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Deschutes Brewing Going National (How to grow without selling your soul.)

Bend, Oregon is a small town better known for big fun than big business. There are only a few local brands that have grown to national prominence. It’s fitting that one is a craft beer.

When it comes to craft brewing and brewery marketing, Oregon is the undisputed leader. And Bend is #1 in Oregon, with the most brewpubs per capita in the country.  (28 at last count, with at least a dozen more in the works. Bend’s population is 90,000.)

brewery marketing in Bend, Oregon by BNBrandingIt all started 30 years ago when Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery. Since then, Deschutes has grown into the 6th largest craft brewery in the country, and the 11th largest U.S. brewery, period.

That’s big. And with the planned building of the new Deschutes Brewery in Roanoke, Virginia, it is getting bigger all the time.

So here’s the challenge: How do you grow rapidly and build a national brand without alienating the home-grown early adopters who got you started?

Oregon’s full of them… influential beer snobs who drink a lot and blog about hop crops, IBU counts, and the relative benefits of barrel aging.

 

 

I sat down with Jeff Billingsley when he was the Director of Marketing at Deschutes Brewing, to discuss the Deschutes brand and the lessons learned from his career in brewery marketing.

Billingsley is one of the only employees at Deschutes that has experience in “Big Beer.” As a Brand Manager for Coors and then Miller/Coors, Billingsley managed some well-known brands, including Miller High Life, Keystone and Hamms before joining Deschutes in 2012.

“After the merger at Miller/Coors the company was completely financially driven. It was all about the bottom line,” he said. “When I started at Deschutes it was just the opposite. The brewmasters ran the show, and they concerned themselves with brewing the best beer, not managing to a certain margin.”

Brewery marketing -Deschutes Brewing goes national Of course Deschutes wouldn’t be so successful if they didn’t have some processes in place. Billingsley said the team has become more business minded in the past few years, but the culture at Deschutes still is firmly rooted in the craft of brewing and the cult of the brewmaster.

“We (in the marketing department ) don’t identify market opportunities and say, “brew this.”  Billingsley said. “We still let our brew masters do what they think is right and try to guide the category, rather than follow it. Gary Fish (Deschutes CEO) has always believed in that. Just because there are many breweries killing it with IPAs doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do.”

Brewery marketing has never been so tough. The competition in every craft brew category, from IPAs to stouts and sour beers, is fierce.

There are now 3,040 craft brewing companies in the country, and that number is expected to double in the next few years. Everyone’s jumping on the local beer bandwagon, and the mind-numbing number of choices is becoming one of the biggest challenges for Deschutes — and everyone else.

“There’s tremendous growth in the industry right now, and every market we enter has some good, local brewers that we have to compete with,” Billingsley said. ” I think the local movement is more of a threat than our bigger competitors. We can’t talk to beer geeks in markets outside of the West Coast. To those people, we haven’t established credibility. We’re just another brewing company trying to come in and steal business from the little local start-up.”

Billingsley said that being entrepreneurial is one of the keys to competing on a local level in any market. It also comes from the top at Deschutes. Gary Fish was named Earnst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.

brewery marketing blog post by BN Branding“It’s a much more entrepreneurial environment than I imagined it would be,” Billingsley told me.

“We really are empowered to try new things.” That’s one of the keys to Gary’s success. We’re less focused on what the competition is doing, and more focused on what WE should be doing. That’s what motivates our people.”

“You have to define winning for yourselves, on your own terms. For us, winning isn’t just about market share. It’s about the experience of our fans, it’s about maybe getting people to try something new, as much as it is about volume.”

Billingsley said the company recently went through a “deep dive” of self examination and research to get a clear picture of their corporate culture and their brand. They hired a new ad agency out of Boulder Colorado and will be introducing new packaging and new advertising in the coming months.

So what is the single most important thing?

DeschutesIPAForayBelgianIPA“Understand what your brand really stands for, stick with it, and find the right execution that fits that. Don’t change who you are in order to chase a market or some new opportunity.”

As the old saying goes, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. At Deschutes, that’s the”damn tasty beer.”

Their craft beer continues to win awards at the most prestigious national and international brewing competitions. Their two flagship beers, Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, do well in every market they enter. Their downtown Bend Brewpub had its biggest month ever in August. And most importantly, they’re introducing new flavors that keep the Deschutes taps relevant even for the most discriminating beer lover.

According to brewery marketing data by the Brewer’s Association, Deschutes currently has three of the top 15 new craft beer brands. I personally think they’re killin’ it with Foray, their seasonal,  Belgian style IPA. D-licious. Deschutes.

Note: This is not a paid post on brewery marketing, although I happily accept gifts in the form of free growler fills.

For more on brewery marketing and more examples of successful local brands that have gone national, try THIS post.

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Effective Personal Branding — The corporate head shot is not the ticket.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. She didn’t appreciate the fact that we had done something different than the usual, corporate head shot. She said they didn’t look “professional enough”  — didn’t think it was good personal branding.

The problem is, her idea of “professional” translates to invisible. Because everyone has a boring “professional” portrait. And doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts.

Just because you’re in a professional job, such as real estate, insurance or law, doesn’t mean you have to look professional in a boring corporate sense. That’s classic, rear-view mirror thinking… “well, that’s how they’ve always done it in my business, so I better do it too.”

Nonsense.  If that’s how it’s always been done, do just the opposite. Differentiation is the name of the game. Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility. Those are the fundamentals of personal branding.

 

 

 

You’d never differentiate yourself on Match.com with a stiff, corporate photo, so why would you sell yourself that way in professional circles? What sells on Match.com is the same thing that sells in the corporate world: Real life. Personality. Emotions. And Honesty.

Deceptive images might get you one date, but they won’t work in the long run.

