients are just stuck.  They have lost something they had when they first started their business, but they can’t put their finger on it. That’s why it helps to go back to the very beginning.

Let me give you an example, and answer a question I get all the time about the naming of my own company…

This is the brand origin story of BN Branding…

It begins with my childhood crush on a couple of iconic brands. By the age of seven I was smitten was Tonka trucks and Schwinn bikes.

I really, really, really wanted a Schwinn Sting Ray with the banana seat, sissy bar and a five-speed stick shifter. That never happened, and I’m scarred for life from the years I spent riding a cheaper, embarrassing knock-off that my dad bought at a thrift store.

I’ll never forget the Christmas, some years later, when I finally got a yellow, Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. I had truly grown up… Way beyond the JV sting ray.

The other brand I was passionate about during those wonder years was Head skis. I got a hand-me-down pair from a racer friend of mine, and I was in snow-bound heaven. Head skis are the Schwinn of my winters, to this day.

Fast forward to high school when my infatuation with brands really blossomed. Classroom doodles were detailed recreations of skateboard brands, ski logos and slalom courses. I could draw perfect replicas of the iconic Rossignol R as well as the Sims logo,  G & S, Nordica, Marker and Sun Valley.

My PeeChee was a well-branded work of art and those logos are forever etched in my subconscious.

In Graphic Arts class I channeled that interest quite successfully. I created logos for imaginary companies, silk screened T shirts, ran a letterpress, worked in the dark room developing my own photos and operated an offset press.

I can honestly say I learned a trade. In fact, I printed up a resume, walked into a local print shop and landed my first job, which I desperately needed to pay for my brand-name skateboards, brand-name ski gear and brand-name car.

bend oregon branding firm Origin BNBrandingThat print shop was not exactly what you’d call state-of-the-art. Quite the opposite, in fact.  It was an ancient, run-down relic of a by-gone time. It reeked of ink, acetone and darkroom chemicals.

But I loved it.

The big, hand-fed letterpresses were similar to what we had at school, but the type collection was dramatically larger… Row after row of font drawers, each one full of backward letters and punctuation marks just waiting to be magically transformed into wedding invitations, event flyers or business cards.

That’s where I learned to set type. Literally… Choose a font. Fish out every letter. Set the spacing. “Lock it all up.” Hold the whole thing up to the mirror to check for typos. Back to the drawer to replace that b with a d.

I developed a keen awareness of letterforms, x heights, leading and line spacing.

I developed a keen awareness for how words look in type.

I came to recognize inspired design work, true craftsmanship and high-quality printing.

I learned the hard way that designers could be extremely meticulous, and that I wasn’t really a talented artist.

And most of all, I learned at a very young age that image really matters. It’s was on-the-job training that serves me well to this day.

 

I had ink under my nails all through high school and college. My biggest take-aways from that experience in printing?…

1. The Linotype machine is one of the most amazing contraptions ever invented. (YouTube doesn’t do it justice.)

2. All the glamour’s on the front-end — in the planning, writing and design of those promotional materials. Not on the back end in production.

So in college I took all the advertising, writing and marketing classes I could. Then I took my Journalism degree and dove into a career in advertising.

I started as a direct response copywriter selling high-end goods for a company called Norm Thompson. In that environment money talks. Not art. We tested everything, and routinely produced 25% response rates on direct sales letters to our house list. I learned that the right words translate directly into better response and more cash flow. It was the perfect training ground for a young copywriter.

I gave up the security of that position to pursue my dream of working in a “real” ad agency.

I worked in several Portland agencies where I did print campaigns, some brand identity projects and lots of collateral projects. (printed sales materials.)  That’s where I learned the magic of the writer/art director collaboration, the toxicity of dysfunctional bosses and the pitfalls of the advertising agency business model. That’s also where I learned to award-winning write radio ads. (I discovered I had a knack for writing dialog that sounds natural.)

But that agency experience left a gap in my on-the-job training. I wasn’t getting any opportunities to do TV.  I didn’t feel well rounded, so I decided to take a job at a production company that did corporate video work as well as direct response TV.

That’s where I learned how to write a treatment and pitch a story. That’s where I learned how directors work and how valuable high production values really are.

After a few years of that my career path meandered in a different direction, to the small resort town of Bend, Oregon. It was a lifestyle choice that revolved around raising a family, so I hung up a shingle with just two clients.

What to call my fledgling little agency?

By that time I had done a half dozen naming projects, so I dove into the exercise with a fair bit of bravado, a blank pad of paper and the world’s thickest thesaurus.

I wanted something that would convey my USP at the time, which was an unusual combination of creative wordsmithing and insightful strategic planning. The work had to be creative, but also undeniably effective. So this name and tagline came pretty easily:

AdWords. What to say, and how to say it.

Short. Direct. Precise. Intriguing. Plus, the URL www.adwords.com was available, so I snatched that up right away. (That was before URLs were the be-all end-all of corporate naming.)

The tagline, “what to say and how to say it” still rings true today. At BN Branding it’s strategy first, THEN execution.

Strategy determines what to say. Creative execution is the “how to say it” part. One without the other is like a Ferarri without a throttle.

So “AdWords” it was!

Over the next seven years I built a team and a substantial body of award-winning advertising work in tourism, technology, golf and real estate development.

Then, on February 10 of 2004, I got a phone call from an attorney who made an offer to purchase the AdWords brand name and URL. I thought it was a birthday prank from one of my buddies, and I politely declined.

But a couple months later he called back with a better offer. Then another, and another. He wouldn’t tell me who his client was, but it didn’t take a big leap of imagination to figure out it was Google. I held out for more than a year.

The windfall from that sale gave me time to write a golf book, help start a non-profit, reevaluate the direction of the firm, and rebrand my company.

Back to the drawing board. As it turned out, the RE-branding process was much more difficult than my original branding effort.

