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3 Dragnet approach to bad advertising

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

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

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

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

Dragnet approach to bad advertising

Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet

Joe Friday means business.

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

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

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

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

Very few businesses are that good, or that different.

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

Facts tell, stories sell.

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

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

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

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

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

Messages that make us FEEL something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Milk print ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a fact.

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

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

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6 Marketing videos BNBranding

Why most marketing videos fail. (Unscripted advice on the missing ingredient)

Online video is the new TV. These days you can delve deep into any subject under the sun just by browsing YouTube. Seriously. The volume of titles is staggering… 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Five billion videos are viewed every day, and a high percentage of them are categorized as marketing videos.

Marketing videos BNBrandingBut only a small fraction are meeting the marketing objectives of the companies that post them.

Here are some of the common problems with DIY marketing videos :

Most are nothing more than crummy powerpoint presentations, transferred to a different medium. (BOR-ING!) They completely miss the fundamental benefit of using video… It’s supposed to be a visual medium. It’s show and tell. Not just tell.

What you usually see online is just a “talking head,” where the only visual is a face sitting in front of a laptop camera or a cell phone. It’s what they’d refer to in politics as “bad optics.”

Marketing videos like that don’t demonstrate anything. They don’t capture the dramatic, emotional hook of the product or service. They’re not the least bit visually appealing. And they certainly wouldn’t qualify as “great content.”

Then there’s the gadget trap… The idea that a GoPro or a drone are the only tools you need to produce an effective marketing video.

online marketing video script advice from BNBrandingNew camera technology makes it easier than ever to demonstrate your product and capture the action — in dramatic fashion.

I saw a guy playing ping pong the other day with a Go Pro mounted on his head. Stand in a lift line at your local ski area and you’ll notice that every other helmet is mounted with a camera. Visit the most popular tourist attraction in your area, and you’ll see a huge percentage of people capturing it on video.

Just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean it should find its way into your marketing video. Sure, GoPro footage and drone footage can look cool. But before you decide on the latest, greatest cameras to employ, make sure you have the messaging figured out.

So here are some tips if you’re thinking of producing marketing videos:

First of all, don’t jump the gun. Before you spend a dime shooting fancy drone footage, determine whether or not video is the right medium for the message. Just because you can to do a marketing video yourself doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s say you’re launching a new service… often those are tough to show. You can talk about it, explain it, and do your pitch, but there may not be anything to demonstrate on camera. You may not need video. Here’s a good test…  If you can walk away from the video screen and just listen to the audio without missing the point of the show, you know it’s not a good use of the video medium. It could have been a podcast.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticA new product, on the other hand, can be held, touched, and demonstrated quite effectively on camera. So quit talking about it, and show it in action. Rather than rambling on about the features of the product, show the outcome of using it… the happy ending that comes from your products.

If you decide that video is, in fact, going to be a fundamental component of your marketing efforts, then here’s what you need:

High-quality video footage that’s differentiated from your competitors.

You have to show something that no one else is showing. You need a visual idea that you can own.

A good scriptwriter will provide that idea… a creative concept that becomes the central theme of the show. Drone footage is not a concept. A talking head is not a concept.

Eons ago, before the advent of YouTube, I worked on long format corporate videos for big brands. We were constantly looking for ideas that did NOT involve a corporate talking head. Because they’re boring, with a capital B. And when we absolutely had to use a spokesperson, we made darn sure that person was attractive, well spoken and downright great in front of the camera.

Because I have news for you… unless you’re a supermodel, or the world’s sexiest man, people aren’t going to tune in just to see your face. They might be interested in what you have to say, but they don’t care about seeing your face in lousy light, all distorted and unappealing.

Like Shrek.

Unless your brand hinges entirely on the stunning talent and personality of your leader, dump the straight, talking-head approach. If you insist on talking at the camera, cut away frequently and show something, anything, but your face. Study how the great documentary filmmakers do it… it’s visual storytelling, not just audio.