Realtors are acutely aware of their personal branding efforts. And yet, they’re notorious for using crummy, outdated photos.

I rejected a realtor once because of her photo. I interviewed her because she had done a lot of advertising. Her face was everywhere! But when I met her in person I was literally taken aback.  She didn’t even look like the same person. She was at least 25 years older than she appeared in her photo.

truth in advertising BNBranding

I didn’t discriminate because of her age, I rejected her because she wasn’t honest with me. She purposely — knowingly — misrepresented herself. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.  It’s not a big leap to think she would also mis-represent my house, or my position in a negotiation.

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

So, no thanks.  Next candidate. There are plenty of other realtors waiting in the wings.

I suspect a lot of hiring managers think the same way. It’s human nature in a superficial world. We make snap judgments without even knowing we’ve made them. We are all biased, especially when it comes to looks.

So unless you’re super-model hot or as handsome as George Clooney, why would you want to show your face on every ad, every card, every page of the website? Besides ego.

A headshot does nothing to differentiate you from the rest of the realtors, lawyers, consultants or insurance agents with boring corporate headshots.

On the contrary.  It lumps you in with everyone else. All the bad moustaches and lousy suits on the guys make you look like you belong in a police line-up. And 90 percent of the women look like they’re trying way too hard. (Can you say “photoshop?”)

Successful personal branding hinges on authenticity, and there’s nothing authentic about most corporate head shots.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSome have argued that Realtors should include a portrait because “they don’t have a product to sell. They are the product. “

I suppose that’s true to some extent. The problem is, they’re all “me-too” products.

That is, they all do exactly the same thing, in the same basic manner. There’s no difference in service from one to the other, and most head shots shot confirm that suspicion.

Realtors, dentists, attorneys, and millions of other “professionals” perform a service. How a head shot looks has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to provide a good, valuable service.

A head shot may, or may not, help establish credibility. Someone might say, “well she looked trustworthy,” but unless you look remarkably different than everyone else in your market area, it will not help differentiate you from the thousands of competitors.

Rosey is a symbol of strength for our client, Morris Hayden. Works much better than the client’s photo ever could.

Instead of showing yourself, why not find something that’s more meaningful…  an image, graphic or a logo that means something to you, and possibly even conveys a benefit.

Use a symbolic, conceptual image that isn’t so darn obvious. A bit of mystery is a powerful marketing tool.

Or better yet, devise a service that actually IS different, and then show that. Find a simple image the conveys that difference at a glance.

If it’s not a relevant photo, it’s not good personal branding.

If you’re selling your services as a bouncer, your physical looks are absolutely relevant. You have to look like a bad ass, so your portrait should be shot in dramatic, intimidating fashion. Black and white. Forced perspective. Arms folded and straight faced.

Same thing if you’re a personal trainer. A photo of your physique is proof that you know what you’re doing.

But that doesn’t work for realtors, lawyers or accountants.  No one says, “Wow, she looks like a great realtor!”  No one makes a purchase decision based only on your photo, but they will judge you, for better or worse.

So if you absolutely must use a headshot, here’s some advice for getting a photo that doesn’t look like it came from the Sears portrait studio:

1. Remember, image matters. Execution matters. If you use sloppy, poorly-lit photos on your website or your LinkedIn page, that’s going to reflect poorly on you. You’ll get judged for that, like it or not.

2. Get a life, and show it.  You’re not a robot. Get photos that are an accurate reflection of the real you. Use props or interesting settings. Do something that conveys your personality.

3. Save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a pro the first time. There’s a HUGE difference between accomplished amateur photographers and professional photographers who can actually make a living from the images they sell.

4. Realize that women are almost impossible to please when it comes to portraits.  If you have a staff of 10 women, nine will be unhappy, no matter what. Show them 90 proofs, and they’ll reject every single one, out of hand.

So if you’re running the show, don’t give them too many choices.  Trust the photographer and just show the top three. And whatever you do, don’t let them take the photos home for a consultation with their sisters, girl friends or daughters.

5. A good photo reveals your frame of mind. If you’re feeling confident, sexy and intelligent, it’ll come through. (Assuming you’re using a good, professional photographer)  If you’re defeated, depressed, or angry, that’ll show too. So do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot. Have a glass of wine. Loosen up. Have fun with it.

6. The camera is just not kind to some people. The minute the lens cap comes off, they freeze up faster than a popsicle in Nome. If that’s you, look for a photographer who has a photo-journalism background and let her do some candid, newsy shots. Don’t pose! Do something natural and let her capture the action.

7. Remember, photography is an art.  So be open minded and let the photographer be creative.  If you go into a photo shoot with very specific, pre-conceived notions, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity to shine.

Bottom line: There is a place for portraits in the marketing world. People like to know that they’re dealing with a real person, so the “about us” page of your website is a natural place for those head shots.

Anything beyond that is probably ill advised. Why show your face at all?  It’s brand recognition you want, not facial recognition. They can always just Google you if they want to see what you look like.

For more on branding fundamentals, try this post. If you want some help with your personal branding, give us a call. 541-815-0075.

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Fake thrills and false advertising — Another automotive marketing misfire.

BN Branding's iconic brand identityAutomotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. The big brands seldom produce memorable spots, print ads or campaigns. And at the dealer level there’s nothing but obnoxious yell & sell retail ads. Many have been accused of false advertising.

Let’s look at a campaign for the Toyota Camry… This isn’t what I’d call blatantly false advertising. It’s more like delusional, wishful thinking.

You have to start with this fact: The Camry is not an exciting car.

In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but vanilla-flavored toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and was the best-selling car in America for almost 20 years.

article on false advertising from BN Branding

Obviously, there’s a huge segment of the American car-buying population that does not care about horsepower, handling, sexiness or style.  They just want reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation.

Plain old toasters on wheels.

My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

What a great concept… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format.

