Tag Archives for " copywriting "

content marketing for small business

“High-Quality” Content – Finding or providing something genuinely worthwhile.

High quality content is a completely subjective — and massively broad — subject. For one person it means hilarious Tic Toc videos. For someone else, it means authoritative educational content that helps them finish their PhD.

For the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to focus on the kind of high-quality content that helps small business people succeed. But to do that, we have to look back, to the origins of this whole content marketing phenomenon.

When The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the web back in 1999 Christopher Locke wrote, “the internet has made it possible for genuine human voices to be heard again.”

What do you mean, “again”?

high quality content marketing for small business

Never in history has the average Joe been afforded unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. The internet is a giant electronic soapbox that delivers unimaginable world-wide reach.

Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe. There’s a 16-year-old-girl who has reached 100,000,000 followers on Tic Toc.

How cool is that?

The democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, dance moves, photos, articles and silly cat videos. It has inexorably changed politics,  journalism, medicine and business. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing, even if you never produce one speck of “high-quality” content.

You could argue that it’s the greatest thing since the invention of the radio broadcast.

On the other hand, the Internet is also producing more noise, more fake news and more worthless blather than ever before. For the most part, it’s quantity over quality.

 

 

 

Here are a few mind-numbing stats about the growth of the internet and spread of high-quality content…

There are 7.7 billion people in the world. 3.8 billion of us are active on social media. There are more than 500 million blogs, and 77% of internet users read blogs.

As more and more people jump into it, high quality content becomes harder and harder to come by. It now takes a lot more effort — a lot more searching —  to separate the crap from the fact.

Used to be, you had to have genuine, proven expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.”  No one (except for the tabloids) published anything that would not considered high quality content, by today’s standards.

Plus, if you wanted to get published you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky.

The criteria was strict: First, you had to have some expertise. Second, you needed something unique to say… an angle all your own and a unique voice with which to say it. Therefore, publishing articles was not a particularly common element of most small-business marketing plans. And video was prohibitively expensive.

Content marketing is a different story.

There are no editors screening most of the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and blatant plagiarism is now being touted as “content  curation.”

Corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news. Bloggers are now “digital influencers” peddling their soapboxes to corporate marketing managers.

Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind when it comes to high quality content.

I frequently get solicitations (ok, junk mail) offering “expertly written content” for this blog. For me, it’s a business proposition that just doesn’t compute.

Most of the articles offered are off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in  a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re rarely well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.

high quality content Brand Insight Blog

Why on earth would I run an article like that? It’s not high quality content unless it’s relevant to my blog’s subject matter. To my audience’s pain points. And to MY brand.

How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my business?

Sure, I could probably generate a little bump in short-term traffic, but it’s not going to produce loyal readers. In fact, it’s more likely to drive readers away.

Great brands are built on consistency and quality, not just clicks.

I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice…

Think about your brand first, and clicks second.

If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. As Gary V. famously says, you have to give, give, give, give and expect nothing in return. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.

Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On any given subject it’s too much information from too many questionable sources. If you don’t have a unique spin on the subject, it’ll just be in one ear, and out the other.

For instance, try wading through all the online resources about social media marketing…

“Will it help my small business marketing effort? Can I build a brand around it? What’s the best social media marketing strategy? Can I generate leads on Twitter? Where’s it all going? What’s it all mean for small business marketing?”

I don’t know. It’s still evolving.

But I know this: Just because you have a blog and a few thousand friends on Facebook doesn’t make you a social media marketing guru.

There are a lot of young wannabes in that field, but few real experts who understand how the business side of it. Guru status only comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.

So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware.

Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.

In the Cluetrain Manifesto Locke preached a sermon of hope for the digital pulpit. He predicted that the internet would forever shift the nature of business communications, and he envisioned a world where the consumer would have a voice and corporations would have to listen.

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

Many big brands are embracing the online “conversation” and are getting better at communicating on a one-to-one level. They may not be the earliest adopters, but they’re catching on and beginning to respond to consumer wishes.

If nothing else, they’re now painfully aware when people start spreading negative word-of-mouth.

But corporations don’t control the bulk of the internet conversation.

