Tag Archives for " BRANDING "

Lessons learned from 30 years in a professional services business

 

brand credibility from branding expertsProfessional services marketing is one of the toughest specialties in my line of work. First of all, marketing an intangible service is much harder than marketing a tangible product, like a tasty new food item. Second, it’s hard to know where to spend your money, and which tactics are appropriate for a professional services firm.

There are a million different things you could do, and a lot of professionals struggle to make sense of all the options. A quick Google search for “business-to-business marketing tips” produces an unprecedented amount of misinformation.

Like this little gem of nonsense:

“While consumers choose products based not only on price but also on popularity, status, and other emotional triggers, B-to-B buyers make decisions on price and profit potential alone.”

B-to-B marketing, they claim, is all about reason and logic.

These misinformed “experts” expect me to believe that emotion plays NO role in B-to-B marketing decisions. As if real people are magically transformed into corporate purchasing automatons the minute they set foot at the office.

honesty in political advertising

Give me a break.

Thirty years running a professional services business, and I can’t think of one single client we ever landed because of some rigorous analytical purchasing process. Not one.

People buy for subjective reasons, then they justify the purchase decision with a logical checklist of excuses. In B-to-B purchases, they just need a little longer list.

In the case of BN Branding, when we ask clients why they chose us, here’s what they say:

“Because I like those ads you did for Smidge.”

“Because I really relate to that article you wrote about the yin and yang of marketing.”

“I just got a good feeling from your website.”

All purely subjective, intangible excuses.

Other clients say it’s because we have a disciplined branding process. But even that’s not an objective reason. Our process produces a FEELING of confidence that allows them to act. But no one’s going to tell you what’s really going on, deep down. They might not even know why they really buy from you.

 

 

In B-to-B marketing it’s gut first. Then heart. And then the head.

The psychology of rationalization is well documented. The latest advances in neuroscience and behavioral economics prove, time and time again, that  it’s human nature. That’s how our brains are wired.

So that’s lesson #1 from all my years  in professional services marketing: Never underestimate the power of emotion in B-to-B purchases.

If your marketing efforts revolve around checklists of facts and features, you’re not going to see the results you’d like. Facts can’t be the centerpiece of your marketing. You have to dig deeper than that.

Facts seldom offer an emotional hook, or any reason whatsoever for the brain to pause and seriously consider your service offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over facts and data, and move on to more meaningful things.

Like stories and distinctly different graphics. Facts tell. Stories sell.

What stories are you telling? What proprietary branded graphics have you produced lately?

professional services marketing lessons from the Brand Insight Blog

Lesson #2: Love what you do.

Service businesses are easy to start, but hard to grow.

That’s because the business model for most professional service firms is sub-optimal.  Sales cycles are long and drawn out. Delivery is highly dependent on talent. And every client requires your skill and attention, to some degree.

Most are not scalable because they hinge on the talent of a few key partners.

The challenges are substantial, so you better love your work. In fact, you better be downright passionate about your particular specialty.

Branding, in one form or another, has been my passion since I was 15. I absolutely love producing eye catching ads, effective websites, or inspired content…  whatever it takes to help clients succeed.

I love the collaboration with clients and designers and programmers. I love the collision of art and commerce. I still get a charge out of the creative process, even if it’s just a little digital ad that we’re producing.

That enthusiasm is infectious.

On the other hand, “inspiring banker” is an oxymoron. And I’ve never met an accountant who seemed genuinely passionate about her work.

I’ve tried six different accounting firms over the years, and not one has shown any interest in my business whatsoever. Not one has ever called, in the middle of the year, to check on my progress and offer financial advice. (In fact, not one has ever sent any kind of proactive communication of any kind.)

Not one has positioned herself as anything more than an end-of-year number cruncher. Seems like a great opportunity — for someone. (If there are any really good accountants out there, give me a call!)

A glaring lack of passion is an easy way to UNsell the clients you’ve already sold. The fact is, passionate professionals like me want to do business with other passionate professionals. Or if not passionate, at least interested. Engaged. Semi-helpful!

Harry Beckwith wrote three great books on service industry marketing. In “Selling the Invisible” he says the first priority is the service itself. You gotta get the service right. I believe that starts with your attitude.

If your attitude sucks, the service will too. If you don’t love the professional service you provide, fix it or get out. Go do something else before your business crumbles beneath you.

Lesson #3: Be persistently adaptable.

At my parents’ 50th anniversary my dad shared his secret to a happy marriage: “Persistence,” he said.  “Simple as that.”

The same can be said for successful service businesses. You’d be amazed by how many fail simply because the key partners quit working at it. Sometimes they run out of steam because they don’t love what they do. Sometimes they devote all their energy to one big client, and forget about everything else. Sometimes other priorities prevail.

Over the last 30 years I walked away from my business twice… Once by choice (thanks to an offer I couldn’t refuse) and once because of the economy. For a few years after the crash of 2009 it became a side hustle while I did what I had to do to survive. But I never quit on it. Never lost the passion for it.

One thing’s for sure: Shit happens. Circumstances change. Markets shift. People come and go. And new technology changes the game. You have to be able to adapt.

When I rebuilt the business it took on a different form… Virtual workforce. New processes. Different talent pool. And even more flexibility.

At BN Branding we adapt to the needs of our clients. The services we deliver vary dramatically depending on what they need. Most clients have no idea so we have to figure it out for them, and lead the way. That’s how we’ve developed long term client relationships.

With commitment, patience, consistency, and adaptability. It’s about relationships, not transactions.

Professional services marketing Lesson #4: Keep learning.

In my line of work every new client, every product category and every new project requires study, learning and growth. Without it, we’d never survive.

Experience has taught us a lot, but every business is different. Every marketing situation is unique. We can’t assume anything.

There are a lot of new digital agencies that do nothing but cookie-cutter ads in one particular niche market, like dental practices or car dealerships. They literally run the exact same ads for all their clients. Just swap out the logo.

