Tag Archives for " BRANDING "

2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

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

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

Be Disruptive!

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

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

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

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

Loud and clear.

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

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

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

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

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

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

That’s precisely why we remember them.

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

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

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

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

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

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1 A bad idea for new brands: Logo contests.

BNBranding logoSometimes the most powerful branding case studies fall into the “what NOT to do” category. Take, for instance, 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 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 BNBrandingThey’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?

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:

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

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.

Like brand strategy and a clearly defined creative brief.

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?

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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…

“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.

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.

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.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticI’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.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

4 The heart of personal branding.

BNBranding logoPersonal branding is a hot topic these days. Seems a lot of people are rethinking their options, reevaluating their skill sets and reinventing themselves completely.

An advertising executive goes back to school and turns to teaching. A mid-level manager becomes a business owner and establishes a new personal brand.  An accomplished professional rebrands himself as a resort-course caddy. The transitions are dramatic.

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. 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 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 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 marketing tool. It’s a new skill that helps keep him sharp, and his personal brand relevant. 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.

I 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. There is no right or wrong in the process of reinvention.  As long as you’re learning and growing, it’s all good.

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.

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

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

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

That’s the crux of personal branding.  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.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 Travel industry advertising – Wales misses the fairway by a mile.

Humor me for a minute. I seldom use the Brand Insight Blog to critique ads. It’s just too easy to just snipe about details like an idiotic headline or the lazy use of stock photography. But I recently ran across an ad for Wales that’s simply too bad to pass up.

It’s a perfect example of what’s missing from most brand messages and a relevant case study of what NOT to do in travel industry advertising.

First, a little background on golfers and golf travel. Golfers spend a lot of money supporting their habit. We buy $400 drivers and travel great distances to play exceptional golf courses. But we’re not stupid. We shop around just like anyone else and make darn sure we’re getting the best experience possible when booking a trip.

travel industry advertising agency

Wales definitely has some pretty pictures.

For Americans, a trip to Wales is a tough sell. Let’s face it… Scotland, the Holy Land of golf, is right next door and Ireland is just a ferry ride away. Wales isn’t even on our radar.

Here’s another important fact the Welch tourism office didn’t consider: Golfers have a phobic aversion to certain numbers. We hate 6s and 7s! An 8 on the scorecard is known as a snowman, and is more dreaded than an STD. Nines and 10’s aren’t even spoken of, much less, featured prominently in the headline of an ad.

Every industry has its advertising conventions — required elements, if you will. In golf advertising it’s the pretty picture. Just show the beauty shot of the course with sunlight streaming across the fairway. It’s the price of admission in the category… if you don’t have good photography, don’t even play.

So it’s not surprising that all golf travel ads look alike. The “creative” part of the assignment usually goes like this: “Just figure out where we should run this pretty picture of our golf course.” There’s no story telling. No relevant message that’ll connect with anyone on an emotional level. And there’s very little differentiation.

Same goes for travel industry advertising in general. It’s almost always just a pretty picture and a few throw-away words.

how to create a great golf adWhich brings us to the ad in question. It was a full page in Golf Digest, retail value; $88,000. There’s a mediocre aerial photo of a costal golf course on a dramatic spit of land, with a big headline that reads:

6,7,5,6,7,7,9,7,5,6,6,7,8,6,7,8,5, but happy.

Huh???? That’s the most blatantly false headline I’ve ever seen in travel industry marketing. There’s no way a traveling golfer is going to be happy with a scorecard like that. And the cliché-ridden body copy does little to relive my discomfort with the whole idea:

“We all get those days. Where you seriously consider packing it all in and taking up darts or something. But even a bad round here has its positives. Stunning championship courses. Reasonable green fees. No pretentious nonsense. A good walk through our beautiful countryside. And best of all, in Wales tomorrow’s always another day.”

Tomorrow’s also a fine day to fire your copywriter.

Apparently, the message is: Travel all the way to Wales and magically, somehow, you’ll feel good about all those 7s and 8s and 9s on the scorecard. Talk about a disconnect! 7s 8s and 9s are even more depressing at a seaside course in Wales than they are back home. It’s every golfer’s worst nightmare… travel 6,000 miles to an epic destination and then stink up the place.

Been there, done that. (Okay not that bad, but bad enough to leave a scar.)

how to avoid bad advertising in the golf industrySo here you have an ad that doesn’t just lie flat on the page, unnoticed and ineffective. It screams bad experience! It conjures up memories that are emotionally scarring to me, and now I associate Wales with that negative experience.

Ouch.

You won’t convince golfers that a terrible round will be more palatable in Wales, and you shouldn’t even try. It’s an unbelievable, irrelevant message that misses the target audience by a mile. (People who shoot 118 don’t travel to obscure oversees destinations to play golf. They ride busses from one tourist trap to the next.)

But let’s be fair. The Wales Tourism Board isn’t the only organization that misses the mark when it comes to strategic message development. Most companies have at least of half-dozen messages they could use for their advertising. The problem is, they’ve never spent the time to figure out which of the six will really resonate.