They built an elaborate, hot-wheels style track and then too people for a rid up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.  I want to drive!

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

 

 

 

This is a classic case of a great advertising idea executed for the wrong brand. Some might even call it false advertising.

Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not. If this campaign was for the Mazda Miata, then yeah. Maybe it would work.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course”  features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel.  There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?”  Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Brand Insight Blog article on false advertising

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy.

But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up!  Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014  the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.”  That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

False advertising vs. truth in advertising BNBrandingAnd more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry  differently???  Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plent

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners concerning false advertising or grandiose claims…

If you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

Stick with the core truth.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla like the Camry, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath. And it’s basically false advertising.

For more on truth in advertising, try THIS post.

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Golf industry branding.

Fear of loss in advertising — Another effective angle of attack

brand credibility from branding expertsI have an ongoing debate with a client who says we should never, ever take a negative approach in her advertising. She believes, whole heartedly, that fear of loss — or any hint of trouble — should not be part of her brand narrative.

The debate’s been going on for years, and at this point we just agree to disagree. However, as the Creative Director on her account, it’s my job to always make sure she sees our strongest ideas. So I’ll continue to present a “negative” ad occasionally, even if I know she’s just going to kill it.

Let me be very clear… I’m not referring to trash talking ads that attack her competitors. This isn’t politics, where polling data has proven that negative ads pull better than positive ones.

I’m talking about using the fear of loss in honest, problem-oriented advertising that touches on deep-seated emotions that make people stop, notice and actually click or buy.

So let’s dissect the latest example…

The overall tone of this ad is sweet as pecan pie and perfectly on brand for Oregon’s largest pediatric practice.

It definitely passes the 5-second glance test…

The quick take away is “happy child,” and “promises kept.” What brand would NOT want to be associated with those two thoughts?

But there’s that headline… that “negative” angle of attack that touches a nerve with that particular client.

“No child gets turned away. Never ever.”

I don’t believe it’s a problem.

In a very subtle way it poses a relevant idea that the reader has probably never thought of:

At other practices she might get turned away because of her insurance. It’s a true, tangible differentiator for this client.

Here’s a realistic reaction: “Wait, what?…  some pediatricians turn kids away because of their insurance?  I better check on that. I don’t want my baby to get left behind.”

The threat of getting turned down because of a stupid health insurance issue is the emotional hook of the ad.

If you turn it around and look at it through rose-colored glasses, the headline might read: “All children are always welcome. Now and forever.”

Same touching photo. Same body copy. Much weaker ad.

Here’s why:

Too much sugar on top.

The natural reaction to that “nicer” headline is dismissive:  “Of course everyone’s welcome. What kind of doctor would NOT welcome me and my newborn?”

It’s a given. And if the conclusion is a given, people skip right over it, regardless of how sweet it seems.

It’s not going to make people stop and wonder. It doesn’t contain an idea that will stick because it’s nothing but corporate sugar coating.

Sometimes the recipe calls for a touch of salt, instead.

The suggestion of being left behind in the headline (fear of loss) is just enough salt to make our prospect stop and think. And it shows that COPA really cares.

 

If it’s all pretty pictures and happy-go-lucky outcomes all the time, eventually no one’s going to believe you.

Authenticity is crucial these days. Focusing on the problem occasionally makes you more credible.  It conveys the idea that you understand the prospect’s problem and makes your brand more authentic.

Look at this way: Great ads tell a story. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a 3-minute video format, print ad format, or social media format, it needs to have elements of a good story. And stories always include a villain or a problem.

Without a problem you have no meaningful solution.

Without conflict there’s no resolution.

Without a villain you have no hero.

Without trouble you have no story —  just a pretty picture and a headline with no meat.

Donald Miller, in his best-seller “Building a Brand Story” talks about the challenge companies have when it comes to pointing out the downside of NOT buying a particular product or service.

“Clients don’t want to be fearmongers, but fearmongering is not the problem that 99% of business leaders struggle with. It’s just the opposite… they don’t bring up the negative stakes often enough, and their story ends up falling flat.”

Miller points out that you probably don’t want to build an entire campaign using the negative approach, and I agree with him in this case.

Happy moms with happy babies is the predominant visual tool for pediatric practices everywhere. I’m not saying we should change that, I’m just saying we should leave room for other approaches, such as this:

Every mom can relate to those times when her baby’s not being herself. That’s reality for her, and the reality of any pediatric office.

If you ignore the back door angle of attack you’re missing at least 50% of the possible creative solutions to any ad. So you’ll never know what might have been.

As a writer and advertising creative I was always taught to turn things around and look at problems from a different perspective. That training that has served me well, not just on creative assignments, but in all aspects of business.

As Alex Bogusky says, “First you have to think big. Really, really big. Then you have to sit back and think of all the ways you’re not thinking big enough.”

There are plenty of very successful brands that have done that, and built campaigns from an opposing angle of attack. Just look at the non-profit world… they always sell the problem in order to raise funds.

The World Wildlife Fund paints a clear, creative picture of what climate change might mean to people.

PETA shows nothing but sad looking animals, and they raise millions every year.

St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

And Allstate Insurance…

The Mayhem Man campaign revolves entirely around the problem — the potential mayhem that might befall us. It’s a brilliant campaign that attacks the boring subject of insurance in a memorable, albeit “negative” fashion. They give the villain a face and paint a dramatic, lighthearted picture of what’s at stake.

It’s way more compelling than any ads showing what a wonderful, rosey life we’ll lead because of our Allstate insurance policy.

Here’s another example of the fear of loss approach from BN Branding’s portfolio.

When we helped launch the Worx Wedge we talked to a lot of golfers about their use of a sand wedge, their attitudes toward golf product marketing, and the challenges they face around the greens.