A compelling story. As the old saying goes, “Facts tell, stories sell.”

positioning strategy BNBrandingThe only way to get a story into your marketing video is to write the script first. Shoot video second. Better yet, write the script AND do storyboards before you start shooting. What most people don’t understand is, you need a script even if there’s no narration or voice over. The script IS the story. So you need a well-written script that follows your brand narrative.

The script is the missing ingredient in most marketing videos, but from a communication standpoint, it’s the single most important component. The script tells the cameraman what to shoot. It guides the editing process. It informs the decision on music. It’s the blueprint for success.

For instance, if you’re selling a new bike write a script that focuses on the sheer joy and freedom of riding. (Think film short, not sales pitch.) If you’re introducing a new type of sprinkler system, forget about the technical product features and focus on families enjoying the lush, green grass.

The fact  is, lousy videos can fail just as easily as any other marketing tool. So before you jump on the video bandwagon, take time to  hone your message, and develop a story that’s worth telling. In script form.

Small HD cameras and simple video editing software have made video production easy. Anyone can be a video producer, so small business owners and marketing coordinators are jumping on the bandwagon.

Don’t expect to just go out and get some HD footage and edit it into something brilliant. It seldom works that way. First you have to nail your messaging. Spell out the story. Then shoot the script. Then do great editing. Then add music. It’s a painstaking process that involves thousands of little details, sound decision-making and great creative judgement.

Remember…. consumers have high expectations for video. We’re accustomed to seeing Hollywood quality stuff with high production values. So be very careful if you’re going to cut corners. Does that hand-held footage really belong in your high-end car dealership or jewelry store?

Let’s be clear… online videos can be a game-changer for many businesses. Do it right, and get one that goes viral, and you might find yourself filling more orders than you ever dreamed of. But video is not the be-all, end-all of any marketing effort. It’s just one part of the mix. It pays to get that one part right.

For video examples of successful marketing videos, check out this post on Hubspot.

For more on this subject on the Brand Insight Blog, try this post.

For a great script that’ll produce results, call me at BNBranding. We can pull all the resources together that you need to produce a successful video.

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7 website design BNBranding

As long as first impressions matter, website design will matter.

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website design is a waste of money.”

It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.

One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.”  Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?

website design BNBrandingThis is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.

The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.

This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every website design is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.

As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean”  and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.

We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.

If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.

One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.

website design BNBrandingI guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse.  There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.

Poor website design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”

When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding.  It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “website design.”  In that case, balance is the key.

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.”

If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it.  The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.

One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good website up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a very pretty mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6 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.

18

Brand authenticity (Keeping it real, honest, genuine and true)

I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.

brand authenticityLately, it’s “Brand Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.

In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”

If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.

“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.

Most definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand, brand authenticity is defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”

I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.”

In Philosophy of Art “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.

The same holds true for brands.

The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck.  They are the exception to the corporate rule.

The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”

brand authenticityI think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. We are born skeptics.

Guilty until proven innocent!

And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Instagram fans.

Ouch.

In a Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”

Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups.  They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.

Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”

It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.

“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”

Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.

In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.

Amway is now known for brand authenticityAmway, for instance.

Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”

The front-line MLM culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.

It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. The antithesis of brand authenticity.

But I digress.

Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?

Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!

Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.

That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.trust and brand authenticity

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that you’re sincere and will be more likely to trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.

It’s always tempting for successful small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.

Align your marketing messages with your brand.

You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose.  You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.

Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?

Be consistent.

Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to

put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.

Lead by example. 

One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders

with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.

So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R&D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.

Hire good PR people. 

Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.

Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.

For more about brand authenticity, try THIS post. 

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6 Porter airlines brand advertsing

Airline Industry marketing (One Canadian brand stands out)

BNBranding logoHere’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes the experience even lived up to the airline industry marketing hype.

