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Storytelling in business — a good story equals strong leadership.

brand credibility from branding expertsLet me tell you a story about storytelling in business — the most important, most under-appreciated, leadership skill.

All business revolves around persuasion. You have to persuade prospects to buy, investors to invest, employees to perform and suppliers to deliver. There’s no getting around it… if you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to persuade.

You really only have two choices of how to do that:  You can devise a rational argument using conventional facts, data, logic and powerpoint slides. In some cases that might work. Eventually. But it’s going to take a long, hard bludgeoning.

Or… you can gently pull people in by tapping the imagination and harnessing the proven, natural power of storytelling.

If you study the greatest business leaders of the last 50 years, they all had a knack for telling stories. Even the introverts.

Successful salesmen have always known that a good story will do most of the work for them. As the old saying goes, “facts tell, but stories sell.”

storytelling in businessHarvey Mackay was an old-school envelope salesman who used stories to build a 100 million dollar business and published several best-selling management books. McKay never wrote a word about storytelling in business, and yet every chapter in every one of his books starts with a an anecdote of some kind…

“When I was a kid, my favorite ball player was Eddie Stanky, who couldn’t hit, couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, but he knew how to beat you…”

Mackay’s chapter titles had  stories built-in: “Ask an old grizzly.” “The wisdom of Dirty Harry.” “Calling Mr. Otis.” “Send in the clones.”

Plus, he featured real characters like Melvin the Haggler to demonstrate his points much more vividly than most business writers ever could.

Even his titles conjured up stories; “Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive.”

That’s why Mackay’s books sold more than 10 million copies. That’s why he has earned millions on the corporate speaking tour. He has a flair for the dramatic and a natural, friendly way of connecting with people through his home-spun stories.

There are no secrets to great storytelling  It’s in our DNA. It’s as natural as walking or hopping on a bike after 25 years of not riding.

Honestly. Anyone can do it. But in my experience, most business people do not.

They recite facts. They present cases. They try to impress with a lot of industry jargon. They literally talk till they’re blue in the face trying to convince, sell and cajole, when all they really need to do is tell a good story.

Storytelling is the only tried-and-true formula for holding people’s attention. Politicians know that. Comedians know that. Journalists know that. Even scientists and engineers know that stories are the key to getting their work widely accepted.

And now, neuroscientists have seen the fMRI data that proves that storytelling triggers the brain in uniquely positive ways. (Oxitocin synthesis)

Paul Zak, writing for Harvard Business Review sums it up:

“Our findings on the neurobiology of storytelling are relevant to business settings. They show that character driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of the key points weeks later… When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It twill capture people’s hearts, by first attracting their brains. ”

There are many models you can borrow from for your own brand storytelling.

storytelling in business a model from pixarPixar has a very simple framework that guides every movie they produce. Christopher Vogler, in his book “The Writer’s Journey,” lays out a useful formula, as does Donald Miller in “Building a Brand Story.”

Here are the five simple steps that we use at BN Branding when we’re devising brand narratives:

  1. Once upon a time there was a ___________. Introduce the main character. Worts and all.
  2. She lived in a world where ______________.  Set the scene. Paint a picture of what life is like in the hero’s ordinary world. Convey the problem/pain point. Show what’s at stake. This is the “before” part of a before-and-after scenario.
  3. Then, one day, she discovers a possible solution to her problem. This is where your brand comes in. The hero is called to action because she’s been given a clear path to her goal. Your brand becomes the guide/mentor/tool that leads the way.
  4. With this new elixir in hand, she sets out on her journey. But it’s not easy. There are tests, allies and enemies along the way as she gets closer and closer.
  5. Finally, she prevails. She endures the supreme ordeal and comes back a changed person. This is “after” part of the before-and-after scenario, where you paint a very clear picture of how life changes for the better.
Just about every major motion picture and best selling novel fits roughly into this model. And the best selling brands take cues from that.
When it’s storytelling in business, there are a few nuances to remember…

• All good stories include passion, conflict and resolution. Start with passion.

