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Marketing lessons from the not-so-surprising failure of Sears

Marketing lessons from Sears on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsThe recent demise of Sears, once the country’s largest retailer, is replete with valuable marketing lessons for business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing execs and brand managers.

It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.

When the Sears store in my hometown closed its doors. a 60 year presence in the market I was not exactly distraught.

I bought a few tools there, once upon a time. And an appliance or two, but I certainly wouldn’t say I had any fond memories of the place, much less brand allegiance.

Sears dates all the way back to 1886 when Richard Sears started selling watches to his coworkers at the railroad. Alvah Roebuck was his watchmaker, and in 1893 the name Sears Roebuck & Co. was incorporated.

 

 

marketing lessons from Sears and BNBranding in Bend OregonSears grew rapidly by selling all sorts of merchandise through the mail at a price that undercut the local mercantile. The product offerings were broad — everything from violins to patent medicines and do-it-yourself houses — but the target market was narrowly defined: small towns where the general mercantile was the only real competition.

It was wildly successful niche marketing for more than100years.marketing lessons from sears on the Brand Insight Blog by John Furgurson

Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago.Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.

By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.

Over the next 50 years Sears became a multi-national retail empire, with 2200 stores and the world’s tallest building as its corporate headquarters. The company obviously did a lot of things right over the years.

For instance, Forbes Magazine reported that “Sears successfully developed some of the strongest and most famous private-label brands in history.  Those brands include Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Weatherbeater paint, and Roadhandler tires.

Marketing lessons from Craftsman on the brand insight blog

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

Those are great names, and the success of those product lines is textbook branding. Someone at Sears was well advised to resist the line extension trap and NOT put the Sears name on a car battery or a paint can.

Some Wall Street insiders believe it’s those proprietary brands that could save Sears from its current “slow motion liquidation.” In fact, there have been rumors that Sears will begin selling some of those brands through other retailers, including Costco. Maybe there’s a future for Sears as a wholesaler???

Sears is a good example of how success often leads to temptation and complacency. Temptation to expand and diversify into other businesses and complacency when it comes to the core of the brand. (I’m not sure anyone in the last 30 years could even define the core of the Sears brand. They were all over the place!)

Sears got into the insurance business with AllState, the financial services business by buying Dean Witter Reynolds, the real estate business with the purchase of Coldwell Banker and even the credit card business, with the launch of the Discover Card.

In the meantime, they missed an opportunity to dominate the direct marketing business, they neglected their retail stores, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular private label brands languish.

So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.

For 20 years Sears has been trying to re-position itself as a competitor to Macy’s, JCPenny, Kohl’s and Target. Remember the slogan, “The softer side of Sears?” That was an ill-fated attempt to sell clothing. Now they have the Kardashian Collection. Yikes!

Marketing lessons from The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

Forbes magazine reported: “Sears is relying mainly on inauthentic celebrity exclusives (does anyone really believe that Kim Kardashian would actually shop at Sears?) to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers, and it is clear that Sears has lost its way.”

As Laura Ries put it, “When faced with a broadening of its category, Sears should have narrowed its focus and become a specialist. Instead of shifting to the “softer side of Sears,” the retailer should have further embraced its harder side.”

The department store niche is not the answer to Sears’ problems. Walmart has taken both the price and one-stop shopping advantage.

Target is positioned as the trendy, aspirational choice for millennial girls.

Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement.

has the online convenience advantage. Best Buy dominates in electronics. Lowes is succeeding with appliances. There’s just no room for a general purpose department store that’s trying to be all things to all people.

Even if there wasn’t all that competition, you’d still never convince people that Sears is a good place to buy clothing. That was never going to fly!

Sears Brand car battery

Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.

It will be very interesting to see what becomes of the company now that it’s merged with Kmart and owned by infamous hedge fund manager Eddie Lampbert. The stock has lost half its value. They’re closing 120 stores this year. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to revive it.

The company’s latest hail-mary strategy  is “a free social shopping destination and loyalty rewards program called “Shop Your Way.” (Note to management: A loyalty program’s probably not going to work too well in all these towns where the stores have been shuttered.)

Even the most beloved retail chains have a hard time with loyalty programs. A recent study by McKinsey & Co. found that despite their general growth and popularity, loyalty programs actually erode margins and destroy value for their owners. Companies with them grew no faster than — and sometimes slower than — those without loyalty programs.

The latest update on the Sears saga has Lampbert borrowing a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, blaming irresponsible media coverage for Sears’ troubles.

According to the Business News, Sears has not shown a profit in the last six years. And talk about spin… Lampbert went so far as to liken that performance to Amazon’s early years.

That’s delusional leadership.

Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up the best:  “If the hedge-fund mogul knew how to fix Sears, he’d have done it by now.”

There are only two things the company has going for it: massive real estate holdings, and some great brands NOT named Sears.

For more marketing lessons and insight on marketing leadership, try this post.

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naming your company BN Branding

Naming your company – Why is it so dang hard to do well?