As all Creatives know, doing work for yourself is harder than doing work for clients.

The cobbler’s shoe syndrome is rampant in my business.

First of all, I had to do some serious soul searching. I had to step back and take a realistic look at what the company was. And what is was NOT.

We never offered media buying as a service. That was not in our wheelhouse. So really, AdWords never was an ad agency. We provided creative services, and produced advertising in all forms, but it was more of creative boutique than an agency.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for someone who had dreamed of having an “agency.”  And during that re-naming process I wasted a lot of time comparing my company to advertising agencies.

In that world there are a lot of acronyms… BBDO, CP+B, R/GA, WPP, and even TBD. But I hate acronyms. I’ve never recommended an acronym while doing a naming project. Not once. I have recommended the use of the owner’s name, but never an acronym.

I’ve never seen a cool, start-up ad agency use an acronym. They all gravitate toward hip, one word names like Smoke, Dig, Preacher, Omelet, Stoke or Walrus.

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

The consensus on my team was, “No, nothing like that! That’d be off brand for us.”  So the thousand dollar question was, what would be ON brand for me and my team?

The reality was this:  It wasn’t just about me and my copywriting skills. It wasn’t even about advertising anymore. I had to let that go.

Clients were asking for much more, and our service bundle had evolved to accommodate those requests. We were still delivering creative advertising work, but we were also working further up stream — doing brand strategy, marketing planning, small business consulting and account planning. It was a broad range of services that all fell under the broad umbrella of branding.

So it was decided.. we would be a branding firm. Or a strategic brand consultancy. Or a branding agency. Something like that. But we still needed a name.

We kicked around a whole slew of options, including one that was just a symbolic letter. V.  Not V Branding, just V. That one was interesting, but a bit of a stretch.

We toyed with “Guidon” which was also interesting, but its military connotations caused problems.

Another practical consideration was corporate structure. I was advised to incorporate, but I already had one S corp in the family, so it seemed like a lot of unnecessary legal mumbo jumbo to me. Two corporate tax returns… really? Why not just become part of the family business?

My wife had a market research firm called BN Research, and there was some synergy between the two companies.

BN Branding. Hmmmmm… Seemed kind of boring, but it had a nice ring to it. Good phonetics. So I put that idea in the drawer and continued down the rabbit hole that is namestorming.  It’s never easy… sometimes it takes weeks to come up for air.

In the end, those two letters kept rising back to the surface… BN, BN, BN.

So we started playing around with this question:  What else could the B and the N stand for? How could we attach meaning to those two letters and extend it into a campaign that has legs… something that would be graphically bold and completely different than anything else in the Branding niche.

Gary Vanyerchuck , aka “Gary Vee,” has built a brand around his hard to pronounce name. When asked about that, he said, “a brand name is not chosen, it’s made. You have to make something out of it.”

That’s exactly what we’ve done with the “Be” campaign. We started with a rather benign name, and built something memorable around it.

It started with two simple words: Be Iconic. That was the spark of the idea… They I said, what’s more iconic than the curves of Coca-Cola bottle?

Then came Be Inspired, which implies a broader role where we’re touching more than just design and advertising. We inspire entire teams, not just marketing guys.

A new approach to website design BNBrandingSuddenly the name BN Branding didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

17 years later we’re still working out new ideas for the “Be” campaign. Those two green letters are now iconic, in their own right. You don’t even need to see the name or the logo to know it’s a message from BN Branding.

BN by itself is not an exciting name, but Be Iconic is the main benefit of working with us. Be Inspired is what clients are looking for. Be Nice is how we roll.

We’ve attached meaning to those two letters over time, and the more we repeat those, the stronger our brand becomes. BN is just a trigger for a much bigger, more meaningful idea.

Our clients can fill in the blanks. They can “be” whatever they want to be.

So that’s our brand origin story, and the answer to the common question “why do you call it BN Branding?”

 

 

 

So, what can the average business owner learn from the branding of a branding company?

• Naming is probably the hardest step in the brand identity development process. It’s even hard for professionals who have 25 years experience. Don’t assume that you can do it  yourself.

• Details, visual aids, and quality writing makes a big difference in the value of your brand origin story. Like any good story, it needs characters and conflict. It needs to ebb and flow… you can’t just go straight to success.

 • Look to the past for inspiration and a compelling brand origin story, but don’t hang on too tightly to what you thought you were. You gotta Be Nimble.  Circumstances change, people leave, markets shift, but brands endure.

• When evaluating possible names it’s often helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture. Get away from the word and the URL hunt, for a bit, and think big. It has to start with a big idea.

• Your company name is only one component of your brand identity. It’s important, for sure, but it seldom stands alone. It’s always “consumed” within the context of something else. You have to support the brand name, and make something of it.

• Names that may not seem all that great at first can become quite powerful as context and meaning is revealed over time.

• Context matters. A well-crafted brand origin story provides context for people, and can create greater understanding of your real value.

• Brand origin stories are especially important for service business and companies that revolve around a few, key people.

•  A good origin story can become the stuff of urban legend, told and retold to your benefit.

 

If you’d like some help exposing your brand DNA, and telling your origin story, give us a call. We’d love to hear it.

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2

Non-profit branding (A story of start-up success and failure)

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.”  It was the type of non-profit brand that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on little faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day. It was also a great example of non-profit branding.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was non-profit branding “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. (We conducted large-sample phone surveys as well as focus groups.)

Once we saw encouraging results from the research, we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy and built a business plan around that. After our strategy was clear, and the business plan written, we came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

 

 

non-profit branding case study by BNBranding bend oregon

Print ad for Working Wonders Children’s Museum

At first, Working Wonders was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” Initially we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play.

And it caught on! Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping, “museum without walls” strategy achieve the immediate goal: Proof of concept.

