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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.

naming your company BN Branding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

bad ideas for naming your business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going back to the drawing board was very costly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

honesty in political advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

naming your company BN Branding

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

brand credibility from branding experts

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

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

A look back helps illuminate the way forward.

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

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

 

 

 

At BN Branding our clients never come asking for an origin story, but they almost aways need help with one.

When they come to us for a brand name and identity, we always start with the brand origin story.

When we dive into the heritage of a company, the reputation of the brand, and the past experience of the key players we often find the DNA of the brand hidden beneath the haze of time, growth and outside influences.

A lot of clients are just stuck. They have lost something they had when they first started their business, but they can’t put their finger on it.

That’s why it helps to go back to the very beginning.

Jim Stengel, formerly the Global Marketing Officer at Proctor & Gamble, gives many examples of companies that lost their way and had to look back to their heritage to find a way forward.  Discovery Channel, Max Factor, Pampers, Harley Davidson all had to look back to their origin stories in order to succeed.

“I’ve seen again and again, that the heritage of a business holds vital clues to the potential for success in the present and in the future,”  Stengel said.

“No organization can move forward if people don’t know what it stands for. And quite often, those core ideals get lost as the company grows.”

That’s one reason why origin stories are an important part of any company’s communication strategy.

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

This is the brand origin story of BN Branding…

It begins with my childhood crush on a couple of iconic brands. By the age of seven I was smitten was Tonka trucks and Schwinn bikes. I really, really, really wanted a Schwinn Sting Ray with the banana seat, sissy bar and a five-speed stick shifter.

That never happened, and I’m scarred for life from the years I spent riding a cheaper, embarrassing knock-off that my dad bought at a thrift store.

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

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

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

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

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

I can honestly say I quickly learned a trade. In fact,  at the age of 15 I printed up a resume, walked into a local print shop and landed my first job, which I desperately needed to pay for my brand-name skateboards, brand-name ski gear and brand-name car.

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

But I loved it.

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

That’s where I developed a keen awareness of letterforms, x heights, leading and line spacing.  I learned to set type, literally… Choose a font. Fish out every letter. Set the spacing. “Lock it all up.” Hold the whole thing up to the mirror to check for typos.

Back to the drawer to replace that mistaken b with a d.

I developed an eye for how words look in type and I came to recognize inspired design work, true craftsmanship and high-quality printing.

I learned the hard way that graphic designers can be extremely meticulous, and that I’m a better writer than I am an artist.

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

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

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

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

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

I started as a direct response copywriter selling high-end goods for a company called Norm Thompson. In that environment money talks. Not art.

We tested everything, and routinely produced 25% response rates on direct sales letters to our house list. I learned that the right words translate directly into better response and more cash flow. It was the perfect training ground for a young copywriter.

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

I worked in several Portland agencies where I did print campaigns, radio commercials and lots of collateral projects. (printed sales materials.)  That’s where I learned the magic of the writer/art director collaboration, the toxicity of dysfunctional bosses and the pitfalls of the advertising agency business model.

That’s also where I learned to write award-winning radio ads. (I discovered I had a knack for writing dialog that sounds natural.)

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

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

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

What to call my fledgling little agency?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So “AdWords” it was!

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

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

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

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

Back to the drawing board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

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

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

Clients were asking for much more, and our service bundle had evolved to accommodate those requests.

We were still delivering creative advertising work, but we were also working further up stream — doing brand strategy, marketing planning, small business consulting and account planning. It was a broad range of services that all fell under the broad umbrella of branding.

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

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

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

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

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

BN Branding. Hmmmmm… Seemed kind of boring, but it had a nice ring to it. Good phonetics.

So I put that idea in the drawer and continued down the rabbit hole that is namestorming.  It’s never easy… sometimes it takes weeks to come up for air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the name BN Branding didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Be clear about what you stand for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for some more insight on that. 

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

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

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

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

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

Here’s more on the possibilities of logo design. 

5. The agency can only get you so far…

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

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

You have to do that. Every day.

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

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

Otherwise all the branding talk is just wishful thinking.

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

2

Non-profit branding (A story of start-up success and failure)

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.”  It was the type of non-profit brand that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on little faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day. It was also a great example of non-profit branding.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was non-profit branding “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. (We conducted large-sample phone surveys as well as focus groups.)