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees, dying dogs, laptop bans and physically bouncing people from flights, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

Porter airlines brand advertsing airline industry marketingIt’s still too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a long-term success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International.

Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline industry marketingFrom the blog, Design Sponge:

“This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

In terms of airline industry marketing, and a sophisticated brand design, Porter stands 30,000 feet above everyone else.

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog:  “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

launch of Porter Airlines BNBranding Brand Insight BlogMany people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.) I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way.  So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

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2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

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

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

Be Disruptive!

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

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

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

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

Loud and clear.

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

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

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

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

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

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

That’s precisely why we remember them.

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

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

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

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

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

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113 marketin strategy vs tactics BNBranding

The difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

BNBranding logoI’m appalled. A successful marketing guy asked me a question recently — a real no-brainer — which led me to believe he didn’t know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

How can that be? He’s held several high-paying marketing positions. He has an MBA. He’s gotta know this stuff.

So I started doing some research online and I’ve found the problem: The internet! And specifically, LinkedIn and other social media channels of misinformation.

marketin strategy vs tactics BNBrandingJust about every day there’s another misleading article about marketing strategy and tactics. There’s more misinformation than information out there. More nonsense than common sense.

For instance, I ran across one article that listed “search engines” as a marketing strategy and said “long-term strategies such as giving away freebies will continue to pay off years down the road.”

Freebies are NOT a strategy. Search engines are NOT a strategy. Digital is NOT a strategy.

Just the other day, one of the biggest gurus of digital marketing published a post about “marketing strategy” that was flat-out wrong. It was about media buying — specifically, choosing Facebook over Television advertising. I

That’s not Marketing Strategy, that’s tactical media buying.  Step 5 in the branding process, not the beginning.

This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s negligence! Advice like that would never get past the editors of a brand-name business magazine, but you can find it on-line. All over the place.

In any case, the easiest way to clarify the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is to go to the source…

marketing tactics vs strategy

I’m sorry if the war analogy doesn’t appeal to you, but that’s where these terms came from, some 3,000 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: Goals first. Then strategy. Then tactics.

Goal: Win the war.

Strategy: “Divide and conquer.”

Tactics:

CIA spies gather intelligence.

Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.

Paratroopers secure the airports.

Armored Divisions and tank battalions race in and divide the opposing army’s forces.

Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.

An overwhelming force of infantry invade.

Hand-to-hand combat.

A marketing strategy is an idea… A conceptualization of how the goal could be achieved.

Like “Divide and Conquer.” Another possible war strategy would be “Nuke ‘Em.” (They call them Strategic Nuclear Weapons because they pretty much eliminate the need for any further battlefield tactics.)

In WWII, the generals spent more than six months mapping out the strategy to win the war in Europe before D-Day. They diagnosed the problem, researched the enemy,  pinpointed weaknesses and literally mapped out a plan of attack. Much of that strategic debate focused on what NOT to do… Where NOT to invade. What battlefields to avoid.

Here’s an example of good marketing strategy – from Under Armour.

A marketing tactic is an action you take to execute the designated strategy.

Strategic thinking. Tactical acting.

But let’s get off the battlefield and look at a successful brand. In business, great strategies are built on BIG ideas. And BIG ideas usually stem from some little nugget of consumer insight.

Back in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their popular Arm & Hammer baking soda were slipping. The loyal moms and grandmas who had been buying the same baking soda all their lives weren’t baking as much as they used to.

classic marketing strategy and tactics on the Brand Insight Blog

Business Goal:  Turn the tide and increase Baking Soda sales.

Strategy: Devise new reasons for their current customers to pick up that yellow box at the supermarket and use more baking soda.

Specifically, sell Arm & Hammer as a deodorizer for the fridge. That’s a big, strategic idea that led Arm & Hammer in a completely different direction.

They’re now marketing a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Every current Arm & Hammer product, from toothpaste to cat litter, originated from that strategy of finding new ways to use baking soda. And in the process, an old-fashioned brand has managed to stay relevant.

