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Whittling success - branding

Brand Simplicity – Whittling success down to its core.

brand credibility from branding expertsIn business I think it’s human nature to add unnecessary complexity to all sorts of things.

Business owners, inventors, entrepreneurs and marketers add complexity because it feels like it adds value. It gives us more to talk about; More features to tout, more bullet points for the pitch deck, more stuff to keep us busy, more hype to hype.

The problem is, it’s also human nature to crave simplicity.  So in the seller’s head, more is more…  In the buyer’s mind, less is more. Way, way, way more. Continue reading

1 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

Branding Fundamentals – The ABCs of Branding are RCD

the importance of branding BNbrandingRelevance. Credibility. Differentiation. These are branding fundamentals. When you look at companies — large and small — that have become successful brands, you’ll notice strength, consistency and often superiority in those three areas.

Branding fundamentals begin with Relevance.

Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone.

My old friend Preston Thompson understood the importance of branding strategies and the need for a niche. He painstakingly crafted high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound. It’s only relevant to a very narrow, niche audience.

Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar.

But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.

Wisely, Preston doesn’t worry about that.

The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and trying to be relevant to a broad range of guitar players, they’re staying esoterically focused.

Relevant to few, but highly valued.

 

 

The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most. Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target.

Blackberry was once a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.

Relevance in the restaurant business is also ridiculously fleeting.  Foodies, who are the bread and butter of the trendy restaurant scene, suffer from a severe case of “been there done that” syndrome. So when something new comes along, they’re gone  and the hottest restaurant of the year gets quickly supplanted by the next great thing. The restaurants that thrive in the long run find an audience after the foodies have left the building.

The demise of Sears demonstrates a dramatic loss of relevance. There’s still a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years, but the brand can’t survive on that.  It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of retail. High school girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.

too many choices the importance of branding BNBranding Brand Insight BlogSometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives.

It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, Coke or Kool Aid in the summer.

The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance.

It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?

Being relevant equates to being meaningful. If your brand is meaningful, you’ll generate interest. People will desire it. And they’ll take action. That’s what you want: Interest. Desire. Action.

Many brands fail because they didn’t really mean anything to begin with.  Others lose their meaning over time, often due to a lack of credibility. They haven’t mastered the branding fundamentals.

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down. That’s one of the things that all great brands have in common… They live by their brand values.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsIt’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)

Good sales people often gloss over the realities of delivery in order to get the sale. Like the famous line from an old FedEx ad… “We can do that. Sure, we can do that! (How we gonna do that?”) Every time you over-promise and come up short, your credibility takes a hit.

Instead, set realistic expectations. And if things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to say, “yeah, we really screwed up.” And do it quickly! In this world of social media you have to move fast to stay ahead of any bad news.

So let’s assume that you know yourself well and you’ve established a trusted brand. The easiest way to screw it up is to advertise something you’re NOT. Like a personal injury lawyer claiming to be friendly and honest.

And if you really want to compound the problem, try using a celebrity of questionable credibility. That’s a double whammy! Every brand affiliation reflects on your credibility.

Often what you’ll see is advertising based on wishful thinking rather than brand realities or customer insight. The ego of the business owner clouds the message that gets out and harms the credibility of the company. Ego is also a common culprit when it comes to differentiation… CEOs and business owners start thinking they can do anything.

brand differentiation BNBrandingBranding Fundamentals: Differentiation.

The best brands take the conventional thinking of their industry and throw it on its ear, disrupting everything that came before. They discard the age-old excuse; “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”

You cannot differentiate your brand by watching the rear-view mirror or by following the lead of others in your industry. Instead, try the convention-disruption model… Think about the standard operating procedures and practices of your industry – the conventional approach – and do something else.

There are three key areas where differentiation can produce some dramatic business gains:

Product/Service Differentiation

The best marketing programs begin with products designed to be different from the get-go. There are plenty of ice cream brands out there, but only one with the crazy, mixed-up flavors of “Late Night Snack.” Ben & Jerry’s continually differentiates itself with its creativity in the flavor department.

Operational Differentiation

If you have me-too products you can still differentiate yourself through operational innovation. Be more efficient, more employee-friendly, more environmentally conscious, whatever. For Walmart procurement and supply chain management was the differentiator. That’s what enables them to keep prices so low.

Business Model Differentiation

This is a good option that applies mostly to start-ups. If you can find a better business model, and prove that it works, investors will notice.  But keep in mind, consumers might not know the difference, so you still have to do other things well.

Marketing  Differentiation

In crowded markets with many similar offerings it’s often the advertising and marketing programs that push one brand to the front of the pack. Additionally, in advertising circles there are three areas where you can differentiate yourself:  Strategy, media, or creative execution.

Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation.

The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.

RCD. Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Most companies are lucky to get one or two out of three. The greatest brands are three for three.

Call us to find out how Relevance Credibility & Differentiation matter to your business. 541-815-0075.

WantMore on the importance of branding and branding fundamentals?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branding the Olympics – leading by example in sports marketing

brand credibility from branding experts

 

In the world of sports marketing one event rises above the competition in terms of branding and worldwide audience appeal… the Olympics.

If you’re thinking of sponsoring a sporting event, signing an athlete as as spokesperson, or marketing your own sporting event, you can learn a lot by studying what the International Olympic Committee does.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be built, and a sub-brand to be designed and marketed.

No other brand in sports marketing can match the symbolic power of those five, multi-colored Olympic rings. One could argue that the Olympics, in fact, is one of the world’s strongest, most meaningful brands. Here’s why:

• Differentiation: The Olympics are dramatically different than any other sporting event.

If you’re marketing any kind of event it better be differentiated from all the other events that are vying for people’s time and attention.

The Masters at Augusta National is different than any other golf tournament. The IronMan Triathalon is different than any other endurance race. LeMans is different than any other car race. And the Olympics are compellingly different:

• More variety.  There’s something for everyone during the two-week span of the Olympics, from mainstream running events and soccer games to exotic, high-adrenalin sports like skeleton and common household games like badminton and table tennis. There’s something uniquely engaging about watching garage games performed at such a high level. Everyone’s played ping pong, but not like they do in the Olympics.

• The Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup. There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they pay hundreds of millions for sponsorship rights, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand at the track, or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

• Authenticity: Branding the Olympics so they mean something beyond just winning.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But the brand goes much deeper than that.

Branding firm BNBrandingOlympic competitors take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event.

They willingly put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central theme of the Olympic brand. Even though the line between amateur sports and professional sports is now blurred, it’s still relatively pure.

Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are professional track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.

The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA or NFL.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

The 2012 London games was the most-watched television event in U.S. history. 40 million Americans watched the opening ceremonies, and NBC’s primetime broadcast averaged 31.1 million viewers a night for a total of 219.4 million viewers. Worldwide, the estimated number was 900 million viewers, according to Reuter’s.

