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brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBranding

Brand credibility killers— 5 things guaranteed to set off my BS detector

brand credibility from branding expertsAll great brands share three traits : Relevance, Credibility and Differentiation. It’s like a three-legged stool of success. Today we’re going to focus on the credibility leg.

Many successful businesses are built around commodities or me-too products, with basically no differentiation. And you can build a trendy business on short-term relevance and one-time transactions. But you can’t build a brand that way.

By definition, Brands require loyalty. And without some degree of credibility, you’ll never establish a loyal following.

So you can’t build a brand without credibility.

And once you’ve established credibility in your niche, you have to work really hard to maintain it. Because a lot of little things can whittle away at that leg of the stool, until you fall on your ass.

So let’s look at some things that can kill brand credibility.

brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBrandingWhile our tolerances vary, everyone is sensitive to marketing bullshit. Consumers are quick to call you out on anything that looks like it, sounds like it, or smells like it.

P. U!

So here are a few things that trigger my own BS detector. I’m talking about business practices, marketing tactics and common oversights that alert, annoy and turn-off prospective customers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a nose for this stuff.

Brand Credibility Killer #1:  A crappy product or service.

The single most important contributor to brand credibility is the product or service you deliver everyday. The work has to speak for itself. Credibility needs to be built in.

Doesn’t matter if you position yourself as a credible “thought leader” in your industry if the product you put out is a stinky, second-rate knock-off.

What you DO carries far more weight than what you SAY.

So if you’re concerned about your credibility in the marketplace, don’t start with a content marketing initiative. Start with a product improvement initiative.  Then build a story around that.

Killer #2: Too many “yeah buts.”

This one is closely related to cred killer #1. Anytime I hear the a lot of  “yeah buts” from a business owner or salesperson, I know it’s more than just a credibility problem. It’s either an issue with the product or the fundamental business strategy.

You often hear it from enthusiastic entrepreneurs who are trying to raise money to get a half-baked idea off the ground with no go-to market strategy.

A potential investor says, “Wow, that’s a really crowded category with a lot of big-name brands slugging it out for market share.”

“Yeah, but we’re different.”  “Yeah, but they’re too big to capitalize on this opportunity. We’re more nimble.” “Yeah, but our mousetrap is better.”

There’ no way you’re going to establish brand credibility if you’re always making up excuses, playing defense and using “yeah-buts” on a regular basis.

My favorite — from the natural foods industry — is the flavor yeah-but.  I’ve heard this one when companies are fighting for retail shelf space or distribution deals.

The buyer diplomatically delivers the bad news: “Your flavor profile just isn’t up to par in this category.”

“Yeah, but our product is chock full of nutrients.” “Yeah, but ours doesn’t have any additives or fillers.” “Yeah, but ours is Keto!”

Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t taste good.

Do whatever you have to do to eliminate all the yeah-butts from your marketing pitch.

Brand cred killer #3: Gross exaggerations and/or flat out lies.

Nothing triggers the human defense mechanisms faster than blanket statements and bold-faced lies. You’d be amazed how many companies routinely con people.

The industry I’m in — marketing services — is crowded with inexperienced people scrambling to establish brand credibility.  Self-proclaimed “experts” will hype up the latest “marketing strategy”  and proclaim that “This is it! This is the holy grail of marketing! You’ll never need anything else.”

Then, a few months later, it’s something else entirely.

By chasing the shiny object and short-term sales, they sabotage their own credibility.

One big-name marketing consultant says, flat-out, “there’s no such thing as a visual product.” He contends you don’t have to show what you’re selling, just write about it.

brand credibilityThat’s nonsense, of course.

If that were true there would be no fashion industry and every automobile would have the design aesthetic of a Pontiac Aztek.

Other experts stick to the old adage: “A picture’s worth a thousand words” and insist on a visually-driven advertising for every product under the sun.

That’s not the answer either.