Parents and kids loved it. In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point. We had a location and we had enough money to open the doors. Just barely.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years traveling around, trying to raise more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go:  We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net. We were relying on the on-going generosity of a couple key donors and most of all, corporate sponsors.

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. A non-profit branding success and the biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

Working Wonders ran successfully for four years. It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town in 2009. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually branded too well.

Many customers and community leaders thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. (mine) Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about non-profit branding for marketing for 501c3 organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.non-profit branding by BNBranding Brand Insight Blog in Bend Oregon

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability.

For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors who can provide an endowment.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors.

In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships, and those dried up overnight when the economy tanked.

As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives: Attracting visitors and attracting donors.

But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. Non-profit branding is absolutely important! But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people. Solidify the base of financial support first, then open your doors.

more effective advertising from BNBrandingIt’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer. And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?”  Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before  you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

For more marketing tips and non-profit branding advice, check out THIS post:

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Paralysis by Analysis (How fear and big data can kill great marketing)

BNBranding logoEveryone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the holy grail of marketing. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.

But it can also be a drag.

Here’s an analogy:

date-driven marketing post on the brand insight blog

Thanks to new technology, golfers can now get data on every little nuance of the golf swing. Hop on a launch monitor for 30 minutes and you’ll have more swing data than you could ever possibly decifer. And with shot-tracking technology, you can analyze every last shot of every round.

But in golf, over-analysis never produces good results.

If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing — rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — your execution will fall short.

Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses.

It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the data that comes along with your long list of marketing tactics.

People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed.

Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.

 

Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.

Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. For a lot of these people, date-driven marketing is a safety play.

“Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”

Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.

In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and  “Just Do It.”

Branding blog on data-driven marketing from BNBranding in Bend Oregon When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:

“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”

Widen it they did!  In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”

“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wannabe athletes and weekend warriors.

And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario only applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.

Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”

At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.

And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.” Their institutional memory overrides good new ideas or any insight that might be generated by data-driven marketing.

And how’s that working out?

Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.

Advertising agency for real estate developersThey fill their teams with clones of themselves and with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat.

Avoid these people at all costs!

To the insecure over-analyzers I say this:  Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!

The best way to gather more data is to get something done and then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.

If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing.  Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.

Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.

So by all means… employ data-driven marketing. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data-driven marketing to be the panacea. Big data doesn’t replace the need for a big idea.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, check out THIS post.

 

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5

Sorting through the endless “marketing opportunities”

BNBranding logoThe 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.

the modern marketing landscape BN BrandingQuite frankly, it’s silly to even try.

There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, account-based 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 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 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. But beware of the internet… there’s as much mis-information and fake news as there is good advice. Always check the source.

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.

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBrandingYou need to balance your strategy and tactics and possibly even pull all the pieces together with marketing automation tools.

So start with strategy, not tactics.

Social Media marketing is not a strategy.

Digital advertising  is not a strategy.

Marketing automation is not a strategy.

If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to  outsource your marketing.

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.

Here’s more on how to find the right person to manage the complex marketing landscape.

If you want help navigating it all, call BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

 

34 State Farm is Where??? Insurance industry marketing

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Insurance is one of those low-interest, out-of-sight-out-of-mind service categories that no one really wants to think about. That’s precisely why insurance industry marketing is one of the most cut-throat arenas in the business world. If all you have is a commodity service that people hate dealing with, you darn well better have some good advertising.

When my kids were just 9 and ll they could sing the slogans of every major insurance company in the country. They had been exposed to so many commercials, they knew ‘em all…

“Nationwide is on your side.”

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“You’re in good hands, with Allstate.”

Prudential. “ Like a rock.”

“We. Are. Farmers… bum bla blum bu bum ba bum.”

As a parent, it’s alarming. As a branding professional, it’s very interesting.

How could Progressive’s  Flow,  The Geiko Gekko and Mayhem Man become so ingrained in our everyday lives?  And why would the insurance companies spend millions on advertising that reaches children? Seems like their media buy on the Disney Channel and on ABC Family is a lot of wasted exposure.

But then I think about my own experience, and it sort of makes sense.

My parents were insured by State Farm, so that’s all I knew when I bought my first auto policy. My wife had a State Farm agent when we got married. It never occurred to me to look anywhere else, and we’ve never had a compelling reason to change.

Insurance industry marketing is a matter of momentum… if you can get ’em young you’ll probably have ’em for for a long time. Quite possibly, for life.

 

 

 

I’d rather have a root canal than deal with insurance of any kind. And that’s why those early branding efforts are so important… once they have ya, they have ya.

We’ve stayed with the same insurance company for almost 20 years not because State Farm has good service or great rates. Not because we’re loyal to our agent, who lives 120 miles away and never speaks to us.

It’s because we absolutely hate the thought of switching.

It’s like brand loyalty by default. Life, auto, home, boat, cabin… We’re all in, and the hassle factor of changing insurance carriers is just too much to even contemplate.

But that was before we ever filed a major claim. Before our little winter disaster. That’s when all that insurance industry marketing hype came crashing in around us.

Here’s what happened:

insurance industry marketing bnbrandingIt always snows a lot in the Oregon Cascades, but January 2012 was crazy.

The garage/shop at our mountain cabin eventually collapsed under the weight of 10 feet of heavy, wind-packed snow. It was a total loss, to the tune of about $175,000.

Naturally, we called our Sate Farm agent.

Her assistant put us in touch with a claims adjuster, and for the first time, we realized that State Farm is like two separate companies:

The independent agents who sell the policies and collect the money have nothing to do with the claims adjusters who pay money out and deal with the stressed out customers who have experienced a disaster. Of any kind.

Those two halves are not aligned.