It’s the small-business marketing experts. It’s the average Joe on his soapbox with a big ego and a pay-per-click budget. It’s the stay-at-home baker who wants to brag about her latest batch of cookies. It’s the teenage entrepreneur cashing in on Youtube.  Those little businesses are popping up faster than you can say, “what happened to Myspace?”

And that’s great.

Unfortunately there also are many modern snake oil salesman peddling their wares with content marketing. Despite the advances of social media, (or maybe because of the advances) there’s more phony crap out there than ever before.

The self-help industry. The diet programs. The plastic surgeons. The get-rich-quick guys. And my personal favorite, the golf swing gurus. Every Tin Cup wannabe has an instructional DVD or downloadable E-book available on the web. And they’re all “guaranteed to shave strokes off your game.”

Golf Digest wouldn’t publish any of them on a bet. The quality is no better than the corporate spiel that Locke railed against in Cluetrain Manifesto. “The voice is like a third-rate actor in a 4th rate play reciting lines that no one believes in a manner no one respects.”

Yep.

Sometimes I long for the good old days when websites weren’t free and there was some barrier to entry on the internet. But not really.

We’ll all put up with some noise in exchange for the freedom of speech that the internet provides. And small-business marketing is better for it.

Now I’m just hoping for a natural weeding out process.

For more on small-business marketing and content marketing, try THIS post.. 

For affordable small business marketing help, call me at BNBranding.

4 common advertising mistakes — Bad puns, bribes and other branding blunders

BNBranding logoGuess what…  Great advertising is hard to come by. And advertising mistakes are much more common than home runs like “Got Milk”  or “Just Do It.”

more effective advertising BNBranding

clients don’t always have the nerve to run the best spots.

Advertising is hard for corporate brand managers who have big ad agencies, market research firms, and millions of dollars at their disposal.

Advertising is hard for the mid-level marketing manager who knows her consumer, her market and her sales pitch, really, really well.

Advertising is even hard for the hottest advertising agencies. They don’t always hit home runs.

So why do so many small-business owners think they can do it themselves?

That’s where the most advertising mistakes come from… business owners with a DIY mentality who take it upon themselves to write headlines, choose photos, and dictate the direction of print ads, commercials and digital campaigns?

C’mon. That’s how we end up with so many awful commercials.

 

 

Please, if you’re responsible for your company’s advertising — and ultimately, the perception of your brand — delegate the advertising to a pro. Not to the intern who’s doing social media posts. Not to the sales rep at a local TV or radio station. Not to a graphic designer.

Delegate it to a real advertising professional. If you do that, you’ll avoid most of the most common advertising mistakes that your competitors are making.

Effective leaders know when to quit and how to delegate. They recognize their own limitations and they hire well-qualified employees and agency partners to fill in the gaps. I guarantee you, the leaders who attract great talent and build sustainable brands are not doing their own advertising.

Micromanagers repel talent. And when they try to do their own advertising, their brands repel customers.

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands says the best brand managers do two things: They keep great advertising on the air, and they keep bad ads off.  So if you’re in charge, if nothing else, avoid these 4 common advertising mistakes at all costs:

1. Bad Puns

When the experts sit down to devise concepts for a new ad campaign, puns always come up. It’s a natural part of the creative process. Luckily, most copywriters have enough common sense to throw out the bad puns with all the other quickly conjured ideas.

4 common advertising errorsUnfortunately, those who should NOT be doing the ads — bosses, accountants, engineers and spouses — sometimes force puns upon us.

For instance, zoos have a lot of material for puns and adolescent humor. Otters,  lemurs and baboons are just begging to end up in meme hell. “Welcome to otter space.”  (Sorry. See how quickly that can go south.)

Even banks have digressed into the land of punishing puns. Like this ridiculous one for Washington Mutual, when it was still in business:

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank.

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank

Puns are the low hanging fruit of advertising ideas, and should be picked quickly and spit out. Into the trash. A good writer will turn a phrase, craft the line, and have fun with some words, but he won’t give in to the temptation of puns.

I get paid to tell clients what’s on brand, and what’s off brand. I’ve yet to encounter a company where a bad pun would be on brand.

2. False and misleading claims.

This one should go without saying, and yet I recently read that a local car dealer got fined $28,000 for false advertising. Bait and switch is not a good branding strategy.

I’ve also seen this happen in the natural foods industry…  there are still a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who want to make outlandish, unprovable claims about the healthiness of their products.