At the Rio Games in 2016 342 million people worldwide watched the opening ceremonies.

By comparison, the most-watched Super Bowl was the 2015 match up between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. That game drew 114.4 million viewers in the U.S., and an estimated 30-50 million internationally.

In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.

• Brand Credibility:  A gold-medal history of unscripted, authentic storylines of ordinary people.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregon

Bend, Oregon’s hometown hero, Ashton Eaton. Decathalon Champ dubbed the world’s greatest athlete.

It’s always interesting when superstars like Tom Brady or LeBron James win another championship. But those guys are from another planet.

Olympic athletes, and their stories, are far more relatable and compelling for the average Joe or Mary at home.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment.

At The Olympics the narrative remains consistent: National pride. Lifelong dreams of glory. Individual triumph over adversity.

Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature.

But not every Olympic story is positive. There has been plenty of heartbreak and unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996.

The 2010 Vancouver Games started with a fatal crash in during luge training. And now, for the first time since World War II, a complete postponement of the Games, thanks to COVID 19.

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0But every time the Games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002.  As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

•  Branding The Olympics — how the games remain relevant after more than 100 years.

There have been hundreds of iconic moments in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Jesse Owens winning Gold in Berlin, in 1936, with Hitler in the stands. Micheal Phelps, with 23 gold medals. The U.S. win over Russia in hockey in 1980.

The stories are what keep the games relevant.

I’m a big fan of the Winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since.

Back then, Klammer’s gold medal run in the downhill was the biggest thing in adrenalin sports. But these days, you have  the X Games, all sorts of hair-raising Red Bull events and a constant barrage of edits on YouTube to pull attention away from Olympic sports.

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

The Olympics has adapted, and upped its game to keep pace. They added snowoarding events and freestyle jumping, and wisely cut some of the most boring stuff, like the compulsary figures in ice skating.

No doubt about it, there’s plenty of danger in the Olympics.

Try plunging head first down an icy, serpentine track on a sled, at 70 miles per hour, like they do in the Skeleton competition.

Try throwing a quadruple-twisting triple flip on skis.

But that’s not what draws so many viewers or corporate sponsors year after year. It’s the mix of danger and artistry. The skill of an archer and the brute strength of a weight lifter.  It’s the juxtaposition of a 7-foot basketball player parading in next to a tiny little gymnast. It’s small, African nations contending with the big, powerhouse countries.

That’s why the Olympic brand is what it is.

For more marketing lessons on brand credibility, try this post on the Brand Insight Blog.

 

 

3

Brands of Love (How to build a loving relationship with your customers.)

BNBranding logoI’ll never forget my first pair of skis… Hand-me-down Heads from a by-gone era. Jet black. Heavy as can be, but oh so lovable!

That was 5th grade. Since then, I’ve purchased eight more pairs of skis and four were the same brand: Head.

Brands of love John Furgurson BNBranding blog post

That’s me. Notice the head logo on the tips. No photoshopping involved.

The latest is a pair of Head Rev 105s, and I’m absolutely loving them. I tested many different brands — and they were all good — but I chose Head.

Why?

Because it’s one of those brands of love that I grew up with.

Every time I ski on them, and every time I see another Olympic racer on the podium with Heads at their side, I get even more attached to that brand. It’s a life long love affair.

The Head Ski Company was founded in 1950 with the first metal composite ski — a revolutionary progression from the days of hickory.

In the 1960’s Head sold more than 50% of  all the skis in the U.S., even though they were priced two times higher than the competitors. It was a premium product with plenty of sex appeal. Jean Claude Killy raced on Heads. Today it’s Lindsey Vonn.

Brands of love - Howard Head - BN Branding

Howard Head

To me, buying skis is like buying a car. I can name every car and every ski I’ve ever owned, and I have fond memories associated with every one.

I  strayed from Head for awhile, cheating with Atomics, Blizzards and Rossignols, but I keep going back to my first love — to the brand that I first associated with the freedom, thrill and challenge of skiing.

That’s branding.

A lot of people gripe about commercialization and marketing as an evil activity or a “dark art.”  They say they’re being manipulated, somehow, into buying stuff they don’t want or need.

That’s nonsense. I believe we need MORE relationships like that. More love of any kind! Less indifference and more brands of love.

Just think… If we could all be passionately connected to more of the things we purchase on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

 

 

Imagine how your day might go if you felt as passionate about your filling station and your pharmacy as I feel about my skis.

What if the routine chore of picking up dinner was transformed into a delightful experience that you could look forward to every time. What if you had a genuine love for your dental office?

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

It’s human nature to love. We crave strong, loving connections to the things and people in our lives. Brands play that role quite well. We’re naturally drawn to the companies and products that show love to their employees, their customers, their environment.

Whole Foods, Patagonia, Clif Bar are three good examples… they’re passionate companies that attract passionate customers.

In his book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about closeness, trust, intimacy, passion and commitment. Those are the traits of any loving relationship,  and if you can attain that in your relationship with customers you’ll have what Robert calls a Lovemark. The gold standard of brands.

What you have to remember is that Love is a matter of the heart, not the head.

You’ll never achieve Lovemark status by sticking to facts, data and a logical list of product features. Not unless you’re selling to robots.

And empty, corporate catch-phrases are even worse. Like a bar-closing come-on by a desperate frat boy… you might lure someone into a one night stand with that approach, but it’s not going to get you a second date, much less love.

brands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blog

In focus groups people talk about love all the time.

“Oh, I just love my Subaru.”  Or, I just love Tide. I won’t buy anything else.”

Subaru took the loving feedback from their customers and built it into its advertising. (It doesn’t move me, but I’m not a Subaru guy. There are a lot of W

RX fans and Outback fans who’ll absolutely love that approach.)

So stop thinking about how to improve “customer satisfaction” and start thinking about how to make them LOVE you. Want you. Chose you.

How can you initiate a relationship like the one I have with Head Skis?

It’s not easy because that one is connected to some of my fondest childhood memories. Think about that… If you really want to ramp up your branding efforts, start creating memories that your customers will love to recall, 50 years from now.

It takes a lot of extra effort, attention to detail, transparency and goodwill build brands of love. But it pays off… in better sales, in higher business valuation, and in articles like this one.

Write a comment… Tell me about your favorite brands of love.

If you want more on lovable brands, try THIS post.

Or the Lovemarks website. 

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

7 fresh hops brew pub branding and marketing

Brewpub Branding: Messaging and attitude from Brewpub Beer Snobs.

BNBranding logoI had an experience in a brewpub recently that was inspiring and insulting at the same time. If you’re in the restaurant business — or any service business for that  matter – you can learn from this little case of bad brewpub marketing.