The ability to put your passion into words in a “why” statement is the first step in any brand storytelling effort. Simon Sinek’s massively popular book “Always start with Why” is a must-read on that subject.

“Every business person can explain what they do, but very few can clearly articulate why, ” Sinek says. That’s what stories are for.

Why are you in business, other than purely selfish capitalist reasons? What are you passionate about? Demonstrate that passion so like-minded people can jump on board and put themselves in the story.

That’s the passion part of the equation. Passion is what drives characters in stories. For whatever reason, they care! If you can’t convey your passion for the business you’re in, you’ll never win big.

• For storytelling in business, keep your customer in the center of the story.

Sorry to break it to you, but it’s not all about you! Your customer’s the hero, not your brand. It’s her journey, not yours, that’ll produce the most compelling story.

That means you have to really know your customers. Do the research so you thoroughly understand the conflict that’s driving your prospects toward purchasing your product or service. If you want your story to resonate, you have to get inside their heads and truly feel their pain.

storytelling in business needs villains

• Embrace conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. 

Numbers in a slide deck can represent conflict, but people don’t empathize with numbers.

If you want your story to resonate you have to capture the real, human conflict that is inherent in any business category. Come down from the 30,000 foot view and depict the problem in very personal terms. Find the pain points that produce the most drama, and then build your stories around those.

• For storytelling in business, you need a villain. 

Stories revolve around opposing forces butting heads… The Starks and the Lannisters. The McCoys and the Hatfields. The Force vs. the Dark Side. Apple vs Microsoft. The ordinary underdog vs. The Man.  (Sticking it to The Man is a common theme in business pitches, but it’s almost always watered down with corporate terms like “a paradigm shift”  or “changing the Status Quo”  or “disruptive technology.” )

You have to define your villain and show what’s at stake, in plain english. You can’t be afraid of the dark side of your story or your industry, or even your product. Those imperfections are what make stories interesting, and characters worth rooting for. If you try to paint a completely rosy picture all the time, your stories will never engage anyone, and never ring true.

Branding firm BNBranding

• Tell truth stories.

Authenticity is a popular buzzword these days. Everyone wants authentic stories and an authentic brand, but what does that mean?

I believe authenticity begins by being truthful about your purpose. If you’re not clear on  your ‘why’ you have no chance of being authentic.

Matthews & Wacker, in their book “What’s Your Story” talk about the difference between what’s true, and the bigger truth that a good story conveys. “What’s true is generally expressed as data points, but the truth always comes in the form of a story.”

“Traditional business communications have always been viewed as the simple, direct and timely transmission of true statements. But to be an effective corporate storyteller you must understand that  your job is to build the truth — of your company, of your brands, of your history, and of your values.” (Try this post for more on truth, lies and advertising.)

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, tells of learning an important lesson back in high school; “Sometimes the truth alone isn’t enough. The presentation of the truth is just as important” So when Hsieh speaks at SXSW or at a Ted Conference he always follows a simple formula: Be passionate. Tell personal stories. Be Real.

It’s been said that a brand is a promise. And there’s a popular book on writing titled “A Story Is A Promise.” The parallels are undeniable. 

A good storyteller must know his audience. An entrepreneur must know his, as well.

A good storyteller keeps people’s attention. Good managers do too.

Great leaders inspire people, just as great stories do.

Tell a good story and you can build a successful business. Tell a great story and you can start a movement that attracts a tribe and builds a brand. And if you combine a great story with an iconic leader you can change the world.

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

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

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

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

the ancient proven path to marketing success - Aristotle

Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher.

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

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

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

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

It comes down to trust.

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

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

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

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

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

Pathos represents the emotional heart of your sales pitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logos is the left-brain rationalizer.