Don’t do it. Let your tribe of like-minded, health-conscious adult customers come to their own conclusions. (for more on that check-out this post.) A talented team of advertising pros can find truth in just about any product or service. If they can’t, you better find a different agency.

3. Bribery.

A lot of companies these days want to provide discounts, promos and  “incentives.” These come in many forms, from deal-of-the-week online coupons to Facebook promotions and new client referral deals.

Unfortunately, “offers” like that are like the crack cocaine of marketing. People get hooked. They’re not loyal, long-term customers, they’re just deal junkies looking for a fix.

Next week they’ll be off buying from someone else with a better offer. It’s not a good, long-term strategy unless your prices substantially lower than your competitors.  Are you out to build a “value” brand in your category?  If so, go right ahead! Run discounts, sales and incentive programs all day long. Attract as many of those deal junkies as you can and be prepared to continuously court a whole new crew of customers.

If not, you better spend time devising a new value proposition. You need better reasons to buy than just price.

4. Talking about yourself

This has to be the most rampant of all advertising mistakes. It’s human nature… business owners want to talk about themselves and their products when they should be talking about the wants, needs and feelings of  the customer.

Delete the words  “we” “me”  “ours” “I” and “my” from all your marketing communications. If you’re talking about yourself, listeners will tune you out faster than you can say “next station.”

Your insider information does not translate to relevance for the consumer. And cliches like “our friendly courteous staff…” will do absolutely nothing for your bottom line.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsAll the consumer cares about is “what’s in it for me?”  So if you want to get through to customers and make sales, talk about them. Not about you, or your family, or your company, or your company’s processes.

I saw an awful commercial recently for a local golf course (The high-falutin’ kind that charges $95 bucks a round but isn’t as good as the local municipal course.)  The commercial was nothing but a family portrait of the pro/owner and his not-so-cute family. Five kids in the clubhouse and on the course saying “Hey, look at us!”

The spot was based on the ridiculous assumption that “family owned” counts for something among golfers. That’s another common advertising mistake… NOT thinking at all about the real appeal of your product or service.

If that owner asked 20 customers why they play his course, not one would say “cuz it’s family owned.”

To me it just means that guy and his family are getting rich by overcharging for a mediocre round of golf.

Talk about flushing money down the drain. Not only will that claim NOT attract golfers, the message will actually REPEL prospects and encourage them to call the neighboring golf course… where the conditions are better, the rates are lower and  there aren’t any obnoxious kids running around.

I guarantee you, that was a do-it-yourself ad. (I think he committed three out of the 4 advertising errors.) He might as well just give his hand his competitor the money he spent on that commercial.

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

If you want advertising that’s well thought out, and well executed, call me at BNBranding.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

borrowed interest advertising

Borrowed interest and other desperate attempts to attract customers

brand credibility from branding expertsEver notice how some companies are constantly scrambling to attract customers, while others enjoy some sort of magnetic attraction that keeps the customers flowing in?

The scramblers spend a lot of money on digital ads, social media posts and all sorts of promotional bribery.  Their marketing messages are all over the place, and they don’t ever seem to hone-in on the one thing that really matters to their target audience.

Instead, they borrow interest from somewhere else.

Borrowed interest is a common technique in advertising. I’ve been in those creative sessions where you realize there’s absolutely nothing interesting, different or even mentionable about the client’s product, so you start fishing around for something – anything – that IS interesting to borrow from.

It’s redirection… Riding on the coattails of something else to make your ads, emails or posts engaging and memorable.

Instead of pinpointing a really interesting idea that’s firmly rooted in a compelling consumer benefit, you get an idea that is loosely bolted on to the product.

BN Branding how to attract customers with cute babies and pets

Puppies and babies are the most frequently-used crutches in borrowed-interest advertising. You see it in local TV commercials all the time…

“Hey,  let’s show a baby playing with a cute little puppy on the floor of our auto parts store. That’ll be great!”

It’s not a good idea, and it’s not going to attract customers. Usually it stems from insufficient research or non-existent marketing strategy… Whoever’s doing the ads hasn’t spent enough time to find the story that’s buried in there, somewhere.

I’ve found that if you’re embedded with a company long enough, you can always find a good story that will attract customers. Even if it’s a mediocre, me-too product.