It proved that what you say, and how your front-line employees speak, can have a major impact on your brewpub branding efforts. And it proves that branding isn’t just a function of the marketing department.

Because it only takes one bad experience…

craft beer brands and branding tipsKeep in mind, this Oregon, where there are more brewpubs per capita than anywhere on earth. So craft brewing brands are plentiful and the competition is stiff.

If you don’t like the food or the service or the beer in one brewpub, just walk around block and try another one.

So a buddy and I popped into a brewpub for a burger and beer, après golf. We were parched.

The menu offered craft beers in all the usual colors and categories… a blonde, a red, an amber, a black, a pils, a pale ale, an IPA, etc. etc.  Each beer choice had its own whacky name and an elaborate advertising claims that left us scratching our heads…

“Two more pounds of hops per barrel!”

“ 20% rye malt plus five domestic malts and two Northwest hop varieties.”

Ooooookay. Time for a translation.

We flagged down the waiter and asked for his recommendation. We’re not new to the craft beer scene, but we were hoping for a a layman’s answer to a simple question: “What would you recommend for a hot summer day like today,” I asked.

fresh hops brewpub branding and marketing“Oh. Well, the Monkey Fire Red Amber Ale has FRESH Willamette Valley hops,” he said in a knowing, assertive, somewhat snobbish tone.

As if that’s all we’d need to know.

Awkward silence… Wow. I’m thinking, “Uhhhhhhhh. So What?

What does fresh hops mean to my thirsty tastebuds? How is that going to affect the flavor of the beer? Yeah, but which one’s more refreshing?

My friend and I looked at each other, pondered that one, and turned back to the waiter for elaboration. The grungy young man just stood there, looking at us like we were from another planet.

Give me a break. If I wanted this kind of treatment I’d drink fancy wine. It was like an episode of Portlandia. Everybody knows the benefits of fresh hops, right?

Wrong. Boy, did we feel stupid.

 

 

Rule number one of Brewpub Branding 101: Don’t make your customers or prospects feel stupid. Nobody likes that. Even if they are dumb as a post.

It’s pretty much impossible to build brand loyalty when people feel excluded and stupid when they’re contemplating a purchase.

There are plenty of professionals who are good at making people feel dumb: Management consultants, financial advisors, IT guys, golf pros, and most commonly, attorneys and doctors.  It’s easy to make people feel stupid when you’re an expert in a field filled with jargon like medicine or law, but a waiter in a brewpub???

Why would a brewpub waiter obscure beer in a veil of jargon?

Maybe he thinks it increases the perceived value of their brewery. Or maybe, if he appears to be a complete beer nerd,  it’ll earn him a better tip.

It’s understandable, but contrary to the laws of good brewpub branding.

With great brands, customers feel included. Not excluded.

Companies like Apple openly invite everyone into the “club.” They don’t use high tech jargon that appeals only to early adapters and computer industry nerds, they use plain, everyday English that excludes no one. And once you’re in, you feel a genuine sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, a lot of business people feel compelled to overload their presentations, websites, sales pitches, ad copy and even waiter speak with esoteric nonsense that excludes everyone except the people within their own company.

And they justify it by saying “yeah, but we know our customers and we’re targeting a demographic niche that understands that stuff.”

Doesn’t matter.

Even if the target audience is brilliant enough to understand reams of engineering data and technical specs, that doesn’t mean you should baffle them with your insider-ese.

Brewpub branding is not unique. Every industry has its own vernacular. For instance, many business owners have heard TV advertising salespeople spewing on about Neilsons and CUME and gross rating points and impact quotients.

Inevitably, most business owners are left thinking, “Huh? So what?”

“What’s that mean to me? How’s that affect my budget? What’s it going to do for my business? What’s in it for me?”

Every time you leave someone with nagging questions like that, you’ve  overlooked the real benefit of your product or service and you hurt the credibility of your brand.

In the end, we didn’t go with the waiter’s recommendation.

The beer we chose was quite good, even without the fresh, Willamette Valley hops, but the flavor was tainted by the experience we had and the nagging question the waiter never did answer.

He was so far inside that barrel of beer, he couldn’t possibly understand the consumer’s perspective.

Think about that. Think about the last conversation you had with a prospective customer, partner or key employee. What kind of language did you use?  Was it loaded with insider information and industry jargon that sounds foreign to anyone outside your inner circle?

If it was, maybe it’s time to shut up and listen for a change. Put your ego aside and get some outside perspective. Turn off the doubletalk and turn back to plain English.

You might be surprised how persuasive plain speak can be.

For more on clear, convincing brand messages for your brewpub branding, try this post.

P.S. If any of you can explain the benefits of fresh hops, please leave a comment. I know we grow good hops here in Oregon, but I still don’t know what the big deal is about being fresh?  Give me a break. And if you’re thinking of opening yet another brew pub around here, give BNBranding a call. You’re going to need help differentiating yourself.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

brand personality of the Duck Dynasty brand on the brand insight blog

Cammo brand personality (Duck Dynasty goes high fashion.)

How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.

brand personality - tips from the Brand Insight BlogYessir. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ.

On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,”  throwing the F word around and the next page you have the the kings of cammo quoting bible passages and promoting their own, quirky brand personality.

What’s next, Forbes?

Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too. A branding coup, for sure. Proof that

Back in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best-selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt.

I recently saw a line of camouflaged living room furniture.

Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They had the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 13 million viewers at its peak— more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale. Even more than Hunny Boo Boo.

For awhile there, the Duck Dynasty Brand was everywhere. And the brand personality has become legendary.

 

 

The Duck Dynasty brand has deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For holiday season branding Hallmark launched a line of Duck Dynasty cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album oduck dynasty brand personality on the brand insight blogf holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. That’s the type of brand affiliation that pays dividends.

What’s the secret to success for this good ol’ boy brand? As the old saying goes: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little bird hunting niche into mass market appeal.

Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal. If you’re going to turn your business into an iconic brand, you need all three.

Brand Personality

In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.”  To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.

Brand Authenticity

Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.

“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”

Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.

Visuals are a key element of any brand personality.

Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt.

The beards are a key component of their branding. Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.

brand personality BN Branding

Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”

Sure enough, the show is ending its run in 2017.

So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. Will they maintain the brand personality they’ve established? That’s the real test.

Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching?  The possibilities are endless.

I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.

For more insight on brand personality, try THIS post. 

Want to build your own iconic brand? Call me at BNBranding.

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Custom club fitting:  Path to perfection, or folly of the fragile golf psyche?

brand credibility from branding expertsOne of the hosts of an immensely popular golf podcast recently stated, on the air, that “club fitting is a total waste of time for most people.” It was the type of statement that boosts ratings and incites debate among those of us who do marketing in the golf industry.