Tactics: All the traditional marketing tactics have been employed… TV advertising. Magazine ads. Digital advertising. Search engine marketing. Content marketing. Retail promotions. Website dedicated to all the various uses of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.

All great marketing strategies share these common traits:

• Thorough understanding of the brand’s status and story. Arm & Hammer has a strong heritage that dates back to the 1860’s. That yellow box with the red Arm & Hammer logo is instantly recognizable, and stands for much more than just generic sodium bicarbonate. It’s iconic.

 

 

 

 

 

• A realistic assessment of the product’s strengths & weaknesses. Market research proved what Arm & Hammer executives suspected… that people don’t bake as much as they used to. But it also showed that people were using their baking soda for all kinds of things besides baking. That was the insight that drove the strategy.

• A clear picture of the competition. Arm & Hammer has always been the undisputed market leader in the category. However, when they decided to introduce toothpaste and laundry detergent, the competition became

balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBranding

fierce. Arm & Hammer’s long-standing leadership position in one vertical market gave them a fighting chance against Procter & Gamble.

• Intimate knowledge of the consumer and the market. The shift away from the traditional American homemaker directly affected baking soda sales. Church & Dwight kept up with the trends, and even led the charge on environmental issues.

• A grasp of the big-picture business implications. Good brand strategies reach way beyond the marketing department. When you have a big idea, execution of the strategy will inevitably involve operations, R&D, HR, finance and every other business discipline.

A great strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics for success. If the idea is strong enough, you can get by with mediocre tactical execution. (Although I wouldn’t recommend tactical short cuts.)

However, even the best tactics can’t compensate for a lousy strategy.

You can waste a lot of money on marketing tactics if there’s no cohesive strategy involved. Some people confuse marketing strategy with marketing objectives. They are not synonymous. Here are a few examples of “marketing strategies” from seemingly credible on-line sources:

Marketing strategy and tactics - the branding process at BNBranding

The top three circles represent strategy. All the activities in the blue circles are tactics. You can’t do it all yourself. Learn more about our proven branding process. 

“Create awareness.” “Overcome objections.” “Boost consumer confidence.” “Refresh the brand.” “Turnkey a multiplatform communications program.”

That’s just marketing industry jargon.

Those are NOT strategies, they’re goals. (And not even very good goals.) Remember, it’s not a strategy unless there’s an idea behind it.

Any number of strategies can be used to achieve a business goal. In fact, it often takes more than one strategy to achieve a lofty goal, and each strategy involves its own unique tactical plan.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers simply throw together a list of the tactics they’ve always used, and call it a strategy.

If you’re still wondering about the difference between marketing strategy and tactics, try the “what-if” test…

At Dominoes, someone said, “Hey, what if we guaranteed 30-minute delivery?” Dominoes couldn’t compete on product quality or price, but they could compete on speedy delivery.

So a strategy was born.

After that, their entire operation revolved around the promise of 30-minute delivery. They built a hell of a strategy around a simple, tactical idea.  That strategy worked well for more than 20 years until a lawsuit forced them to abandon it.  Now Jimmy John’s owns the “Super fast delivery” niche in the fast food industry.

At Arm & Hammer someone asked, “What if we could come up with a bunch of new uses for baking soda?”  Presenting people with entirely new ways to use your product is a  good marketing strategy.

On the other hand, “What if we do search engines?” doesn’t make sense. Must be a tactic.

“What if we increase market share?”  There’s no idea in that, so it must be a goal.

What if we could screen all web content for factual errors and eliminate some of the conflicting information you find.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

The fact is, even the sharpest marketing people need help sometimes. Even the most savvy entrepreneurs run into roadblocks on a regular basis. They crash and burn, pick up the pieces and keep on going!

