Tag Archives for " brand differentiation "

The new normal in e-commerce — How to sell more stuff online.

brand credibility from branding expertsThe COVID 19 pandemic has created a frenzy of activity in the e-commerce industry. One of my CPG clients saw a 550% increase in online sales – until they ran into supply chain issues and had to post “out of stock” on every item. The new normal for e-commerce is going to be huge.

The lockdown has created “Cyber Monday” levels of volume for three consecutive months. And even after we’re able to return to the malls, online sales will never go back down to pre-COVID levels. Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will enjoy a piece of the online buying frenzy.

Last year, e-commerce sales in the U.S. rose 14% to $569 billion. This year’s growth could be as high as 50% in many categories. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the growing pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.

A good place to start is with your target audience.

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

Most are looking for insight on a specific product category. Before they fill their online shopping cart they need more information. So they hunt and click for real stories about how your product might fit into their lives. They look for facts, reviews, videos, articles or any kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

But amazingly few e-commerce brands deliver any content at all that could be called useful or differentiating.

If you want to establish a successful e-commerce brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact manufacturer’s blurb, the same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else. You have to differentiate your online store. Somehow…

You could offer a unique product mix.

Choose one main thing BNBrandingMost niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. So maybe your new normal in ecommerce is a product mix that’s more carefully curated or even more niched.

You’ll never be able to compete with Amazon on breadth of offerings, so you might as well specialize.

But even if you could find something that your competitors don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.

You could offer lower pricing.

One thing’s for sure, the new normal in e-commerce is going to involve a lot more competition. Drop-ship companies are springing up everywhere, and many of the new players will get caught in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

Do you really want to be positioned as a low-price leader? Do you want to compete with WalMart.com? Is that really “on brand” for you, or are you more interested in providing quality products with good overall value?

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

Even if you have basically the same product mix at the same price as your competition, you CAN differentiate yourself. All you have to do is customize your product pitches, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

If you’re not doin that you’re not really an e-commerce retailer, you’re just a virtual warehouse.  Retailing, by definition, means selling, merchandising, and packaging up other people’s products into a unique buying environment. Brand building, by definition, means building loyalty and lots of repeat business.

Brick and mortar retailers like Nordstrom know all about that.

And let me tell you about another category of companies that applied wise retail thinking to a new delivery system.

Early in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Back then, in the days of J Peterman and Montgomery Ward,  there was a lot of competition among catalog companies. But Norm Thompson offered a highly differentiated buying experience.

We offered the best guarantee in the business, a meticulously curated collection of high-quality, high-margin products, and a unique tone of voice that resonated with Norm Thompson’s mature, upscale audience.

We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story of both functionality and fashion. When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

On other occasions it was pure fashion. We’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more chivalrous times.

The brand was Helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories.

The long narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

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 industry. We routinely got 30% response rates on our direct mailings.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena.

Here’s the new normal in e-commerce… More and more high dollar, high involvement purchases will be made online. And the role of the well-informed retail sales person is falling on the shoulders of the e-commerce entrepreneur.

Take ski boots, for example. Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. Most people prefer to try them on before buying. And returns on ski boots are quite common.

But on-line retailers could dramatically reduce returns simply by  explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

No technical feature is as important as fit, and yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have peasant feet, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these. If you have big calves, try these.

I were a ski boot retailer I’d focus on the pain ski boots can inflict: Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $150 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the boot fitter.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting the wrong fit. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet.

But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same mundane sales pitch.

After hours of online research I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

That’s what separates the best e-commerce stores; A higher degree of expertise. Better salesmanship. And a brand that means something beyond just making a quick online sale.

In 2019 Norm Thompson’s parent company announced that they would be “exiting the brand.” It’s too bad… the company that started in 1949 selling flies to avid fly fisherman and morphed into one of the leading catalog companies couldn’t make it in this new world of e-commerce.

But before they started losing money, they lost their focus on wealthy baby boomers. They lost their unique tone of voice. They lost their differentiating personality. They lost the soul of the brand after multiple buy-outs.

So that’s the new normal in e-commerce.  Even though business is booming, the brands that lose focus will fail. Cars, appliances and many other big ticket items are now routinely purchased with just a click of the mouse, but that doesn’t guarantee success.

So here’s the question for all e-commerce entrepreneurs: What are you doing to make the buying experience better for your customers?

What are you saying that’s different than what your competitors say?

What information are you providing that’ll improve your credibility and set yourself apart?