His reasoning was pretty weak; “It’s not like real life,” he said.

But just because club fitting isn’t conducted on the course — with wind, rotten lies, competitive pressure and incessant heckling from beer-drinking buddies —  doesn’t mean it’s worthless. If it was, no one would be doing it.

The question is, does the average 18-handicapper, who forks over thousands of dollars for a club fitting analysis and custom club building, actually come away with a better game?

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Is he a savvy, well-informed equipment consumer who knows something the rest of us don’t know, or is he just a sucker, throwing away money on the great, shiny placebo of the modern golf world?

On one hand, a dynamic club fitting session is the only way to know, for sure, that you’re getting what you paid for. But as I’ve recently learned, it’s also an easy way to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on shiny new clubs that only produce miniscule improvement in track man numbers that may or may not translate to better golf scores.

Is club fitting a waste of time for people who do NOT play at an elite level? And what do you really get from a $350 club fitting session at one of the fancy new club fitting boutiques?

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here: I do branding, consulting and marketing in the golf industry. I’ve worked with several companies that offer club fitting services but this is NOT a paid post or a promotion of any kind. Just my overview of what’s happening in that business.

Basically, I’ve been drinking the club fitting kool-aid for more than 20 years, but what I’ve experienced recently really tests my faith. Even though custom club fitting is more prevalent than ever, I’m not sure that business is moving in a direction that benefits the average consumer.

One other thing:  I am not an equipment junkie. I’m not one to run out and buy the latest greatest anything. I hang onto my clubs, probably longer than I should, and I play more by feel than by data analysis. I play well to 9 handicap; but I was a 5, once upon a time, while playing with a set of Ping knock-offs made for me by a trusted old craftsman we called Uncle Milty.

It’s a story with more wrinkles than an Arizona centenarian and it begins back in the day of leather-wrapped grips and persimmon woods.

 

Lead tape and tinkering… The origins of club fitting.

marketing in the golf industryClub fitting, to some degree or another, has always been popular on the PGA tour. Arnold Palmer was famous tinkering with his clubs. He probably set his hands on more golf clubs than anyone in the history of the game. He was on a lifelong search for the perfect club, and said he never found it.

Palmer based his preferences on two things: how the club felt and how it looked. He believed that if it looked good, and felt right in his hands, he’d make it work.

Pros of Arnold’s era would add a little lead tape here and there, grind the soles, whittle the persimmon and bend the lie angles just so. It was more art than anything. They had no way to measure what they were doing; they were just eyeballing it and testing it on the course.

Trial and error.

That’s pretty much the way it was until the 1970s when Dr. Joe Braly added a little bit of science to the art of club fitting.

Braly was a fighter pilot, Veterinarian, aeronautical engineer and avid golfer who invented a way to sort shafts according to stiffness. His goal was to turn untested blank shafts into a matched set that the tour pros could trust.

To understand club fitting you have to understand Braly’s game-changing invention: The frequency machine. To this day it’s one of the main tools of the trade.

Frequency analyzers measure the oscillation of a shaft using a laser beam. The stiffer the shaft, the faster the rate of oscillation; the more flexible the shaft, the slower the oscillation.

frequency machine marketing in the golf industry BN Branding

Here’s how they work: Clamp the grip end into the frequency machine, then pull the clubhead back, let it go and watch the shaft oscillate back and forth.

The frequency analyzer counts the oscillation rate and displays it in the form of “cycles per minute” on an LED display. So Braly could assign a number to each shaft. He then built a set of clubs using only the shafts with matching numbers.

The idea caught on… Working with his son, Kim, they opened a repair van on the PGA tour circuit and by 1978 they had more than 100 tour players using their FM Precision Shafts. The two went on to start Project X and now KBS shafts.

The general public, however, didn’t see the benefit of Braly’s invention until a small, Idaho-based company called Henry Griffits brought custom club fitting to the masses and set the bar for every other company that wanted a piece of that untapped, unproven market.

 

 

 

The first consumer brand in the world of club fitting. 

I was first introduced to the wonky world of club fitting by the CEO of Henry-Griffitts in 2001.  Jim Hofmeister treated me to a tour of their facility and gave me thorough briefing on their unique approach to fitting and hand-crafting personalized golf clubs.

HG developed the processes and patented many of the tools that club fitters still use, and it was quite an eye-opener. The closest thing was PING’s color coding system, but that paled in comparison to what HG offered. It was a first in golf industry marketing. 

That was the first time I ever saw a frequency machine used to test the consistency of shaft flex, and I have to admit I was stunned. I had no idea that a “set” of brand name irons could be so completely screwed up.

They had a whole stack of reject shafts that were set to go back to the manufacturer. Hofmeister put one on the frequency machine and showed me the problem; He couldn’t even get a reading. Instead of oscillating back and forth, it just bounced all over the place.

That was lesson #1: The shaft manufacturing process is far from perfect. Discerning club makers who set tight tolerances for shaft flex consistency routinely send 15 to 25% of their shafts back. Every time.

Lesson #2: You can throw the labels right out the window. Shaft flex can vary dramatically from one club to the next within a set of so-called regular flex clubs. Especially when you’re talking graphite shafts. Not only that, every shaft manufacturer and every big golf brand has a whole spectrum of “stiff” shafts, “ladies” shafts and every other shaft category. And the spectrum shifts from one company to the next. There are no industry standards for shaft flex. One company’s “stiff” shafts is another company’s regular shafts.

Lesson #3: Lie Angles matter. If a golfer is playing with clubs that are way too flat or too upright, he’s going to adopt all sorts of bad habits in order to compensate for the mis-fit clubs and make the ball go where he wants.

As Hofmeister told me, “Golf clubs create golf swings.”

 

 

 

That look behind the curtain at Henry-Griffitts planted a seed of doubt in my head that will never go away.  Once you’ve seen a set of brand name, off-the-shelf irons tested and plotted on a frequency chart, you can’t unsee it.

So I left Idaho thinking “how can anyone trust the clubs they’re swinging if they buy right off the shelf? There’s no way the big manufacturers take time to test every shaft before assembly.”

When I returned home I contacted Andy Heinly, the local Henry-Griffitts guy, and went through the entire club fitting process. I was sold, hook line and sinker.

Upon delivery Andy confirmed the lie angles and the launch trajectory for every HG club in my bag, and that was before the days of the Track Man. He could tell, just by watching ball flight, that I got exactly what I paid for.

I’ll never forget how well I was hitting the ball after getting those HG clubs and doing a lesson with Andy. That was their secret sauce; They recruited and trained PGA teaching professionals to do fittings and sell their clubs. If you couldn’t teach, you couldn’t sell Henry-Griffitts.