For 80 years, State Farm has branded itself as a neighborly, down-home sort of company that would be there for us, if we really needed ‘em. That’s the perception they’ve spent millions to maintain. That was the perception I grew up with, thanks a persistently enormous branding effort.

The reality, however, is quite different indeed.

The lady who’s supposed to be handling our claim definitely didn’t get the memo about being a good neighbor. In fact, any goodwill that State Farm has built up with us over the years went right out the window with just one claim. It was a nightmare.

It took seven months before they finished cleaning up the disaster area. Our neighbors were not happy!  State Farm covered the loss, eventually, but the process was painful at best. When we called our devoted agent to complain, we got nothing but excuses and second guessing.

I can’t even imagine what the Hurricane Katrina victims must have gone through. The State of Mississippi finally had to sue State Farm to get them to pay the claims due.

Talk about a PR debacle. Instead of looking like a good neighbor, State Farm came out of that storm looking like an evil, corporate giant that could care less about the little people. I’d love to know how much market share they’ve lost since then.

There are two important morals to this saga:

1. When it comes to branding, actions speak louder than words. You have to be very, very careful about promising something in a slogan or ad campaign that you can’t deliver day in and day out. The promises that are routinely made in insurance industry marketing are hard to live up to.

Fifty years ago, State Farm probably could deliver on their promise. Not anymore. Today, State Farm is the country’s largest home and auto insurer, with 21% market share in the homeowners category, and $18% in auto insurance. It’s too big to be a good neighbor. That’s why so many upstarts, like Progressive, have stolen market share in the last ten years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog2. Branding is not just a function of the marketing department. It’s also an operational issue.

State Farm’s claims operation is out of alignment with their brand. The sales side and the claims side are not operating from the same playbook, and State Farm can’t fix their problem by changing their tried and true slogan.

They have to change the way their claims division works in order to live up to the brand. They need to align the experience with the brand promise.

A tall order, no doubt.

Brands have always been about trust, and promises kept. For me, State Farm betrayed that trust. The behavior of one claims adjuster was so “off brand,” it actually prompted me to  start the long and painful process of changing insurance companies.

I went with Progressive for one reason only… I can do business entirely on line, and the user experience is quite pleasant. I don’t have to deal with an agent at all.

At least until I have to make a claim. Then we’ll see how Flow compares to the “neighbors” at State Farm.

 

market research for small business BNBranding

Strategic listening and consumer insight – Small business market research

BNBranding logoI’m a big proponent of small business market research. For me it’s insight first, THEN execution.

Insight is the foundation of every ground-breaking idea in history. Insight drives the strategy that directs the execution that produces results.

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. I’ve seen, first hand, how research can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups.

Can you say, “Got Milk?”

strategic listening in advertising

But I’ve also done my share of branding strategies and marketing campaigns based on nothing more than gut instinct and the client’s opinion.

It can be done when the budget demands it, but believe me… it’s much harder and riskier.

I don’t think small business owners do enough strategic listening. (And their branding strategies usually reflect that.)

They often skip the research because they think they already know it all. The sales manager says “I’ve been in this business for 25 years, I know what customers want.”  Or the owner says “We tried that already, it didn’t work.” Or the marketing assistant says “We have some data from Survey Monkey on that.”

Don’t bet on it. Often times, customers don’t even know what they want.

 

 

Here are five common problems that business owner run into when doing market research for small business:

1. Questions are written from an insider’s perspective.

2. They ask the wrong questions.

4. They question the wrong people.

5. They don’t know what to do with the data once they have it. Or they just don’t want to hear it.

market research for small business strategic listening BNBranding

First, let’s talk perspective. (Or lack thereof.)

As the old saying goes, you can’t read the label if you’re stuck inside the bottle.

Most people are so wrapped up in their day-to-day business they can’t see the bigger issues well enough to ask the right questions. Their own bias creeps in at every turn.

An outsider’s perspective — and the objectivity that a professional brings to the table — is really the only way to get research that you can take to the bank.

That lack of perspective leads directly to:

Problem number two: The content of the research questions themselves.

A lot of time and money is wasted asking research questions that are dumber than a rock.

For instance, I recently ran across a survey about the current plight of private country clubs. It’s no big secret that they’re hurting, and yet the survey started with a useless series of questions that just rehashed commonly known industry facts.

Don’t waste time asking questions you already know the answers to.

Clarify your objectives before you start. Spend some quality time framing the problem so you can ask better questions. Stick to subjects that honestly baffle you.

Branding firm BNBrandingProblem number 3:  The issue of semantics in market research questionnaires.

There’s incredible nuance in the wording of a good questionnaire. In fact, how you ask a question can often guarantee results, one way or another.

Polling companies have known this for 75 years. That’s why there are Democratic pollsters and Republican pollsters. They can always get the results to skew in their preferred direction. Left or right.

Here’s a story that illustrates my point perfectly:

There were two priests who both wanted to know if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time. So they wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question in this manner:  ‘Is it permissible to smoke while praying?’ and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention. The other priest asked “Is it permissible to pray while smoking”  and was told that it is, since it is always permissible to pray.”

Chances are, if you’re writing your own questionnaire, you’re not being as clear as you should be. And clarity is one of the cornerstones of building an iconic brand.

The fourth problem arises when you ask good questions of the wrong people.

Many companies have feedback systems for their customers, but they never hear from their non-customers. Sometimes it’s more useful to poll the people who are loyal to your competitor’s brand. Why they don’t buy is just as important as why they buy.

When you do research make sure you have a representative sample of people on all sides of an issue. If you’re working with a research firm, insist on samples of real people, not professional focus group respondents.

The last, and probably biggest problem with small business market research is your ability to do something with the data once you have it.

In most companies there’s a huge gap between insight and execution. In the market research industry, that’s the most common complaint: Quite often, comprehensive studies end up on the back shelf, filed under “that’s interesting, now get back to work.”