The truth is,  you need visual, written and oral brand messages.  And the marketing mix depends…  It depends on your product or service. It depends on your audience. It depends on the medium. It depends on what the competition is doing.

There are infinite variables.

Blanket statements, pat answers and guaranteed systems simply don’t help the brand credibility of any professional services firm. Your credibility, online reputation, and brand authenticity will be better served by simply admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

Confident, credible companies aren’t afraid to say  “we don’t have the answer for you yet, but we’ll sure find out.” That means they’re genuinely listening, and they’re working with your best interest at heart.

That’s far better than forcing everyone into the same “my way or the highway” mentality.

Killer #4: Ridiculously lower prices.

I’m not an expert on pricing strategy, but I know a stinker when one wafts across my computer screen.

Every time my firm buys another URL  or files another Trademark application we get boatloads of junk mail offering us ways to make that new brand successful.

Like the crowd-sourced “brand logos” for $79.

The sure-fire product launch formula for $29.

“Expertly-written” website content and blog articles for only $12.95

Many of those offers are just too good to be true.

Everybody loves a good bargain, but when I see someone claiming to provide a 1-minute explainer video complete with scriptwriting, animation, editing, sound and talent, for $168, I just laugh.

And it’s not a nice laugh. It’s a scoffing, “no fn’ way” laugh that says you have absolutely no credibility and no chance of making a sale. The ridiculously low price pegs the service as schlocky, unprofessional and downright worthless.

So make sure your pricing is aligned with your competitors, to some degree or another. You gotta be on the same playing field, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. Let someone else jump on that race to the bottom.

Brand Credibility Killer #5: The faceless website.

more effective advertising from BNBranding

No one wants to do business with a faceless corporation or a shell company. And yet, everyday I run across another ecommerce company that’s selling stuff online with absolutely no hint of who’s behind the curtain.

No “about us” page. No blog. No background, history or purpose, other than making a few bucks.

I made the mistake of buying something on a site like that. Once.

Unless you’re a felon selling counterfeit fashion items, you need to have some sort of content up on your site that shows who you are and what your company is all about.

Even if it’s just a side hustle, it needs a face,  a brand personality, and a story of some sort. If you think you have nothing to say, be honest about that. Own it.  Even a boring story is better than no story at all.

So, if you want to build a credible brand, here’s the plan:

  1. Build a great product or service that people will want to talk about.
  2. Eliminate all the “yeah buts” from your marketing language. No excuses.
  3. Set your prices strategically, with your purpose and position in mind. Don’t race to the bottom.
  4. Be honest. Stop making blanket statements and bullshit offers.
  5. Put a face to the company. Make it human. Give it some personality.

Oh, and I almost forgot… do what you say you’re going to do. If you don’t do that, routinely, the rest of it won’t matter.

Get more on truth in advertising.

Learn about brand integrity and truth in natural foods marketing.

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BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

New word, old idea — The definition of content marketing

BNBranding logo“Content” is a sizzling buzzword in the marketing world these days. There are all sorts of specialists peddling different versions of content. “Content is King, Content is King,” they all scream.

Everyday I get multiple offers to provide content for this blog, and for my firm’s website, and for my clients’ websites. I hear from content marketing agencies, off-shore content factories, content producers, content designers, video content producers, social media content specialists and content journalists. Every one offers “expertise in my niche” and “professional” writers and producers.

Not one has ever actually panned out.

I’m not alone.  A recent survey from Forrester Research shows that 87% of all companies are struggling to find content that produces a discernible ROI. Companies are churning stuff out, but they’re not content with their content.

And here’s the ironic part… when you ask web development companies about their biggest daily frustration, without fail they all say “it’s really hard to get our clients to provide good content in a timely manner.”

The clients are waiting for the web guys to provide content, and the web guys are waiting for the clients.

Hmmmm. What’s wrong with that picture?

Part of the problem might be the term itself. It’s like the term “marketing”… no two people can agree on what it really includes. Some people think content refers only to copywriting for websites. Others say it’s infographics, or blogging, or video. Gotta have video!