But when you’re lacking that insight, and when there’s nothing inherently interesting about the company’s product or story, you have to borrow from something that IS interesting, and attach your brand to that.

 

 

You can attract customers with borrowed interest advertising, if it’s handled wisely.

The key to using borrowed interest successfully is relevance. Whatever idea you’re borrowing from better be relevant to your business category.

For instance, Vivent home security systems is running this video contest, which usually is just a classic case of borrowed interest nonsense.

But in this case, it’s totally relevant to the product they produce… video security systems. It’s THEIR product that’s actually capturing the videos.

That works. It’s not borrowed interest. It gives their own customers another reason to engage with the product.

On the other hand, if it’s a random brand doing the same sort of contest, they’re just throwing money away. No one’s going to make the connection.

If you just jump on the bandwagon of an event, idea, celebrity or theme that’s current or trendy, it’s probably not going to work well.

2020 is the year of the pandemic, and a lot of small-business owners seem to think that’s a good thing to “leverage” in their sales pitches.  I’ve seen tons of unsolicited emails, LinkedIn pitches and local, borrowed-interest ads that go something like this…

“In these unprecedented times, blah blah blah… the new normal, blah blah blah… We’re all in this together, blah, blah blah… So this is the perfect time to come in to Frank’s auto parts for a new rear differential.”

attract customers by being honestBorrowing interest from a worldwide pandemic is NOT a good brand strategy.

Do you really want to affiliate your brand with death, uncertainty, sickness and social discomfort?

So stop using COVID 19 as an excuse to pitch your company’s products or services. Unless you’re selling masks, or home testing kits, or maybe jigsaw puzzles, don’t use the pandemic as your advertising hook.

Janine Pelosi, Chief Marketing Officer of Zoom, knows better. Even though the pandemic is actually relevant to her brand, they’re NOT running campaigns on the subject.

“When you’re going through a tough situation, when it’s a tough time for humanity, it’s not a time to focus on sales and marketing.” Pelosi said. “Early on we decided to focus on education, and provide resources to schools. We’ve provided free services for more than 100,000 schools in 23 countries.”

Goodwill is better branding than borrowed interest.

The insurance industry is famous for its borrowed interest advertising. The mayhem man, the Geico Gecko, and  the LiMu Emu are all characters conjured up to make an inherently boring category more interesting.

If your service is not differentiated or memorable, your advertising better be.

How Geico attracts customers with borrowed interest advertisingThe Martin Agency has been doing a great job with their advertising for Geico. They’ve had the account for more than 25 years, and they’ve stuck to a winning formula the entire time.

It’s borrowed interest, but they throw in some humor and stick to one “relentlessly consistent” message: “15 minutes could save you 15%.”

They recently did a very funny spot featuring a nosy neighborhood association lady. If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood with an HOA you’ll recognize the character immediately.

The spot has nothing to do with car insurance, but that’s okay. It’s purposely ridiculous.

It’s like they’re admitting that it’s unrelated, and that’s their schtick. It’s borrowed interest with a wink and a nod.

The problem is, people love the commercial but can’t name the brand that goes with it. That’s borrowed interest for you.

Geiko can get away with that because they have a media budget of a billion dollars. Literally. If you don’t get it the first time, you’ll get it the 100th time.

But most businesses can’t afford that much repetition — or advertising that’s completely unrelated to their product or service.

Instead of borrowing an advertising hook, and hoping that a distracted, ill-infomed public will “get it,” why not dig for a story that’s actually relevant to your customer’s feelings and needs? That’s how you differentiate yourself and attract customers.

Do the research.  Spend time in the field. Listen, listen and listen some more for that one little nugget of insight that can become the hook of your brand narrative.

Or better yet, build the advertising hook right into your product or service. That’s the easiest way to attract customers… develop a product or service that has the marketing baked in.

Seth Godin calls it a Purple Cow. Something genuinely unique enough to get everyone talking about it.

In almost every market category, the boring slot is already filled. So you have two choices; you can be one of those scramblers, who run borrowed-interest ads in an effort to compete in the boring space, or you can break out by building a product or service that naturally attracts customers.

In the case of video conferencing, the boring slot was filled by Skype. That was the big, leading brand. Then Microsoft acquired it, and fell asleep at the wheel.