I’d shoot myself.

It’s variety that keeps things interesting. Wards off burnout. Keeps the creativity alive.

And it’s our thirst for learning that enables us to do great work for all sorts of businesses… One day it’s the nutritional benefits of organic alfalfa in rabbit food, and the next we’re dealing with software as a service in the fintech segment.

Variety is the spice of professional services life.

I often counsel clients to discard products and focus on a more narrow niche. But sometimes you have to sacrifice specialization for your own sanity.

If you’re an architect, do you really want to design nothing but elementary schools your whole life? If you’re a consultant, do you really want to devote your entire practice to cannabis dispensaries?

 

professional services marketing lessons from BN BrandingLesson #5: Little gestures matter.

There’s an old Jewish proverb that says, “don’t open a shop if you can’t learn to smile.”

At BN Branding we like to celebrate little victories with our clients…  Like when a website goes live. When a new brand that we’ve created hits the store shelves. When one of our ads starts popping up on our phones or on billboards up the road.

That’s just the way we roll, and come to find out, the marketing professors have a name for that: “Managing the evidence.”

In professional services marketing you have to keep proving that you’re delivering on your promises. You have to provide evidence of your performance, or at the very least, proof of life.

Radio silence is the kiss of death.

I’m always annoyed by service providers who disappear in the middle of a project. It doesn’t matter if they meet the ultimate deadline and deliver great work, if they don’t communicate at all during the process I won’t be doing business with that person, or that firm, again.

Process matters! And decent communications is part of any process.

I’m not asking for perfection. I’m just asking for the common courtesy of an email update or a quick text message that says “hey, we got pulled away on an urgent matter, and we’ll get back with you tomorrow.”  That’s all it takes, assuming you actually do get back to me tomorrow.

Success hinges on keeping promises like that. It’s a lot of little gestures over a long period of time. That’s how you nurture relationships and build credibility. That’s one of the fundamentals of professional services marketing.

Lesson #6: Life’s a lot easier when you build a brand.

Beckwith summed it up quite well: “In service marketing almost nothing beats a brand.”

A brand makes your sales efforts easier and more efficient. A brand reduces stress for your prospects and makes buying easier. A brand improves credibility and aids word of mouth.”

“A brand is money.”

We can help you make both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Scott Bedbury brand insight blog

Living The Brand, Scott Bedbury Style.

bn branding's iconic logoIn the world of branding consultants, Scott Bedbury is kind of a big deal…

He worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. He helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. His book, “A New Brand World” is a must read in our business.

Tom Peters calls him “perhaps the greatest brand maven of our time.” And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world.

Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Scott Bedbury branding consultant - from the Brand Insight BlogBedbury’s a very genuine guy, which is good, because that’s part of his branding mantra; the importance of being genuine.

These days, you can’t get away with being disingenuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you on it faster than you can say, “Where the hell’s our PR firm?”

As Bedbury said, “the days of the corporate comb-over are gone.”

Speaking of corporate comb-overs… The first step in our process as branding consultants is the brand assessment. Like it or not, we have to do the research  to get the truth behind a brand, instead of a well-polished corporate version of the truth.

But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming because the genuine attributes of their brand just aren’t pretty.

I’ve seen plenty of cases where a company’s internal perception of the brand doesn’t jive with the consumer’s reality.

If that’s the case, your branding efforts will have to reach much deeper than just the marketing department. You’ll actually have to change the product, tweak the operation or hire a different team. Because “everything matters.”

 

 

It’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes these days. As he says, great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits. “Give a damn, and give back,” to be exact.

Patagonia's purposePatagonia is a brand that gives a damn.

There’s nothing fake about Yvonne Chouinard’s dedication to environmental causes, and it shows in everything the company does.

The Patagonia brand, the operation and the products are aligned perfectly around a single, unifying idea… Save the environment so we can all enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, few companies are as focused or philanthropic as Patagonia. Several business plans came across my desk in the past week, and it reminds me why Bedbury’s branding message is so important.

All too often, the startup is only about cashing out. Nothing else.

Jim Collins, author of Built To Last, has something to say about that:

” The entrepreneurial mind-set has degenerated from one of risk, contribution, and reward to one of wealth entitlement. I developed our business model on the idea of creating an enduring, great company — just as I was taught to do at Stanford — and the VCs looked at me as if I were crazy. They’re not interested in enduring, great companies, just an idea that you can do quickly and take public or get acquired within 12 to 18 months. “

Anyway, even if you don’t have a great company that donates a portion of your profits like Patagonia does, you should still have a cause that drives your operation. You need a purpose the employees can rally around… something more meaningful than just boosting the stock price.

Scott Bedbury’s boss at Nike, Phil Knight, was adamantly against his employees watching the stock price. When Bedbury got to Starbucks it was posted by the hour, up on a bulletin board for everyone to see. Not sure if Bedbury was able to change that practice or not, but it never sat well with him. He’d rather think long term.

Another thing about Bedbury is that he can still laugh at himself. (Or at least he could the last time I saw him speak in Bend, Oregon.) Again, he’s following his own advice. An amusing anecdote and an easy chuckle are perfectly “on brand” for Scott Bedbury.

branding consultants BN BrandingHe’s not the type of guy you’d find as a Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 500 company, that’s for sure. He’s more storyteller than suit.

Storytelling is a big part of branding. For branding consultants, storytelling comes with the territory.

Once you’ve figured out the real crux of your brand, you have to communicate it in a form that people can understand. And nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned story.

Doesn’t matter if it’s delivered via the latest, greatest mobile technology, it’s still just a story. Tell it well. Tell it often. And keep it real.

One last piece of advice, inspired by Scott Bedbury… Don’t be afraid to reinvent your brand from time to time. Every summer he “shuts it down,” and hangs out with his family in Central Oregon. He writes, plays a little golf and recharges the batteries. So his own, personal brand will be fresh and ready for the next, big brand adventure.