They’re all right. It’s all “content.”

Content, the noun, is nothing new. 200 years ago marketing content appeared in the form of printed hand bills hung up in the local tavern or town square. Then there were newspapers, and magazines and the advent of paid advertising and editorial placed by publicists but written by journalists.

Radio brought sponsorships, jingles and professionally produced commercials. Many great brands were launched on that platform of “theater of the mind.”

In the late 1940’s TV became the original form of video content. At the same time, billboards started popping up, and in the 60’s, direct mail became a highly effective tool for marketers.

So content’s been around forever. It’s just the form and the delivery methods that have changed.

BNBranding long copy is more convincingThere are many more options now, and a totally new vernacular, but the crux of it is the same as always … It’s all designed to forge a connection with consumers. So when it’s time to buy, they are already convinced.

Seth Godin’s widely quoted as saying “Content marketing is all that’s left.” Well, I guess that’s true, in a sense, because content marketing is all there’s ever been.

Teaching prospective customers and giving them reasons to believe has always been the heart of marketing. But now it’s easy to go deeper than we could with Radio, TV, print or outdoor advertising.

The media mix is more fragmented than ever, so the exercise is twofold:

  1. Create content that resonates with your people. Make it relevant, regardless of the medium.
  2. Find the media outlets for that content that best fit your target audience and brand strategy.

If you want to be mindful and authentic about the content you use, you have to start with a deep dive into your business strategy. That’s probably why so many companies are unhappy with their content marketing efforts… there wasn’t any strategic thinking behind it. At all.

It’s usually just a purely tactical exercise.

Strategy work is the single most important component of your content marketing effort.

It’s the only way you’ll know what to say.

The fact is, every company has a lot of stuff they could say. But those messages may not be relevant to the audience, or they might not be differentiated from your competitor’s messages or they not be true to the operational realities of your business. There are a hundred things that could sabotage your content.

You’d be surprised how many companies are out producing content trying to “increase engagement” without even having their value proposition nailed down. So when you do that strategic work, you’ll immediately be ahead of the pack.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingOnce you’ve determined what to say, you also have to be creative in how you say it. That’s the execution piece.

When it comes to content, the right words matter. Concepts, themes and fundamental storylines matter. Images matter. Details matter. Guts matter. Restraint matters.

Many companies try to say too much, all the time. They pack their communications full of technical details that don’t enlighten or connect. They mistake facts and data for effective communications. They post ten times a day, just to say they did.  It’s a quantity over quality mentality.

You can’t just take a facebook post and turn it into a digital ad and expect it to perform well. Your content needs to be crafted to match both the target audience and the medium.

Make no mistake about it… no matter what kind of content you’re producing, precise word smithing and stunning visuals can mean the difference between failure and success.

In content marketing (and all marketing for that matter) what you show is just as important as what you say.

Part of the strategic work is determining what imagery should be attached to your brand. Here are some good questions to ponder:

Does your brand have its own, unique visual presence, or are you recycling the same stock images and selfies that every other company is using?

Would your social media person know if an Instagram post was completely “off brand?”

What’s the takeaway for people who don’t read a word of what you put out there? If you are seen but not heard.

If you have a food product, does your content look like something from Gourmet magazine or a tattered menu from a cheap Chinese place?

Once you’ve determined your brand visuals it’ll be much easier to define the type of images you want to pair with written content. There will be clear marching orders, and boundaries that will keep everything in alignment.

Long before”content marketing” was ever a thing, I was preaching about Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility.  Low and behold, the new model for content marketing fits perfectly with that tried and true model.

Try this post for more on content marketing.

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new approach to website design

Brand design with a bang – Visual cues and consistency across platforms

BNBranding logoA lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.

They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.

They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”

Of course.

Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots.

They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”

The incongruity of the image or message, relative to everything else they see, creates natural human curiosity. It’s just the way our brains work.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingOn the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.

So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.

Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.

The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.

It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.

Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.

Brand design advice Tom PetersTom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values. Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”

Some people seem to think that “branding messages” do not belong on social media. And that you can’t design a “branding” website that also moves product.

That’s hogwash.

As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.

Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.

If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.

truth in advertising BNBranding

If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.

If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.

Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore.Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.

If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.

Or click here for an inexpensive yin/yang assessment of all your marketing efforts.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same with sounds.

 

 

1 new approach to website design

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

BNBranding logoI grew up on the creative side of the advertising industry. In that world, big ideas produce big bucks. Agency creative teams toil endlessly to come up with the spark of an idea that can be leveraged into a giant, category-busting campaign.

When it comes to winning new accounts, ad agencies pit their ideas, head-to-head, with the big ideas from competing agencies. Winner takes all. In that business, big ideas are the currency of success.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingBig ideas are also the bread and butter of the start-up world. Entrepreneurs and VCs are constantly searching for innovative, disruptive ideas that solve a problem, attract venture capital and produce teaming hordes of 28-year old billionaires.

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

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

But you’re going to need a new approach to website design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, most companies jump right to Step 3.

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

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

Forget about that website design project, and instead, launch a campaign that starts with a website with a big idea. Think of it as a long-term marketing program, not a short-term project. Think of it as a new approach to web design that’s more wholistic, more integrated, and more effective than the old way.

Yes, paddling back upstream is often difficult work. And you often need outside help to come up with the strategic insight and big idea you really need. But the effort will pay off.

The big idea is the branding thread that connects all your marketing efforts… It’s not limited just to your website. It should carry through to your social media campaigns, your paid advertising, your PR and even your customer service procedures.

new approach to website designWhen you begin with a big idea, the website falls into place quite naturally. It’s just another tactical execution of the big, strategic idea. When it’s done right, it obviously aligns your marketing strategy and tactics into one, kick-ass idea.

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

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

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

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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

Got Milk print ad

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 the 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.

Your 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.

Problem 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.

branding sites that sell

The Allure of Ecommerce (4 reasons why small retail brands often fail at online sales)

These days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.

It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.

First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.

According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.

retail marketing Amazon Go store

According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point.  “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.” 

So it goes both ways.

More on retail industry branding.

One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.

Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.

We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.

Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…

1. They forget what they’re really all about.

If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.

For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.

Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.

So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.

too many choices BNBranding Brand Insight Blog2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.

There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.

It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.

They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.

You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.

So how are you supposed to do that?

You could offer a unique mix of products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer. So scratch that.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)

You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)

You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.

That, you can do!  Learn how with this post.

3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Information. Insight. And peace of mind.

Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.

But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.

In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.

If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.

ecommerce differentiationEarly in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.

For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.

Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.

The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.

4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.

It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what?  It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.

There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.

Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=

So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:

Bricks & clicks REI coopI recently bought a new pair of walking shoes.  I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.

I wanted to feel the difference.

So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.

I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.

REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.

The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.

That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.

It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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

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

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

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

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

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

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

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

If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even. Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.

”Here’s how:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, it worked.

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

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

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

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

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

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

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

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

small business branding from BNBranding

4 Ingredients of Great Brands – Learning from breakfast cereal and a four-buck burrito

Branding is a popular topic in the business press these days. Unfortunately, coverage of companies like Tesla, Nike and Virgin, make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires.

Small-business branding is often overlooked.

small business branding from BNBranding

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.

Many small-business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand develops.

It does not happen the other way around.

You can’t just come up with a nice name a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you can’t have a great brand.

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant. Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that all successful brands share four important things:

Relevance.

Credibility.

Differentiation.

Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood. Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small business branding - big fat burrito In Bend, Oregon there’s a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It’s not the best Mexican food in town, but it’s damn good and it costs next to nothing. It’s so cheap it’s almost embarrassing.