If you conducted a poll of 100 people like myself who develop brands for a living, 99 would tell you that naming your company is the hardest piece of the brand identity development process.

Naming is way harder than designing logos or writing brand narratives. Naming a business is harder than naming a baby. Naming is even hard for us pros who have a proven process in place and 30 years of experience under our belts.

For many entrepreneurs, naming their company is often harder than devising the idea for the business in the first place.

I’ve seen plenty of people with a brilliant idea and a solid business plan struggle endlessly for a good business name. I’ve also seen cases where ambitious founders settle for the first name that comes along that’s available in dot com form. Both scenarios are less than optimal.

A good business name set you up for success like a favorable tailwind on a strong, warm current.

A bad business name is like a 10 ton anchor on a 20 foot boat. It’ll drag you down and make every other facet of your business more difficult. You’ll be rowing against the current the entire way.

 

 

Here are three good reasons why business owners have such a hard time naming their own companies:

Reason #1: They fall in love with their own ideas.

When people try the do-it-yourself approach to business naming it’s impossible to be even remotely impartial. They lack the perspective and the process they need to evaluate all their options.

bad ideas for naming your business

I’m not sure what this business owner was thinking when he decided on this name for a screen printing business.

Frankly, they are blind to the shortcomings of their own ideas and they’re just too close to it to make an educated decision.

Back in 2004 I met with an enterprising young coffee lover who wanted to open a chain of coffee shops called Thank The Goat. (Coffee was discovered by a goat herder who noticed his goats eating the fruit of the coffee plant.) He was so enamored with that origin story he couldn’t be open minded about anything else.

Needless to say, Thank The Goat did not give even one Starbucks location a run for its money. Want a good laugh? See the worst business names of all time.

Here’s another case I’m closely familiar with…

Three partners in an E-commerce company were so in love with their new brand name they pushed it into production before anyone fully vetted it with a trademark attorney.

It was not a bad name, but they wasted a lot of time and money developing a brand platform and brand identity around that name, only to find out it was not protectable.

Going back to the drawing board was very costly.

My company uses an 8-point grading system for name evaluation, and legal trademark protection is just one of the points.

choosing a name for your company BN BrandingThis report card approach forces the creative team and the client to look at all the “good” ideas from numerous different angles. It adds an element of objectivity to what is normally a completely subjective process.

Instead of relying only a vague gut feeling, we get a random sample of people to grade each possible name. Then we tally up the scores and let the client make a balanced, well-informed decision.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s way more reliable than the usual, overly-emotional approach that most people take.

Not only has this process produced many great brand names, it’s also helped many companies avoid the problems that arise when owners fall in love with their own ideas.

When clients see the grades on their names next to the grades for good, original names, they often see the method to our madness.

I know how it feels to struggle with a business name.  When I rebranded my own branding firm I found that naming my own company was dramatically harder than doing the same work for clients.

I had plenty of clever ideas, but I wouldn’t say I was in love with any of them. I went back to the drawing board dozens of times, and it was still excruciatingly hard to pull the trigger. Eventually I pulled in a few friends and advertising colleagues to weigh in and help me see things in a different light.

What they provided was radical candor.  They pushed me in a more practical direction… one that has played out well over the years once we attached meaning to our new name.  It was that outsider’s perspective that got me UN-stuck.

The fact is, the best brand names are the ones that create the highest level of disagreement.

When it comes to naming, polarization is a good thing! If the stakeholders are sharply divided — either they love it or they hate it — that’s a good sign.

If everyone agrees the name is  “pretty good” you’re going to end up with a boring, forgettable name. Time to go back to the drawing board.

The problem is, most owner/managers don’t know how to deal with so much disagreement.

A grading system sheds light on that division of preferences, and can help business owners make the difficult call.

honesty in political advertising

Reason #2: They’re not a whiz with words. They don’t have an ear for alliteration or an eye for typography.

Naming is the business of semantic invention. You have to make words up.

It takes a wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in disciplines that have nothing to do with business. Like Etymology. Art. Language. Poetry. Writing. Design.

Then combine all that with a savvy sense of business strategy. It’s a tall order that very few branding firms or ad agencies can deliver.

There aren’t too many entrepreneurs who would consider themselves well-schooled in those disciplines. If you are, great! Do you own naming.

But you’re not adept at the craft of combining words, letters, syllables and sounds in unique new ways, then you’re probably going to have a very hard time.

Your business name needs to sound good when spoken out loud, AND look good in type. It needs both audio and visual appeal. That’s what will make it memorable.

 

If a name looks great and sounds great, it doesn’t have to be literally meaningful or accurate.

That’s where a lot of people get tripped up… they feel the need to spell everything out. Better to find a name that’s suggestive, not literal. Then you can add meaning and context to your brand name with the identity design, a tagline, and your long-term messaging efforts.

Patagonia was named after a literally inspiring climbing location that Yvon Chouinard loved, but the word means much more than that now. It’s not about any one destination. It’s about the attitude, that passion and the lifestyle of getting out there.

naming your company BN Branding

Reason #3: Most people never lay the strategic foundation for the right business name.