The insight from those discussions came through loud and clear… the average golfer has a completely irrational level of fear when it comes to sand traps.

Golf industry branding by BNBranding. Advertising, marketing and branding services for the golf industry

To them, the potential embarrassment of being stuck in a bunker is much more poignant than any positive message of hope that we might employ. (The golf industry is riddled with hopeful bullshit promises of more distance.)

So instead of promising them roses and lower scores, we attacked the problem head on.

Fear Not.

There’s a story in these simple, two word ads… We acknowledge their fear, show that it is not unfounded, and position the Worx Wedge as the tool they need to conquer it.

fear of loss in advertising brand insight blog

Psychologists and neuroscientists have actually conducted quite a bit of conclusive research on the persuasive power of the loss-aversion pitch. Turns out, the fear of loss is often more powerful than the hope of gain.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University says “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.”

fear of loss in golf industry advertisingMothers remember, quite vividly, those trips to the doctor with their screaming 6-month old. And they forget all about the positive experiences with their pediatrician.

Golfers never forget the experience of being stuck in a pot bunker during a bucket list trip to St. Andrews.

In advertising there are market realities to consider, as well. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a me-too product in a crowded category, focusing on what the product is NOT is the better strategy, by far.

Let everyone else tout the generic product category benefits and attempt to position themselves as the hero, while you focus on the problem and let the customer be the hero in the story.

There are really only two possible outcomes for any advertising story…  customers either gains something, or they lose something.  Advertising your product or service as a way to avoid that loss really can work.

You just can’t be afraid of the fear of loss.

 

 

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How stock photos sabotage your brand image – Beware of visual clichés.

BNBranding logoEvery business needs photos… (Your brand image can’t be built on words alone.)  Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to free stock photo sites. Doesn’t matter if the images are for the website, ads, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts or powerpoint presentations, they go to the same source every time.

The problem with cheap stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying “I’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s nothing new or interesting here.”

How many times have you heard this cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your blah, blah, blah needs.”

Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

brand image and visual cliches of stock photography - Brand Insight Blog

Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.” The image above is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.

Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world.  ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.

Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right. And it’s always a better creative product.

Unfortunately, clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.

 

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “Those photographers want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

Let me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business?

What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

brand image golf industry photography by BNBranding and Dogleg StudiosI’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.)

There are thousands of decent stock images of golf we could use. And these days, everyone seems to think that drone footage is the answer. But stock photography or drone fly-overs are a dime a dozen.

There’s nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska at Dogleg Studios sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny.

This shot is a good example. It exemplifies everything that this club is all about. Sure, it’s a beauty shot of the golf course, but it’s also a story of friendly competition, camaraderie, social life and hope.

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas…

If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

So the next time you’re thinking that another stock photo will help your brand image, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.

Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it.

The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images.

The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand image will be better for it in the long run.

Another option is to develop your own, proprietary graphics that actually tie-in to the brand identity. For instance, at BNBranding we use a series of images like this to help drive home our points, without resorting to stock photos that are nothing more than borrowed interest.

I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: johnf@bnbranding.com.

If you want to learn more about brand image, try this post. 

If you want help polishing the brand image of your company, call me: 541-815-0075

Keen branding

1 positioning strategy BNBranding

How to build credibility for your brand, one chapter at a time.

BNBranding logoYour business is not like WalMart. You can’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with advertising in order to sway public opinion and build credibility for your brand.

You have to build credibility every day — by delivering a great product, providing exceptional service, and generally exceeding all expectations.  So brand credibility is not just a marketing issue, it’s also an operational issue.

You can’t just say the right thing, you also have to do the right thing. If you want to build credibility, your marketing message have to be aligned with a well-tuned operation.

Here’s an example from one of our golf industry clients: His little shop is not like the big box store right up the road.  But like all retailers, he always wanted to advertise low prices. Sales get people in the door, he says.

brand credibility BNBranding

“You can’t compete on price,” I said. “It’s just not a credible message.”

“Yes we can… They’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”

“No they don’t,” he said. “No different than what we get.”

“That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. The public believes that the big box store will be cheaper. And you can’t fight that perception.  It’s like City Hall.”

“Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. If you want a credible brand, you have to hang your hat on something else.”

In that case, it was personalized service that became the centerpiece of their advertising. That’s not just a good story, it’s a credible brand message.

 

The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it.

But it’s not enough to just start running digital ads or TV spots that say you have great service. First you have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day. That way, all the reviews and stuff that show up on social media will substantiate the claim.

It’s not just about good story telling. It’s also story proving. That’s how you build brand credibility.

Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but they are not neutral about it, due to their inherent skepticism.

It’s the built-in BS meter they all have. They don’t believe anything you say.

So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do little things that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief.

It’s a far cry from getting them to believe your pitch or trust your brand, but it’s a start. You have to build brand credibility, step by step.

The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.

By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.”  Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment.

If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality.

Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it. That’s the importance of context.

In novels, vivid, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality (context) make the story more believable. More engaging.

The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Dramatic details and believable situations help you sell your story and sway skeptics. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.

Instead of shoving your product features down their throats, try for a more novel approach.

Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category.  Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build brand credibility, if you use them right.

Here’s one simple way to build brand credibility: Choose the right photos for your website.

Every image should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy stock images that look fake, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos. Your brand cred will be shot.

how to build credibility for your brand by Bend, Oregon marketing firm BNBrandingThat retail client of ours needed images that would support his story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that idea with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and the store. Good service wasn’t just talk. It was guaranteed.

Headlines are equally important.

You should keep your headlines consistent with the images and with the secondary reality of your target audience. (You can’t show one thing, and say something else.)

If you keep all those little executional details in sync with your operation, and maintain good practices over time, disbelief will turn to reluctant acceptance, acceptance to approval and approval to purchase. For a few lucky brands, it’ll even progress to a lifelong love.