Taco Stand’s in a terrible location next to a laundry mat. It’s not open for dinner. They have no web presence or advertising budget. And yet, it’s a successful little brand, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand has all four ingredients of a tasty brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

For Taco Stand, flavor and low cost are the differentiators. They consistently deliver on a very simple value proposition: You’ll get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

Credibility stems from the genuine quality of the food, the consistency, and the loyal, locals-only reputation. If there were an insider’s guide to Bend dining, Taco Stand would be top of the list.

Small-business branding – learn from the branding mistakes of the big boys.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easier for big corporations. They can launch a new brand with a massive tv campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging. Social Media alone can lead to some degree of credibility. But it won’t necessarily last.

brand credibility in cereal branding Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…

Great name. Great-tasting product. Launched with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and an old-school, Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

My kids like Smart Start, but they’re not the target market. It’s an adult cereal, promoted on its nutritional virtues.

Too bad. As it turns out, Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be. It’s loaded with sugar… 14 grams of high fructose corn syrup, to be exact. That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for brand credibility.

I’ll bet Smart Start doesn’t have the staying power of Cap’n Crunch — my childhood favorite. Because in this day and age, consumers are too smart for Smart Start. When the word gets out, the brand’s going to have a huge credibility issue on their hands.

The brand promise — that this cereal is a smart, healthy start to your day — is out the window.

Kellogg’s will probably fight back with the old line-extension trick. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they’ll just keep launching new flavors of Smart Start and new spin-offs.

(They already have several variations, including “Strong Heart” that has 17 grams of sugar, and Strawberry Oat Bites. )

Also notice that the packaging has devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design has become less and less unique with every variation.

So Smart Start’s credibility is sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to a label. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.

For a big company like Kellogg’s, it may not matter.

Maybe Smart Start is doing well enough. Maybe Kellogg’s can chalk up a good profit despite the questionable product claims.  It’s a big company with big resources. They can just move on and do it all again.

Smaller companies don’t have that luxury. You can’t afford to launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances.

What do you suppose would happen to Taco Stand if they suddenly started marketing “healthy” burritos?

It’d be a recipe for a small-business branding disaster…

Relevance would be the first to go, since people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. (Just because you can make a claim, doesn’t mean it’s going to be relevant to your core audience.) “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition.

Credibility would lost, because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

And, of course consistency would be sacrificed. Consistency of flavor and consistency of their messaging.

After that, no amount of differentiation would help. It would end up like so many other restaurants that just come and go, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?

  1. Make sure your product claims are relevant, and not just good-for-nothing add-ons.
  2. Don’t choose a name, like “Smart Start” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.
  3. Be consistently authentic. If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do dinners.

For more on what all great brands have in common, try THIS post.

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a free consult with BNBranding. 

 

1 what great brands have in common Patagonia

What do great brands have in common?

BNBranding logoWhat are the common attributes of the world’s greatest brands? And more importantly, what can the average business owner, entrepreneur or marketing director learn from the greats?

I could have done a listicle on the subject: “5 things that great brands have in common.” But that would have been lame… the form of the content would have been contrary to the first, most common attribute that great brands share: Differentiation.

Great brands are highly differentiated from the competition. 

Brands like Ikea, Whole Foods and Nike play by their own rules. They break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture and catch the competition off guard. That’s how they establish leadership positions.

Under Armour has risen past Adidas and grabbed second place behind Nike, and it wasn’t by making me-too products. They broke the preconceived notion of function in a t-shirt and have parlayed that into a sporting goods powerhouse.

common attributes of great brandsZappos differentiated itself in the E-commerce arena by focusing on service.

Tony Hsieh knew, from the very beginning, that it wasn’t just a matter of moving a lot of shoes. He wanted to be the Nordstrom of Ecommerce, and Hsieh built the entire operation around that one, core brand value.

Now it’s actually integrated into the Zappos brand identity. “Powered by Service.”

These days, start-ups commonly pitch themselves as the Zappos of of this, and the Zappos of that… “The Zappos of office supplies.”  “The Zappos of skateboarding.”  “The Zappos of specialty foods.”