All kinds of things can sabotage your best efforts. Sometimes corporate culture gets in the way. At HP the engineers run the show and even the most analytical marketing guys take a back seat. Innovation is a core value, so they might ignore market research in order to launch quickly and demonstrate their engineering prowess.

market research for small business branding strategies BNBranding

It’s like the software business. When they launch a product everyone knows it’s just v.1.0., and it will quickly to be replaced by v1.2 and 1.3. Their mantra: Launch first, ask questions later.

So make sure you’re in the position to act on the information you gather. Otherwise, don’t bother. Ask yourself some tough questions ahead of time…

• Do you have the brainpower inside the company to analyze the data and understand its implications? If not, can you hire someone who does?

• Do you have the financial resources to implement changes based on the analysis?

• Is the subject you’re researching important enough? Is it a C-level initiative, or just a mid-level management thing?

• Are you empowered to act? If not, who is? Do you have the allies you need to get things done?

research for branding strategiesIf you can answer yes to most of those questions, great. Here’s a fairly simple (simplified) approach that will produce information you can actually use.

In general, there are two types of research the typical business owner or manager can do:  Listening and asking.

It’s best to start with strategic listening because that will keep you customer focused. (And branding strategies that are customer-facing are almost always better than inward facing strategies.)

Put your own agenda aside and listen to what your front-line employees have to say. They hear it all. Revisit the customer feedback forms you’ve been collecting. Get out of the office and have in-depth discussions with real customers.

And by all means, tap into social media and other online sources. That’s a great way to “hear” what people are saying.

“I have numerous examples where we’re finding key nuggets, insights, aha moments and watch-outs coming from various online sources,” said Kristin Bush, Senior Manager of Consumer & Market Knowledge at Procter & Gamble.

“It’s definitely an area that we’re exploring quite heavily… we get the unprompted voice of the consumer, the real sentiments, the real points of view.  I think there’ s a huge opportunity in this space, and the companies that really figure out how to listen and respond in meaningful ways are going to win in the marketplace.”

Once you’ve tapped all the existing lines of communication, then follow up on with traditional market research techniques. Surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews are useful for asking specific questions and probing deeper into topics that come up on the blogosphere.

New on-line tools make it easier than ever to get a survey done. But the do-it-yourself approach of Survey Monkey won’t pass the muster unless you follow the guidelines above.

Want more insight on branding strategies and small business research?

Want some help with small business market research? Give us a call. 541-815-0075.

5 Strategic Thinking vs. Tactical Acting – Your marketing needs both.

BNBranding iconic logoI’ve been writing the Brand Insight Blog regularly since 2007. The single most popular post I’ve ever written focuses on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Thinking and planning vs. doing and implementing.

Seems there’s a some confusion there, to say the least, about the definition of tactics and strategy.

For example, I saw a blog recently titled “Top 10 Social Media Strategies.” But the list was purely tactical. Not a strategy to be seen.

Here’s a quick tip: If you see the word “strategies” – plural- it’s probably not really a strategy.

Strategy is singular. Focused. Unique.

Tactics are plural. Every business should have a long list of marketing tactics. They’re done by everyone, including your competitors.

So if you’re still a bit unclear about the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics, here’s another way to look at it…

Think about Insight vs. Execution. Insight being the crucial strategic thinking that has to happen before you execute the tactical plan. Think, then act.

marketing strategy BN Branding's Brand Insight BlogGraham Robertson of Beloved Brands talks about the difference between strategic thinkers and tactical implementers. He writes…

“To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.” Whoever wrote that blog post on social media definitely sees answers first, and social media is it.

Strategic Thinkers ask a lot of “what if” questions before they begin to develop solutions.  They think, they reflect, they plan and they stew on things before they act. In fact, many never act at all. They deliver a report and walk away, or they delegate the execution to the tacticians.

Tactical people jump right into answers.

They believe that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking, so it often turns into a “ready, fire, aim” scenario. They are impulsive doers who often get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

It’s like Captain Kirk in an old StarTrek episode yelling at Spock; “What we need now, Spock, is a little less analysis and lot more action!”

Spock was the strategy guy. Captain Kirk was the execution guy.

 

 

There are many business owners with A-type personalities who fall into the category of non-strategic implementers. They’re the ones who quickly jump on every new marketing bandwagon that comes along, hoping for a home run without ever taking batting practice.

They do a lot, but without clear direction they often do a lot of the wrong things. They’re all over the place.

Strategists, on the other hand, often think themselves to death and never get anywhere.

My firm is often brought in for tactical projects because many clients don’t think they need the strategy help. But in most of those cases, we have to work our way “upstream” to answer those key, strategic questions before we jump into creative execution of a website, ad campaign, social media effort or whatever.

marketing strategy rafting the deschutesTactical implementers never paddle upstream. They just go with the flow.

To be a great marketer you have to wear both hats.

“While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand, Robertson said. ” They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action.  And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff you actually need done.  I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and tactical, almost equally so.”

A tall order for most marketing people. In fact, Robertson estimates that only 15 to 25% of all marketing people are legitimately “strategic”  in their approach to their jobs. There are far more tactical marketing implementers than there are strategic thinkers.

If you’re building a career in marketing you need to pinpoint your strengths. If you’re more of a manager, organizer and list-making delegator, you’ll probably want to find people for your team who can fill in the strategy gap.

You can’t just suddenly decide to “be strategic.”

Being strategic means reading between the lines, delving deeper than just factual data, and trusting your instincts.

That takes years of practice and a certain personality type. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a good tactical implementer who gets a lot of stuff done.

tactic definition - balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics for best results.

There are thousands of successful design firms and small ad agencies that have no strategic thinkers at all. The account executives simply coordinate the list of tactics they’re given by the client. The creative specialists — writers, graphic designers, web programmers, SEO guys, photographers, and social media specialists execute those tactical projects.