For more insight on brand stories and similar case studies, try THIS post. 

 

BN Branding consultants

1 Logo contests: A bad idea for any good brand

BNBranding logoSometimes the most powerful branding case studies fall into the “what NOT to do” category. Take, for instance, logo contests. Specifically, a logo contest from the Australian Ministry of Tourism.

It’s a big deal down under.

This isn’t some neighborhood non-proft looking for a new logo for their email newsletter. This is a multi-national tourism marketing effort for a nation of 21 million people that consistently ranks as one of the world’s most popular nation-brands.

logo contests from Australia BNBranding' Brand Insight BlogThey’re going to spend 20 million dollars promoting their new brand to the rest of the world. And they’re launching the effort with a logo contest. Grand prize: $2500.

What’s wrong with that picture? That’s just a giant marketing blunder waiting to happen.

How much great design work do you suppose they’ll get in exchange for a 1-in-10,000 chance at $2500?

Logo contests are a horrible idea, for a lot of reasons:

 

 

 

 

1. Logo contests attract the youngest, hungriest designers with the skinniest portfolios around.

You might just luck into someone with incredible talent, but she’s going to need a lot of direction. Serious pros won’t touch that work because it’s not enough money and the odds of success are too slim. It’s a one-time transaction that never leads to long-term client relationships.

The Australian government received 362 entries and culled the unruly collection down to 200 or so. There might be a few decent designs in that sea of submissions, but I’m not even going to address the subjective, artistic side of this.

Instead, let’s look at the steps in the branding process that are always ignored in a contest environment.

 

2. Logo contests skip over the most important steps in the brand identity design process: brand strategy and a clearly defined creative brief.

Contrary to popular belief, brand identity design is not just about artwork. It’s also an exercise in business strategy. If you can’t define your marketing strategy, clearly and succinctly, you’ll never get a brand identity that sticks.

The creative brief should be a very clear synopsis of your strategy. Here’s what the brief says for the Australian assignment:

“Designers and contest participants should submit ideas for a contemporary Australia brand that captures the essence of the nation and presents Australia as a great place for living, holidaying, education, business, manufacturing, agriculture and investment. Submissions should articulate as clearly as possible Australia’s brand position in the context of the global marketplace and help the Government capture “the vibrancy, energy and creative talents of Australia”.

What brand position?

why logo contests miss the mark BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

How can a designer possibly hit the target and “capture the essence of a nation” when there’s nothing on the website or on any links that even hint at a brand strategy document?

The young art school grads are left to figure out the strategy on their own… “What, exactly is the essence of Australia?

“Designers and contest participants may choose to spend time researching Australia and its current brand.”

“May choose to???  Any good branding firm would insist on it. Diving into the design work WITHOUT it, is a folly.

Research is the foundation of any truly professional branding effort. But the graphic designers who enter contests are not the people doing the research and the strategic thinking.

It’s not in their DNA. It’s often hard to get them to even read the creative brief once the research is done.

Designers are involved later in process. During the artistic, execution phase. But if you skip the strategic piece, the designers have no direction. They’re just throwing darts, hoping something will stick.

 

3. Logo contests exclude a critical member of the team. Or two!

Brand identity design should always be a team effort between a copywriter, designer and brand strategist. Some copywriters are also great brand strategists, but you’ll seldom find a designer who can fill that strategic role. If you’re relying only on a graphic designer, you’re only getting one-third of the value.

George Lois, one of the greatest advertising art directors of all time, spells it out: “My formula for great advertising design is to start with the word. This may sound like an anomaly, coming from an art director, but the word comes first, then the visual. You gotta have a slogan.”

A slogan, or a descriptive tagline, helps cement the brand identity’s overall idea. Taglines are always a good reflection of the strategy work that’s been done. If the lines are random, like the list below, the strategy is clearly missing.

Australia  “The heart of many nations.”

Australia “Lighting up the world.”

Australia “Make it real.”

Australia  “Live it up down under.”

Australia “It’s real noice.”

Australia “The inside story”

Australia “It all happens here.”

Which is it?  Without a thorough brand strategy document it’s virtually impossible to judge the 362 taglines in any objective way. The odds of getting one that’s actually authentic to the Australian Brand is remote, at best.  BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

And here’s where it gets really messed up… The public gets to vote! With no clearly defined strategy, no experience and no information whatsoever, the average Joe gets a say in the branding of a nation.

I’ve often seen the results of these contests fail completely. The client pays the prize money but ends up with nothing useable. Then it’s back to the drawing board with a firm that actually knows what they’re doing.

Developing a brand strategy is not easy. It takes discipline, creativity and thorough research. But it’s a required element for success. Contest or no contest.

If you insist on doing a contest or crowdsourcing your logo design you’d better do some extra-thorough work on the strategy side. Otherwise, it’s just garbage in, garbage out. For more on logo design crowdsourcing, try this post.

 

Here are some winning logo designs that we’ve done. Step by legitimate step.

 

logo design by BN Branding

7 Marketing lessons from GM — Will a $30 billion bailout buy them some focus?

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The top guns of the American auto industry parked their private jets, piled into their big, luxury hybreds, and headed back to Washington last week. The goal: 50 billion dollars in loans, credit and other forms of bailout money. The second installment of what one reporter called, “a long term payment plan in $35 billion installments.”

There’s no doubt GM’s failure would a terrible economic blow. Those jobs would be sorely missed, but would anyone miss the mediocre brands that GM’s been consistently producing for the last 35 years?

I don’t think so. Other than some loyal Chevy truck fans, consumers won’t miss a beat.

GM’s business problems are far reaching and complex. The Wall Street Journal says “it’s a bloated organization with too many dealers and too many factories producing too many cars for the marketplace.” (GM has 7000 dealers in the U.S. Toyota outsells them with just 1500.) The company is burning through cash faster than a Suburban sucks gas — $75 million a day, according to one account. Turning that land yacht around is is going to be much harder than anyone’s predicting. As one consultant said… “Even with a generous series of government loans, GM is likely to go bankrupt within the next two years.”