Classic opportunity for a start-up. Perfect opening for an underdog brand.

Zoom’s platform was designed specifically to make video calls work well in low bandwidth situations, which gave them a buzz-worthy product long before COVID 19 hit. That was their purple cow.

Plus, Zoom invested heavily in traditional advertising in the past few years. Their visibility on billboards, in airports, on the radio and at sporting events positioned them for success when shit hit the fan.

Microsoft-owned Skype, on the other hand, was not on the radar.  The minute the press started writing about the work-from-home phenomenon, it was Zoom, not Skype, that got all the attention.

According to Wired magazine Skype will disappear completely by 2021, replaced by Microsoft Teams. I’m betting that Microsoft’s agency will spend many billions on borrowed-interest advertising trying to attract customers for that one.

If you’re struggling to attract customers, and need some help finding your one true story, give us a call.  Try this post if you want more on how to make your advertising more effective. 

 

 

craftsmanship of great advertising on the Brand Insight Blog

Craftsmanship in Advertising (God is in the details.)

I seldom write about Super Bowl advertising. (Too many other commentators offering their expert insight on the latest crop of outlandishly juvenile spots.)

Besides, for most small business owners there’s no worthwhile takeaway from those big-budget productions. No marketing lesson to be learned. Spending millions to air one commercial just doesn’t compute.

truth in advertising BNBrandingBut in 2013 I had to share this piece about craftsmanship in advertising. The Ram truck spot from that Superbowl exemplifies everything that’s good about advertising…

Powerful story telling. Authentic voice. Arresting drama. Painstaking attention to detail. And craftsmanship in Advertising.

Even if you don’t have the money for a big-budget TV spot, those rules still apply.

In this era of social media saturation where anything can be an ad, it’s more important than ever to apply craftsmanship in advertising to your own marketing efforts. No matter how small. 

If you just slap your business name onto a digital ad and blast it out there, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for. If you neglect the production details, and the wordsmithing, and the design, your advertising will fall flat. If you settle for mediocre ads you’ll get mediocre results.

Anyone who’s handling any little slice of the marketing pie can learn from this superbowl spot…  It’s the perfect example of how the craftsmanship of great advertising can move the needle for any brand.

 

Here’s the original post: 

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I’ve never heard such a hush fall over a Superbowl party. The commercial titled “So God Made a Farmer” disrupted things almost as much as the Superdome power outage.

If you don’t think poetry has a place in business and marketing, think again.

This is probably the most inexpensive commercial to ever run on the superbowl… just still images, poetic copy, and Paul Harvey’s voice.

Just listen to these words:

“So on the eighth day, Good looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So he made a farmer… God said, ‘I need somebody to call hogs and tam cantankerous machinery. Someone strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to wean lambs who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark.’ So God made a farmer…”

craftsmanship in advertising on the Brand Insight Blog by BNBranding

Farmer image for Ram Trucks Super Bowl ad

“I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.

Watch the long version HERE.

 

The imagery is arresting. The pacing and rapid-fire alliteration, perfect. The details, unquestionably credible.

And that voice! The choice of using Paul Harvey’s original voice-over was a genius move. For 45 years Paul Harvey he was the Walter Cronkite of the radio… everyone knew him and every marketing guy in the country wanted him pitching their products. When his name appeared on the screen, every baby boomer stopped.

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote, “Delivered by Paul Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force. Listening to it can make someone who never would want to touch cows, especially before dawn, wonder why he didn’t have the good fortune to have to milk them twice a day. In short, it is a memorably compelling performance, and without bells or whistles (of most superbowl spots.)”

craftsmanship of great advertising on the Brand Insight Blog“The spot stuck out for thoroughly how un-Super Bowl it was. It’s a wonder that CBS didn’t refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.”

It wasn’t just a subtle tug on our heartstrings, but a two-ton pull that produced dramatic results. It’s been viewed over 10 million times in just one week. 10 million voluntary impressions, above and beyond all the eyeballs that were glued to the TV in the 4th quarter of the game. And according to Bluefin Labs, which specializes in analytics for social television, the Ram spot was “the most social commercial” of the game, generating 402,000 comments in social media.