That can work for companies that already have a well-defined brand and a clear-cut marketing strategy. But it doesn’t work if the business owner doesn’t have her story spelled out on paper.

In that case, those creative implementers will spin their wheels and go through a lot of false starts before they hit on something that strikes a chord with the client. And more importantly, with consumers.

Launching a FaceBook contest is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. (And by the way, it’s not an effective tactic if you think it’ll replace other forms of paid advertising.)

“Content Marketing” is not a marketing strategy. It’s a tactic. One of many things on your to-do list that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Producing and running a Super Bowl commercial is a tactic. Deciding which product or service to focus on, in that Super Bowl commercial, is strategy.

The most common mistake in marketing strategy is a lack of focus. A strong strategy demands focus, but most business owners want to be all things to all people.

I was talking with a real estate firm the other day and they had all their “specialties” listed on their website: “First time home buyers. Second time home buyers. Golf homes. Down-sizers.”

Upscale, low scale, middle of the road scale. Nothing was left out, which made the whole idea of specialization ridiculous.

Time to start swimming upstream!

But strategic thinking is tough. It involves hard decisions and thoughtful contemplation that many business owners simply don’t have time for.

The most important strategic “what-if” question you can ask yourself is this: What are you going to hang your hat on? What’s the ONE thing that you can shout from the rooftops? What if it’s this? What if it’s that?

Imagine that you can only advertise your business on billboards along the freeway. You get one idea and one idea only. Five words max.  Otherwise, no one whizzing by at 65 will see it. Good luck with that. Distilling your marketing strategy down to that level is a rare talent.

If you make the strategic decision to NOT specialize, your tactical execution will suffer dearly. Generalizations never work as well as specifics, and when you’re “targeting”  “men and women age 35 to 64” you’re really talking to no one.

In that case, a good advertising team will simply ignore the strategy-that’s-not-really-a-strategy, and hone in on one very specific idea.

Occasionally, some great business strategies come out of this process. Purely by accident.  But it’s much more efficient to have your marketing strategy mapped out first and then match the tactics to that.

Think Strategically. Act Tactically.

If you need help thinking strategically, or executing any of your marketing tactics, don’t hesitate to call. 541-815-0075. BNBranding can help take your business to the next level with a balance of logical strategy and quick action.

Want to read the original post on strategy vs. tactics? Click Here. 

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4 ipod branding on the brand insight blog

Successful Branding — Zero-in on the main thing for brand loyalty.

BNBranding logoI love this saying: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  I think Steven Covey coined that one, and when you boil it all down, that’s the essence of successful branding: Zero-in on one thing you can honestly, passionately, expertly hang your hat on, and stick with it.

successful branding BNBrandingThen when it comes to marketing communications, come up with one idea to convey the main thing, and just pound that home in every way, shape and form you can afford.

One idea, multiple executions. Do that long enough — and handle your operations well — and you’ll achieve brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, most business owners and brand managers don’t have that kind of focus. Once they get a taste of success in one little niche, the temptation is just too much… They take their eye off the main thing, and dive into a lesser thing, hoping it will become the next big thing.

It seldom works out that way. The single biggest barrier to success, especially for young brands, is lack of focus.

Geoffrey Moore spelled it out in his seminal work, “Crossing the Chasm: “Target a specific niche as your point of attack and focus all your resources on achieving dominant position in that segment. It’s far better to be the big fish in a smaller pond, rather than flopping around in several small puddles.”

 

Al Ries and Jack Trout call it the most violated of their “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.”  They rail against line extensions and point to IBM, Microsoft, Levis, Heinz and this classic case: Crest.

viewdental116successful branding case study on the Brand Insight BlogIt used to be very clear… Crest fights cavities. That was the micro script for the brand. The Main Thing.

Crest was the “first mover” in the cavity prevention category and it was a strategy that worked brilliantly, cementing Crest as the #1 toothpaste for more than 30 years.

Unfortunately, over time, other toothpaste brands entered the same niche.  Everyone started offering cavity prevention toothpaste, so Crest abandoned the claim and didn’t find anything to replace it. After holding almost 40% of the market through the 1970s, Crest’s position began to erode at about the same time they launched their first brand extension”Advanced Formula Crest.”

Now there are 41 different kinds of Crest toothpaste. Count ’em!  Crest Complete Multi-Benefit Extra White, Crest + Scope, Crest Lasting Mint, Crest Pro-Health Clinical Gum Protection, Crest Invigorating Clean Mint, Crest glamorous white, Crest vivid white, Crest baking soda & peroxide, Crest gel, Crest liquid gel, Crest whitening, Crest gum protection, Crest fluoride anti-cavity and sensitivity relief and even Crest Night Toothpaste.

Give me a break. The Main Thing now for Crest is just the next new gimmick. And it’s no longer the #1 brand.

Marty Neumeier in “Zag” says… people want choice, but they want it among brands, not within brands.”

More and more line extensions is not the key to successful branding. All that Crest clutter just dilutes the brand and confuses the consumer. We have no idea what Crest stands for anymore.

It’s natural for successful business owners and marketers to lose focus and start adding stuff to their portfolios of goods and services. They don’t want to miss any opportunities, and they argue that many successful companies have a wide range of products. Apple, for instance.maxresdefaultsuccessful branding examples on the brand insight blog BNBranding

successful branding example from Apple's iPod launch campaignBut every Apple product is designed around the one Main Thing: Delightful Simplicity. All the innovation, design and technological prowess of Apple comes together in those two words. That’s the heart of the Apple brand.

Remember this spectacular product launch for the iPod? The product design was disruptively simple and elegant. Even the advertising was delightfully simple.

There were plenty of other MP3 players on the market, but the white cord let everyone know you were listening to something different. And the graphic execution of the ads was brilliant. Overall, it was tremendously successful branding.