They all want to differentiate themselves by emulating Zappos, and then get bought by Amazon for $928 million. Like Zappos did.

Apple has always played by its own rules. It’s not just differentiated, it’s purposely contrarian.

It was born that way, as the counter-culture antithesis to Windows and IBM.

According to a 2002 Wired Magazine article, “they did it by building a sense of belonging to an elite club by portraying the Mac as embodying the values of righteous outsiderism and rebellion against injustice.”

common attributes of great brands

So as I write this article on a MacBook Pro what does that say about me?

It says that I’m consciously creative. That I value design. That I like simplicity. That I’m not a corporate lemming. That I “think different.”

Those feelings were imprinted in me the first time I sat down at at a little Mac. And now those feelings keep replaying every time I pick up my iPhone 7. (Not so much when I have to deal with iTunes.)

Great brands connect on an emotional, gut level.

A hot bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter day triggers feelings of comfort, love and security for millions of Americans. It’s M’m M’m Good! (That slogan is ranked as one of the 10 best of the 20th century, and it was successfully resurrected in 2002.)

The ingrained goodwill that we have for Campbell’s Soup is the only thing that’s sustaining the company amid MSG scares, shrinking category sales, and stiff competition from Progresso and other, healthier choices such as Amy’s and Pacific Foods.

what great brands have in commonSpeaking of emotional attachment, let’s talk Target, the country’s second-largest retailer.

My daughter is an absolute brand fanatic. She lives for those Target shopping trips. The ads speak to her. The experience is superior to any other store. And she loves the products they carry. She jokingly admits to “having a problem.”

According to Harvard Business Review, Target’s business objective was to create an alternative to Wal-Mart’s price leadership. It’s done that through upscale discounting — a concept associating style, quality, and price competitiveness.

This “cheap-chic” strategy enabled Target to become a major brand and consumer-shopping destination, and was built around two interrelated branding activities:

what great brands have in common... Target, Zappos, Apple, Harley DavidsonDesigner partnerships and clever, creative advertising.

Target spends 2.3 percent of its revenues on advertising. Target’s agencies regularly come up with fun, memorable ad campaigns that maintain the brand’s hip design aesthetic that has helped transformed its signature bull’s-eye logo into a lifestyle symbol. As my daughter put it, “Yeah, I follow them on Instagram because it’s aesthetically pleasing.”

Target’s brand promise is summed up very nicely in its tagline, “Expect More. Pay Less.”  In other words, the value is a given, but there’s style too. Otherwise, millennials would dessert it faster than you can say “Where’d Sears go?”

what great brands have in commonTarget has successfully associated its name with a younger, hipper, edgier image than its competitors. It’s not just Target, it’s “Tar-zhay.” And for my daughter, who grew up shopping there, it will always will have a special place in her heart.

If you’re a skier, you might be interested in the emotional attachment I have to my Head skis.

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll be familiar with the cult-like culture of Harley Davidson.

If you’re a driving enthusiast, you’ll relate to BMW’s brand messaging…  “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” And you’ll understand that no one bought a Dodge Viper because of its product features.

Emotion is everything when it comes to building an iconic brand.

Great brands deliver on their promise year after year.

Target stays relevant by keeping up with the latest fashion trends and aligning itself with the right designers. The right stars. The right brand affiliations. It’s a constant effort to always keep things fresh.

Many business owners seem to think of branding as a one-time event — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all. Branding requires constant diligence.

You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not delivering on your brand promise. To remain emotionally connected to your tribe, you have work at it on a day-to-day basis. Because an iconic brand does not guarantee business success.

Was Saturn iconic? Certainly for a few years in  automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of the auto industry have stalled, and ended up in the perverbial junkyard.

VW lost millions of fans when they duped the public on Diesel admissions. But the strength of the brand will carry it through. Eventually.

 

Mauro Caviezel

For about 10 years I was a loyal Audi owner. One holiday weekend I had to drive my Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night.  I felt security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.