It was a great way for PGA certified teaching pros to earn extra money and find new students. But with the advent of simulators and launch monitors, that model has fallen by the wayside.

Many people in the golf business today believe club fitting and instruction should be completely separated. Like church and state. Master club fitters do the best they can with the swing their clients bring on any given day. And they get very squirrely when a teaching pro encroaches on their rarified turf.

But here’s what both camps have in common; they’re trying to help build your confidence. Whether it’s with one new club, or a series of lessons, or a combination of a full club fitting session plus lessons, the end goal is the same.

I can testify to how that feels when it all comes together.

That buying process I went through with Andy provided the one thing that every golfer will pay for: Confidence.

I had confidence in the irons themselves, confidence in HG’s building process, in the fitter and perhaps even in even my swing.

It seemed like I was making a better swing with my new clubs. Maybe that was Andy’s expert tutledge or maybe that was just my imagination. It doesn’t really matter, because the confidence was real.

 

Golfers are drawn to shiny objects and we’re suckers for empty promises of more distance. We buy for completely irrational, emotional reasons and then conjure up all sorts of logical rationale for our purchase of those objects.

My first club fitting experience provided the ultimate purchase rationalization.

“Of course I needed new clubs honey, my old ones didn’t fit me. The lie angles were off and they weren’t frequency matched.”

There’s another subtle mental benefit to club fitting that’s worth mentioning… That little voice in your head that says “my equipment’s better than your equipment.”

At the amateur level If you’re playing in a tournament head-to-head against a guy with stock clubs, your equipment becomes a competitive advantage.

At the elite level club fitting is standard operation procedure. So you have to do it just to keep up with everyone else in the field. You can’t NOT get fit because you can’t afford any tinge of doubt about your equipment.

Doubt sells a lot of golf clubs, and it seems to be a key selling point for the new breed of club fitting operations. Doubt and the fragile golf ego.

Doubt is what drove me to replace my reliable HG driver after five years of good performance. Somehow I got it in my head that I was giving up distance by playing steel shafts. So on a whim during a trip to Bandon Dunes, I “upgraded” to an Adams driver with a lighter, graphite shaft.

If I had compared the two drivers on a launch monitor I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have made that purchase.

Instead, I spent the next five years trying to convince myself that it was a smart buy. Ego prevailed over buyer’s remorse and prevented me from cutting my losses and moving on. Even though I was missing more fairways I couldn’t admit that I had made a bad purchase.

Finally, a couple summers ago, I swallowed my pride and decided it was time for a do-over. The driver needed to go. I wanted that feeling of confidence again. Plus, I had a hankering for something shiny and new. I wanted an entirely new set. I deserved it.

Luckily I didn’t have to walk into a big box store completely blind and trust some random sales guy to fit me properly. I went back to my fitter/instructor who sold me my HG irons all those years ago. Andy Heinly now owns a golf shop offering all the big name brands and all the latest, greatest launch monitors to help gauge what’s best for me.

He adheres to the old truism in club fitting that says “90% of you are going to be better off with a shaft that’s more flexible than what you think you need.”

Plus, Andy knows my swing and he recognizes that I’m not getting any younger. So he put me in a set of Callaway Apex irons with lightweight graphite shafts that seemed significantly more flexible than my steel shafted HGs.

They felt weird, fast and easy to swing. But Andy assured me that it was the right move, and I had no reason to doubt his opinion. Besides, the launch monitor data confirmed that they “worked better” across the board.

But did they, really?

I don’t recall any detailed A-B testing on the dispersion pattern of the Callaways versus the old HGs. But I do remember that I was getting more distance.

Maybe I was momentarily taken by the age-old golf industry sales pitch of a few more yards. But I know better!

It’s common knowledge that the big brands have been steadily decreasing the loft on their irons in order to deliver on that overused promise. In his book, The Search For The Perfect Club, Tom Wishon calls it The Dreaded Vanishing Loft Disease. So that new Callaway 7 iron was probably equal to my HG 6 iron.

I was not comparing apples to apples, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was dead set on getting new clubs so those Track Man numbers fit perfectly with my pre-conceived notion of what I needed.

I only saw what I wanted to see. Heard what I wanted to hear.

Even though it was bit of a blow to my golfing ego I went with Andy’s recommendation to use iron shafts that were on the softer side of the “regular” flex spectrum. From that particular shaft manufacturer anyway. (Matrix Recoil ES 760/F3)

When my new set of Callaways arrived Andy took time to check the lie angles and confirm the launch parameters, especially with the driver. A quick click click with his handy wrench and my new driver was launching them quite nicely with a “smash factor” that was very close to perfect. I was getting every inch of distance I could get out of my swing speed.

marketing in the golf industry BN BrandingI started feeling pretty good about myself, especially when I realized I was wielding a 9 degree driver. That’s contrary to everything I’d heard about how most people need more loft with the driver, not less.

But the dynamics of club fitting are such that a 9 degree driver in my hands behaves differently than the same 9 degree driver for the next guy.

It’s the way I deliver the club into the ball, in addition to an endless combination of other variables. There are so many different variables involved, it’s ridiculous.

Wishon lists 21 different variables in club fitting, but he’s only talking about the measurable stuff that he can control, like lie angles, swing weight, shaft spine alignment, shaft torque, frequency, etc etc.

We can’t forget about the “real life” variables that the podcast host was referring to. Like “feel,” how the club interacts with the grass, and they type of ball you play. (He contends that hitting practice balls off a matt just doesn’t cut it.)

In real life my new clubs have been performing quite well. My handicap went down 3 points and I’ve hit some of the best iron shots of my life. And perhaps, more importantly, my misses have been better.

I had absolutely no complaints about the clubs Andy sold me until I started doing research for this article. The deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the worse it got.

 

 

Blinded by bling – and too many choices.

High-end boutique club fitting firms have popped up all over the country in the last 10 years. Companies like Cool Clubs, True Spec, Hot Stix, Club Champion and GOLFTEC didn’t exist when I bought my last set, so I was very curious to see what they offered.

The first stop was a master club fitter with one of the fastest growing club fitting chains in the country. It’s a “brand agnostic” operation, meaning they carry a dazzling array of colorful shafts and high tech clubheads from dozens of major manufacturers. One of the chains claims to offer more than 50,000 different possible combinations.

Perfect for the guys who buy golf clubs like women buy jewelry. For me it was more like mix and match till my head explodes!

After a nice warm up period and a couple quick questions about my game, the fitter fired up the Track Man and started assessing data from my 6 iron shots. 173 yards of carry from 82 miles per hour of clubhead speed. “Not bad,” he said.

With that data point established he headed over to the frequency machine. (He did not check the lie angles.) He tested three random irons and determined that 291 was the frequency number.