If you’re faced with that message development problem, here are some guidelines that’ll help:

1. Assess each possible message on a credibility scale. Turn the BS meter to full volume and honestly decide which statements are believable and which ones sound like marketing hype?

2. Identify the hottest pain point for your best customers, and work from there. Big numbers are definitely a pain point for golfers. Unfortunately, Wales can’t promise to solve that problem.

3. Identify the messages that are in line with your core brand concept and move those to the top of the list. Don’t deviate.

golf industry marketing and advertising4. Beware of plagiarism. If your message sounds a lot like your competitor’s message, throw it out. In that Golf Digest Ad, Wales uses the tagline “Golf as it should be.”  A blatant rip-off of the phrase coined by Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: “Golf as it was meant to be.”

5. Get some professional help. You’re too close to it to make sound judgment on what will resonate, and what won’t.  Time after time, our market research proves this point. Travel industry advertising has the potential to be truly great. Don’t waste that opportunity by running mediocre ads.

6. Know your market and subject. Do the research. It’s pretty obvious that whoever did the ad for Wales had no experience with, or knowledge of, golf industry advertising.

Would you like to learn more about how to develop a message that will really resonate with your target audience? Read this post.

Want to see some of travel industry advertising I’ve done? Click here.

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.

retail marketing strategySign of the times, I suppose. With all that pressure from online retailers, brick and mortar store owners 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:

  1. Does the sale or promotion complement your brand promise or contradict it?
  2. 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 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 strategyTo 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 sales) … 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

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 braning effort is the name.

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

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

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOn the other hand, “Merenda” just didn’t work as well. It sounds nice and has an elegant, upscale ring to it, but it’s so much softer than the product and the experience. The name didn’t fit the vibe and the location. Plus, if you want to get nit-picky, “Merenda” translates to “snack” in Italian. But it was not an Italian restaurant.

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

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

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

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

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

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

Brands need constant attention.

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

You have to mind the store.

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

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

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

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

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

4 Truth & Transparency — How one ski area is managing customer’s expectations.

By John Furgurson

Ski area managers live and die by the whims of Mother Nature. Already this winter high winds and heavy ice have toppled trees and wrecked havoc at Mt. Bachelor. Flooded roads cut access to Crystal Mountain. A lift tower at Whistler snapped. A landslide took out a lift at Snoqualmie Pass. And some poor guy at Vail found himself hanging upside down and naked from a chairlift. 

So how do you keep your customers happy through all the drama and mayhem? How do you handle those days that don’t qualify for the chamber of commerce brochure? As Mt. Bachelor has discovered, it’s a matter of managing expectations by educating skiers about mountain operations and reporting the truth in a timely, credible manner. A significant departure from the industry norm.

Ten years ago they could get away with little white lies on the morning ski report. But now cell phones make it hard to pull one over on anyone. The lift ride is plenty of time for skiers to Twitter or send simple, pointed text messages to their friends down in town that either confirm or deny the morning report.

“Is sucks, stay home.”  “It’s Epic. Get up here.” “Fogged in. Can’t see two feet.” With minute-by-minute updates like that, sugar-coated reports from the marketing department just don’t cut it any more.

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Last season Mt. Bachelor suffered a string of PR problems… Unexplained lift closures, safety violations and some questionable policy decisions by the new parent company caused a lot of grumbling in the skiing community. And quite frankly, the Mt. Bachelor brand took a hit. For the first season in 30 years, it slipped to # 2 among Oregon’s ski areas.

So this year a new management team is working hard to improve the overall experience, and that starts by managing expectations.

From what I’ve seen so far, they’re using their website pretty effectively to paint a realistic picture of what it takes to operate a modern ski area on a 9,000-foot Pacific Northwest Volcano. And it’s a lot harder than I ever imagined.

Since the latest storm, they’ve been uploading videos that show what the lift crews are faced with. It’s harder to complain about a lift not opening promptly on time when you’ve seen the manual labor required to do the job… Time lapse photography of an employee climbing up a 40-foot lift tower, tentatively chipping away at ice two feet thick.  Loggers and snow-cat drivers working together to clear 60-foot fir trees from the middle of a run. That’s powerful stuff that I haven’t seen on any other web site or in any other industry.

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlYZUlHzby4

The daily conditions report has also improved dramatically. It’s now updated several times every morning, and it’s written in a first-person, man-on-the-slopes tone. Not only that,  it’s refreshingly truthful. Last week, in the midst of the worst ice storm in 30 years, the author said, “I walked around the base area, and it’s not the kind of day you don’t want to set foot outside. It’s raining hard and it’s below freezing.”

And I love this one from a day in early December when everyone was still praying for the season’s first big dump: “We had nine inches overnight, with high winds. It’s deep in some places, and other spots look just like they did two days ago.”

Now that’s authentic!