Let’s face it. GM has been losing ground slowly but surely since muscle cars were killed by the oil embargo of the 1970’s. If congress looks at the situation from a marketing standpoint, they wouldn’t cough up a dime.

According to Automobile magazine, “it’s been 50 years since GM built a car that was the standard of the industry in any category.” Overall, GM products have been poor in all respects, from design and driveability to safety and fuel efficiency.

I believe that GM’s quality issues and their current financial crisis is a direct reflection Alfred P. Sloan’s famous, flawed strategy of “a car for every purse and purpose.” Sorry, but quantity over quality just doesn’t work in the modern automotive industry.

GM’s business model for the past 30 years has been built around the assumption that they can keep making money off products that are unremarkable, at best. But even when you’re as big as GM, you can’t be all things to all people. Over time, that lack of focus is going to kill you.

Look at GM’s track record in the small-car market. First they had the Chevette and the notorious Vega, a car reknown for being the first aluminum block engine ever produced… (not exactly the type of innovation that propels a company into a new era.)

While Honda, Toyota and Nissan were dominating that market in the 80’s, GM introduced The X-cars… the Citation, Omega, Phoenix and Skylark. Yikes! Those weren’t economy cars, they were just awful, underpowered sedans.

GM fumbled around for 20 years trying to build a small car under the wrong brand: Cadillac. Remember the Cimmeron? It’s on Time Magazine’s list of the worst cars ever built. And the Catera, “the caddy that zigs.” The advertising was unbelievable and the product, unbelievably bad. For consumers, a small, sporty Cadillac just doesn’t compute.

Then there was Saturn, GM’s great hope of 1990. Nothing in the history of GM could match the enormity of this brand’s launch. They built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Springhill Tennessee. They opened a new dealer network and adopted innovative new marketing and customer service programs, including a policy of “no haggle pricing.” To their credit, they did everything differently in order to compete with the Japanese.

Despite the plastic body panels, Saturn succeeded for a while. The cars were affordable, and they even won some industry accolades in the subcompact category. Unfortunately, GM starved that division of cash, kept them from launching new products for 10 years, and now is contemplating a shutdown of that brand.

So they can’t compete in the small car market. But what about GM’s bread and butter categories, like vanilla-flavored sedans? Unfortunately, they’ve even been losing on that front as well. The Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the country for years, followed by the domestically produced Toyota Camry. In the meantime, The Oldsmobile brand limped along for years before GM execs finally pulled the plug in 1999. They tried all sorts of marketing ploys to save it, including more than a dozen different slogans for the brand over a 15 year period. They did everything BUT build a car that appealed to anyone.

GM missed the boat entirely on the minivan craze, and they were slow to market with their SUVs. (But no one will deny the success of the Suburban.) GM actually had the lead in green technology in the late 90’s with the EV1 electric car, but they pulled the plug on that for short-term financial reasons. Now, while the Toyota Prius flies out of showrooms, GM’s playing catch-up yet again with the Chevy Volt. The volt is not a hybred. It’s actually an electric car, leaps ahead of Toyota in the green car game. It plugs in and it looks racy too, but it might be too late to the starting line.

Clearly, GM has been all over the place strategically. Now it looks like the bailout will force them to focus their efforts a bit. There’s already talk of paring the product line-up, and in the recent Senate hearings GM execs said their new strategy is “to focus available resources and growth strategies on the companies profitable operations.”

I guess that means four core brands… Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. And potentially four more marketing failures: Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and the king of them all, Hummer. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

Even with the forced focus on just four brands, GM will have a difficult time turning a profit. According to Automobile Magazine, the Cadillac CTS is actually one of GM’s small glimmers of hope for something better down the road. “It’s not relevant at $60k, but it’s a reminder that GM knows how to build a very special automobile. It’s the pride of Lansing Michigan and proof positive that GM has a lively pulse.”

Hmmmm. How can a car be “not relevant” in the market, but hopeful? And why does the mainstream press assume that GM will suddenly “start building fuel efficient cars that people want to buy” as soon as this bailout comes through? They haven’t done it yet. And no marketing blitz or government bailout can turn a lousy product into a branding success.

There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “great advertising just kills a bad product faster.” Sadly, GM’s history is littered with products that died fast, deserving deaths.

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

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

It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing lessons from Craftsman on the brand insight blog

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

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

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

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

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

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

So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement.

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

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

Sears Brand car battery

Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s delusional leadership.

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

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

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

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Marketing Management & Leadership – Who’s really running the show?

BNBranding logoMarketing is full of colorful characters… Data nerds, creative prima donnas, wordsmith poets, actors, spreadsheet managers, order takers, MBAs, planners, directors, programmers, guru tweeters and on and on. Successful marketing management hinges on how you handle that challenging mix of characters, personalities and skill sets.

marketing management characters Brand Insight BlogYou have to choose carefully, decide who should lead, and practice good casting.

If you put the wrong person in the leading role, you could be in trouble. And if the bit players are not well directed you could end up spending a lot of money for very little return.

It’s a common problem. Finding the right advisors is always difficult, especially when the owner or CEO is inexperienced, insecure, or just not very well informed about marketing.

In many companies there is one character lurking in the shadows who steals the show and becomes the defacto marketing director. Even though she may not have a lick of marketing experience, she controls the decisions that make or break the company’s marketing programs.

Her influence is disproportionate to her skill or experience.

untrusted marketing effortsIn mythology, screenwriting and literature, this character would be referred to as a “shapeshifter.” From a marketing management perspective, she is trouble.

Shapeshifters are two-faced. They are pretending to be something they are not and it’s not unusual for them to change alliances frequently. These characters add uncertainty and tension to any story, and they’ll do the same for your marketing efforts. They’re not to be trusted. (Example: Severus Snape in Harry Potter.)