“Oh, these shafts are way too soft for your clubhead speed,” he announced. “These are like super soft ladies flex.”

All I heard was “Why are you playing Granny shafts?” “Those are so soft you couldn’t smash a rotten pumpkin.”

My head was spinning and my ego was bruised. The seed of doubt was firmly planted.

At that moment, if I didn’t know any better, I would be really angry with my friend Andy. But he’d never put me in Granny shafts. No way. Something was amiss.

I told the master club fitter that I was absolutely sure I had ordered regular flex shafts. Then I asked, “How could they possibly end up being Granny shafts according to your frequency machine?”

He said it was clear that I didn’t get what I had paid for. “It was the build that they did at Callaway,” he said. “They probably tipped ‘em wrong so they came out much softer than what the factory specs say.”

Oooookay. Never heard of that, but since my Callaways had never been on a frequency machine I couldn’t deny that possibility.

But the more I thought about that, the more unlikely it sounded. Andy and I confirmed the lie angle and the launch of each club after delivery. I’m pretty sure we would have seen some weird dispersion pattern or launch angle anomalies on the Track Man if Calloway mistakenly gave me a whole set of Granny-shafted irons.

In any case, I went along with the fitter’s assessment because I wanted to see what other nuggets of wisdom he might provide. Besides, there were all those pretty shafts to try out.

One that looked particularly enticing was $400. For one shaft. I opted to NOT test that one for fear that it would produce the best numbers of the bunch and I would be somehow morally obligated to buy the entire bank-breaking set.

As he changed out clubheads and tried different shaft combinations one thing became quite clear: the shot pattern produced by my Callaway irons was pretty damn good. The baseline was high. Nothing I tried that day showed a dramatic improvement in both ball speed and dispersion, relative to the clubs I already had.

The fitter told me, “Your driver’s fine. Don’t change a thing.”

He also told me that my Apex clubheads were very good, and were out performing many of the clubheads that we tried. So one option, he said, was to re-shaft my current Apex irons with stiffer shafts.

Not a bad idea, except that alone would cost me $1000 — if they generously re-used my existing Golf Pride grips. For $2400 I could have a whole set of the new-and-improved Apex irons with stock grips that I don’t like.

I was far from sold.

The track man data showed that I would gain one to three yards with my six iron. That’s not going to make one bit of difference in my scoring. No freakin’ way. In my book, two extra yards with the same dispersion isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or $20 for that matter.

So the good news was, my set current performed well compared to all the new options we tested. According to the Track Man data there was no compelling evidence to suggest I needed anything different. The bad news was, I was left scratching my worried old head regarding his comment about 291 being granny shafts. It was like a parent being told his child is “a little slow.”

At that moment of vulnerability and confusion I turned to friends and family for support.

Word of advice: Don’t ever ask your arch-nemesis for club fitting advice. Any concerns you share about your set of clubs will be amplified 1000 times. On every tee box. At every opportunity. Especially when you’ve made a couple birdies in a row. Imagine his delight when he heard I’ve been playing with Granny shafts all my life. I’ll never live that down.

So I was on my own trying to decide whether I should I stick with the advice of my trusted friend Andy and his Track Man numbers, or believe this guy’s interpretation of the frequency machine data?

Now at this stage of the story I’m compelled to explain, as briefly as possible, the numbers that club fitters attach to the frequency machine results. One article on Golf WRX calls it the biggest can of worms there is in club making, so I’m going to barely scratch the surface.

Remember how I said that each company offers a spectrum of flex variation within each label? And the spectrum varies from one company to the next…

According to that particular master fitter, a frequency of 310 cpm is what I need. He described that as “the stiff side of regular flex,” and he was quite sure about that. He showed me his frequency matching chart to prove it.

But frequency matching charts vary dramatically. One says 310 is “Stiff.” Another says it’s “Regular.” On several of the charts that I found 291 looked perfectly fine, falling on the soft side of “Regular” or the stiff side of “Senior.”

Almost every one of them showed 310 with a 6 iron is way out of my physical league. None showed 291 at the bottom of the chart in the granny shaft column.

So I asked Jim Hofmeister about that. “Every company does it differently, uses a little different numbers, and then they’ll turn around and tell everyone else they’re doing it wrong.” he said.

So if you’re an unscrupulous salesman whose only job is to sell a ton of high-end golf clubs on commission, you’d create your own frequency chart and show that to every guy who walked into the shop: The one that bruises his ego and paints a grim picture of his current set of whimpy, granny shafts.

And vice versa; you could show every lady a chart that paints her clubs as way too stiff and manly. Impossible to play with.

It’s like the psy-ops of golf industry sales strategy.

Luckily I had one more ace up my sleeve. I have a friend who learned how to fit, build and design golf clubs at McGregor, back in the day when Jack Nicklaus and many of the other big names were playing that brand. He worked with Arnold Palmer and many other tour stars.

I call him the club whisperer. You can blindfold the guy and he’ll tell you if you’ve hit it on the heel, the toe, or the sweet spot. He’s also one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever met. Everything he knows and does has been proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, over the span of 50 years in the business.

So I boxed up my perfectly good irons and sent them to Florida for his expert opinion. I specifically requested confirmation of the frequency numbers and on the overall “build” of the set.

What he found didn’t exactly align with what I heard at the fancy, boutique club fitting studio.

Frequency machine numbers club fitting BN Branding

The perfectly matched frequency numbers of my irons. The white area indicates “Regular” flex. The blue area is “Ladies” flex. Green is extra stiff.

 

First of all, he saw nothing that would indicate my clubs were built incorrectly or “not to spec.” Six out of seven were absolutely consistent with the 6 iron: 296 on his frequency machine. The five iron was the only club that was slightly off, and he fixed that by puring the shaft and reassembling the club.

Compared to the thousands of sets he sees every year, the club whisperer said that my Callaway irons were an A grade. “Those matrix shafts are really good,” he said. I hardly ever see any big issues with those.”

All of my irons fell within the spectrum of what he categorizes as “soft regular flex” or “Stiff Senior.” Grandpa shafts, perhaps, but definitely not granny shafts.

Whew! What a relief. Two out of three fitters said my current shafts are fine. I can put my wallet away.

His final assessment was this: “Most fitters would just look at your swing speed and say you need a slightly stiffer shaft,” he said, “but the only difference would be trajectory. If you’re not hitting it too high — If your launch angle numbers look good on the Track Man — then forget about it! I wouldn’t worry about the frequency machine numbers or the labels.”

Good answer.

While I waited for my Callaways to return from the club whisperer in Florida I decided to dispense with all the technical club fitting nonsense and just go play golf. My cousin happily offered to loan me an old set of Ping i3 irons, vintage 2000, that were gathering dust his garage. They had the original, crusty grips and steel shafts marked “stiff.” He was playing the odds. Messing with my head.