Once we saw encouraging results from the research, we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy and built a business plan around that. After our strategy was clear, and the business plan written, we came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

 

 

non-profit branding case study by BNBranding bend oregon

Print ad for Working Wonders Children’s Museum

At first, Working Wonders was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” Initially we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play.

And it caught on! Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping, “museum without walls” strategy achieve the immediate goal: Proof of concept.

Parents and kids loved it. In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point. We had a location and we had enough money to open the doors. Just barely.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years traveling around, trying to raise more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go:  We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net. We were relying on the on-going generosity of a couple key donors and most of all, corporate sponsors.

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. A non-profit branding success and the biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

Working Wonders ran successfully for four years. It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town in 2009. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually branded too well.

Many customers and community leaders thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. (mine) Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about non-profit branding for marketing for 501c3 organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.non-profit branding by BNBranding Brand Insight Blog in Bend Oregon

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability.

For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors who can provide an endowment.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors.

In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships, and those dried up overnight when the economy tanked.

As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives: Attracting visitors and attracting donors.

But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. Non-profit branding is absolutely important! But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people. Solidify the base of financial support first, then open your doors.

more effective advertising from BNBrandingIt’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer. And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?”  Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before  you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

For more marketing tips and non-profit branding advice, check out THIS post:

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

1 branding blog by BNBranding in Bend Oregon

Paralysis by Analysis (How fear and big data can kill great marketing)

BNBranding logoEveryone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the holy grail of marketing. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.

But it can also be a drag.

Here’s an analogy:

date-driven marketing post on the brand insight blog

Thanks to new technology, golfers can now get data on every little nuance of the golf swing. Hop on a launch monitor for 30 minutes and you’ll have more swing data than you could ever possibly decifer. And with shot-tracking technology, you can analyze every last shot of every round.

But in golf, over-analysis never produces good results.

If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing — rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — your execution will fall short.

Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses.

It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the data that comes along with your long list of marketing tactics.

People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed.

Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.

 

Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.

Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. For a lot of these people, date-driven marketing is a safety play.

“Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”

Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.

In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and  “Just Do It.”

Branding blog on data-driven marketing from BNBranding in Bend Oregon When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:

“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”

Widen it they did!  In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”

“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wannabe athletes and weekend warriors.

And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario only applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.

Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”

At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.

And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.” Their institutional memory overrides good new ideas or any insight that might be generated by data-driven marketing.

And how’s that working out?

Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.

Advertising agency for real estate developersThey fill their teams with clones of themselves and with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat.

Avoid these people at all costs!

To the insecure over-analyzers I say this:  Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!

The best way to gather more data is to get something done and then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.

If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing.  Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.

Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.

So by all means… employ data-driven marketing. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data-driven marketing to be the panacea. Big data doesn’t replace the need for a big idea.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, check out THIS post.

 

a new approach to website design BNBranding

6 Personal branding strategy – Get to the heart of it.

BNBranding logoPersonal branding is a hot topic in professional circles these days. Seems a lot of people are thinking of ways to make themselves look better and appear more credible. They want to put on a better face, so to speak, and the best place to start is with a personal branding strategy.

It’s not about a make-over, it’s about rethinking all your options, reevaluating your life and reinventing yourself completely. Start with your heart and work your way out…

An advertising executive goes back to school and becomes a teacher.

A mid-level marketing manager quits, and goes back to his true passion of building guitars.

An accomplished professional rebrands himself as a resort-course caddy and ends up on working for a PGA tour player.

An under-employed mom decides to stay home with her kids and start a little mommy blog.

The transitions can be dramatic and very rewarding.

 

 

 

Modern career paths don’t follow the comfortable, upward path of our fathers. They zig and zag all over the place, often rising radically for a period of time, only to plateau, fall, and rise again.

It’s the natural order of things these days. Much more natural than the old, corporate model of life-long employment.

In “Re-Imagine,” Tom Peters says the average career will encompass two or three “occupations” and a half dozen or more employers. It’s a great book to read if you’re working on a personal branding strategy, new career path, or any other branding effort.

A job for life is being replaced by a gig for now.

Instead of working your way up the ladder you have to leap your way across changing terrain.

personal branding strategy BNBrandingIt’s a free-agent nation and Tom Peters is a good role model.