 

In real life business the shapeshifting character could be a secretary, an outside consultant, a hot-shit sales person or even the spouse of the owner. It’s always someone who has the ear of the CEO, and it’s usually someone who’s been around the company for a long time and “really knows the customer.”

When CEOs abdicate responsibility to a shapeshifter, things get messy. The brand story gets convoluted. Efforts get duplicated. Time is wasted. Morale throughout the company plummets. Money gets thrown at problems that don’t even exist. And, inevitably, the marketing programs perform quite poorly. There is no curtain call.

Here are four characters that I frequently find elbowing their way to the front of the marketing management stage:

Social Media "guru" brand insight blog

The Social Media “Guru.”

Back in the 90’s many business leaders mistakenly equated sales with marketing. So marketing departments were commonly run by sales guys.

Now it’s the social media specialist who often becomes the defacto marketing director.

But anyone with a cell phone and opposable thumbs can dub themselves a social media guru. She might do a good job of “getting your name out there” on the various platforms, and she might even generate exceptional engagement with her friends, but that’s not the whole picture.

I love this analogy from Peter Shankman, from the Business Insider: “Being an expert in social media is like being an expert in taking bread out of the fridge. He may be the best bread taker-outter in the world, but the goal is to make a great sandwich, and he can’t do that if all he’s ever done is take bread out of the fridge.

The Kid with a Drone and a Title.

Drones are all the rage right now. Many people seem to think that those epic aerial shots of their building and parking lot are all they need for TV commercials and a “killer” social media presence.

BNBranding's brand insight blogI even know one college kid who has a drone and the enviable title of “director of marketing.” And it’s not a small company. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in his marketing budget.

Hold that joy stick just one doggone minute. What’s missing from that equation?

Just because he can fly a drone without killing innocent by-standards doesn’t mean he can pilot a comprehensive marketing effort. If that same kid knew how to run the latest, greatest spreadsheet program would you make him CFO?

I don’t think so.

Effective marketing management is is not possible unless you have someone who understands the big picture of marketing, and the longterm process of brand building. You can’t rely on a young specialist to manage the whole she-bang.

The Wife/Secretary/CMO

This is a common scenario in family-owned businesses… The owner/CEO uses his wife to “do the marketing.” Which means she’s doing an occasional social media post, some fliers, and website updates.

Sometimes it’s the administrative assistant who fancies herself a marketing person. Since she controls scheduling and information flow to the CEO, she’s in the position to also control everything he sees regarding marketing. She can easily undermine the best efforts of the actual marketing staff or any outside agencies, especially when it comes to subjective decisions on creative issues. So it’s a recipe for disaster.

So here’s some advice for marketing management…

If you’re a business owner make sure you find a genuine expert in marketing management to be your leading lady. Get a generalist who knows how to keep all the other performers performing. Once you decide who that’s going to be, structure your business so that person has real authority, and don’t let anyone undermine that.

If you’re an outside agency providing marketing services, watch out for the shapeshifter who threatens to sabotage your work. Identify her early. Either make her your ally and work with her, or convince the CEO that she doesn’t belong in his cast of marketing characters.

If you’d like help leading your marketing efforts, call me. We’ll make your life a whole lot easier. 541-815-0075

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2 positioning strategy BNBranding

Marketing Resolutions (3 easy paths to better branding)

2021 promises to be a better year for business owners and marketers. Especially if you’re willing to follow a few simple resolutions. I could have written a dozen or so, but that would go against the number one resolution for better branding:

1. Resolve to be short and sweet. (Whenever you can)

There’s a proven paradox in marketing communications that says:  The less you say, the more they hear.

So stop with the generalities and the corporate double speak. Instead, try plain English. Hone in one specific idea and pound it home with powerful mental images and just a few, relevant details. That’s the first step to better branding.

Behavioral scientists have shown, time and time again, that our brains are hard-wired to discard information. Malcom Gladwell touches on this “unconscious intelligence” in his book “Blink.” And Bill Schley spells it out nicely in his book on micro-scripts.

new years resolutions for better branding

The human brain has a very active built-in editor, so if it sounds complicated or confusing we just discard it. The brain automatically defaults to the simplest, fastest, most understandable messages.

So sharpen your pencils, discard all the superfluous nonsense and get the heart of the matter. That’s the key to better branding… Use fewer elements. Simple words. And images that can be “read” at a glance.

Because the message with a narrow focus is the message that’s widely received.

Don’t get me wrong… there are times when long copy is absolutely the best answer. But even when it’s long, it needs to be direct and to the point. Not a roundabout of facts, figures and corporate nonsense. Above all, it needs to be clear.

 

 

tips for better branding on the brand insight blog2. Resolve to stop boring people.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to convince you that boring stuff doesn’t sink in. Boring equals bad branding.

If you follow Resolution Number One, you’ll avoid this problem for the most part.

But you also need to think about the images you show:  Are they getting attention, or putting people to sleep? Does everyone in your industry do similar-looking facebook posts and instagram pics?

Could your competitors stick their logo on your ads? If so, it’s time to turn over a new leaf. The new year is a great time to refresh and rethink your marketing materials.

Those tired stock photos… commission a pro to replace them.

That old Powerpoint deck you’ve been using… toss it out and start from scratch.

Those little pay per click ads you’ve been milking along… gone.

That website that hasn’t been updated in years… don’t shed any tears over that. Throw it out like a rotten tomato.

Sure, you’re creating more work for yourself, or for a qualified marketer, but the process of re-inventing is well worth it. Without even thinking about it you’ll integrate what you’ve learned this past year and improve things dramatically.

Remember, you can only get their attention and hold their interest by using unusual, distinctive, and unpredictable stimuli. Just the opposite of boring stuff.

3. Resolve to tell stories.  

Here’s another way you can avoid boring them to death: Tell good stories.

Stop reciting data and repeating industry cliches and start using original narratives and colorful metaphors to get your point across.

bend ad agency real estate brandingSometimes you can even use fairy tales to your advantage, like we did for Tyrian Sky Townhomes.