My first few swings with those eyesore irons were a little bit shaky, but after a few holes I was beginning to believe I could actually play with shafts as stiff as 310.

At the par-5 ninth hole I hit that crusty old Ping 8 iron to four feet. Made an easy birdie.

On the 11th hole – a par 3 – I hit 8 iron again and made birdie from 6 feet. Of course I did!

By that point the irony of it was laughable, to say the least.

Then, on the par-four 13th, I hit the most perfectly humorous golf shot of my life. It was that magic old 8 iron again. The one that seemed unfit for human consumption. This time, from 154 yards in the light, winter rough.

The instant the ball left the clubface we started laughing. It was dead straight, right at the flagstick. Even my nemesis was rooting for it. The ball bounced once on the front fringe and rolled straight into the cup. Dead center for eagle.

No amount of club fitting or over-analysis could possibly replicate that.

After all research involving launch angles, spin rates and frequency numbers, I hit, quite literally, the perfect golf shot with a crappy old 8 iron that fit like my grandfather’s suits.

What the hell!  I couldn’t have scripted a more fitting, more golf-y, ending.

 

Conclusions:  

So what’s the average struggling golfer supposed to conclude from all this? Here are my key takeways that I hope will help anyone who’s thinking of diving into the same club fitting rabbit hole.

 

The human element is the most crucial piece of the club fitting puzzle. It ain’t the track man.

That podcast host didn’t say anything about the biggest, most important variable all: The experience and skill of the fitter. Or lack thereof.

All the data in the world don’t mean squat unless you have someone well trained and impartial to interpret the numbers for you. The fitting technology is only as good as the club fitter.

I’m lucky. I have a club fitter who’s also my swing instructor. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years so he can read between the lines and piece this puzzle together intuitively. I have complete, utter faith in him. I doubt very many people can say that about the kid at Golf Galaxy who just sold you last year’s TaylorMade driver.

So if you’re determined to spend a lot of money on new, custom-made golf clubs, don’t just do a fitting. Shop for a fitter. Find someone with a skilled eye, years of experience, and in-depth knowledge of swing mechanics. Don’t settle for a salesman with a Track Man.

 

Take every number with a grain of salt.

I could have easily been swayed into a big purchase by one number: 310. That was the frequency that I was told I needed in my iron shafts.

Was that master fitter just gaming me into buying a new set of clubs for a ridiculously inflated price? I don’t know. I’d rather believe that it was an honest mistake; he just read the numbers wrong, or he grabbed the wrong frequency matching chart, or he didn’t clamp the grip quite right, or my extra-thick grips affected the read out, or the frequency machine was unclean or uncalibrated.

All I know is, his number was incorrect and I’m very glad I didn’t spend $2500 on a set of clubs based on that inflated number. I probably would have gone to my grave trying to make those irons work.

310 is not some goal that I should swing to achieve. And if you want to get even more confused, many fitters use numbers ranging from 3.5 – 6.0. You should only use frequency matching to identify faulty shafts and ensure consistency across the set.

Swing speed another misleading number that’s routinely over-played by inexperienced club fitters. There’s absolutely no way you can correlate swing speed to a specific shaft flex. The shaft manufacturers provide rough guidelines, but every person is different. Every 80 mph swing is unique. You have to look at the bigger picture.

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Get my book on Amazon.

Sometimes, the problem really IS the club, and not your swing.

Faulty shafts are a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, you probably have at least one club, out of the 14 in your bag, that’s just plain wrong in relation to the rest of your set.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but it does take a different mindset to do something about it. Most people just blame their golf swing for any bad shots. Even though they haven’t hit a single good shot in three summers with that new 3-wood, they’ll keep trying to figure it out.

Regardless of how much you paid for that unruly golf club, take it out of your bag. Stop trying to make that one work, like I did for years with my Adams driver. It’s an outlier. Stop making excuses. Just get rid of it.

The fact is, even lousy golfers can groove a swing that matches the majority of their clubs. My friend, the club whisperer, sees it all the time.

“I had a guy in my shop just recently who was playing with custom fit clubs that were 5 degrees off on the lie angles,” he said. “He was trying like hell to make those things work. He didn’t have very good golf swing, but it was definitely consistent. And when he saw that ball going right every time, he started changing his swing to compensate. It went from bad to worse.”

You’re likely to develop a lot of bad habits trying to make mis fit clubs work for you. Then, if you get clubs that are more “correct,” you’ll have to UNlearn whatever it was you were doing to compensate. So you’re likely to get worse before you get better.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have a club fitter who’s also a good instructor. Guys like Andy can tell the difference between swing faults and equipment issues.

 

Don’t let ego and confirmation bias sabotage your fitting or your golf game.

We all have our preconceived ideas of what works and we like, but if you want to get your money’s worth from a club fitting session you have to be open minded and honest with yourself.

This comment recently popped up on a golf group on Facebook: “Just got done with a club fitting. Had to swallow my pride. No more blades for me.”

If a guy believes that he needs blades, or stiff shafts, he’ll find data to back up the belief and he’ll pretty much ignore any facts that are contrary to that. Andy sees it all the time…

“Even if a guy sees great data from the launch monitor; perfect launch angle, perfect dispersion pattern, perfect spin rate, he won’t buy if the shaft says “senior” on it. He stubbornly insists on what he wants, instead of what you know he needs.”

Skewed perception outweighs reality. Ego wins over common sense. But if you eliminate the senior label and show him the same numbers he’ll defer to the launch monitor data without hesitation.

Several industry insiders I’ve talked with believe they should do away with shaft labels entirely, but no one can agree on numbers that would standardize the process from one manufacturer to another.

So consumers like me are left to believe what the “expert” club fitter tells us. Or not.

 

The real value is in the placebo effect.

In reality, there’s no way a $400 shaft is going to be four times better than a $100 shaft. You’re not going to get 4x better dispersion pattern. And four extra yards with a five iron isn’t really going to bring your handicap down or make you a better person.

But it’s not about reality. It’s about perception. Belief. Faith. And confidence.

Who cares where the confidence comes from? If money’s no object, knock yourself out. Go ahead and pay top dollar for a very expensive sugar pill.

There’s no doubt that more and more golfers are interested in fitting, and the industry is stepping up to provide it, not only at high-end studios but also at a growing number of big-box stores and pro shops

But debate about the value of club fitting isn’t going away.

On one end of the spectrum you have guys who wouldn’t touch custom clubs with a ten foot pole. “When they show me a shaft that’s guaranteed to eliminate my snap hook, then I’ll talk to a fitter. Until then, I’m buying off the rack.”