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

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

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

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

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

We aren’t rational, but we are rationalizers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

541-815-0075

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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 BNBranding’s portfolio of :

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 industry 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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definition of digital marketing — 3 things you HAVE to know

BNBranding logoSurely you’ve heard the online chatter about “digital marketing.” There are a million platforms, channels, systems, software programs, “strategies”  and agencies that are guaranteed to help you “kill it” online.

Every month it’s something new. (You using Facebook Messenger as an ad platform yet?)

If you’re a business owner you have better things to do than follow the scuttlebutt about the shifting landscape within various specialties that fall under the banner of digital marketing.

It’ll make your head spin.

So here’s a little advice… If you’re choosing a digital marketing firm, or thinking of hiring an in-house “digital marketing specialist,” read this post all the way through.

At least you’ll get a handle on the definition of digital marketing. That’s the bare minimum you need to know before diving in. You can’t manage their work effectively if you don’t know the basics:

Choose one main thing BNBranding1. Know the definition of “Digital Marketing.”

You have to understand that the term itself varies dramatically from one firm to the next. Depends on their niche… Some say it’s SEO. Some say it’s web development. Some says it’s pay-per-click advertising. Some say it’s lead-gen. Some say it’s all of the above.

Here’s a definition used by one of the big players in that business:

“Digital marketing is data-driven and targeted brand promotion through technology.”

“Data Driven” and “Targeted” are popular buzzwords these days. But guess what… Marketing consultants, direct response agencies, media-buying specialists and market research firms have been “data driven” since the early 1950’s.

Even Advertising Agencies… They use hard market research data to devise creative campaigns, and then they use sophisticated media targeting to deliver the message to the right people.

This is NOT a new concept in the marketing world.

Digital marketing firms are just using new tools to do the work. And for the most part, it’s good, valuable work that should be part of every marketing plan. But it’s just a part.

Note the use of the word “promotion”.

By definition, promotions are transactional, tactical tools that can boost short term sales. But they do not build brand loyalty. Don’t confuse promotional tactics with marketing strategy or brand building.

And wait a minute… That same firm also claims: “We have the means to take over your marketing from top to bottom, evaluate your brand’s needs and develop a powerful strategy that maximizes profits.”

That’s where they begin to overpromise.

I don’t know any small digital firms that have account planners, market researchers or brand managers on staff who can help you with a brand strategy. Digital marketing people are detail-oriented, technology-minded specialists. They’re not trained — nor wired — to see the big picture.

For that, you need a real a marketing consultant or a strategic branding firm. Even an ad agency would be a better choice for strategy work than a digital marketing firm. Let the digital guys stick to their own definition of digital marketing, and use someone else to oversee the strategy.

2. Know where digital marketing firms fit into the overall marketing landscape.

Naturally, all digital marketing firms contend that “digital is the future of marketing.”  And a lot of business owners are buying into the idea that a digital marketing firm is all they’ll ever need.

But the world’s greatest brands, and the fastest growing small businesses, recognize one old-fashioned business school fact: The best marketing is a MIX of things.

You need a rich mixture of marketing tactics, marketing perspectives and marketing talent — both generalists and specialists.

You also need a mix of different media outlets to keep your brand visible and relevant. Not just social media posts or paid Instagram ads.

A healthy marketing mix means that some of your marketing efforts will be designed for a short-term bump in sales, while others will be designed for building long-term brand loyalty.

Some will be creative, design-oriented, “feel good” efforts like what you get from design firms and ad agencies.

Other tactics will be analytical and numbers-driven, like what you get from digital marketing firms.

Both can move the needle for your brand, but all those pieces should be aligned under one, coherent, overarching marketing strategy.

Digital Marketing Agencies are constantly promoting themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Which is perfectly on-brand, because that’s their wheelhouse. They commonly boast that they “manage $x millions in digital media spending”  which tells me they fit squarely in a specialized niche within the bigger niche of media buying services.