Brand identity development doesn’t start by brainstorming clever names and searching for available URLs.  That’s like building a new house without a foundation. You might end up with a beautiful, architectural gem, but it won’t stand the test of time.

No matter who does the actual naming, there’s a lot of homework to do before you dive into the brainstorming process.

You need a deep, fundamental understanding of what the brand’s going to stand for in the long run. The brand framework needs to be spelled out, very clearly, and it needs to be based on real business. Not theory.  Otherwise, you’ll spend way too much time going down bottomless rabbit holes that lead to names that simply aren’t aligned with your brand.

So before you start down that deep, dark rabbit hole of brainstorming business names, give us a call. The cost of doing it wrong is nothing compared to the pay-off when you do it well.

Here are some of the names and identities we’ve done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

brand credibility from branding experts

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

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

A look back helps illuminate the way forward.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

This is the brand origin story of BN Branding…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I loved it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to call my fledgling little agency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So “AdWords” it was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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tips for new logo design by BNBranding

Need a new logo? (5 things to know before you hire professional help)

BNBranding logoA lot of people think they need a new logo. Or they’ll talk about a “rebranding exercise” which is usually just a logo revision.

newtips for new logo design by BNBrandingThere are many ways to get that job done… You can hire a big design firm, a strategic branding agency, a freelance graphic designer, a commercial illustrator or even an animator.

Unfortunately, you can also have your cousin’s wife’s kid draw a new logo for you. Or worse yet,  you can crowd source it or outsource it through one of those online overseas sweatshops.

But what you think you want may not be what your business really needs.

To succeed in business, at any level, you need a brand. Not just a logo. And brands are much more than just a graphic design exercise.

So here are five important tips for getting a brand off the ground. This is what you need to know before doing a new logo in order to get the best results from any brand identity team or graphic designer.

 

tips for new logo design by BNBranding1. Logo design is not the place to start.

Before anyone dives into the design of a new logo, you need an idea. Because brands are built on ideas.

What’s the idea behind your brand? What are the motives that drive the business? What’s your cause or the purpose behind all that hard work you do?

You have to spell it out. You need a clear brand strategy, written down, so the designers have something to work with.

Otherwise, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. Meaningless art.

By dialing in your brand platform and core brand messages you’ll save everyone from frustrating false starts and wasted effort. Unfortunately, most graphic designers cannot help you with this strategy piece. (It’s not just a form you fill out.) So you’ll either need to figure it out for yourself, or hire a strategic branding firm. Here’s a post that’ll help you get started.

2. Be clear about what you stand for.

There’s an old saying in the design business… “Show us your soul and we’ll show you your brand.”

The soul of your brand, and the foundation for your brand identity, begins with core values and shared beliefs. Those beliefs, your passion and your sense of purpose are all critically important for the design team.

If you don’t know what you stand for, it’s going to be very difficult to build an iconic brand. Here’s some help on how to define your brand values.

3. A brand identity does not equate to a brand.

The logo is just the tip of the branding iceberg. The logo is what people see, initially, but if you want to establish a memorable, lasting brand – and ultimately an iconic brand – you’ll need to go a little deeper.

The tip of an iceberg showing whilst the rest is submerged. Very high resolution 3D render.Also available.

The vast mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than the design work on top. The logo should be a reflection of what’s going on down there. Deep within your operation.

Click here for some more insight on that. 

4. You’re completely blind to the creative possibilities.

This is not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. Unless you’ve studied graphic design, you have no idea how great your brand identity could really be. You’d be amazed.

Your expectations are based only on what you see everyday… the ho-hum, literal graphics that are standard fare in your industry, your town, and your local grocery store.

If you can set-aside your preconceived notions and move past those visual cliches, you’ll be much closer to success. Be open minded, not literal-minded. Let your design team explore the ideas that seem most outrageous to you. Those are the ideas that are remembered.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

Here’s more on the possibilities of logo design. 

5. The agency can only get you so far…

The scope of work among branding firms and graphic design studios varies dramatically, depending on the talent pool. Some firms, like mine, provide research, strategy, planning and brand messaging in addition to design. Others limit their bag of tricks to just the graphics.

In any case, the agency cannot guarantee long-term branding success. We can devise a strategy, point the way, and help communicate things in a breathtaking manner, but we can’t force you live up to your brand’s reputation.

You have to do that. Every day.

The trick to building a lasting, iconic brand is in the operational details. You have to continually prove that you can live up to your brand promise.

Your product has to deliver. Your service has to be up to snuff. Your people have to believe in your brand. Your brand affiliations need to line up. And your marketing communications need to be a reflection of that operational reality.

Otherwise all the branding talk is just wishful thinking.

If you are, in fact, thinking of a new brand identity, call us.

We’ll give you much more than that. 541-815-0075.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

Packaging design — unwrapping a critical element of your brand

Management guru Tom Peters once said, “Too damn few of us take packaging design as seriously as we should. When we consider it at all, it’s nothing more than a patina… a little something on top.”