But you’re not running the world’s most valuable company. And chances are, you don’t have The Main Thing really nailed down like Apple does. When you do, things will become easier.

Ries and Trout say: “Focus is the art of carefully selecting your category and then working diligently to get your self categorized in people’s minds.”  In other words, successful branding is a long-term process that involves more than just the marketing department.

A good way to start is by saying no. Because when it comes to successful branding, what you DON’T do is just as important that what you do do.

Say no to the new investor that thinks you should add a mobile app to your mix.

Say no to the engineers who say “we can do this, wouldn’t this be cool.”

Say no to the marketing consultant who says you’re missing a great opportunity.

Say no to the guy who thinks you should open another location.

Sometimes you even have to say no to your biggest customer. It’s not easy, and it’s often unpopular within the ranks, but that’s what focus is… NOT trying to be all things to all people.

If you’d like some help zeroing in on your main thing, call us. Because focus is the fundamental element of successful branding.  541-815-0075. For more on developing a clear brand strategy, try this post. 

The ancient, proven path to marketing success – Credible, Emotional, Rational

BNBranding Bend, Oregon advertising agencyHumans love instant gratification. In fact, our brains are wired for it. But the path to marketing success is not instantaneous. It starts in the gut, meanders around till it hits your heart, and finishes in the head — if you play your cards right.

Say hello to the holy trinity of marketing success: Credible, Emotional, Rational. Gut, Heart, Head, in that order.

This isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s a proven process of persuasion that dates back thousands of years, to the ancient greeks.

the ancient proven path to marketing success - Aristotle

Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher.

Aristotle was onto something. His famous modes of rhetorical persuasion — Ethos, Pathos and Logos — were strikingly similar to Gut, Heart, Head. Effective arguments, Aristotle said, include all three.

The path to marketing success begins with Ethos — the credibility piece.

Aristotle recognized the importance of credibility, and said persuasive power often comes from the character of the presenter.

The idea goes like this… If the audience has a good gut reaction to the presenter, they are much more likely to believe the presentation or buy the product.

It comes down to trust.

Back in the Mad Men days of advertising Ethos was used to sell everything from toothpaste to pick up trucks… put an actor in a white coat and you’ve got yourself a credible expert. “Nine out of ten dentists recommend…”

These days people are more skeptical, and it takes more effort to earn trust in the marketplace.

That’s what being a “thought leader” is about. That’s why white papers and case studies make for good “content.”  That’s why authenticity is such a hot topic in marketing circles.

That’s also why so many companies pay millions for celebrity endorsements. When they don’t have an honest differentiator, they often borrow credibility from A-list Hollywood stars. They even pay for big-name voice-overs.

Ethos in advertising bend advertising agencyWhen Donald Sutherland does a voice-over for orange juice, even the farmers feel the love. That’s ethos plus pathos. Gut and heart equals booming orange juice sales.

Pathos represents the emotional heart of your sales pitch.

The english words “sympathy” and “empathy” come from Greek root, “Pathos”.  This is where passion and creativity comes into play, and it’s where most business people fail miserably.

Managers, particularly those inclined toward the finance side of things, think vertically. They work in a straight, logical line from one thing the next. Top to bottom. It’s hard for them to leap out of that left-brain world and into the realm of emotion and empathy.

Creative folks, on the other hand, think horizontally, diagonally and vertically. Sometimes all at the same time.  We bounce from one seemingly unrelated thought to another and connect the dots in brilliant new ways.

That’s why creativity is so valued in the advertising world.

All the latest brain research proves that emotion drives behavior. Not logic. Logic rationalized behavior. So smart brand managers know the path to marketing success is hiring advertising pros who can communicate the emotional heart of their brand messages.

It’s not just a digital media buying exercise. It’s strategic message development. It’s not just reaching an audience, it’s making an honest, emotional connection with real people. It’s not shoving stuff on unsuspecting consumers, it’s making a genuine connection with people.

Logos is the left-brain rationalizer.

Sometimes you need more than just a credible presenter and a heart-felt pitch. That’s why there’s Logos. Pure Logic. Stats and data. The left-brainier, cognitive leg of the stool.

Unfortunately, many companies rely solely on this. They present all sorts of supporting facts about the features of their products and forget all about the main emotional benefit.

This is especially true in business-to-business marketing and in technology marketing. Most CEOs are simply unequipped to make the leap from the rational, factual side to the emotional side of the equation.

path to marketing successBut just because someone’s making a buying decision at work doesn’t mean she’s suddenly turned into Mr. Spock. She still has feelings.

In their extensive research, Antonio Dumasio and Joseph LeDoux of USC have verified the theory that the head is primarily used to justify decisions that have already been made in the gut and the heart.

We aren’t rational, but we are rationalizers.

Their studies show that emotions don’t decide for us, but they weigh in early and heavily into the decision making process. Plus, emotions are inextricably interconnected with rationality, so no decision is purely logical.

“We’re not thinking machines, we are feeling machines that think.”

That’s why it’s very difficult to sway a consumer to change from one tried and true brand to something completely new. A long list of rational bullet points cannot compete with gut feelings.

Douglas Van Praet, in “Unconscious Branding” sums it up for marketers: “The emotional part of the brain serves as the primary driver of our behavior, while our rational mind acts as a backseat observer that, more often than not, goes along for the ride.”

So the path to marketing success is a matter of balancing Aristotle’s three elements.

Ethos — credibility to elicit that positive gut feeling about you and your product. Without it, no one will be open to receive your message.

Pathos — emotional content to connect in the heart and create brands that are truly loved.

Logos — facts and data to help people rationalize their decisions in their own heads.

If you want a more balanced marketing effort, give us a call.