When Peters wrote his first book he was toiling away in a small, west coast office of the world’s largest consulting firm. His peers didn’t think the book project would amount to anything. In fact, they laughed when Peters suggested he keep the royalties on sales over 50,000 copies.

It sold more than six million copies and established Peters as a rock-star among management gurus.

Since then, he’s published a dozen books and transformed himself into a multi-million dollar brand. His fee for a keynote speech: $80,000.

Peters has made millions with his speaking engagements, consulting jobs and publishing contracts. He could retire, or rest on his laurels. Instead, he’s reinventing himself yet again as a blogger.

In a recent interview with Seth Godin, Peters said, “No single thing in the last 15 years has been more important, professionally, than blogging. It has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it’s changed my emotional outlook, it has changed my life.”

For Peters, blogging is much more than just another tactical marketing tool. It’s a new skill that helps keep him sharp, and his personal brand relevant. It’s a key piece of his personal branding strategy.

For you, blogging might not be helpful. Maybe you find your Pinterest presence more to your liking, or an Instagram account. The point is, those social media tools provide an electronic soapbox that allows you to present your work, your views, your skills to a potentially huge audience. Pick one and go for it.

Also, pick a few inspiring people to follow and emulate.

I like Peters because he’s a bit of a rebel. He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, he loves branding, he’s a great communicator, and he appreciates the power of good design. Our brands are strikingly similar.

personal branding strategy from the brand insight blogI used to think if I just kept reinventing myself I’d get it right someday. Obviously, I was missing the point.

It’s not the outcome that counts, it’s the process of reinvention that bears fruit.

The true secret to happiness, I believe, is the ability to honestly love the reinvention process. You have to embrace change.

 

If you can’t embrace the process, your personal branding strategy will never take shape. Never bear fruit.

There is no right or wrong in the process of reinvention.  As long as you’re learning and growing, it’s all good. Chances are, you’ll go down some rabbit holes that lead you nowhere, but you’ll come out smarter for it.

You’ll begin to understand the hurdles you face, and the ways you sabotage your own success and hurt your personal credibility.

It’s a learning process. A process of elimination… Each blind alley makes you more experienced and probably more focused on what your really do want.

If you’re working on your own, personal branding strategy the chapter on branding in  “ReImagine” is a must-read…

“Branding is not about marketing tricks,” Peters said, “it’s about answering a few simple (and impossible) questions…

Who are you?

Why are you here?

How are you unique?

How can you make a dramatic difference?”

Bottom line: “Branding is ultimately about nothing more (and nothing less) than Heart.”

Whether it’s a giant corporation or your own personal brand, if it doesn’t have heart, it’s not going to be a successful brand. That’s what all great brands have in common... heart.

Southwest Airlines has heart, and it’s demonstrated humorously on every flight.

Bono has heart, and it comes through in his music and in his philanthropic adventures.

What is the heart of your personal brand, and how can you demonstrate that in your work?

That’s the crux of your personal branding strategy.  If you can define what you’re passionate about and then demonstrate that passion on a regular basis, you’ll have a successful personal brand.

And no matter how many times you reinvent yourself, the heart of your brand will still be true.

 

 

2 Branding firm BNBranding

Restaurant Branding — Recipes for failure and success

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

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

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

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

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

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

Brands need constant attention.

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

You have to mind the store.

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

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

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

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

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 retail marketing strategy

Retail Marketing Strategy — Super Sales vs. Super Brands.

BNBranding logoIt’s discount days in the retail world right now. Everywhere you turn there’s a super sale, an inventory reduction, a seasonal clearance event or some other equally banal form of discounting. That’s always the default retail marketing strategy.

retail marketing strategyRetailers,  both brick and mortar store owners and ecommerce operators, are desperate to get people in the door, even if it causes long-term damage to their brand.

But does discounting really hurt your brand?

That’s a question that often leads to heated debates between ad agency folks and their clients.

The creatives are quick to condemn anything that involves a price point. But clients want to “move the needle” and “get an immediate ROI” on every advertising dollar. They often claim that any sort of “image” advertising is a waste of time.

Then there’s the agency Account Executive, trying desperately to bring the two sides together in a sort of middle-east peace accord that will save the account for another year. Not a good scenario for a lasting client-agency relationship.

But I digress.

 

 

 

The question is, where does discounting fit into your retail marketing strategy?

Does it hurt a brand to run a half-off sale? It depends on the brand and the strategy behind the sale.