What features do you offer on your site that’ll guide customers through the research and make purchase process easier?

What does your online store really say about the potential longevity of your brand?

Are you running a nameless online store, or building an e-commerce brand?

If you’re hard pressed for answers, give us a call. We can help.

 

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Advertising in a crisis: Shit happens, but brands endure.

brand credibility from branding expertsEvery entrepreneur experiences setbacks… Markets crash. Key team members leave with your biggest accounts. There are supply-chain snaffus, natural disasters, and now, a novel virus that slams the door on a robust economy. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re advertising in a crisis, but this is when your branding efforts can really pay off.

All the work you’ve done over the years to stay visible and be a responsible, authentic brand will pay off in spades when times are tough.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that a nicely designed logo is going to make you magically immune from the business fallout of the Corona virus. (Logo is NOT synonymous with Brand and everyone will be affected)

brand credibilityI’m just saying that iconic brands are going to be more insulated — and more likely to survive — than the companies that haven’t been paying attention to branding.

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and when people are unsure, scared or threatened, they want to be comforted.

It’s human nature.

We cling to what’s familiar, and we want an escape from the UNknown. We narrow our choices dramatically and don’t entertain new options. We buy Campbell’s soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches. We re-watch lighthearted TV shows from by-gone days to make ourselves feel grounded. Better.

So being known — ie. maintaining top of mind awareness during good times — is crucial in this situation. The best brands know this, and maintain a presence all the time. In good times and bad. They don’t wait for disaster to strike, they’re communicating with people all along. That’s what breeds fondness and familiarity,

If you’ve been invisible in your market you need to be very careful about launching a knee-jerk reaction ad campaign right now. Especially if your ads start with “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need a new Kia.
Now, more than ever, you need to refinance your house.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a lot of Kirkland brand toilet paper.

We saw thousands of fill-in-the-blank ads like that during the crash of 2009, and the same thing’s beginning to pop up on social media, in email campaigns, and on the airwaves. Cliches like that are NOT going to help your brand. They just add to the clutter and fuel the fear. So if you are going to run advertising during a crisis, it better be a complete departure from that.

So this is a good time to step back and re-evaluate the tone, content and context of your brand messages.

Advertising during a crisis should not be business as usual. It makes for bad optics.

Take Kia for instance, the automotive king of “yell and sell” advertising. They’ve established clear leadership in top-of-mind awareness, but it would probably be wise for them to stop running their current advertising that screams “Credit, come and get it.” “Credit, come and get it.””Credit, come and get it.”

More debt is the LAST thing people need right now. Sometimes the best ad strategy is knowing when to shut up!

It’s almost as bad as running TV spots for a “fire sale” when there are forest fires burning all over the West. It sounds dreadfully callous, given the current state of affairs. (I wonder who decided that predatory lending practices should be a key brand attribute for Kia, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Any advertising that attempts to capitalize on the world’s misfortune will be seen for what it is: Cheap profiteering. If you’re not careful, the public will forever associate your brand with the outbreak of 2020 and will never buy into any messaging you attempt in the future.

But when it’s done well, advertising during these “slow” times can help you reach more people and solidify relationships. Media consumption is up, while most companies are pulling back, ducking the exposure.

So if your message is human, heartfelt and kind you have a real opportunity to differentiate yourself. (And ad rates are lower than normal!)

But you can’t pull a Kia-style hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t sell at all. This is not the time to persuade, it’s the time to reassure without asking for anything in return. Just stay aligned with your brand brand values and communicate what’s important, right now.

This is new territory…  even the most hardened business veterans haven’t faced anything quite like this. It’s going to leave a mark on us all, if not a festering wound.

So I’m not going to serve up platitudes like “It’s going to be okay” or “This too shall pass.” I’m sure as hell not going to say you need more advertising during a crisis or “now more than ever you need a branding firm.”

But I will share one of my favorite sayings… it’s an old Japanese proverb:

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

If you don’t know how to proceed and would like some advice, even for the short term, give me a call. We can do a quick assessment and help you devise a smart response to all the mayhem.

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

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.

Our clients never come asking for an origin story. They’re just stuck, and many 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.

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.

Let me give you an example, and walk the talk.

This is the brand origin story of BNBranding…

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 skateboarding replaced bike riding and my infatuation with brands 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 brands, silk screened T shirts, learned how to set type, 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 got my first job, which I desperately needed to pay for my brand-name skateboards, brand-name ski gear and brand-name car (Volkswagen Rabbit.)