They don’t tout their strategic prowess or creative thinking. Just their ability to manage your social media posts and paid ads on all the various digital channels.definition of digital marketing by BNBranding

The business model that’s taught by all the digital marketing gurus is based on mass scaleability. “Just follow this model and you’re going to crush it,” they all claim.

It’s true. Media planning and buying always has been a highly profitably business model. (That’s how advertising agencies made their millions.) But there’s a dirty little secret in the new model that digital agency owners don’t want clients to know:  When they “scale” the clients pay a price.

The mindset is this: We managed a facebook campaign for a natural foods company that worked well, so we’re going to replicate that and run the exact same thing for a bunch of clients in the same category. All we have to do is change out the logos.

It’s an efficient cash-flow generator for the agency owners, but it’s not necessarily good for your brand. Do you really want to be saying, showing, and doing the same thing as your competitors?

Seth Godin posted this recently:

“Online marketing has become a messy mix of direct marketing, seo, tricks, tips, code and guesswork. It’s an always-moving target and it’s mostly focused on tactics, not strategy, because tactics are easy to measure.”

3.  Know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

Digital marketing firms will tell you how “strategic” their social media work is, and they’ll claim that everything they do is based on “strategic targeting.” Sure, targeting is important, but do not expect marketing strategy from a digital marketing firm.

Mark Ritson, a world renown brand strategist and Professor of Brand Management puts it bluntly: “‘Digital Strategy’ is a contradiction in terms. What’s happening all the time now is tactics are getting perverted into ‘strategies’. What you really need is a marketing strategy.”

Strategy first, THEN tactics.

I know it’s confusing. And don’t feel bad if all your efforts have been tactical. Ritson says that 80% of all British companies don’t have a coherent marketing strategy. Everyone’s fixated on tactics these days.

Here’s a good post where you can read more about the differences between marketing strategy and tactics. 

definition of digital marketing by BNBranding

 

Strategy first. Tactics second. 

The old 4 P’s of Marketing still apply.  You should  pay attention to all four, not just the one that’s covered by digital marketing firms.

There’s “Place” which has to do with distribution strategy.

There’s Pricing. 

There’s Product. (A great product makes all the other elements of marketing much easier.)

And finally, there’s “Promotions” which is a catch-all phrase that includes all marketing communications and tactics, including every specialized facet of Digital Marketing.

So you see, the tactical work that Digital Marketing firms do well — SEO, SEM, SMM, CPM — and all those other confusing acronyms — is really just a small part of the overall tactical marketing picture.

Digital marketing firms like to compare themselves to “traditional advertising agencies” because the old, Mad Men model is an easy target.

But digital agencies are actually more similar to Direct Response agencies than they are to traditional ad agencies. Direct Response firms always have been driven by quantifiable data and measurable ROI.

I believe it won’t be long before the term “digital marketing” is dropped entirely from the industry jargon. Because everything’s digital these days. Even traditional old things like radio advertising and print are delivered digitally. The lines are blurry, and the terminology continues to confound many people. (For a primer on marketing terms, try this post from the AMA.)

4. Know who’s really doing the work.

The business model for many Digital Marketing Firms is pretty simple: Scaled Outsourcing. They exploit and monetize multiple sources of cheap labor such as crowdsourcing websites, freelance markets like Upwork or “white label” firms from Asia. Then they mark it up. Dramatically.

It’s a good business model for them because it’s easily scalable, but it’s not designed with the best interest of the client at heart.

There’s no synergy to those efforts because every little marketing tactic is being executed by a different person who knows nothing about your business. Plus, in most cases there’s no strategy to guide the efforts. The right hand seldom knows what the digital left hand is doing at any given time.

So before choosing a digital marketing firm, just know that they cannot help you with the big picture strategy work that’ll build your brand in the long run.

So you have two choices… Become your own, best brand manager and get really good at strategy, OR hire a brand strategy consultant to map things out before you ever jump on board with a digital marketing firm.

Without it, your digital tactics will not be as effective as everyone would like.