Stories trigger emotions. Emotions demand attention.

Telling a good story is not that hard. Think about it…You’ve been telling stories your whole life, just probably not in a business context.

Everywhere you turn you’re entertained and engaged by stories. Every game you watch is a story. Every YouTube Video and every comic you read has a story. Even email exchanges can become convincing stories.

Storytelling is a wildly undervalued in the corporate world.

But if you look at the brands that have been most successful in any given market, they’re all good at telling stories. As are the leaders of those companies.

Almost every great leader is a good storyteller.

Think about the role your company plays in stories of your best customers, your key suppliers and even your biggest competitors. Are you the Ruler or the Reformer? The Maverick or the Mentor? The Guardian or the Gambler?

Those archetypes show up in every story ever told.

What’s your story this year, and how are you going to tell it? Do you have a David & Goliath story you could be telling? Or maybe a coming-of-age story. Imagine how well that would play, relative to another, boring Powerpoint presentation.

 

4. Resolve to stop throwing money at the latest, greatest deal of the day.

This is for business owners who are constantly barraged by offers to run more and more offers. Stop the madness!

Constant discounting is not going to help build your brand for the long haul, unless your brand happens to be WalMart, Kmart, or Dave’s Discount Deal of the Day Store.

tips on how to get better branding on the brand insight blogOtherwise, it’s just another way of screaming Sale! Sale! Sale!

All the time.

It undervalues your product, attracts the wrong kind of customers and sabotages your brand narrative. It’s like the cocaine of marketing. Is that the story you really want to be telling?

If you’re going to do Groupon-style discounting, look at it this way: It’s a short-term cash flow band aid. Nothing more. If your business is very seasonal it can help get you through the slow months, but it’s not a long-term marketing strategy, much less good branding.

Most business owners are beginning to see that.

According to Fast Company Magazine, the daily deal industry is in a “healthy period of reassessment right now.”  In other words, there’s a big shake-out going on and even the big guys, Groupon and Living Social, are re-thinking their value propositions because their clients are not seeing sustainable results.

Most success stories in that business come from retailers who use daily deals as a loss-leader tactic… get them in the door with a discount coupon, then up-sell them into a much larger, more valuable product or service. But remember, the people who regularly use Groupon are bargain hunters, so that upselling idea may or may not work. For most companies, it’s a profit killer, not a growth strategy.

Obviously, there are hundreds of ways you can do better branding. But these three are a good start. Resolved to do at least one this year, and you will see results.

For more on how to do better branding, try THIS post. 

 

2

Masterful Brand Management – Golf industry marketing & Tiger Woods

Golf Industry Marketing and The Masters BNBrandingIt’s Masters Week —  the biggest week of the year in golf industry marketing and a tide-turning event for several brands.

Most notably, the TW brand.

Over the last 9 months the Tiger Woods brand has, shall we say, strayed a bit. The “indiscretions” of Tiger’s personal life have cost his brand millions in endorsement deals, and even more in public goodwill. As one sports writer put it, “it’s the most dramatic fall from grace in the history of sport.”

For Tiger Woods and company, The Masters represents the perfect venue for a comeback, and an ideal brand affiliation.

See, Augusta National is considered hallowed ground. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of the golf world and its annual invitational tournament is like Easter Sunday with the Pope.  Every player and every “patron” out there considers himself blessed to be part of it.

Call it the halo effect… TW needs some of that sweet aroma of blossoming azaleas to rub the stink off of him.

 

 

So Tiger started the week in Augusta with a press conference. Every question was personal. Pointed. Charged. Every reporter wanted to rehash the events of Tiger’s private life. To his credit, Tiger’s responses seemed genuine and heartfelt. Not overly scripted. But it was obvious that his answers were thought out in advance. As they should be.

From what I’ve read, the CEO of Toyota, with all his PR advisors, didn’t handle things as well in regards to the recall.  Toyota execs withheld information that put their customers at risk of death, and the press was easier on them than Tiger.

Different rules apply to our sports heroes.

In any case, Toyota has 50 years of dependable performance and customer loyalty to help pull it through this little bump in the road. And ultimately, when it comes to Tiger’s brand, performance will trump everything else.

tiger woods comeback logo brand video

The Tiger Woods logo for Nike

As soon as he gets back to his dominant form and wins a few of these majors, like The Masters, people will begin to forgive and forget. And golf industry marketing can get back on track.

Keep in mind, his Tiger’s brand bordered on superhero status before all this crap came up. But every superhero has his kryptonite, and now we know what Tiger’s is.

The events of the last year have had a polarizing effect on the TW brand. The people who weren’t Tiger fans before really hate him now. And he seems to be universally despised by women.

However, among the men over 45 who make up 75% of the golfing public, he’s still  more admired than despised. He still gets a standing ovation on the 12th tee at Augusta. Still inspires awe with his performance on the golf course. And that’s always good for business.

The other thing that TW and company did this week was launch a new commercial.

In classic, Nike fashion, the black and white spot features Tiger, just standing there looking stoic, while his father’s words hauntingly ask the questions that the entire world has been asking:

“I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are… did you learn anything?”

The mainstream media and general public won’t recognize the voice and might see it simply as PR BS. Some have called it crass and creepy. Others are saying it’s  “Exploiting his father’s memory.”

But the general public isn’t the target. Die-hard golf fans will know it’s the voice of Earl Woods, reaching out from the grave, and for them, it will have the desired effect.

It’s common knowledge that Woods and his father were very tight. One of the most poignant moments in golf history came shortly after Earl’s death… Tiger won the British Open and before he get off the 18th green he broke down completely in his caddy’s arms, grieving in front of the entire world.

So my hat’s off to the guys at Weiden & Kennedy. I think it’s fitting that it’s his father posing the tough questions. In fact, the whole concept hinges on it. Any other voice over and the spot’s not worth running.