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 ancient, run-down and 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 painstakingly hand set and magically transformed into wedding invitations, event flyers or business cards.

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 came to recognize inspired design, true craftsmanship and high-quality printing.  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?…

1. The Linotype machine is one of the most amazing gilded-age 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 I took all the advertising, writing and design classes I could. Then I took my Journalism degree and dove into a career in advertising.

I started as a direct response copywriter, where money talks. Not art. We tested everything, and routinely produced 35% 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.

I gave up the security of that position to pursue my dream of working in a “real” ad agency. I worked in several around Portland where I did print advertising, award-winning radio campaigns, long-format corporate videos and lots of collateral projects. (printed sales materials.) I learned the magic of the writer/art director collaboration, the toxicity of dysfunctional bosses and the pitfalls of the advertising agency business model.

Like many naive, young Creatives I thought I could do it better myself.  So after moving to the small town of Bend, Oregon, I hung up a shingle with just two clients.

But 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, which is 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 BNBranding 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 company, and reinvent my brand.

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 strategic marketing, small business consulting, account planning and most of all, brand development.

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 went nowhere.

We thought about leveraging our location, which is the desirable town of Bend, Oregon. Bend Branding. BB. That was a big dud.

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.)

BN Branding. Hmmmmm… Seemed kind of boring, 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 skipped a whole bunch of important strategic steps and jumped right into the execution. We started playing around with this question:  How 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.

That’s where the “Be” campaign was born.

It started with one simple idea… 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.

Suddenly the name BNBranding didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

15 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 BNBranding.

A new approach to website design BNBranding

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 my brand origin story, and the answer to the common question “why do you call it BNBranding?”

 

 

What can you learn from all this?

• 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.

 • 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 stay nimble.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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, design fourth. 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. Stop thinking of it as a website design project, and instead, launch a campaign that starts with a with a big idea that is showcased on the website. 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.

a new approach to website design by BNBrandingWhen 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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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.

6

Want to build a brand? First, own an idea.

I think all entrepreneurs should study advertising. Entrepreneurs are full of ideas, and advertising is an industry of ideas…

Ideas on how to build a brand. How to build credibility and authenticity for existing brands. How to engage an audience and convert leads into sales. It’s those big ideas — paired with exceptional execution — that produce growth for clients and vault agencies into the national spotlight.

The same can be said for start-ups. Businesses that start with a big idea, and then stick to it, are the ones that become iconic brands.

Maytag owns the idea of worry-free appliances. For more than 30 years their advertising has brilliantly communicated the idea of dependability with the lonely Maytag repairman who never has anything to do.
Now he even has an apprentice. The Leo Burnett Agency introduced a strapping new version of Maytag repairman… a side-kick who can talk about technological advancements and appeal to younger women.
The Maytag repairman character is so iconic Chevy actually used him in a television spot touting the Impala’s reliability.
Maytag owns the idea. Chevy’s just borrowing it.
Maytag’s core brand idea helps segment the market and differentiate them from the competition. Nobody else in that category will try to claim the idea of “reliability.” Won’t work because everyone knows that Maytag = dependability.

Google knows how to build a brand. They own the idea of online search. So much so, it’s become a verb. “Google it.” It’s the world at your fingertips.

Campbell’s owns the idea of “comfort food.” That brand is not about flavor, it’s about the rainy day when your kids are home for lunch and you sit down for a bowl of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Campbell’s warms, comforts, nourishes, takes you back in time and puts a smile on your face.

For only about one dollar.

Volvo owns the idea of safety. That’s their clearly perceived position in the automotive market.

own an idea BNBrandingEven though driving an automobile is inherently risky, people believe they are safe in a Volvo. And that belief feeds the folklore that sustains that idea and Volvo’s brand image.

Even though Volvo models have all the glamorous features of a luxury brand, they’ll never be seen as luxury cars. Just safe cars.

Funny story about Volvo shopping… Some years ago I seriously considered buying a Volvo SUV for my family. I did the research and went to the local lot for a test drive. But the salesman blew it. He was so adamant about the brand’s safety record, he tried to convince me that Volvo actually used Swedish convicts as live test dummies. True story, he claimed. That’s how Volvo developed such a safe car… by crashing them with convicts at the wheel.

Needless to say, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s luxurious ride couldn’t trump the salesman’s idiocy. I bought an Audi.

Who owns the idea of “fast food?”