541-815-0075

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advertising is dead brand insight blog

The rise of “Digital Marketing” — The death of advertising?

brand credibility from branding expertsAdvertising is dead. No it’s not. Yes it is. No it’s not!

The debate about the death of advertising is not new. People have been going back and forth on that for years, and the rise of digital marketing has amplified the rhetoric dramatically. An entire cottage industry is marketing the death of advertising, for its own benefit.

But history is littered with these Chicken Little stories of advertising’s demise… the death of advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Back in the early 1950’s, when TVs first made their way into living rooms across America, television proponents confidently proclaimed “Radio is dead.  TV’s taking over. It’s doomsday for radio.”

Obviously, that didn’t happen. Radio evolved.

It was not the death of advertising. The new medium didn’t replace the old one. And no one — not even the television network executives — started calling the new cool thing “Television Marketing.”

It was just another new advertising platform. Same as “digital marketing.”

So don’t write the obituaries yet. Advertising isn’t dead, it’s just evolving again, and adapting to new consumer behavior patterns and new technologies. As it always has.

In 1981 MTV hit the Cable TV airwaves, and again, the Chicken Littles were saying “Radio is Dead.” This time, for sure. Why would anyone just listen to music when you can watch the music videos?

Still didn’t happen.

 

 

In the late 1990s when Email was widely adopted, the sky was falling for the direct mail business.  “Direct mail is dead.”  “No more junk mail,” they said.

My first job out of college was in the direct response industry, and one thing’s for sure… those guys aren’t stupid. They’re the original data-marketing gurus. They test everything, and if something isn’t working, they stop doing it.

And yet, look at that… Those credit card offers continue to roll into my mail box via the good ‘ol USPS. Non-profits still raise millions through the mail, and many of the catalog companies still print catalogs.

So, no… direct mail isn’t dead either. The ROI is undeniable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it.

Doomsday hype about the death of advertising peaked again back in the early 2000s with the intro of TiVo’s disruptive new technology. Surely, this new-found ability to fast forward over commercials will seal the fate of the advertising business!

the death of advertising BNBrandingNever happened.

Disruptive new technology keeps coming along, but it’s not a fatal wound for radio or TV or any other medium.

Today the amount of money spent on the “traditional” advertising channels — TV, radio, print and outdoor — is declining relative to the growth in advertising on digital channels. In 2018, for the first time in history, worldwide digital ad spending outpaced television ad spending.

But that doesn’t spell the death of advertising. And we don’t need to coin a new term for advertising that’s placed on digital channels.

It’s not digital marketing, it’s digital advertising. It falls under the umbrella of advertising. And, of course, advertising is just one of many business disciplines that fall under the bigger umbrella of Marketing. So the hierarchy goes like this:

Branding.  (This is the broadest discipline.)

Marketing  (Remember the 4 P’s: “Price, Product, Place, Promotion”)

Advertising  (Just one of many options under “Promotion”)

Media Buying  (A specialty underneath the Advertising header.)

Digital

TV

Radio

Print

Out of home

Just because digital is the only medium that many small companies choose doesn’t mean it’s “Marketing.”

Search advertising and social media advertising are relatively inexpensive tactical advertising options. They make advertising accessible to millions of small businesses that  that never would have spent money on a TV campaign. So there are a lot more businesses participating than there used to be.

The fact is, there’s actually more advertising out there today than at any time in history.

We’ve never been exposed to so much commercial messaging. It’s everywhere we turn, at every minute of the day, no matter what we’re doing. We literally can not escape the ads.

I find it ironic that most of the”advertising is dead” proponents run digital marketing agencies whose sole purpose is placing promotional “content” on all the new digital channels.

How is that NOT advertising? Look it up.

the rise of digital and the death of advertisingIn the golden age of television advertisers only had three channels to choose from for their Brylcreem and cigarette commercials. It really was a shotgun approach to mass media.

Now you can stream your commercial on hundreds of cable channels and thousands of digital platforms to a highly targeted demographic group while they’re watching a specific type of content on a specific type of device in a specific geographic area.

It’s more targeted — more granular — but it’s still advertising.

As long as there is capitalism, companies will always find ways to communicate with prospective customers. The forms will continue to evolve, but there will always be commercial messages out there. I’m not a media planner, but believe me, there are a million different ways to get your commercial message in front of highly targeted audiences.

Wise CEOs and Marketing Directors never put all their eggs in one media basket. No matter what they call it.

I don’t expect the death of advertising debate to end any time soon. It’s a simple matter of self-interest and survival…

Radio industry execs will cite plenty of credible studies that prove radio is not dead. In fact, one recent study featured a a snack food brand that spent $1.5 million on radio and generated $10.8 million in added sales. That’s the kind of ROI that the digital guys routinely tout.

Television execs point to the massive reach of television during live sporting events and reality TV shows. Also, it’s still the preferred medium of fortune 500 marketing executives because of its power to connect emotionally with an audience. You won’t hear about the death of advertising from that group.

Traditional Advertising Agencies want to hang onto their golden ticket — media buying revenues — so they promote a balanced, wholistic approach that includes traditional and digital channels. Can’t blame them for that.

Specialized agencies in the digital space will continue to promote the importance of a digital-only approach. It’s in their best interest to claim the sky is falling on TV, Radio and everything else that’s not in their wheelhouse.

But there’s one thing that’s not debatable: No matter how you choose to deliver your advertising messages, the strategy and execution matters as much as the medium.

The brand strategy is your guidepost. Everything you produce should be held accountable to that. Strategy dictates “what to say.”

Execution is “How you say it.” This is the the craft of it all… the creative piece that’s a complete mystery to 99% of the world.

So the next time you’re thinking of running ads — digital or otherwise — think twice about how you’re portraying your company, your product, or yourself.

Because crappy advertising in any medium is still crappy advertising. And if that’s all you do, then yes, the sky really will be falling down around you.

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