He was referring to CEOs and CMOs of multi-national corporations.

In start-ups and medium-sized companies packaging design is usually relegated to a graphic designer with little or no useful input. There’s no brand-narrative to go from. No big idea. And certainly no strategic brand platform that would inspire and guide the designer’s thinking.

But for packaged goods companies, the package itself is, quite often, the most critical piece of the entire branding puzzle.

Outstanding package design can stop people in the isle of a grocery store and entice shoppers to pick up a brand name they’ve never seen nor hear of.  A great package can tell a story and connect consumers to the crux of a brand. It can create an immediate emotional connection and improve the experience of using or consuming the product within.

Great packaging can compensate for less-than-stellar branding efforts on many other fronts.

 

 

Here’s an example of surprisingly delightful packaging design from an industry that you probably never imagined: backyard barbecues.

packaging design story on the Brand Insight BlogTraeger is the original brand of pellet barbecues and smokers. They invented the category, and they’re the undisputed leader in high-end barbecues.

As you would imagine, these grills come in big boxes with a lot of parts.

Some people see the Ikea-like assembly process as a pain in the ass, but the folks at  Traeger recognized that and designed their package accordingly.

The first step in the instructions is to crack open a beer — the box actually provides cup holders for that exact purpose.

And when you’re all done, the box becomes a playhouse for the kids.

Not only is it unexpectedly great branding, Traeger’s new packaging is also good for the environment. They eliminated all the styrofoam from their boxes and improved their supply chain efficiency without increasing costs.

That’s where good design intersects with smart business and honest- to-goodness brand values.

I expect great performance out of a Traeger grill, and now, for the first time, their packaging is designed as well as their products. It’s what we call brand alignment, and it touches all facets of a business…

You don’t want your advertising saying one thing, and your packaging saying another. Or your customer service staff. Or your HR dept. Or your social media posts.

It all matters. Your brand is the soul of your company and it should be engrained in everything you do, not just in packaging design and marketing.

Business owners are challenged by package design projects, because they think it’s all art.

But it’s not. It’s time to change your perspective on package design.

Packaging design is only 1/3 art. It’s also 1/3 brand strategy and 1/3 operations. It’s a holistic mind meld of art, science and business. Ignore any part of it at your own peril.

Most business owners just go with what looks cool, hip, colorful or trendy. Or even worse, they go with what they personally find personally appealing. They’re not able to separate their own, personal aesthetic tastes from a wise marketing decision.

But that’s kinda like asking your husband to decorate your living room — complete with carpet, drapes, furniture and art on the walls. Not much chance of it all coming together perfectly.

Packaging design is way harder, and way more important that what your living room looks like. Re-branding is much harder than re-painting.

Packaging design BN BrandingIn the 1986, after CocaCola went through their misguided “New Coke” marketing debacle, they managed to regain a bit of goodwill by going back to the old, curved coke bottle shape that they had abandoned in the U.S.

It was a nod to the history of the brand, and to better times. They knew they could always fall back on that iconic package.

That shape, all by itself, conjures up all sorts of positive brand affiliations. It connects generations of consumers to a cultural, national ethos that really meant something to them.

Is your package making any kind of connection with people? What is it saying? Does it evoke any sort of positive emotion or is it just pissing people off?

How many times have you been frustrated by packaging over-kill and those annoying, plastic clamshells that no one can open without the use of vice grips and a Sawsall? All from companies that claim to be environmentally aware.

Nowhere is package design more important than in the aisle of the grocery store.

Modern American grocery stores offer a mind-numbing plethora of choices in any category.

I can’t just run into the store and pick up a six pack of beer. I have to stand there and ponder… Do I want a light ale, dark ale, IPA or stout? Local micro-brew, import or regional brewery? Do I want something light that my wife will also like? If so, that narrows the choices to only 20 or so. Hazy IPA or clear IPA? How many IPAs do we really need? Am I really worthy of this Arrogant Bastard Ale? It says on the package that I’m not. I don’t know. I’m so confused! Oh dear God, how long can I stand here before I start looking like a completely clueless beer idiot?

Screw it… I’m just going to grab what I always get.

That’s what shoppers go through every day, in every aisle of the grocery store. Thankfully, great packaging can clear up a lot of that confusion and help paralyzed beer buyers or tooth paste pickers make a relatively safe, informed purchasing decision.

The first job of the package design is to catch the shopper’s eye and get her to pick up your package.

If she touches yours, instead of the competitor that’s sitting right next door, you’ve won half the battle. Then she needs a reason to turn it over and read more. In the process, she’ll make the decision to buy or not to buy.

It’s not a rational decision, it’s an emotional one.

That’s why design can have such a tremendous influence… aesthetics alone can turn the tables.

There are many other, completely unrelated reasons why she might choose you. In “Why We Buy” Martin Lindstrom points out that unconscious personal rituals, family routines and even superstitions can have a huge influence.

It could be status or belonging that she’s longing for. Or simply risk avoidance, like my choice in beer.