As movie goers, game players and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture.

Mayhem guy - how to build credibility for your brandThe Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.

We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what brand credibility is all about.

So when you’re working on content for your website, or a story for your latest PR effort, make sure that it rings true with your operation.

For help with your own brand message, call me at BNBranding.

Read more on building an authentic brand 

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kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brand

How to compete in the booming Kombucha Market

Insight on the booming kombucha market — An interview with Steven Lee of Kombucha Wonder Drink.

Steven Lee Kombucha market brand insight blogIn the tea business Stephen Lee is a household name. A pioneer. You could also say he’s the father of Oregon’s booming Kombucha market.

Lee first tried the popular elixir of fermented tea on a business trip to Russia, back when the U.S. and the USSR were coldly pitted against one another.

“When I first tried Kombucha in Russia I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever experienced,” Lee said. “There was no question in my mind. I knew it was going to be a phenomenon.”

So Lee brought a SCOBY back with him and started brewing his own kombucha in his kitchen. But it would be many years, and several start-ups later, before he would jump into commercial kombucha production.

Over the years Lee built and sold five different tea companies. He literally wrote the book on Kombucha and  recently sold Kombucha Wonder Drink to Harris Freeman, America’s largest private label tea packer.

I sat down with Steve to talk brand building in the kombucha market, business creativity and his long list of successful entrepreneurial ventures.

 

It all started with Universal Tea Company in the early 1970s with $2500 and a basement full of herbs, spices, teas and dreams…

SL: When we started Universal Tea Company back in 1972 there was there wasn’t much competition… Lipton, Celestial, Bigelow and Twinnings. We were selling bulk to natural foods stores, but we really hit on peppermint… We were bringing peppermint in from Eastern Oregon — It’s the finest peppermint in the world — and selling it in bulk. We actually bought a wheat combine for $800, reversed the airflow, got a tractor-trailer license and began processing and hauling. We sold hundreds of tons of mint to Lipton and Celestial Seasonings.
tea and Kombucha market

JF: How did that transition into Stash Tea Company?

SL: We sold universal Tea Company to our bookkeeper for $45,000 in 1977. It had taken us five years to figure out what we wanted to do with Stash Tea, because everything we tried failed. We finally decided to sell tea bags to the food service industry and through mail order. It was a slow build over 21 years. We did everything as inexpensively as possible.

JF: From what I heard, you had some very innovative marketing programs.

SL: Yes. We had more than 100,000 people on our mailing list. We used gifts, discounts and eventually free shipping to create loyal customers. By the late 80’s mail order accounted for 10% of our revenues, but 35% of the company’s total profits. Eventually Fred Meyer (the grocery chain) called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their stores here in the Northwest. So they were our first retail account.

By 1990 Stash was the second largest purveyor of specialty teas, behind Bigelow. Lee and his partner, Steve Smith, sold Stash tea in 1993 to Yamamotoyama, the oldest tea company in the world.

JF: What did you do differently after that, when you were starting Tazo?

SL: Well, we started Stash tea with $2500. Tazo was capitalized with a half a million. Plus, we had 20 years of experience under our belts. We had a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. We just marched right out there with it. We knew where to go. Who to contact. How to be creative…

branding blog on tazo teaWe got a very talented team of people together. The guys at the design firm and a copywriter worked with my partner, Steve Smith, and they were just brilliant together. Such a creative force!

There are a lot of people who get involved in the brand building process early on who set precedents. The name, for instance… With Stash, from the day we came up with that name, we had to back-peddle. “No, we’re not about marijuana.”

With a name like TAZO, and the right creative team, anything could happen. The writer said, “it’s kinda like marco polo meets Merlin on the crossroads of existence.” That was the beginning of the whole storyline. They pulled that one outta their hats.

Steve Sandoz, the copywriter on the Tazo project, once told a reporter that Tazo was “the name of the whirling mating dance of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and a cheery salutation used by Druids and 5th-century residents of Easter Island.” Proof that sheer creativity can pay tremendous dividends when it comes to building a brand.

JF: It also helped that the specialty tea category was booming by the time you started. Didn’t Republic of Tea pave the way for Tazo?

SL: They certainly did. There were no longer just five or six tea companies out there. There was some real innovation happening and consumers were aware of better teas.

JF: Tazo launched with a product that cost almost twice as much as Stash. Was premium pricing a big part of your strategy, or was it just that the ingredients were more expensive?

SL: Our strategy was to launch with a product that was made of much higher quality ingredients, and that dictated the retail price. We made no more margin. 40 to 45% gross margin.

early origins of Oregon's kombucha marketIn 1998, Steve Smith and Steve Lee noticed that Starbucks was piloting a brand of tea called Tiazzi, which they perceived as an infringement on the Tazo brand. A polite “cease and desist” letter led to a meeting in which Starbucks offered to buy the Portland company. The sale closed for a reported $9.1 million. Only five years from founding to acquisition. Tazo grew to be a billion dollar brand before being replaced by another Starbuck’s brand, Teavana.

JF: So at that point you had the exit that every entrepreneur dreams of. You could have done anything… What drove you to start all over again?

SL: That’s what I do. My forte is getting things started that inspire and motivate me, then surviving through tough times.

JF: (laughing…) That’s your entrepreneurial strategy??? Get it started and then hang on?

SL: Yeah. I’m attracted to esoteric, romantic categories that inspire me. Tea is very romantic. I was very inspired by that first taste of kombucha that I had in Russia.

SL: The first domestic commercial kombucha that I knew of was a brand called Oocha Brew, here in Portland, that started in 94. That was before GT Dave. I was ready to invest in their company. Unfortunately for Oocha Brew, they learned very fast that when you create a raw kombucha you have to be very careful… If it’s not handled properly all the way through the distribution channels to the store and all the way home into the fridge there’s a high risk of being too high in alcohol. In 1998 they sold a large quantity to QFC stores and the bottles all started exploding. The caps were coming off. That was enough to bankrupt them.