If you’re still confused about the definition of digital marketing, give us a call. We’ll coach you through it, from a strategic perspective. 541-815-0075.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

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.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

market research for small business BNBranding

Strategic listening and consumer insight – Small business market research

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

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

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

Can you say, “Got Milk?”

strategic listening in advertising

Got Milk print ad

But I’ve also done my share of branding strategies and marketing campaigns based on nothing more than gut instinct and the client’s opinion. It can be done, when the budget demands it, but believe me… it’s much harder and riskier.

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

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

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

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

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

2. They ask the wrong questions.

4. They question the wrong people.

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

market research for small business strategic listening BNBranding

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

As the old saying goes, you can’t read the label if you’re stuck inside the bottle. Most people are so wrapped up in the day-to-day business they can’t see the bigger issues well enough to ask the right questions. Their own bias creeps in at every turn.

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

Your lack of perspective leads directly to problem number two: The content of the research questions themselves.

A lot of time and money is wasted asking research questions that are dumber than a rock. For instance, I recently ran across a survey about the current plight of private country clubs. It’s no big secret that they’re hurting, and yet the survey started with a useless series of questions that just rehashed commonly known industry facts.

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

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

Problem number 3:  The issue of semantics in market research questionnaires.

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

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

Here’s a story that illustrates my point perfectly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

market research for small business branding strategies BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want more insight on branding strategies and small business research?

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

1 balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

The Yin & Yang of Marketing – Are your efforts in balance?

BNBranding logoIn Eastern philosophy yin yang represents the concept of duality. Two halves working together toward wholeness and harmony. It’s the dance of opposites — where seemingly contrary forces are actually complementary.

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Like marketing strategy and tactics.

“Wholeness” — ie optimal results — is only achieved when you strike that delicate balance between the two. When the marketing tactics flow naturally from the strategy.

If your marketing efforts are predominantly tactical, without adequate strategy, you’ll be throwing money at ill-conceived tactics. Ready, fire aim!

If your marketing efforts are tipped the other direction, you’ll spend all your time preparing, planning and aiming, without pulling the trigger.

When you employ both halves of the marketing equation you can touch a glorious chord of emotion while still employing a data-driven strategy. It’s old-school story telling balanced with new technology and analytics.

Right-brain creativity with left-brain analysis. Yin and yang. Marketing strategy and tactics. One cannot live without the other.

All marketing programs are a mix of strategy and tactics, but most small business owners gravitate heavily toward the tactical side of the equation. They forego the strategy part for several reasons:

• Because they can’t do it themselves or they don’t understand it.

• Because they perceive it as being too expensive.

• Because they don’t have time… too many other things to do.

• Because they don’t see the value in it.

They skip the most important step to save a few bucks, but they pour a lot of money into tactics.

They use social media specialists and graphic artists to produce content. They purchase TV time and digital ads. They produce videos for YouTube and run radio ads, but there is no thread of continuity. No consistency of voice or message. No strategic platform from which to work.

No yin yang balance.

balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Therefore, the effectiveness of each tactic is compromised.

Let’s look at some of the opposing, yin yang elements of any good marketing program:


Inward vs. outward.

Many businesses are too inwardly focused when it comes to marketing. Instead of addressing the needs, wants and emotions of their prospects, they talk about themselves and their industry. It’s all me, me, me, me, with a bunch of jargon thrown in for credibility purposes.

Not only that, outward facing marketing tactics and messages are often out-of-balance with the internal operation of the company. The ultimate success of your brand doesn’t hinge on what the marketing people say, it hinges on what you actually do. When you do great things, effective marketing messages are much easier to come by.

So what are you doing internally that your marketing department could build a strategy around?

Emotional vs. analytical marketing.

If you want your marketing strategy and tactics to balance, you can’t underestimate the influence of feelings.