The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand: Best damn cars for snowy roads. Period.

Ultimately, however, the brand lost me. I gave up that extra sense of security on snowy roads in favor of financial security. I just couldn’t justify the expense of long-term Audi ownership. I literally felt sick every time I had to check into the service department at the dealership.

The Audi brand couldn’t deliver on its promise when my car was in shop.

Great brands have a clear sense of purpose.  

Your brand’s purpose isn’t to make money. That’s the purpose of the business. The brand needs to stand for something deeper and more meaningful than that.

Nike sells shoes and apparel. But it’s purpose is to inspire action, performance and personal achievement. “Just Do It.”

Starbucks sells coffee and fast food. But it’s purpose is to fill a void in our busy lives. As Howard Shultz once said, “A burger joint fills the belly, but a good coffeehouse fills the soul.”

Coke-a-Cola sells sugar water, but the brand’s purpose is to spread American values around the world. It’s a little taste of freedom in a bottle.

Ikea sells cheap furniture that you have to painstakingly assemble. But it’s purpose is to bring affordable, modern design to the masses.

What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

Figure it out, write it down, and then start communicating that purpose. Relentlessly.  If you need help with that, call me. And here’s a great article on purpose-driven companies from HBR.

Great brands are great communicators.

A strong, purpose-driven culture won’t help if you don’t communicate clearly.  So sharp storytelling skill is another thing that great brands have in common.

It’s a challenge, staying “on message.” That’s where many companies go wrong… their advertising says one thing, their social media campaigns say another thing, and their website communicates something else entirely.

Consistency and alignment is something all great brands have in common.

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a consistent, compelling story to match. They use an authentic, visual narrative. No staged shots of pretty boy models. No over-explanation.

It’s an approach that establishes that intangible, emotional connection that fuels success and inspires people… Participate in the outdoors and help save our wild, beautiful places.

Try this article for more on what great brands have in common.

For help with your own brand, make an appointment with me at BNBranding. We’ll get your messages aligned, and your advertising noticed.

Branding firm BNBranding

How to do great branding ads — Subaru scores with skier-focused print.

BNBranding logo

A lot of marketing people seem to think that branding ads are a waste of money. As if “branding” and “results” simply don’t go together.

I think Subaru and many other iconic brands prove that wrong. And I’d also contend that every ad, every social media post, every email, every touch with a prospective buyer is, in fact, branding.

“Winter storm slams into Washington.”

“Travel advisory for the entire New England area.”

how to do a good branding ad

“Heavy snow accumulations across the Rockies.”

Subaru of America loves headlines like that. Every time a big storm brings traffic to a standstill, the front page of the newspaper reads like a branding ad for Subaru.

Which brings me to an ad that I spotted in Ski Magazine some years ago. It was pleasantly simple:

“Snowstorm Advisory. (More of a calling than a warning)”  Subaru.

No photo of the car. Just a dramatic photo of a lonely road in a blizzard. It’s taken in the first-person perspective, as if I’m sitting in the front seat on my way to the mountain.

That ad doesn’t just speak to me. It sings.

Hats off to the creative team that did that ad. And a round of applause for the client at Subaru who actually stood up against the industry convention and agreed to leave the car out of the ad altogether. (yes, you CAN do a branding ad without showing the product.)

It takes guts to run a full page ad in a national magazine without showing the product. And I’m sure the dealers gripe about it, and say “it’s just a branding ad, it’s never going to sell anything.”

how to do a great branding ad

This is the type of product-as-hero image that every dealer wants in every ad.

But nevertheless, it works.

It speaks volumes about the brand, and it touches a highly relevant emotional chord with anyone who has ever driven through a blizzard to be first on the chairlift.

Besides, with a limited budget there’s a good, practical reason to leave out the product shot: The appeal is not limited to any one model of Subaru. It’s not an ad for the Outback, it’s an ad for the brand.