The amusement park industry should take note. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a park, with your kids all jacked-up and ready for the latest, greatest roller coaster, only to find the ride closed for some unknown reason.

The golf industry would also benefit from such frank assessments. A detailed superintendant’s report would be tremendously useful in a country club environment where guys have been known to complain about the fairways being TOO perfect. If you show members all the work that goes into keeping all 18 greens rolling at 11 on the stimpmeter, they might not complain as much about miniscule variations in the height of the rough.

But honesty isn’t about shutting up your biggest critics. It’s about cementing a relationship with your best customers and maintaining the goodwill of your brand. Because every time you leave out important information, fudge a bit in a press release, or overstate a marketing claim, you’re chipping away at your credibility. Like ice on a lift tower, eventually it’ll all come crashing down on your head.

 

Curiousity got the best of you? See the unlikely lift ride here: 

www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/06/vail-chairlift-accident-l_n_155578.html

 

 

 

 

5 The ultimate, feel-good retail experience – Why Powell’s has the sweetest franchise branding around

My annual Christmas shopping excursion always leads me to one place: Powell’s Sweet Shop. To me, it’s the ultimate example of successful franchise branding.

lovable franchise brandsMacy’s still holds some appeal during the holidays, and Ben & Jerry’s in the summertime. But Powell’s resonates with me on a completely different level.

To me, it’s a mood-altering drug.

It’s virtually impossible to leave Powell’s without feeling warmer, younger at heart, and at least a little giddy. It’s more fun per square foot than any store I’ve ever seen.

Franchise Industry consultants call Powell’s Sweets “an involving retail experience that taps into deep-seated emotional connections with long-forgotten childhood brands.”

They are banking on the power of nostalgia to sell everything from collectable lunch boxes and pez dispensers to gelato and old-fashioned candy. They have all the brands you haven’t seen since childhood, and all the flavors that linger in the palette of your memory.

Powell’s is a store full of  stories. And vivid, authentic stories are the main ingredients of success for franchise branding.

As I browse through Powell’s, or even just peer in the window, the stories come flooding back… My little sister, hair in braids, eating Fun Dip in the back of the station wagon. My older sister hording her tube of Flicks. The penny candy selection at Jack’s Country Store.  The red, black and purple licorice I loved so much at summer camp.

That stuff sticks with you.

Powell’s always has Willy Wonka playing on the TV in the back of the store.

But Powell’s triggers more than just memories. It also triggers the imagination. It ignites the senses and conjures a latent, childlike creativity in us that gets beaten down by the demands of modern society.

Maybe that’s why go back every year. Maybe that’s why I want to linger so long. It’s not just satisfying my sweet tooth, it’s filling a need for creative inspiration and optimism. I can feed off the energy of the kids and the delight of the parents. There’s laughter and smiles and buzz you just don’t find at the Starbucks next door.

There aren’t many brands that can honestly say that.

Unfortunately, the Powell’s website doesn’t capture any of that laughter and buzz that I’m raving about. Their site is a boring, disconnected piece of corporate communications that wouldn’t move anyone to do anything. (I hope they’re working on a refresh!)

So what can you learn from a little candy store in downtown Bend, Oregon?

You want customers to tell stories about you. You want products and service that create lasting memories. You want positive word-of-mouth that’s more powerful than anything you can say yourself.

Here are a few, random reviews of Powell’s from Yelp.com:

“Move over Disneyland – this is the happiest place on earth.  I feel like I step into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time I come here.”

“This candy store rocks. It has everything you want especially if you’re looking for some candy that will blast you right back to your childhood.”

“The best candy shop. Period.”

Web Design matters BNBranding“I want to hug the person who came up with the concept of this store…they are pure genius and manage to put a huge smile on my face the minute I walk through the door!”

Interestingly, the nostalgic theme of every Powell’s store seems to work equally well on children. Because the appeal of it is timeless. The candy that we thought was so cool, still is. The element of surprise and the sense of discovery works just as well now as it did 30 years ago.

That’s why brick and mortar retail stores will never go away… they can deliver a sensory experience that can never be duplicated on the screen of your phone or computer. It’s the cumulative effect of the smells, the sights, the colors, the selection, the sounds and the flavors that trigger that flood of fondness.

So if you’re trying to build an unforgettable retail shopping experience, I’d suggest a visit to Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Just soak it all in, eat some sweets, and see what happens.

For more on ecommerce, try this post.

marketing strategy BNBranding

 

 

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.

8 Scott Bedbury brand insight blog

Living The Brand, Scott Bedbury Style.

In branding circles, Scott Bedbury is kind of famous… He worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. Helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world. Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Scott Bedbury 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.”

The brand assessment work we do is designed to reveal the truth behind a brand, not a well-polished corporate version of it. But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming with the comb-overs and other cosmetic improvements 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.”

bend oregon advertising agency BNBrandingIt’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes. 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 is a company 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.

oregon advertising agency BNBranding shares Scott Bedbury quoteHe’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. 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. 

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