Many business owners operate as if cold, calculating characters like Spock make all the buying decisions. They line up the spreadsheets, produce some charts and graphs, and expect facts and data to do all the work. But it NEVER does.

balance your marketing efforts with BNBrandingThe latest brain research — fMRI testing — proves that emotion commingles with reason, even in rigorous business-to-business purchasing decisions. In fact, many studies show it’s emotion that triggers action.

As one writer put it, “emotion is in the Oval office while the rational brain is in the press center, justifying the decisions that have already been made.”

Trust is not a rational thing. Trust is a feeling. And it’s trust that builds brand loyalty.

Simon Sinek says it succinctly, “Most companies are quite adept at at winning minds; all that requires is a comparison of features. Winning hearts, however, takes more work. That starts with WHY. People don’t buy WHAt you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Fast vs. slow

Some tactics need to get done quickly. For instance, social media posts are often very time sensitive, so there’s not much consideration for craftsmanship. Promotions are also short-term. TV commercials or print ads, on the other hand, demand careful attention to detail, so you need to leave time to do it right. Branding is a long-haul play.

Strategy also takes time and thoughtful consideration. Strategic issues arise when the strategy is rushed to accommodate the tactical to-do list. Confusion and credibility issues arise when the tactics are produced in a vacuum, with no strategic guidance. All yang, and no yin.

Positive vs. negative.

Some marketers believe that you should never mention the competition. Always stick to a rosy picture of positivity, they say.

But there are some strategic situations that demand a negative approach to execution. Sometimes it’s simply stronger to refer to someone else’s weakness than to talk about your own strengths.

The yin & yang of competition is often the most poignant and effective approach for campaigns.

All great brands have arch enemies. Coke has Pepsi. McDonalds has Burger King. Apple has Microsoft. Don’t shy away from that just because you’re afraid of offending someone. Better to offend some, than be invisible to everyone.

That said, you can’t have a marketing campaign that’s completely negative, all the time. Especially in small town. It’ll probably come off as snarky.

Male vs. female

A comedian once said that women make 80% of all the decisions — and they have veto power over the other 20%.

Keep that in mind when you’re working on tactics, planning your strategy and building a brand. Women remember things! And they’ll attach very strong emotions to those memories, so you better not piss them off.

On the other hand, if you show genuine empathy, and make them feel good, they’ll be great brand ambassadors for you. And don’t forget… Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram skew heavily toward women.

Yin Yang is not static. Neither is your marketing.

The nature of Yin Yang flows and changes with time. So does your marketing. Sometimes it’s stop and go.

Some initiatives are purely tactical, while others are more strategic. Factors outside your control can change your strategy completely or rob you of tactics that you once counted on.

The seasonal nature of most businesses means that tactics may be bunched heavily into one time of year, while planning takes place another. Not only that, goals can change dramatically from one year to another. So you can’t just upload the same marketing plan year after year and expect it to work. You can’t keep running the same ads on the same shows or websites.

The balance point is always shifting. Hot & cold. In and out. Yin and yang. Enlightenment is achieved only when marketing strategy and tactics come together.

If you’re wondering about your own balance point, give us a call. Let’s start a conversation about your brand. 541-815-0075.

Read more on marketing strategy and tactics.

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Personal branding from BNBranding

4 Ingredients of small-business branding – Learning from breakfast cereal and a 4-buck burrito

small-business branding from branding experts at BNBrandingBranding is a popular topic in the business press and in business schools these days. Unfortunately, coverage of big brands like Tesla, Nike and Virgin make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires. As if small-business branding isn’t even a thing.

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

Small-business branding is very doable. In fact, many business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand emerges.

small business branding from bnbrandingIt does not happen the other way around.

You can’t just come up with a nice name and a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you’ll never have a great brand.

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant.

Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that small-business branding shares four important things with fortune 500 branding:

Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood.

Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small-business branding - big fat burrito from the brand insight blog BNBrandingIn Bend, Oregon there used to be a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It wasn’t the best Mexican food in town, but for many years it was the most popular, despite an embarrassing location and many other shortcomings.