Then there’s the look on Tiger’s face. They’re not making him look heroic. In fact, he looks like a guy in the doghouse, licking his wounds. Taking his medicine.

I believe the spot works from a damage control standpoint. And as far as brand personality is concerned, it fits. Tiger never was great at dealing with the fans. Not the most popular guy to get paired up with. Not the most forthcoming with an autograph or quick with a smile.

In other words, he was no Lee Trevino or Phil Michelson.

One thing’s for sure, the new commercial has a high buzz factor. And it makes you wonder, would all this have happened if Earl was still around, keeping an eye on his superstar son?

I was never really surprised by Tiger’s misbehavior. Dissapointed, sure, but not particularly surprised. He’s a rock star, after all. How many rock stars stay at the top of the game without a blemish for 15 years?

Just saying.

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The Tiger Woods brand is definitely tarnished. But no matter what they think of his commercials or his off-course antics, no matter what they write about him, Tiger’s brand will recover and thrive because he’s so amazingly good at what he does.

His performance will dictate the script of his branding success. It may not come this week at Augusta, but it will come.

Tiger Woods promises to light up a golf course like no contemporary player can. He’ll always be intensely passionate. He’ll give everything he has to every golf shot he hits, and leave nothing on the course.

But I don’t think the TW brand promise ever went much further than that.

In 2016 Tiger Woods made $43 million without playing in a single tournament.

In 2017 he was the 4th highest paid golfer, behind just Rory McElroy, Phil Michelson and Arnold Palmer.

June 3, 2018 update… Tiger has $1.5 million in on-course winnings so far this year, and another $50 million in projected off-course earnings. In addition to Nike, he also has endorsement deals with Taylor Made, Buick, Titlest, Rolex and many other big names in the golf marketing world.

Could this be the beginning of Tiger’s second coming?

Stay tuned.

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1 a new approach to website design BNBranding

Naming — Age-old advice on how to name a new business.

BNBranding logoSo you want to hang up your own shingle. Or you have a great idea for a start-up, but you have no idea what to call it. This might be the closest thing you’re going to find to a DIY guide on how to name a new business.

Bend advertising agency blog post on Claude HopkinsEons ago, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins said “a good name should almost be an advertisement in its own right.”

Now, 100 years later, recent studies in corporate finance, behavioral economics and psychology show that many of his theories were dead on.

There’s a proven correlation between a memorable name and market value of the company.

Fortune 500 companies have figured that out. They pay naming firms huge sums to concoct new words that eventually become iconic brands. Those firms employ teams of poets, neologists, writers, comedians, behavioral psychologists and linguistic experts to come up with names like “Acura” for Honda’s luxury car division. “Pentium” for an Intel Processor. “Viagra” for, well, you know what.

Small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and Marketing Directors of mid-sized firms don’t have that luxury.  Often they try the do-it-yourself approach to naming a business.  (How hard can it be, right?) Or worse yet, they have a contest. They throw the fate of their business into the hands of a faceless crowd that knows nothing about their business model or brand personality.

Naming is one of the toughest creative disciplines you’ll ever find. Alex Frankel, in his book Word Craft, said “naming is like songwriting or Haiku, but it’s even more tightly constrained. You have to evoke shades of meaning in very small words.”

In other words, you really can’t teach the average business owner how to come up with a great business name. It’s even hard to teach a great marketer to do naming projects.

 

 

Analytical people have a very hard time coming up with business names that have any nuance at all. Their brains simply aren’t wired for the lateral thinking it takes to concoct a name from nothing. So they usually end up borrowed names using terms with very literal, unimaginative meaning that wouldn’t pass muster for old Claude Hopkins, much less a skeptical, modern consumer.

The most common naming trap is the local, “tell ’em where we’re at” business name…  Just borrow a geographic location, and tack on what you do.

In my town it’s “Central Oregon” blank or “High Desert” anything: Central Auto Repair. High Desert Heating. Central Oregon Dry Cleaning. High Desert Distributing. And almost every brand identity involves mountains.

In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate Heating or Bay Area Brake Service. In Seattle it’s Puget Sound this and Puget Sound that.

Unless there’s absolutely no competition in your local area, there’s no differentiation built in to those names. Might as well be “Acme.”(A lot of companies have names that begin with the letter A, due to the old yellow pages listing criteria. I’m glad that’s no longer relevant)

Another naming trap is the business owner’s last name. If it’s Smith, Jones, Johnson or any other common name, forget about it.

If there are a bunch of owners or partners involved, forget that too. You don’t want to start sounding like the law firm of Ginerra Zifferberg Fritche Whitten Landborg Smith-Locke Stiffleman.

If every partner has his name on the door it’s virtually impossible for the human brain to recall the brand. And it’s just not practical in everyday use… Inevitably, people will start abbreviating names like that, until you end up with alphabet soup. Can you imagine answering the phone at that place. “Hello, GZFWLSLS. How can I help you.”

However, there are times when the last name of the partners can work. Here’s the criteria:

1. The last names themselves must have some relevance, credibility and value in the marketplace.

2. The two names must sound good together.

3. The two names put together don’t add up to more than four syllables.

4. They can be connected into one, memorable name.

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

My firm has a client we named MorrisHayden. Both those names are highly recognizable and trusted in their local real estate industry. Literally weeks after they hung up their sign, they had people calling, saying “yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.”

The Morris and Hayden last names together fit every criteria, but those cases are very rare.

Traditionally, the goal of a good  name was to capture the essence of your positioning and deliver a unique selling proposition, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. Precisely what Claude Hopkins had in mind.

Examples: Mr. Clean, A1 Steak Sauce, ZipLoc, Taster’s Choice, Spic & Span.

But literal names are getting harder and harder to come by. The playing field is getting more crowded, forcing us to move away from what the words literally mean to what the words remind you of.

As Seth Godin said, it’s “The structure of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Now the goal is to coin a defensible word that can acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages.”

Examples:  Apple, Yahoo, Jet Blue, Google, BlackBerry, Travelocity.