Or maybe it’s just familiarity that triggers an impulse purchase… The stronger the brand, the better she feels and the more likely she is to buy.

If it’s aligned properly, your packaging design is the tactile incarnation of the brand’s mythic storytelling.

It brings the subconscious to the surface and connects the dots for people who may have been exposed to the brand through social media, advertising or public relations.

Like this package my firm recently did for a new frozen food brand, Eathos.

The name we came up with, the tagline, the package design and the brand narrative are all aligned because we did the strategy work up front. We laid the foundation of the brand story long before we started designing anything.

George Lois, the great advertising art director famously said that design projects should always start with the words. That word, or phrase, is the big idea in a nutshell, and that’s the basis for the brilliant communications that help establish iconic brands.

A good example is the story of Tazo Tea. When Steven Lee and his partners launched that brand it was story first, all the way. The myth, and the packaging that went with it, enabled them to stake out a leadership position almost from the get-go. The words led the way.

Facts tell. Stories sell. And the fact is, your packaging deserves a lot more attention than you’re probably giving it.

As Peters says, “Even the most mundane, humdrum product can be revolutionized by a mindful approach to design and packaging. ”

So this the year. Give us a call and let’s start a dialog about the story behind  your brand. Then, and only then, we’ll talk packaging.

 

 

2 Branding firm BNBranding

Restaurant Branding — Recipes for failure and success

BNBranding logoAt what point does a trendy new restaurant become an iconic brand? And when do all the branding efforts under the sun produce nothing but another shuttered dining establishment?

The restaurant business is littered with cases of meteoric success and dramatic failure. It’s an inherently volatile business. This is the story of several competing restaurants in a small but rapidly-growing market. It’s a story of restaurant branding success — and failure  — that any business owner can learn from.

Prior to 2000, the culinary scene in Bend wasn’t much to write home about. Some would say, non existent. So when Merenda opened in 2002 it generated tons of buzz.

Restaurant Branding BNBrandingAs the Bend Bulletin reported, “Chef Jody Denton pioneered a renaissance in fine dining in Central Oregon.”

But the Merenda brand wasn’t about fine dining. It was about partying. It was a loud place in downtown Bend where large groups would gather and drink generously from an outstanding wine list and a good assortment of adult beverages. Not great for a quiet dinner date.

The vibe was more urban — the energy level more electric — than anything previously found in Bend. Many nights you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the bar scene at Merenda became a notorious pick-up joint for older divorcees.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, across town in a nondescript location next to a car dealership, a restaurant called Zydeco quietly began to build a loyal following. The contrast was dramatic.

The first, most fundamental element of any restaurant branding effort is the name.

So let’s compare… What a great name:”Zydeco.”

It’s fantastically memorable with positive associations of fun in New Orleans. It’s authentic. Zydeco serves delicious cajun cuisine, which, years later, is still unique for this town. It’s also an aspirational name that the restaurant has grown into over the last 15 years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOn the other hand, “Merenda” just didn’t work as well.

It sounds nice and has an elegant, upscale ring to it, but it’s so much softer than the product and the experience. The name didn’t fit the vibe and the location.

Plus, if you want to get nit-picky, “Merenda” translates to “snack” in Italian. But it was not an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t a snacky kinda place.

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

Many of Merenda’s customers were only there because it was THE place to see and be seen. It was a superficial relationship, not a genuine bond. Success by association. When new restaurants like Zydeco opened, the crowds thinned out at Merenda.

At Zydeco, it was more than that… It was the service, the friendly, family-owned vibe, and the overall, everyday quality that set it apart. It was upscale, but accessible. Popular but not trendy. It wasn’t trying to be cool, but it was. And still is.

Trendiness is a common problem in restaurant branding, fashion and high tech. The next big thing or hot spot is always right around the corner. So successful brand managers have to find ways to stay relevant with their past customers, or become relevant to a whole new group.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticRelevance, differentiation and credibility. Those are the three key ingredients of restaurant branding success.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda needed a little extra attention he opened another restaurant less than a block away. And his place called Deep never got above water.

Brands need constant attention.

This seems like a no-brainer, but many people dream of having a business that runs on autopilot and generates an endless flow of effortless revenue. That doesn’t work in any industry, much less the restaurant business.

You have to mind the store.

In 2005 Cornell University published a seminal study on why restaurants fail. One of the surprising contributors was simply a lack of attention, time and effort by the owners.

“Failure seemed to stem from an inability or unwillingness to give the business sufficient attention… The immense time commitment was mentioned by all of the survey respondents who had failed.”

restaurant brandingAt Deep, Denton was determined to create something completely different. As he told The Bend Bulletin: “That’s been kind of my business model: finding what Bend doesn’t have and filling that void. I’ve always enjoyed the environment of a sushi bar. It’s always been something appealing, both from the restaurant’s and the chef’s standpoint.”

What he failed to consider was how much attention his other brand required. He was spread too thin and his upscale sushi place was ahead of its time.