Taco Stand was in a tiny building in a hard-to-find spot next to a run-down laundry mat.

It was never open for dinner. They had no web presence, advertising budget or social media following. And yet, for 20 years it was a successful little business, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand had all four ingredients of an iconic brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

The owners of Taco Stand consistently delivered on a very simple value proposition: Big flavor for a small price. All the locals knew you could get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

They never wavered from that focus. Consistency led to a loyal following, which added to their credibility, which led to profitability. There’s good money in rice and beans.

Small-business branding and a big-business blunder.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easy for big corporations. Companies like Kellogg’s can launch a new brand with a massive multi-media campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging.

But even the big boys make mistakes that leave a bad taste.

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

The idea at Kellogg’s was to launch a cereal that could compete with all the rising stars of the natural foods industry. The consumer trend was overwhelming… people wanted healthier breakfast alternatives. They wanted whole grains, fiber and good taste without all the sugar.

So Smart Start was positioned as a “healthy” and “wholesome”adult cereal. The elegantly set promo copy described it as “Lightly sweetened, toasted multi-grain flakes and crunchy oat clusters.”

It was launched in 1998 with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and a Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of  full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

Great name. Great-tasting product. The greatest package design in the history of breakfast cereal. And a premise that was complete BS.

When my kids were young they liked Smart Start. And for some reason I felt okay about serving it to them, despite the fact that I knew it was a big, fat lie.

One glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see that Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be.  It’s loaded with sugar… 18 grams of sugar plus high fructose corn syrup, honey,  molassass,  sugar, sugar and more sugar.  That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for credibility. So much for authenticity.

From day one, Smart Start was built around a brand promise that the product could never deliver upon. It was doomed from the start because the actual product was not aligned with the brand promise.

Over the lifespan of that product Kellogg’s tried a number of things to stem the bleeding. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they tired the old line-extension trick… They did a “Strong Heart” variation that has 17 grams of sugar, a Strawberry Oat Bites variety and an antioxidant variety.)

Just keep launching new flavors and spin-offs of Smart Start , maybe they’ll forget about its UN-healthiness.

The packaging also devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design slowly become less and less unique with every variation.

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

Even a big company like Kellogg’s, that has deep pockets and a 33% overall market share in the cereal isle, can’t get away with that.

In October 2019 Kellogg’s settled a $20 million class action suit for false claims of being “healthy” “nutritions” and “wholesome.” The suit involved five flavors of Raisin Bran, 16 types of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start cereals and 24 types of Nutri-Grain bars.

I bet they won’t be putting the American Heart Association logo on their packages from now on.

 

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

Smaller companies can’t afford to mess up like Kellogg’s. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances. If you launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind, you’re going to fail.

brand credibilityDon’t choose a name, like “Smart Start,” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.

Naming is hard, and when it’s not done right it’s a recipe for a small-business branding disaster. The name and the identity design and the packaging and the claims need to be aligned with the brand strategy and the product itself.

Make sure your product claims are not only truthful, but also relevant to the target audience. 

For instance, “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition. It would be a silly claim to make because people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. It’s not relevant.

Credibility would also suffer because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

Be consistently authentic.

If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do fancy dinners. If you do sugary cereals, don’t try to compete in the health food world. The big food brands have learned that lesson… now they just buy-up successful natural food companies instead of trying to do their own brand.

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

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a test drive with BNBranding. We’ll run you through a simple brand assessment that can help jump-start your branding efforts. 541-815-0075.

1 what great brands have in common Patagonia

What do great brands have in common?

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

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

Great brands are highly differentiated from the competition. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

common attributes of great brands

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

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

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

Great brands connect on an emotional, gut level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great brands deliver on their promise year after year.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mauro Caviezel

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

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

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

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

Great brands have a clear sense of purpose.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great brands are great communicators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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