So before you hire that sign painter to emblazon your front window with “Everything Must Go!”  ask yourself two questions:

Does the sale or promotion complement your brand promise or contradict it?

Who would the sale appeal to?

Are you luring only your best customers, or is a sale a good way to introduce new folks to your brand. And will you ever see those people again?

retail marketing strategyNordstrom has the right answer to both those questions.

When it comes to brand integrity, Nordstrom is the bellwether for the retail industry. It’s a chain known for high prices and bend-over-backward customer service.

Bargains are NOT part of the Nordstrom brand ethos. So yes, frequent discounting would definitely hurt that brand.

If Nordstrom had a Super Bowl sale and a Valentines Day sale and an Easter sale and a Mother’s Day sale and a Father’s Day sale like most department stores, consumers would slowly but surely begin to question the entire premise of the business. They’d begin to doubt Nordstrom’s stature as the industry’s service leader and wonder if the chain compromised the quality of the merchandise.

Might as well go to Macy’s.

So here’s how Nordstrom handles retail discounting without compromising their brand promise:

They only have one store-wide sale a year: The Anniversary sale. (Plus an annual Men’s Sale and an Annual Women’s Sale.)

retail marketing strategyPlus, in order  to manage the inevitable department store inventory challenges and discounting pressure, they opened The Nordstrom Rack.

If you like Nordstrom’s outstanding merchandise, but don’t want to pay standard Nordstrom prices for the service, go to the Rack. It’s like a sale all the time. Same stuff, but a totally different shopping experience.

So here’s the final answer: If you have a retail brand that emphasizes customer service and outstanding quality, use discounts very sparingly. Because every sale will send mixed messages to an already skeptical audience.

Contrast that with Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart shoppers aren’t going to Nordstrom for the annual men’s sale. They’re going to Wal-Mart every Saturday where a constant barrage of markdowns is always expected, and perfectly “on brand.”

Wal-Mart’s corporate culture takes frugality to an entirely new level, and it shows up on every isle in every store.

Wal-Mart’s brand promise demands big, loud sales, or at least the perception of sale prices all the time. That’s why they have spend more than $800 million a year on advertising… it’s a constant state of “Sale.”

For both Wal-Mart and Nordstrom, the retail marketing strategy delivers on the brand promise. Their sales appeal to core customers as well as those who are looking for a bargain. And there’s a good chance they’ll come back again after the sale.

Unfortunately, most business owners can’t answer the question, “is this sale consistent with your brand promise?” Because they don’t know what their brand promise is. When pressed, they can’t pinpoint what their business is really all about, beyond making their quarterly numbers.

They’ve never thought about it. They’ve never articulated it. And they certainly haven’t communicated it to the public in a clear, compelling, consistent manner. They’re too busy advertising “value.”

The Gallup Organization has done extensive research regarding brand promises and have found that the vast majority are poorly defined and poorly communicated.

retail marketing strategy

Sometimes it takes nerve to resist the “big sale” temptation.

“Rather than attempting to convince a skeptical audience that their brand offers something truly meaningful and distinct, some companies have found it easier just to bribe their prospects with constant promises of savings on top of savings.

Repeat purchases that are driven solely by brand bribery, however, are not the same thing as a brand relationship.

In other words, sales might increase short-term transactions, but they don’t improve your brand loyalty.

Successful brands like Nordstrom have lasting, loving relationships with their customers, not one-night stands. And the more Amazon pushes its automated, efficient-but-impersonal approach to retail, the more valuable Nordstrom-like service becomes.

So think twice about your retail promotional strategy. If your brand’s promise is to consistently deliver the cheapest goods and services in your category, then go ahead. Run sales every month.

But if your brand promise is to deliver value or service or anything else beyond low price, then find another way to drive traffic.

Your brand will be better for it.

For more on brand strategy, try this post. 

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For more on how to differentiate your store without resorting to bribery, try this post. 

Or call us! 541-815-0075

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBranding

Secondary Reality (Alternative facts in natural foods marketing)

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

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

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

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

A few years ago in a piece on brand credibility I said, “The best story tellers — novelists, moviemakers,  comedians, preachers — can get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.

By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” us on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. 

J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.”  Tolkien says that, “in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.

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

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

Being relatively better can translate into big bucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

natural foods marketing on the brand insight blog by BNBranding

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

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

You also need a story that will ring true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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