McDonald’s, of course. But when people began to realize that fast food wasn’t so good nutritionally, Subway had their own idea… “Healthy Fast Food.”  It was healthier than McDonalds, and Jerod proved it by losing like a thousand pounds while eating Subway Sandwiches.

That simple idea has propelled Subway to #1 in the fast food category. There are 44,800 subway Subway stores to 36,500 McDonald’s stores.

Jimmy Johns owns the idea of fast sandwich deliveryNow Jimmy John’s owns the idea of FAST sandwiches. Not fast food, or sandwiches like Subway, but sandwiches delivered quickly, wherever you may be.

That’s a good strategy of differentiation, especially because their sandwiches aren’t all that great. If they stick with the idea, and execute the idea religiously by actually delivering every sandwich faster than anyone expects, they’ll have a winning business formula.

It’s a core brand concept that’s easily demonstrable in advertising.

And that’s particularly important when it’s a category of parity.  The sandwiches at Quiznos, Tomo’s, Jimmy John’s and Subway are all pretty much the same, so the advertising idea becomes even more important.

Insurance in another such category. It’s a fairly even playing field in a low-involvement category. (Let’s face it, dealing with insurance is about as much fun as going to the dentist.)

Allstate owns the idea of mayhem. In their current advertising campaign the agency  put a face on mayhem, and gave him a smart-ass personality. Everybody knows somebody like that, you just hope your daughter doesn’t date the guy

State Farm has a long-running slogan, “like a good neighbor.”  Unfortunately, neither the advertising nor the customer service support that idea.

Geico saturates the airwaves with humorous advertising and outspends everyone in the insurance category. Thanks to an annual budget of $500 million a year the Geico Gecko and the cavemen have become fixtures in American pop culture. But the message is all over the place. There’s no core brand idea that anyone can grasp.

Guess who owns the idea of sparkling white teeth?  It’s not Colgate. Not Crest. Not a toothpaste, at all.  It’s Orbit chewing gum, a fairly new brand from the master marketers at Wrigleys.

The Orbit girl “cleaning up dirty mouths” campaign helped them capture the #1 spot in the chewing gum market.

(I think Orbit copied the Progressive Insurance advertising. Progressive is the sparkling white insurance brand, for whatever that’s worth.)

Coming up with a core brand concept is hard work. You really have to dig. And think. And explore.

Most of the good ideas have already been done, or can’t be owned authentically. That’s the trick… finding a conceptual framework that honestly fits with your product or service offering.  (BNBranding can help you with that.)

Many big brands don’t own an idea at all.  JCPenny, or JCP as they’d like us to say, doesn’t own an idea. They’re trying desperately to be younger, cooler and more hip than they used to be, but the name change and the slick new execution of  of their print advertising doesn’t make up for the lack of a relevant idea.

Whether you’re selling insurance or chewing gum, building a brand begins with a simple idea.

Anybody can borrow some money, hang up a shingle and start their own business. But the companies that last — the ones that become iconic brands — almost always start with a clearly defined, highly demonstrable idea that goes beyond just the product or service.

Do you need ideas? Need help with your brand messaging? Get started right away. Click here. 

Want to learn more about how to build a brand? Try this post.

2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

How to differentiate your company (Disruption as a branding discipline)

BNBranding logoThe word for the day is Disruption, with a capital D. That’s the easiest way to differentiate your company from the competition.

Be Disruptive!

Unfortunately, in our society there’s a stigma against all things deemed disruptive.

When I was in elementary school I learned to not be disruptive in class. Or else! Sit still in church and don’t disrupt the service. By the 6th grade it was “don’t cause a scene or call attention to yourself.”

How to differentiate your business - BNBrandingDon’t be different. Be the same.

Write like everyone else. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else and you’ll get along just fine. That’s the message we got, and it’s the message our kids are getting.

Loud and clear.

Maybe that’s why so many business owners and executives flee from the idea of disruption like a fox from a forest fire. It’s ingrained in our society. Most business owners are deathly afraid that some new competitor with “distruptive technology” is going to come along and threaten their turf.

And yet, if you’re trying to differentiate your business it’s disruption that separates the iconic brands from the ho-hum ones.  Disruptive advertising. Disruptive product ideas. Disruptive marketing messages. Disruptive cultures. And even disruptive social media posts.

Jean Marie Dru, Chairman of the advertising conglomerate TBWA, has written two outstanding books about Disruption, but it’s still a hard sell. To most executives disruption is bad. Convention is good. And the results of this mentality are everywhere.