On the other end you have people who have convinced themselves that their $400 driver shaft is radically superior to any $100 shaft and you’d be an utter fool to settle for anything less. “If you’re not getting fit, you’re crazy.”

I believe club fitting is quite useful, to a point, but I definitely crossed over into an area that falls into the realm of too much information. The more I researched it, the less I believed.

Club fitting, to some degree, IS important for beginners and high handicappers. Because if they’re trying to play with clubs that are way, way too stiff, or way too upright, it’s going to be very hard to see any improvement. And golf’s hard enough.

There’s also a clear benefit in club fitting for elite amateurs and pros. No doubt about it. They need every little edge they can get just to stay on the same playing field.

But for the players like myself, who fall in between, I’m not so sure.

I could spend an entire golf season, and $5000, futzing around with my equipment and never see one iota of improvement. It can be a costly, time-sucking endeavor.

I’d be better off spending my time on the practice green and my money on a good instructor. $1000 worth of instruction is going to get me much further than $1000 in club fitting expenses.

If you’re shooting in the 70’s or low 80’s consistently, chances are you could shoot similar scores with just about any set of clubs. Stiff, Regular or Senior shafts, it wouldn’t matter. You’d make some small adjustments, figure it out, and manage to score.

Or maybe even hole out from 150 yards, like I did with that old Ping iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2021 John Furgurson – BN Branding All rights reserved. Not for posting, copying or plagiarizing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the single most important thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

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Dual Purpose Websites – How to create branding sites that sell.

brand credibility from branding expertsFor some reason, many business owners think that “branded websites” won’t sell product. And on the other hand, they don’t think an ecommerce site will help their branding efforts. As if the two are mutually exclusive. But we’ve been producing branding sites that sell since 2004.

You really can — and should — have a dual-purpose website… one that converts well AND presents a strong brand message.

But you’re probably going to need a whole new approach to website design and development than what you’re used to. You’ll have to go beyond the template driven who-what-when-and-where approach that’s so common these days. And you’re going to need more than just a programmer to pull it off.

Required elements for branding sites that sell:
branding sites that sell

1. A concept.    

A concept is the foundation of every great site, and probably the single most overlooked element for all business owners. And let me be very clear…

A wordpress theme is not a concept.

A new logo is not a concept.

A photo of your product is not a concept.

A drone video of the exterior of your building is not a concept.

A photo of your team is not a concept (unless they’re doing something rather unusual that conveys an idea about your brand.)

See, a concept is an idea.

 

In web design the concept is a combination of words, visuals and technical features that come together in compelling way. It’s image and presentation and persuasion and storytelling all coalescing to make a great first impression. So even the most casual website visitor says “hell yes, I want to know more about this company.”

examples of branding sites that sell

A concept from the Mini USA website homepage.

And isn’t that the job of your website? Make a great impression. Engage people. Impress them. Leave them wanting more. That’s marketing 101.

If you have a concept behind your site all the other elements will come together seamlessly.

The problem is, most website builders don’t have the creativity, or the sales skills or the knowledge of your business, or the necessary budget to actually develop a cohesive concept for your site. That’s just too much to ask of one person… They can’t do all that, and then write the code to boot.

That’s like asking the architect of your new house to also pour the foundation, do the framing, the plumbing, the electrical and the heating system, all by himself.

You need a team to do a good site. But let’s look at the other critical elements of web development, and then come back around to who’s going to do all these things.

2. A clear call to action

This one’s pretty simple, and it’s not just a big ass button that says “buy now.” Every page of your site should have an objective and a preferred action for the consumer. Think of it as leading them down the primrose path. You want to take their hand and show them the way…

Click here. Read this. Watch this. Listen to this. Order that.

Give the user something to do that leads them deeper into the site, and further along in the sales process. They will seldom behave how you want them to, but the alternative is a hodge-podge of pages and elements that lead nowhere.

3. Differentiating elements

A good story is your best differentiating element.

As the old saying goes, facts tell but stories sell. Narrative, characters and plot twists are universally appealing, and very few companies present compelling stories.

So find an interesting way to tell your story. Maybe it’s animation, or video, or a prezi-style slide show, or even a game.

A game can be a differentiating element as well as a concept. Can you transform your web experience into a relevant game? Would that be appropriate for your brand?

branded websites for mini cooper

Differentiating elements: Concept, photo, copy, call to action.

Photography can also be a great differentiator. The human brain skips right over familiar images, so don’t settle for the $10 stock photos that everyone else in your category is using. Hire a pro and make your stuff look better. Sexier. More graphic.

Copywriting can be the difference between a boring branded website and a lead-gen machine.

Don’t let anyone convince you that great web copy is only about keywords, search engine optimization and factual “content.” Every sentence is an opportunity to stand out — or be thrown out. (One quick click and they’re gone to the next site.) Your copy should be sharply crafted. Persuasive. And convincingly genuine, so it doesn’t sound like any other brand.

Here’s a test for you… pull up your branded website and the site of your biggest competitor. Side by side. Then imagine that the logos are swapped out. Are the sites interchangeable? The images the same? The copy comparable.

Are you saying anything they cannot say? If not, you better go back to the drawing board and get a differentiating concept.

4. Reasons to believe

Stories, concepts and images are important, but you also need some facts to back them up. That’s where some branded websites go wrong… they’re all fluff. You need proof that your brand delivers, as promised.

For instance, post some testimonials or reviews from your happy customers. Release engineering data. Competitive reports. White papers. Market research. Anything that’s credible that backs up your value proposition.

People make emotional decisions, but they often need facts to justify what they’ve already decided. So give them what they need, and do it in various forms on multiple pages. When they’re checking out, remind them that they’ve made a great decision.

A very clear brand message... this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

A very clear brand message… this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

So this is all great, in theory. But how do you get it all done?

Part of the problem is who’s doing the work… If your web developer doesn’t have anyone to collaborate with, you’re not going to get an big idea, or great imagery, or well-crafted copy.

You just get code.

It might be great code and a functional site, but it’s not going to contain the five critical elements of effective website design.

You need that programmer, but you also need a writer who can devise the concept and write the copy. Then you need an SEO specialist, a project manager and a designer. That’s the team. (Sometimes the writer or the designer can double as the project manager.)

The team approach may cost a little more at first, but it’ll produce a better ROI. It’s cheaper in the long run because you won’t have to re-do your site 9 months later when it’s not performing as you had hoped.

These days your site is a critical part of your business infrastructure. It’s your storefront and your main form of advertising. You can’t do without one, so you might was well invest in a website that builds your brand AND sells product.

Note… this is NOT a paid post for Mini Cooper, just a nod to their agency and their web design team. This is great work. Plus, it’s a cool brand.

For more about successful website design, try THIS post. 

7 Branding firm BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

truth in advertising BNBranding

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

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog