Tag Archives for " BRANDING "


When Branding outpaces the brand. And vice versa.

First of all, let me address the common confusion around the two “B” words in this article’s headline: Brand and branding.

The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with logo design. You’ll hear someone say, “Oh, we’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. A graphic design exercise.

Branding is much more than that.

Branding refers to everything that’s done inside the company — and outside — that influences the perception of the brand.

All marketing tactics fall under the banner of branding. (Just because it’s “salesy” doesn’t mean it’s not branding.

If you redesign the product, that’s branding.

If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding.

Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your brand.

So branding is not the exclusive domain of the marketing department. It’s not even the domain of  your employees… consumers, vendors and partners often do the branding for you, in the form of tweets, posts and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

For this post I’d like to focus one small but crucial aspect of branding:  Design. (Yes, art does have a place in the business world!)

nest-thermostat-11There’s no denying that design can make or break a company. Just look at what NEST has done… Started in 2010 with simple, brilliant designs of everyday products and sold for $3.2 billion producing a 20x return for its investors.

And yet the simple brilliance of a great product designer, the flair of a graphic artists, the effect of an illustrator, and the poetic power of  a great copywriter is often overlooked in favor of finance guys and programmers.

The work of these commercial artists is ridiculously undervalued in the corporate world.

Probably because it’s part of  a completely irrational, subjective realm that many data-driven executives are not comfortable with.  There’s too much intuition and blind trust involved. (You can’t show ’em charts and graphs that prove the new design will work. And let’s face it, evaluating art is not exactly in the wheelhouse of  most business owners or C-level execs.)

So what happens, most of the time, is the design lags behind the brand.



While the business is moving quickly forward, the brand identity, packaging and advertising get stuck in the past. Then the managers, in an after-thought, say jee, maybe we should re-do our logo.  (Whereas with NEST, design was an integral part of the brand from the very beginning. It’s no accident that the founders of NEST worked at Apple.)

Tazo brand design and branding on the Brand Insight BlogOccasionally, when there’s a really great design firm or ad agency at work, you’ll find design that outpaces the brand.

Here’s an example:

When Steve Smith first started  Tazo Tea he approached designer Steve Sandstrom and copywriter Steve Sandoz to do some “branding.”  (i.e. the usual name, logo and package design exercise for a new product line.)

But when that creative team was done, Smith realized something… “Wow, this is really nice work. I think I need to start making better tea.”

The tea guru could envision the success of the new packaging, but not with the product as it existed at the time. The branding had outraced his product.

brand and branding of Tazo Tea on the Brand Insight Blog So the owner of Tazo did what all enlightened business owners do… he followed the lead of his design team and started making a better product. He m

ade sure his tea was in line with his brand identity.

That identity was a brave departure from anything else in the tea market at the time. It was outlandish. And yes, it was completely fictional. And yet, it helped make TAZO the #1 selling brand of tea in the country. They nailed it on several fronts:

Differentiation: The Tazo packaging resembled nothing else.

Mystery: The tone of the brand was mysterious and intriguing.

Creativity: When you’re creating a brand from scratch, it helps to employ a little creative license. Without it, you’d have a boring, fact-based brand that wouldn’t stand out.

Alignment: The product was tweaked to align with the design of the brand.

02_19_13_Tazo_7Smith eventually sold TAZO to Starbucks, and look what’s happened to the packaging.

Will it move off the grocery store shelves and maintain market share? Probably. Does it fit into the Starbucks brand design guidelines? Sure.

But the mystery is gone.

Here are some samples of our brand identity work.

For another article about outstanding branding, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog


Zappos holistic branding

Where branding begins — A holistic approach to branding and business.

A lot of business owners seem to think Branding begins with graphic design. As if the logo or the sign above the building is the be-all, end-all of branding.

Of course, that’s not the case. Branding begins much earlier and continues, unabated, as long as the company is in business.

Branding begins with or without your concerted effort.

For start-ups Branding begins with the first conceptualization of the business… With that ah-ha moment of clarity that drives an entrepreneur to devise a new solution to a problem or to strike out on her own.

Even if all you have is the germ of an idea for a company, you’ve already started the branding process.

Even if you’re operating completely “under the radar” or in super-secret, can’t-tell-you-or-I’d-have-to kill-you mode.

Even if you’re purposely not doing any “marketing,” there’s still some branding going on.





The minute you start thinking about Branding, you start taking a more holistic approach to your business.

There aren’t very many entrepreneurs who worry about where branding begins. They don’t think about building a brand based on concrete brand values and a well thought out brand personality. They just want to solve a pressing problem, build a better mouse trap, or change the world somehow. (And, of course, make a cool billion.)

The branding thing happens along the way. Often by default.

Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, admits that he knew nothing about branding for his first 20 years in business. It wasn’t until the late 80’s, after a few significant missteps, that they began to think holistically about what the Nike brand was all about.

“Just Do It” summed it up quite nicely.


Where does branding begin? Zappos holistic brandingNick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos, didn’t set out to build one of the greatest customer service brands of all time. He just wanted to ride the ecommerce wave and sell a shit-ton of shoes.

Four years into it, under Tony Hsieh’s leadership, it was decided that the Zappos brand should be 100% focused on customer service.

“Do we want to be about shoes, or do we want to be about something bigger?” Hsieh posited.

“We just wanted Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service. So culture became our #1 priority. We thought if we could get the culture right, then building our brand to be about the very best customer service would happen naturally on its own.”

“We ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really two sides of the same coin.”


“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” – CEO Tony Hsieh.

Once they agreed to make customer service the sole purpose of Zappos, and embraced a holistic approach to branding, the hardest managerial decisions got a lot easier.

There’s an old saying, “Values mean nothing till they cost you some money.” The Zappos leadership team was willing to sacrifice easy money in the short-term in exchange for something much more valuable in the long run; an authentic brand.

“In 2003 25% of our overall sales were from our drop ship business. It was easy money, but it created a lot of unhappy customers,”  Hsieh said in his book, Delivering Happiness.

“We all knew, deep down, that we would have to give up the drop shipping business if we were serious about building the Zappos brand around customer service.”

They were taking a holistic, values-driven approach to building the business. And  initially, it cost them. 25% of their revenue, to be exact.

The relentless focus on customer service differentiated Zappos from every other ecommerce operation.

It guided how Zappos treated their vendors, how they hired new employees, and how they spent their marketing budget.  Even the location of the corporate headquarters was moved in order to support the idea of customer service.

“We needed to make sure the entire company was customer service, not just one department,” Hsieh said. “So we moved our entire headquarters from San Fran to Vegas,”

In fact, nothing in the Zappos operation was UNtouched by the decision to build their brand around one, unifying principle.

naming your company BN Branding


Here’s an important branding side-bar to the Zappos story:

It was Nick Swinmurn’s idea to sell shoes online. He approached Hsieh for funding when Hsieh had Venture Frog VC fund. At that point, it was called “ShoeSite.com.

Seriously.  Classic 1990’s era naming convention… just let the URL be the brand name!

Luckily, it also was Swinmurn’s idea to rename the company “Zapos,” based on the Spanish word Zapatos. According to the account in his book, Hsieh suggested they add a p for pronunciation purposes. That’s how Zappos was named.

I seriously doubt it would have grown into the iconic brand it has become with a name like ShoeSite.com.


Tony Hsieh has been called a lot of things…. “visionary,” “eccentric,” “obsessed,” “The king of customer service,” “guirky”  enigmatic.”

Fortune Magazine said Hsieh’s management style was so “whackadoodle” they couldn’t believe Amazon would tolerate it.

At one point, Hsieh’s board of directors almost ousted him because of his so-called “social experiments.” He told Inc. Magazine that “the board wanted me to spend less time worrying about employee happiness and more time selling shoes.”

His holistic approach to building a brand might not appeal to some old-school VC guys, but it sure worked. The fact is, Hsieh’s relentless pursuit of happiness is precisely what propelled the company’s sales.

To him, it was a simple equation: Sales growth hinged on customer service, and service hinged on happy people. So for Zappos, that’s where branding begins… with a culture that fosters happiness inside, so they can deliver unequaled customer service, and thus happiness, outside.

With it’s core purpose clearly in the lead, Zappos became the digital-age benchmark for customer service. It’s the Nordstrom of the 21st century.

They deliver WOW every day and their model is now emulated by thousands of companies around the globe. Every day there’s a new ecommerce start-up pitching the idea in their own, niche market…

“We’re going to be the Zappos of pet supplies.”

“We’re going to be the Zappos of sporting goods.”

Go get ’em. Just remember… Branding starts right here, right now.

a new approach to website design BNBranding





6 Marketing videos BNBranding

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

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

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

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

Most marketing videos are nothing more than crummy powerpoint sales pitches, transferred to a different medium.

(BOR-ING!) They completely miss the fundamental benefit of using video… It’s supposed to be a visual medium. It’s show and tell. Not just tell.

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

The other common — default — option these days is just type on the screen. Just read along… follow the bouncing ball.

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



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

go pro video camera gadget BN Branding

New camera technology makes it easier than ever to demonstrate your product and capture the action, in dramatic fashion.

I saw a guy playing ping pong the other day with a Go Pro mounted on his head. It was a promo video for a paddle company.

Stand in a lift line at your local ski area and you’ll see that every other helmet is mounted with a camera.

Visit the most popular tourist attraction in your area, and you’ll see a huge percentage of people capturing it on video. A lot of them are even flying drones to get a unique perspective.

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

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

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

Let’s say you’re launching a new service… often those are tough to show. You can talk about it, explain it, and do your pitch, but there may not be anything to demonstrate on camera. You may not need video.

Here’s a good test…  If you can walk away from the video screen and just listen to the audio without missing the point of the show, you know it’s not a good use of the video medium. It could have been a podcast.

BNBranding the first rule of marketing videosA new product, on the other hand, can be held, touched, and demonstrated quite effectively on camera. So quit talking about it, and show it in action.

Rather than rambling on about the features of the product, show the outcome of using it… the happy ending that comes from your products.

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

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

You have to show something that no one else is showing. You need a visual idea that you can own, not just the same-old stock footage and visual cliches that everyone else in your industry shows.

A good scriptwriter will provide the big idea you need to differentiate your video from the crowd. Also known as a creative concept, that idea becomes the central theme of the show.

Drone footage is not a concept.

It’s what amateurs show when they can’t think of anything else to show. At best, it’s just a pretty aerial view of your parking lot or corporate office. At worst, it’s an ugly, worthless aerial view that will drive viewers away.

A talking head is not a concept. 

Eons ago, before the advent of YouTube, I worked on long format corporate videos for big brands. We always pitched  concepts that did NOT involve a corporate talking head. Because they’re boring, with a capital B.

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

Like Shrek.

When we absolutely had to use a spokesperson we made darn sure that person was attractive, well spoken and downright great in front of the camera. Professional actors, in other words.

Unless your brand hinges entirely on the personality of your leader, dump the straight, talking-head approach. If you insist on talking at the camera, cut away frequently and show something, anything, but your face.

Study how the great documentary filmmakers do it… it’s visual storytelling, not just audio.

A montage of product shots is not a concept.

Don’t fall into the shiny new car trap, where the entire video is just a series of product shots with a voice-over talking about all the great new product features. Go deeper than that. Find a simple, relevant concept and build your story around that.

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

advice on marketing videos by BNBrandingThe only way to get a story into your marketing video is to write the script first. Shoot video second. Most small businesses never do that.

What most people don’t understand is, you need a script even if there’s no narration or voice over.

The script IS the story. The concept is in the script.

So you need a well-written script that follows your brand narrative. The script is the missing ingredient in most marketing videos.

From a communication standpoint, it’s the single most important component of any video project.

The script tells the cameraman what to shoot. It guides the editing process. It informs the decision on music and sound effects and graphics. It’s the blueprint for success.

In a perfect world, you’d write the script AND do storyboards before you ever start shooting.

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

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

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

Don’t expect to just go out and get some HD footage and edit it into something brilliant. It seldom works that way.

First you have to nail your messaging. Spell out the story. Then shoot the script. Then do great editing. Then add music and graphics and sound effects. It’s a painstaking process that involves thousands of little details, sound decision-making and great creative judgement.

It’s not for everyone.

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

Let’s be clear… online videos can be a game-changer for many businesses. Do it right, and get one that goes viral, and you might find yourself filling more orders than you ever dreamed of. B

ut video is not the be-all, end-all of any marketing effort. It’s just one part of the mix. It pays to get that one part right.

Here are some examples of successful marketing videos we’ve done.

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

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

advice on marketing videos by BN Branding

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