SL: GT Dave began in ’95, grew very slowly until he got some funding in 2003. At that point, Synergy quickly became #1 in the kombucha world with a raw product, and he never looked back.

We started developing Kombucha Wonder Drink in 1999 and launched in 2001. We had a lot of confidence then too, because all the retailers that I talked with said, “oh yeah, if you do kombucha we’re all over it.” So getting it in the stores was easy for us, but moving it off the shelves proved very difficult at first. What we discovered was, even natural foods consumers didn’t know what it was. We did a lot of sampling, and it was a real love/hate thing. Some people would just gag.

JF: An acquired taste…

SL: Yes. Even though our product was a little more palatable than some. Even now, less than 10% of American consumers are aware of what kombucha is. So it still has a long way to go among the so-called “early adopters.”

We determined from the very beginning that the way to go was shelf stable. Our premise is, most all the benefits of kombucha are in the acids. Those are not affected by pasteurization. But in two years time, in 2003, we were still struggling with consumers accepting the taste. It was a slow process.

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brandJF: Was that a strategic error, not doing raw kombucha? Were you kickin’ yourself then?

SL: There was a five year period there of self doubt and struggle. We grew every year, but it was not like what was happening in the raw segment. The two other founders left… Didn’t want to do it anymore because the kombucha market wasn’t growing like it had with Tazo or Stash.

We thought we saw the market, but it was tougher than we expected. Then in 2010 there was the mother of all recalls, when all unpasteurized kombucha brands got yanked off the shelves. Even Honest Tea had a raw kombucha that got recalled. CocaCola had a 1/3 interest in Honest Tea at the time, but they had no interest in doing anything with raw kombucha, so they just let it die. It never returned.

In order to get back on the shelves Synergy and all of them had to change the way they made their kombucha. They had to filter out most of the bacteria and prove that they wouldn’t exceed the .5% alcohol limit. We never had a problem with that, with our brand.

JF: So where’s it going now? In Oregon the kombucha market seems to be booming… every time your turn around it seems like there’s a new brand of kombucha popping up. You have Brew Dr., Eva’s, Hmmm, Lion Heart, and dozens of others just in Oregon. Pepsi bought Kevita. Coke’s investment arm has an interest in at least one kombucha company…

Kombucha market Kombucha Wonder DrinkSL: Yes, everybody’s going to have a kombucha. Good tasting, functional drinks are rising by leaps and bounds right now. There are different sodas with less sugar and different sweeteners. There’s Kefir. It’s changing rapidly.

SL: Our trade association, Kombucha Brewers International has 80 members. And that’s not all… there are well over 100 brands. It’s an easy product for people to launch. You can brew kombucha in your kitchen, go to a couple farmer’s markets, become enthusiastic, find and a couple local stores, and you’re in business.

JF: Sure, the kombucha market is booming, so it’s easy to launch. But it’s not, necessarily, easy to succeed in. Just because they can brew it doesn’t mean they can build a brand, like you did.

SL: That’s true. It’s too hard for too many people.

JF: Even now that’s it’s a $600 million market it’s a relatively small pie. I’m sure it’ll get to a billion dollars soon enough, and it’s going to continue to grow, but the question is, is it growing fast enough to support all the new competitors who are jumping into it?

SL: The answer is no. But time will tell. Everything’s going to happen in kombucha market. Everyone is going to experiment and there will be every form and flavor possible. But there’s always a falling out of brands. Phenomenon or not, only five out of 100 startups make it. The shakeout is happening simultaneously as more brands are launched.

But Steven Lee has launched his last company. His future now is in writing. He recently wrote a book about kombucha for Random House, and he plans to use those connections to do something else that inspires him. Something romantic.

“Once I’m done with Kombucha Wonder, I’m going to go write children’s books,” he said.

Keen branding

If you’re thinking about entering the Kombucha Market or if you have an existing natural foods company, BNBranding can provide all the insight and creative inspiration you need. Call me. 541-815-0075.  Or view our natural foods portfolio.

3 Dragnet approach to bad advertising

How to do more effective advertising (Just the facts won’t do it)

 Bend, Oregon advertising agencyEvery client I work with wants to know how to do more effective advertising. They wonder if it’s the media buy, or the writing, or the graphics, or what. I usually tell them it’s the facts that are the problem. Then I tell them about Joe Friday.

When I was growing up I used to watch re-runs of an old cop show called Dragnet. The theme song alone left an indelible impression on me.

Narration from the main character begins every show: “This is the city; Los Angeles California. It’s 7:18 a.m. I’m sergeant Joe Friday. This is my partner, Gannon.”

Dragnet approach to more effective advertising - BN Branding

Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet

Joe Friday means business.

He works his case methodically, interrogating everyone, including innocent old ladies. He’s buttoned up so tight he can hardly part his lips to deliver his famous lectures.

His favorite line: “Give us the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

That might be an effective approach to police work, but it’s a waste of money when it comes to advertising.

In the Dragnet school of advertising, all you do is list the facts: Who, what, when, where, how much. It’s the preferred approach of deluded business owners who believe, “if you list it, they will come.”

Very few businesses are that good, or that different.

The fact is, most of the time there’s nothing compelling about the facts. If you want to do more effective advertising, you have to move into a world that Joe Friday’s not familiar with… a world of emotional storytelling.

Facts tell, stories sell.

 

 

 

People buy because of how they feel, not because of what they think. And stories have always made us feel things.

The fact is, one orthopedic practice is pretty much the same as the next. They’re all board certified specialists and skilled surgeons who can fix you up and get you back on your feet.

One golf shop’s pretty much the same as the next. They all sell the same big brands, it’s just a matter of scale and inventory levels.