Frankel says, “the name must be a vessel capable of carrying a message… whether the vessel has some meaning already poured into it or if it stands ready to be filled with meaning that will support and idea, an identity, a personality.”

Starting out, the name Dyson was an empty vessel. Now it’s forever linked with the idea of revolutionary product design in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and who knows what else. The brand message behind that company is very clear. This is not your mother’s vacuum cleaner!

So here’s the deal… The first rule of thumb for how to name a new business… Before you start thinking of names, think about the core brand concept.

If you haven’t already pinned down the underlying premise of your brand — the value proposition,  the passion, the values,  the promise — it’s going to be very hard to come up with a great name that works on several levels.

retail marketing strategy

So get your story straight first. Hire someone to help you spell out the brand platform. That’s the place to start. Then, whoever’s doing the name will have something more tangible and enlightening to go on.

When you nail it, the naming process really is magical. Throw enough images, sounds, thoughts and concepts around, and you come out with that one word that just sticks.

Look what BlackBerry did for Research In Motion. That distinctly low-tech name helped create an entire high-tech category.

I’m sure there were plenty of engineers there who didn’t initially agree with the name choice. But those dissenting voices were silenced when BlackBerry became a household word, and their stock options went through the roof.

When I suggested we change the name of a golf course from Pine Meadows to “Widgi Creek” the entire staff thought I was nuts. But the owner vetoed everyone. He was gutsy enough to go with it, and the name stuck. 25 years later it ranks as the most frequently recalled name in the Oregon golf market.

brand name and identity for a supplements company

When we proposed the name “Smidge” for a vitamin supplement company, half their staff hated the idea. The other half loved it. There was no in between, so we knew we had a hit.

Most business owners would have caved in immediately.

Like Hopkins said, “Smidge” is an advertisement in and of itself.  It does everything a good name ought to do… rolls off the tongue, inspires creative advertising ideas, pops out on a store shelf, and makes people smile.

Here’s the branding case study on Smidge.    Or check it out in our health & beauty portfolio.

 

 

Click here for more on how to name a new business from the Brand Insight Blog.

If you want a memorable name for your new business, one that can become an iconic brand, give us a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 naming a business BNBranding

Naming a baby vs. naming a business

Bend, Oregon advertising agencyNaming a business is tough.  I’ve conjured up thousands of business names, product names, non-profit names and even names for corporate marketing initiatives. Here’s one thing I’ve learned:

Naming a baby is much easier than naming a business.

naming a business BNBrandingFirst of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. Just mom and dad. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.

When you’re naming a business or a new product you have to build consensus and get buy-in from many people.

Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like “Poolife” for a swimming pool cleaning company.

Not only that, you have to get it approved by the lawyers. There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.

Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark application work and even more important, trademark enforcement.  So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble.

 

 

Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks. And that’s just domestic trademarks. If you’re an ecommerce company shipping product all over the world, you need international trademark protection.

I had one company that thought they had their naming nailed down before they even called. We spent six months developing the brand strategy and brand identity around that name, only to find out they hadn’t gone through the necessary legal steps to protect it.

Back to the drawing board.

When you’re naming a baby you can simply choose one from a baby naming website. With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.

naming your business or your product - beware of the Nova And then there’s the whole translation issue.

Face it, you probably don’t care what your company name means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of product names like the Chevy Nova, which didn’t translate real well. (In Spanish, Nova means “does not go.”)

If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.

And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name.

Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career.  In business, it’s hard to overcome a really bad brand name.

Most business owners who are trying to come up with a brand name think they can do it themselves. After all, they named their children successfully. How hard can it be? Just pull up an online brand name generator. 

But brand names are a lot harder than children’s names. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:

• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.

• Totally boring, literal names like the Third Street Coffee House…  With a name like that, there’s no way you’re going to get anything more than mediocre coffee in a mediocre location.

• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs: Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.

A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that.

the wrong approach to naming a business - BN Branding

This might be a great screen printing company, but the name…

So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by hiring a branding firm to help from the very beginning. You need a team, not just a designer… a wordsmith AND a graphic designer AND a good trademark attorney.

You should also find a firm that has a formal business naming process, because there’s a lot more to consider than just what you “like” or don’t like. When you follow a disciplined process it becomes much more than just a naming exercise.

It’s strategic planning.

Choosing the right name often forces people to make critical strategy decisions. So the first thing to consider is your market niche… Does the potential name fit your niche? Expand your niche? Or maybe narrow your niche is a positive way.

Think about pronunciation… how the name sounds when you say it out loud. Get input from a designer to assess how the name will look in type. Long names don’t work as well on a bottle.

Think long and hard about the connotations of the word. What do people associate with it? Does it translate? Is it confusing?

naming a business with BN Branding

Then there’s the sticky-ness factor. Is the name unique and memorable enough to stick in people’s heads? Google is a good example… no one knew what it meant at first, but it ranked high on the stickiness index.

When you delve into all those criteria, a fundamentally subjective process becomes a little more objective.

Your name is the foundation of your brand. So if your business IS your baby, get started right with a memorable name.  Call BNBranding for affordable help with your brand name and identity. Or check out this post for more info. 

Here are a few of the brand names we’ve created from scratch: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest.  “Sit Down Dinners” for a family-style personal chef service. “Aspire” for a smoking cessation program. Widgi Creek for a golf club. (No one knows what Widgi refers to, but they sure remember it.) Eathos for a new brand of vegetarian frozen dinners. Tavo Valera for a residential community. The list goes on. The well is deep.

Here are a few other exnaming services from BNBranding amples of names, both good and bad:

• Federal Express decided to shorten its name, and became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called them anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.

• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bring herds of friends in? Tough to be a brand ambassador for a place called the Dress Barn.

• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. “Aspercreme” for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. “Idebenone” for neurological disorders. The list is long.

Viagra, on the other hand, is a great drug name. It says virility and vitality and conjures romantic images of Niagra falls.