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

Being different from the competition is certainly important, but it’s not everything. Tiny morsels of Kobe beef served on a hot rock for eight dollars a bite… That’s different! “Angry Lobster,” Monkfish paté, grilled yuzu and marinated, chopped maguro tataki were all impressively different, but not appealing enough to inspire repeat business by a large group of people in a relatively small market.

Bottom line: Deep was a high-end sushi place in a meat and potato town.

All successful brands have a clear, well-defined concept that goes beyond the product.

As I have said in previous posts, if you want to build an iconic brand, first own an idea. The Cornell study proved that clarity of concept is essential to restaurant success.

“Perhaps the key finding was the focus on a clear concept that drives all activities… Successful restaurant owners all had a well-defined concept which encompassed an operating philosophy and business operation issues. Failed owners, when asked about their concept, discussed only their food product.”

In other words, successful restaurants have core brand concepts that go beyond just the food.

Denton certainly had vision beyond food for both his restaurants. But the concepts behind Merenda and Deep were based more on Denton’s past experience and personal preference than on the realities of the local market.

There’s an old saying… “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

In Denton’s case, his restaurants served the classes. His high-end brands only resonated with a small segment of the population, and he didn’t reinvent Merenda when he needed to.

In the end, Denton’s concept for Merenda was not clear enough to sustain the business over the long haul. (Being first in the market isn’t a sustainable brand strategy for a single restaurant.) And the concept for Deep never had a chance. So both restaurants were shuttered and his investors came away empty handed.

Eventually, Merenda reopened under a new name with a new owner. “800 Wall” never created the buzz of the original, and it’s now cruising along, probably doing fine in the summer, but not exactly inspiring loyalty or write-ups in Gourmet Magazine.

Zydeco, on the other hand, has grown and evolved. When they moved into a larger, fancier location downtown they bought a loyal following with them. It’s now more popular than ever, despite the fact that new restaurants keep popping up around town.

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

If you want help with your restaurant branding, call me.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBranding

Secondary Reality (Alternative facts in natural foods marketing)

BNBranding Bend, Oregon advertising agency“Those marketing guys aren’t dealing in reality.”

I’ve heard that one before from sales guys, engineers, CFOs, CEOs and COOs.  To which I say, “Damn right.”

If the marketing team dealt only in reality the operations team wouldn’t have an operation. The finance guys wouldn’t have profits to count. The Human Resources department wouldn’t need more resources. And there would be no iconic brands.

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBrandingBecause perception IS reality. Especially when it comes to natural foods marketing.

A few years ago in a piece on brand credibility I said, “The best story tellers — novelists, moviemakers,  comedians, preachers — can 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” us on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. 

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.”

There’s a secondary reality in every market segment. Consumers within that segment share a powerful belief system that is not based on facts at all. It’s what psychologists call Motivated Reasoning.

“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition,” says Peter Ditto, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies how motivation, emotion and intuition influence judgment. “People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.”

We all have a natural tendency to cherry pick the facts. We tune in to the information that fits our existing beliefs, and blow-off everything else.

Politics and our modern media landscape seems to be amplifying the retreat from facts.

“These are wonderful times for motivated reasoners,” said Matthew Hornsey, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland. “The internet provides an almost infinite number of sources of information from which to choose your preferred reality. There’s an echo chamber out there for everyone.”

 

 

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingIn natural foods marketing there’s a powerful, secondary reality that says if it’s in this category, then it must be good for me. That’s simply not true. The reality is that many so-called “natural” foods have no health benefits whatsoever.

Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.

The tribe of people who who are drinking the natural, fortified kool-aid of the health food industry make certain assumptions and hold a particular set of beliefs that the rest of the world does not share. They are highly motivated to find products that fit those beliefs.

So you don’t have to present scientific proof that a product is actually healthy. You just have to work with the existing perception, and present the alternative fact that your product is healthier than the traditional choice.

Being relatively better can translate into big bucks.

Look at how Vitamin Water went from startup to $4.1 billion acquisition in just 11 years… In reality, the product is nothing more than watered down Kool-aid for adults. And a 20 oz Vitamin Water has almost as much sugar as a 12 oz Coke.

But that reality doesn’t matter because the product name and the packaging position it as a healthier alternative to Coke or Pepsi. That was the immediate, accepted perception…  It’s less bad for you than the traditional carbonated beverage. In grocery stores it isn’t even on the same aisle as the soft drinks. It’s sold next to the bottled water.

Drinking this relatively healthy beverage helps consumers rationalized their consumption of other, unhealthy foods. It’s like taking a one-a-day vitamin and it still provides that refreshing sweetness that people crave.

Plus, the launch of Vitamin Water was timed perfectly to leverage two emerging consumer trends: The backlash against all the high fructose corn syrup in sodas and the need to stay hydrated. Drink more water. Plus, it leveraged the commonly-held truth that we need more vitamins in our diets.

Seth Godin refers to these as “truth” stories. They’re true within the alternate reality of the market segment.

For example… Those natural potato chips that I crave everyday for lunch… probably not good for me. But I believe they’re healthier than the traditional, mainstream choice – Lays. So my own motivated reasoning tells me to buy the natural alternative.

I know it’s not like eating broccoli, but it’s incrementally healthier than what I used to eat, and that’s okay. That’s what fits into my own personal reality. That’s my truth.

So if you’re making “healthy” salty snack foods, remember… You can’t compete with broccoli on healthiness. But you can compete with Lays.

Here are some other examples of alternative facts from the health food industry:

Baked is better than fried. Doesn’t matter if those natural cheese puffs are loaded with fat, the mainstream consumer will buy them as long as they’re not fried. And health foods are moving more and more into the mainstream.

Healthy fats are okay.  Forget about the old adage that says “fats make you fat.” The pendulum is swinging the other direction right now, and many companies are using the term “healthy fats” in their product claims. The FDA’s not buying it, and it’s highly debatable in the scientific community, but that doesn’t matter. Consumers are buying it.  Just look at the sales of coconut oil.

natural foods marketing on the brand insight blog by BNBranding

XYZ secret ingredient is the best thing ever.  Health-minded consumers are quick to jump on whatever ingredient is trendy…. kale, acai, turmeric, ginger, apple cider vinegar, duck fat, coconut water, Aquamin, prebiotoics, probiotics, whatever.

Beware… Those trends are fickle. All it takes is one high-profile “scientific” study to discredit your main ingredient and doom your entire product line. You need more than just superfood ingredients.

You also need a story that will ring true.

Here’s the real truth behind ingredients for the supplements industry: Companies that market those ingredients routinely accept anything more than 50% success rate in initial clinical trials. So in other words… even if the ingredient is only effective half the time, it’s still commercially viable.

Are you kidding me? Doesn’t matter. Consumers are swallowing it. Perception IS reality.

In natural foods marketing it’s not just about ingredients – even the best ingredients cannot drive sales by themselves. It’s not about what the product is, it’s what the product could be in the mind of the person who lives in the same, alternative reality. It’s entirely aspirational.

Advertising legend George Lois put it quite well; “Great advertising campaigns should portray what we feel in our hearts the product can grow to become. The imagery should be ahead of the product, not in a way that assails credulity, but in a sensitive way that inspires belief in the product’s benefits and instills a greater sense of purpose to those who produce and sell it.”

Credulity is rampant in natural foods marketing. In every category.

Michael Proctor, a colleague of mine who’s been in the health food industry for 30 years, says you have to dance around the side of things.

“The messages are getting more mainstream. The benchmarks and buzzwords keep changing, so it’s like a crab, always moving sideways. But you have to know what the prevailing reality is, in order to skirt around it and find the reality that you resonate with.”

Know the reality. Tap into the prevmarketing supplements Brand Insight Blogailing perception.

Getting your messaging right is not an easy task. The good news is, most of your competitors are probably missing it, which means you have room to move in and effectively control the dialog.supplements marketing BNBranding

Is “25 billion probiotics” an effective claim to make? 50 billion? 100 billion? 200 billion? What’s the number?

Probably none marketing supplements and natural foods marketingof the above. Those companies are getting caught up in a numbers race and are missing the more relevant point.

Probably time to move like a crab and find another story to tell.

For a little more help in natural foods marketing, give us a call at 541-815-0075 or visit our website.

Go here for more on truth in marketing,

Keen branding

 

 

 

 

3 Small brands, big attitudes. How to create an XXL brand personality

BNBranding logoWhy do some businesses with relatively mundane products and services take off, while others stagnate? Often it comes down to brand personality. Or lack thereof.

Ben & Jerry's brand personality on the Brand Insight BlogWhen Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, it was personality and a little extra attitude that helped get the business off the ground.

Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Ben said “Every company has a responsibility to give back to the community.”  Those two simple ideas became the driving philosophy of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.

Over the years they’ve had a lot of fun with their crazy flavors: First it was Cherry Garcia, named for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.Currently, it’s Karmel Sutra. Imagine Whirled Peace. What A Cluster.  Magic Brownie.  Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack. And Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls, named after a Saturday Night Live character.

There’s authentic brand personality in every lick.

 

 

Needless to say, some people (including a few franchisees) were offended by the idea of Schweddy Balls on a waffle cone. But the company’s not shy. In fact, you could say that bravery is part of the brand personality.

Bend Oregon branding firm blog post on Ben & Jerry's

Controversial flavor of the month at Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry have never been afraid of a little controversy. In fact, they embrace it as a core brand value.

They decided from the get-go that the company needed to stand for something beyond just making money. So they built their passion for social and environmental issues into the business model. That, by itself, differentiates their brand from the competition — and from 90% of the corporations out there.

You don’t see Baskin Robbins doing Free Cone Day for local charities. Or buying environmentally friendly freezers. Or supporting Fair Trade. Or railing against military spending. Or even occupying wall street. You won’t find Haagen Daz supporting a local school fundraiser.

In their book, “Double Dip,” Ben said “Modern marketing is a process whereby faceless, nameless, valueless corporations hire marketers to determine what the consumer would like their brand to be, and then fabricate an image that corresponds. But they still only get a sliver of the market, because their made-up story isn’t any more appealing than the next. With values-led marketing you just go out there and say who you are. You don’t have to fool people to sell them your product.”

That’s what you call an authentic brand personality.

Most business owners seem to think they should keep their personal views and beliefs out of business. But for Ben & Jerry, their personalities and personal moral code created a corporate culture that’s become a model for value-driven businesses everywhere.

Like on the opposite side of the country, at McMenamin’s in Portland, Oregon. If you’ve spent any time at all in Oregon you’ll know the name McMenamin’s… Brewpubs. Historic, landmark hotels. Great microbrews. Movie Theaters. Restaurants. Music venues. Hidden, hole-in-the-wall bars. And did I mention the beer?

brand personality of McMenamins

McMenamin’s is a unique, regional brand that was started back in 1974 by two Portland brothers, Mike and Brian McMenamin. Like Ben & Jerry, they aren’t corporate marketing types or Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. They’re just normal, laid-back Oregon dudes with a shared vision and a taste for good beer.

brand personality from bend oregon advertising agency blog postFirst they had a small café in a run-down industrial area of Portland. Then, in 1985, they created the first post-prohibition brew pub in Oregon and ignited what is now a 22 billion dollar industry. Today they have more than 60 locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, many of which are undeniable destinations, in and of themselves.

One thing the McMenamin brothers have in common with Ben and Jerry is a quirky, earthy, anti-corporate attitude. In fact, there’s a conscious anti-branding ideology at McMenamin’s that, ironically, produces a distinctive brand experience.

Even though each property has its own unique identity, they all bear a striking family resemblance. Check into any of their hotels or just order a pint at any of their neighborhood taverns and you’ll know you’re at a McMenamin’s.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post on brand personalityThe vibe is distinct.  Appealing. Even irresistible.

Mike and Brian share a love of architecture, art, music, and good beer.  And they combine those elements in spectacular fashion at every location.

The brothers hate to see any cool old building go to waste.Their idea of fun is taking a dilapidated county poor farm in the unlikely town of Troutdale and transforming it into a 4 and a half star destination.

It’s not development, it’s historic reclamation.

At McMenamins, it’s not about the personality of the brothers, it’s about the personality of each property. The staff historian researches the story behind every property they purchase. Like the Kennedy School. The old Masonic Home in Forest Grove. The old Elks Temple in Tacoma, Washington. St. Francis School in Bend, Oregon. The history of the brand personality post from BNBranding, an oregon advertising agencybuilding and the neighborhood becomes part of the brand personality of every location.

The distinctive brand identity of every new property fits with the quirky look and feel of the overall brand. Not only that, when you walk into any one of their locations,  you’ll immediately notice the consistent identity and atmosphere in every little detail.

The execution is amazing. Oregon is chock-full of brew pubs these days, but none can match the appealing atmosphere of a McMenamins.

You won’t find the McMenamin brothers doing publicity stunts or speaking engagements. They just stay under the radar and focus on doing what they do well… turning abandoned properties into thriving businesses. With good beer, exceptional experiences and a very loyal following.

brand personality post on the brand insight blogEveryday they get suggestions from fans across the country about properties that would be perfect for a new McMenamin’s.  And when one of their oldest taverns burned down, customers held a vigil in the parking lot. Brian McMenamin called the response “spine-tingling.”

brand personality

The artwork gives it away… obviously, a McMenamin’s project.

That’s brand loyalty!

And it doesn’t come from big, trumped up marketing efforts. It comes from doing things passionately. Consistently. And honestly.

As Ben & Jerry have said, “Only the quality of the product and the resonance a customer feels with the company can produce repeat business and brand loyalty.”

Big personalities resonate. But as the McMenamin brothers and Ben & Jerry prove, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to build a successful brand. You just have to be passionate about something. Because humans are naturally drawn to passionate people.

If you’re ever in Bend, Oregon, give me a call and I’ll treat you to a beer at the Broom Closet bar at  McMenamin’s Old St. Francis school. We’ll talk branding, business and personality.

For more on how to build a brand with personality, check out THIS post.

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.

storytelling as a leadership skill BN BrandingOr… you can gently pull people in by tapping the imagination and harnessing the proven, natural power of storytelling.

If you study the greatest brands and 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.”

 

Harvey 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…”

storytelling in businessMackay’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 up the importance of great storytelling:

“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…

When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will 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 leaders 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.

 

Let us help you tell a more compelling story. Call 541-815-0075.

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market research for small business BNBranding

Strategic listening and consumer insight – Small business market research

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

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

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

Can you say, “Got Milk?”

strategic listening in advertising

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

2. They ask the wrong questions.

4. They question the wrong people.

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

market research for small business strategic listening BNBranding

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

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

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

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

That lack of perspective leads directly to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a story that illustrates my point perfectly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

market research for small business branding strategies BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want more insight on branding strategies and small business research?

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