BNBranding can help you navigate the world of marketing and take your business to the next level. We have a disciplined  branding process that produces a unique strategy that will differentiate you from all your competitors. And then we help you execute that strategy it in creative new ways.

It starts with an affordable test drive assessment of your current marketing efforts. We’d be happy to do that for you. It’s a simple, no-risk assessment that will point the way forward. No matter where you’re starting.

 

 

 

 

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If you got hit by a bus, what would happen to your brand?

BNBranding logoDeath and taxes. The two are always lumped together as inevitable parts of life. So why, as business people, do we obsess over taxes and ignore the issue of death?

Nothing derails a small business faster, and more dramatically, than death. When a partner or key employee dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. No two ways about it.

The question is, is your brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss? Have you done any business succession planning at all?

My dentist lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident.  How do you go back to drilling teeth after that?

bnbranding Brand Insight BlogMy business partner lost her 14-year old son to a rare form of brain cancer. Jumping back into her role at work wasn’t exactly a priority.

Children. Siblings. Parents. Clients. Close friends. When you lose them, you also lose hard-fought momentum, motivation and money if you’re in business for yourself. And chances are, you won’t even care.

All those niggling managerial details that seemed like a high priority will almost certainly fall by the wayside. Clients and vendors are usually very forgiving in times like that, but if you don’t have some kind of contingency plan, you’re liable to experience yet another loss… of your business.

Personal loss is particularly hard on professional service businesses. When my mother died, I was physically ill for weeks. I was grief sick and unable to work.

Imagine a key attorney in a small law firm. A star architect. A senior executive recruiter with a big, fat rolodex. These key players are often the lifeblood of a company. Or as CFOs like to call them, “irreplacable assets.”

When those people go, the business goes with them. So what can you do to protect your business in case of a death?

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some practical tips on small-business succession planning. It’s not about hiring the right law firm.

Successful business succession hinges on building your brand.

Once you’ve built an iconic brand, the business is much more likely to survive a traumatic loss. Sounds great, but how do you do that?

BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

Make it about more than just money.

Great brands stand for something beyond business. There are values built into the brand that transcend time and personnel. Patagonia for instance… if Yvonne Chounard were to die in a climbing accident, the brand would endure. Not just because it’s a big company, but because they have a large clan of customers and employees who share the company’s core values.

Have a better hiring strategy.

Business succession planning involves hiring the right people to carry the torch. You want people who share your values and your vision, not your management style. Rather than hiring clones of yourself, find people smarter than yourself, with diverse backgrounds, experience and style. That way you’ll achieve some balance in the organization and it’ll be easier to fill a void, if something terrible happens.

positioning strategy BNBrandingKeep your story straight.

Too many companies get fixated on their logo and forget about the brand story they have to tell. Logos change and evolve, but the core brand story should always stay consistent.

Unfortunately, many C-level executives can’t articulate their brand story. Even Richard Branson has a hard time with the question, “what’s the Virgin brand about.” (It’s not just about Richard Branson) So before something bad happens, put your brand story down on paper. Hire someone to help you craft the story that doesn’t revolve around any one person. Then stick with it.

Build strong alliances.

Successful companies tend to have a large number of brand affiliations.  They don’t operate in a vacuum. The more companies, people, brands and causes that you are affiliated with, the more support you’ll have in tough times. But don’t forget… all those affiliations need to be aligned with your brand. You don’t want just random alliances.

Devise a succession plan before you need it.

It’s kind of ironic… in order to get funding, start-ups have to include a slide about their exit strategy. And it’s usually pie in the sky stuff.

But many established businesses that are actually good targets for acquisitions, never even think about succession.

It’s one of those painful things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile. But you need to make time for business succession planning. If you’re an owner, a manager, or just an employee, you need to know what would happen in the worst-case scenario.

For more on how to build an iconic brand, try this post. 

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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 braning 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 served delicious cajun cuisine, which was certainly 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.

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 ingredients of restaurant branding success.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda neeed 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 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.

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