Just let them imagine whatever Subaru model they like. For a younger, California skier it could be a WRX. For a Birkenstock-wearing telemark skier in Vermont, it’s a Forrester.

By NOT showing the model, they actually sell every Subaru in the line up.

Damn right it’s a branding ad! You should be so lucky.

The Subaru branding ads reflects a genuine, empathetic understanding of the core audience.

Kevin Mayer, Subaru’s Director of Marketing, says his brand is as much about customers as it is about products.

Subaru caters to outdoorsy people of comfortable means who opt for function over fashion every time. It’s a well-targeted niche market of skiers, hikers and kayakers who need all-wheel-drive for navigating unpredictable roads. (Not surprisingly, most Subarus are sold in the Northwest and the Northeast, where there’s a lot of skiing, kayaking and hiking.)

But more importantly, “Subaru owners are experience seekers – they want to live bigger, more engaged lives,” Mayer, said. “To them, the car is the enabler of that bigger life. A conscious alternative to the mainstream.”

a new approach to website design BNBrandingIt’s obvious that the ski magazine ad came directly from that sort of crystal-clear consumer insight and brand strategy.

“We went back to the customer and started thinking again about their values and how our values are alike. We dialed in our strategies back to core,” Mayer said in a MediaPost.com article.

To me, the message is loud and clear… crummy, snowy roads can’t stop me from doing what I love.

In this ad, it’s benefits over features, all the way to the bank.

Karl Greenberg, editor of Mediapost said, “Subaru has the kind of brand equity and staunch loyalty you usually find in luxury marques, which means they can keep their message on product and brand, not on deals or features.”

Rather than running a headline that touts the features of a Subaru (ie the “symmetrical all-wheel-drive system) the ski magazine ad conveys the benefits of that system: Being in the mountains doing what I love.

While everyone else is stuck at home, Subaru owners are out enjoying life. Having fun. Missing nothing. It’s a message of empowerment wrapped in a warm, wintery blanket.

That’s what long term brand advertising is all about… connecting with specific groups of people in a relevant, emotional manner, time after time, after time. Until people start feeing like they’re part of the club.

Clearly the top executives at Subaru get it. They know their market. They’re clear on company values. And they’ve designed products that align perfectly with the brand, the message and the medium.

how to do a great branding ad

You couldn’t place that Subaru ad in The New Yorker or Parade Magazine, even during a snow storm. It would be out of context and off target.

When you see it in context of ski magazine, it doesn’t come across as hype. It’s as authentic as they come.

But no brand is perfect, and Subaru has also had its share of photoshopped flops.  Like this ridiculous branding ad on the right…

Subaru buyers don’t want to forget about winter. They want to embrace it. Be out in it. Conquer it.

That’s a face plant of an ad. Completely off brand for Subaru.

Then there’s the granddaddy of automotive cliches:  A Subaru on a curvy road is not only off brand, it’s also downright generic… it reads just like any other standard, run of the mill car ad. That one’s definitely not firing on all cylinders.

how to do a great branding ad

Subaru’s foray into the luxury, upscale SUV market was a flop. Subaru CEO Ikuo Mori admitted that the “up market migration” with the B9 Tribeca hasn’t worked.

Too big and too flashy for that family of cars. Jim Treece from Automotive news said, “There is nothing especially wrong with the B9 Tribeca, except that it has utterly nothing to do with Subaru’s brand.”

Subaru enjoys tremendously high brand loyalty. Rally enthusiasts swear by the WRX. Forrester owners love the practicality.  And defacto brand ambassadors sell their neighbors on Subaru based on their own brand stories.

Which is the basis for Subaru’s excellent Branding Ad campaign titled “Dear Subaru.”

Fantastic teasers! I want to go to their site, just to get more about these true stories. Two words and an intriguing photo of a car that’s not posed, polished and fake. That’s all you need for a brilliant branding ad.

how to do a great brand ad

For more about automotive industry branding, try this post.

If you’re thinking of running some branding ads give me a call at BNBranding.

BN Branding

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