One Toyota dealer’s pretty much the same as the next. They sell the same cars, at the same price, and offer service that’s competitively similar.

So the facts can’t be the centerpiece of your advertising. Facts seldom offer an emotional hook, or any reason whatsoever for the brain to pause and ponder your offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over facts and data, and move on to more meaningful messages.

Messages that make us FEEL something.

The storytelling approach to advertising is superior in every way.  Whenever there’s a commercial that you recall and talk about, I guarantee you there’s good storytelling involved.

Instead of the droll, Sergeant Friday talking AT people like they’re middle school kids, great spots create beguiling characters, use disarming sound effects, and offer a story line that sucks people in — hook, line and sinker.

how to do more effective advertisingGo to Youtube and check out any of the AXE deodorant commercials. (My favorite is titled “Susan Glenn” with Keifer Sutherland from 2012, but there are many great examples from Axe.)

The benefit of using deodorant is embedded into every storyline, quite brilliantly. Every guy on earth will relate to these spots.

Or check out my favorite spot from the last Olympics: The brilliantly on-brand hit titled “the Jogger” from Nike and Weiden & Kennedy Portland.

I know what you’re thinking…  “Sure, anybody with budgets like Nike can do great TV spots.”

Well guess what. That spot was ridiculously simple and inexpensive to produce. No special effects needed. No big-name endorsement deals. No facts about running shoes.  Just an incredible story of human achievement that absolutely nails the Nike brand.

Print ads, websites, even simple direct response post cards can employ exceptional storytelling techniques.The Got Milk campaign is a great example. Two words. One simple photo. And endless stories to tell.

Got Milk print ad

You don’t see any facts about milk. Not a drop. The entire campaign was built around the emotion of finding yourself milkless with a plate of cookies or a bowl of cereal, or whatever.

The emotional hook of NOT having the product was way more compelling than the facts about milk could ever be. The client at the California Milk Advisory board was smart enough to recognize that.

Business people who insist on the Joe Friday approach to advertising are probably scared and insecure. They know, deep down, that their value proposition isn’t anything to write home about. They know there’s parity in the market and a better competitor could come along any time and beat them out. The facts are not on their side.

So they think they have to say everything in every ad.  And they justify the excessive bullet points by saying they have to “maximize their spend.”

Unfortunately, Friday-style facts actually minimize the effectiveness of your ads. It’s like golf. The harder you try, the worse things get.

bend oregon advertising agency blog postLet me be clear. I’m not saying you should eliminate facts altogether. If, in fact, you have a product or service that’s truly different and superior to the closest competitor, be overt about it. Absolutely!

And you always need some facts, somewhere, to help people justify their gut decision to buy your product.

But if you want to do more effective advertising, don’t lead with facts, Dragnet style. Find an engaging, emotional way to communicate the bigger, overt benefit. Personalize it. Emotionalize it. It’ll work much better.

That’s a fact.

Need help translating your boring business facts into great stories that’ll move product? Call us. 541-815-0075

For additional facts on how to do more effective advertising, check out this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

 

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

BNBranding logoWhen it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. The minute the boss gives them the bad news… “gotta cut your marketing budget”  they go straight to the list of tactics and start chopping off the bottom of the spread sheet. Not a smart trimming around the ears, a military-style buzz cut…

how to cut your marketing budget

First thing to get chopped  is  community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernible ROI.

The next thing on the chopping block is ”image” advertising.” Anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window.

Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Quite often, the only thing left is nearly-free social media posts and tiny little digital display ads that don’t get seven seconds of attention.

The short-term reaction often leaves companies looking quite bad in the long run.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cutting your marketing budget.

Rather than a military barber’s approach to cost cutting, try thinking like a surgeon. First, do no harm. Start by eliminating the marketing messages that are off brand, off target, or both.

In order to do that, you might need a second opinion.

You need more than just the bosses’ orders and one person’s opinion to wisely cut your marketing budget. You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the marketing planning process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

So here’s an idea… why not start with an objective assessment of what you’re currently doing? Get a second opinion on your messaging, your media buy and your overall tactical plan.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem…

Print ads say one thing, social media says another and the web site implies something else. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Get your message aligned with your strategy. Reevaluate every marketing “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness. Then scalp all the wild hairs.

If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.”  No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

And you know what they say about ass-umptions.

Here’s an example from the medical profession: Our client, the CEO of a multi-location pediatric practice, was enamored with the idea of “excellence.”  He wanted to build a “pediatric center of excellence” and recruit specialists from all over to “elevate the level of care to new heights.”  Operationally, that’s a great idea, but it was a terrible idea for advertising.

Because the assumption — that the quality of care is relevant to young mothers — turned out to be false. Moms believe that ALL doctors are good doctors. They just want one that they like in an office that’s convenient. So in that case, we started by cutting out all the communications that were focused on the quality of care.

Here’s another example of the messaging process gone wrong. I wrote a post about an ad for Wales Tourism. A classic case of paying a lot of money to place an ad  in Golf Digest that was wrong in both its strategy, and its execution.

As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.”  And even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales Tourism probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

truth in advertising BNBrandingAny decent marketing person can buy media that will reach the desired target audience and choose tactics that will drive traffic. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely.

Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand  image.

So if you absolutely have to cut your marketing budget, start by reading this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBranding

Keen Footwear is a great branding case study. If the shoe fits.

Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBrandingApparently, I have peasant feet.  At least that’s what the nice sales person at REI told me as I was buying a pair of Keens.  That comment inspired me to use that brand as a good branding case study.

Here’s how the story goes…

Back in medieval Europe, peasant’s feet were short and stubby, with toes that were all close to the same length.

Noblemen, on the other hand, had narrow, pointy feet, with toes that tapered off like an Egyptian profile.