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

As management guru Tom Peters says, “we live in a sea of similarity.” Social convention and human nature lead us into a trap of conformity where all websites have the same basic layout. All sedans look the same. All airlines feel the same. All travel ads sound the same.

And it works to some degree, because there’s comfort in conformity. (Vanilla still outsells all other flavors of ice cream.)

But in the long run, conformity is the kiss of death for a brand.

Great brands do things that are disruptive. Rather than shying away from the word, the executives embrace the idea of disruption and they make it a part of their everyday operation. They are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their companies, and every new idea is considered productive change that stimulates progress.

But even when they succeed with disruptive products, disruptive technology and disruptive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to sustain.

When Chrysler first launched the Plymouth Voyager the Minivan was a groundbreaking idea that threw the auto industry into total disruption. It was a whole new category, and everyone scrambled to copy the market leader. Within five years, minivans were — you guessed it —  all the same.

There used to be a Television network that was radically disruptive. MTV launched hundreds of music careers and shaped an entire generation, and now where is it? Lost in a sea of mediocre sameness.

When they first burst onto the scene in the 80’s, the idea of a micro brewery was very disruptive. Now, in Oregon, there’s one in every neighborhood and they’re all pretty much the same. Good, but IPAs are everywhere.

Successfully disruptive ideas don’t last because its human nature to copy what works. This process of imitation homogenizes the disruptive idea to the point where it’s no longer different. No longer disruptive.

how to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSo if you want to sustain a competitive advantage and continue to differentiate your company from new upstarts, you have to keep coming up with disruptive ideas. Not just incremental improvement on what’s always worked, but honest-to-goodness newness all the time.

Avatar is a disruptive movie that spawned numerous knock-offs.

The name “Fuzzy Yellow Balls” is brilliantly disruptive in the on-line tennis market.

brand differentiation on the brand insight blogThe American Family Life Assurance Company was utterly forgettable until they changed their name to AFLAC and launched a campaign featuring a quacking duck.

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review, AFLAC’s CEO Daniel Amos risked a million dollars on that silly duck campaign.

Amos could have gone with an idea that tested incrementally better than the average insurance commercial, but he didn’t. He took a chance and went with that obnoxious duck. He chose to differentiate his company. He chose disruption over convention, and everyone said he was nuts.

But it turned out to be a radically successful example of brand differentiation.

The first day the duck aired AFLAC had more visits to their website than they had in the entire previous year. Name recognition improved 67% the first year. And most importantly, sales jumped 29%. After three years, sales had doubled.

AFLAC’s success was based on disruption in advertising and naming. But for many companies, there’s also an opportunity to stand out with disruptive strategy. In fact, Dru contends that breakthrough tactics are not enough, and that the strategic stage also demands imagination.

Here’s another good example of how to differentiate your company…

When Apple introduced the iPod, the strategy wasn’t just about superior product design. It was about disrupting the conventions of the music business. It was about introducing the Apple brand to a whole new category of non-users and establishing Apple as the preferred platform for all your personal electronic needs.ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

You can get away with mediocre tactics if your strategy is disruptive enough. And vice-versa…  If your advertising execution is disruptive, you can get by with a me-too strategy. But if you want to hit a real home run like Apple did with the ipod, start with a brilliantly disruptive strategy and build on it with a disruptive product and disruptive marketing execution.

It’s kind of ironic… In business, no one wants to cause a disruption, and yet they’re clamoring for good ideas. And good ideas ARE disruptive. They disrupt the way the synapses in the brain work. They break down our stereotypes and disrupt the business-as-usual mentality.

That’s precisely why we remember them.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingRichard Branson said, “Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.”

Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.”

Ask yourself this: What are you protecting yourself from? What are the conventions of your industry?  Why are are you maintaining the stats quo? What are the habits that are holding you back? Are you copying what’s good, or doing what’s new?

What are you doing to be disruptive?  What are doing to differentiate your company on a dialy basis? Are you really willing to settle for vanilla or are you really committed to brand differentiation?

For more on disruption and how to differentiate your company, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

1 Absolutely better brand differentiation.

What you can learn from a good, strong shot of 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.

”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 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.

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.

These are 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.

Just one execution in the long-running Absolut campaign.

Absolute Vodka is a perfect example. In 1980 it 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.

Needless to say, it worked. The “Absolute Perfection” campaign — which is still running today — gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In a decade where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolute sales went from 12,000 cases a year to 2.7 million. 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.

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! This is especially important for service companies that are difficult to differentiate from the competition.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 100 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 Absolute 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 Absolut 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.