Keen shoes seem to be tailor-made for peasants.

I’ve purchased two pairs of Keens for work, one pair of sandals, and two pairs of light hikers because they fit my feet perfectly. But I’ve never heard anything from Keen about fit. ( Or about catering to peasants, for that matter.)

Instead, the Keen brand strategy revolves around the theme of the “hybrid life.” Where did that come from, you might ask.

 

 

Like most great brands, Keen was launched with one simple idea. Their entire brand strategy focused on sandals with toe protection. It’s yet another branding case study that proves the power of singular focus.

Designer Michael Keen’s ah-ha moment derived from his experience as a competitive sailor.  At the time, serious sailors never wore sandals. Too many stubbed toes! So Keen came up with the Newport Sandal and dubbed it a hybrid — somewhere between a shoe and a sandal with visible reinforcement in the toes.

Stylish? Not really. But they sure are functional.

Sailors soon started moving away from Top Siders and embracing the protection provided by Keen’s distinctive toe design. There’s even a Keen model that looks like a deck shoe.

Keen shoes brand strategy on the Brand Insight BlogBut sailing is a preppy, upper crust activity, and Keen’s brand personality is definitely not preppy. That’s where this branding case study gets interesting.

You won’t see any sailing in Keen’s marketing materials, and I doubt they’ll be sponsoring an America’s Cup boat any time soon.

You’re more likely to see Keens on a dirt bag vagabond than an ivy league yachtsman.

Keen shoes are not high fashion, but they’re highly functional and amazingly comfortable. They appeal to river rafters, hikers, beachcombers, bicyclists, campers, fishermen and just about anyone who loves to play outdoors. Every model they make shows Keen’s original benefit… toe protection.

Needless to say, the brand plays well in the workboot category. But more than that, it’s also popular among urban hipsters in places like Portland, Seattle, Boston and Austin, Texas.

For branding purposes, the company latched onto Michael Keen’s term and expanded it into the “hybrid life.”

Unfortunately, most people don’t know what that means. It’s a conjured-up lifestyle thing that only makes sense to a tiny sliver of the peasant market. Like those of us lucky enough to live in Bend, Oregon.

Bend Oregon Advertising Agency Keen branding case studyWhen it comes to brand affiliations, Bend is the perfect town for Keen.

We get it. Recreation’s the name of the game here, and locals are very good at getting outside and having fun… Paddling  or fishing the Deschutes River, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, running the river trail.

The hybrid life is what we’re all doing here. Or at least aspiring to do.

But the folks at Keen like to say “hybrid life” is deeper than just what you do in your spare time. It’s “a call to create, play and care.”  That’s the heart of the Keen brand, and the company has demonstrated authenticity on all three fronts.

It’s one of those companies that’s genuinely trying to do good things. And that commitment is built into their brand strategy.

When it comes to caring, Keen walks the talk. When the tsunami hit Thailand and Indonesia in 2004, Keen donated its entire marketing budget for the year, almost $1 million, to tsunami recovery efforts.

Since then Keen has donated over $5 million to non-profits that share “a philosophy of caring, conscience and sustainability.”

On the sustainability scale, Keen CEO James Curleigh considers Keen an “accidental environmentalist”.

They launched a line of bags and wallets using scrap polyester and nylon. So now the company is heralded as “green” and eco-friendly. But to hear Curleigh tell it, the move had more to do with material costs and smart business decisions than environmentalism.

The Portland-based company encourages its employees to volunteer in the community, offering up to 36 hours of paid time each year to participate in volunteer activities. Appropriately, on Earth Day nearly 40 of the company’s employeeKeen shoes brand strategy on the Brand Insight Blogs helped with trail maintenance in Portland’s Forest Park.

And one of Keen’s recent advertising campaigns encouraged people to rekindle one of the favorite parts of their childhood and incorporate Recess into their adult lives.

Sounds good to me. Peasants deserve a break. We work hard.

The campaign is an improvement over Keen’s past advertising efforts where the hybrid life was sort of shoved down our throats. “Designed for your hybred life” was actually one of the headlines. (A classic case where the brand strategy statement made an unfortunate appearance as an ad headline.) The message has also lacked consistency over the years…

“Shoes with adrenalin.”

“Bear tested, Bear approved” with Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild.

“Live Outwardly.”

Keen’s agency is obviously trying to make “Recess” more inclusive. They’re working to expand the definition of  “outdoor recreation” and include a broader range of audiences.

Maybe they’re trying a little too hard.

The ads feels a little forced. The photography has a stock look, and doesn’t sKeen advertisingeem authentic to me.  Compare it to the photography that Patagonia consistently produces… it’s no contest.

In the Keen ads there are no peasants, no grungy hipsters, no bearded mountain men. They’re all models — cleaned, pressed and ready to trek from one photo shoot to the next. I’ll bet most of them even have noble, pointy feet.

Which brings me back to Michael Keen’s original design.

Keen said he considered all kinds of feet before deciding on a last that fits 90 percent of the population. But there aren’t that many of us with peasant feet.

The fact is, the lucky people with noble, Egyptian feet can fit into just about any shoe, including Keens. But not vice-versa.

Try shoving a stubby, peasant foot into the typical golf shoe. It’s impossible. Just look how pointy they all are. It’s almost as-if the powers that be in the golf industry want to perpetuate that image of noble exclusivity.

Golf shoes just don’t fit peasant feet.

They won’t even make shoes for the working class, much less golf courses!

So here’s what I hope:  I hope Keen gets into the golf shoe business.

If they choose to make deck shoes and biking shoes, why not golf shoes? The toe construction of a Keen is absolutely perfect for the demands of the golf swing, and no other golf shoe accommodates the common foot.

And when they do move into that market, I hope I can do the ads. Because nobody knows peasant golf like I do.

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