AdWeek magazine said it was the #1 spot of the year, with the Budweiser baby Clydesdale commercial coming in at number 2. (Another heartwarming story)

But it was not a new idea. Truck companies have been using this sort of borrowed interest for years, leveraging the themes of hard work, craftsmanship, and salt-of-the-earth American values. But the details in the execution, this time, were far superior to the typical down and dirty truck ad.

Paul Harvey actually wrote that riveting monologue back in 1978 for the national FFA convention. The words themselves pack such force, the video footage almost seem like an afterthought.

Kudos to The Richard’s Group for producing it. And to the folks at Ram who approved it. There are a million ways they could have screwed it up.

First, many marketing execs would never approve the use of the word “God” in a commercial, for fear of offending the 70% the population who don’t go to church regularly.

Many companies, in an effort to save money and maximize their media buy, would cut corners when it comes to photography.

Not this time. They didn’t opt for cheap stock images. Instead, the agency commissioned 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard of National Geographic and documentary photographer Kurt Markus, to create the images that form the commercial’s backdrop. Gorgeous.

The only problem is, the connection to the Ram Brand was a bit of a stretch for me. (But then, I’m not a truck driver, nor a farmer.)

Ram is a brand that’s attempting to reinvent itself. No more “Dodge Ram.” Now it’s just Ram, and they’re looking for things — themes and concepts —  to affiliate themselves with.

Might as well be God, and country, and hard-working farmers. With great execution, during the biggest game of the year, it’s hard to go wrong with that.

For more on craftsmanship in advertising and how to create more effective advertising, try THIS post.

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

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

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

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

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

1. A concept.    

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

A wordpress theme is not a concept.

A new logo is not a concept.

A photo of your product is not a concept.

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

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

See, a concept is an idea.

 

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

examples of branding sites that sell

A concept from the Mini USA website homepage.

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

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

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

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

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

2. A clear call to action

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

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

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

3. Differentiating elements

A good story is your best differentiating element.

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

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

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

branded websites for mini cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Reasons to believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just get code.

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

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

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

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

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

For more about successful website design, try THIS post. 

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Effective TV advertising — How to avoid TV spots that miss the mark.

brand credibility from branding expertsEffective TV advertising is hard to come by in my town. I just cringe when I see most local commercials… Not because of the horrific script writing. Not because of  the low, low, low production quality. Not because of the ill-advised choice of “talent,” or the mind-numbing jingle. I expect all that from the local TV stations.

effective TV ads BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogI cringe because many of the companies paying for those crummy commercials don’t belong on television at all. It’s not just bad commercial production, it’s bad media planning.

I’m talking about those cases where the medium – TV – missed the mark completely.

I’m talking about real cases where a business owner is spending a lot of money on TV to reach the wrong people, with the wrong message. That’s the most most glaring error you can make… the polar opposite of effective TV advertising.

 

Here’s an example of TV advertising that misses the mark:

There’s a retailer in my town that sells lavish, high-end patio furniture. It’s designer stuff, it’s practically bullet-proof, and it costs a lot of money. Guess what that business owner is doing for advertising?

Yep. Cheap TV spots.

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Talk about the wrong impression. Nothing in his advertising matches his product line at all.

Not the message, not the visuals, not the media schedule. It’s a total disconnect…

The store owner says the ads are generating a lot of foot traffic, but it’s clearly the wrong kind of traffic. People walk into his patio furniture showroom (lured, no doubt, by the cheesy jingle they heard on TV) take one look at the prices, and hightail it down to Costco or Walmart.

One of his salespeople told me it’s not uncommon for them to actually cuss her out for wasting their time. Even if those prospects win the lottery they won’t be going back to that store.

And yet the owner keeps doing the same thing, year after year. It falls into the “epic fail” category of advertising 101. It’s insanity.

If you’re selling high-end, high-cost furniture you need high-end TV production a high-end audience, and a message that whispers elegance. Anything less will be a big whiff.

Here’s another example of how NOT to do effective TV advertising:

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There’s a local company that offers jet charters for corporate and private use. If you own your own private island and want to sneak away to it for the weekend, you’re in luck.

This company is literally selling to the jet set — the top 1% —and yet they’re advertising on local TV to Fred & Barney Rubble.

It’s a total mis-match.

Think about it… The very best outcome the company could hope for is a steady stream of inquiries from people who can’t possibly afford their service. And sure enough, they’re getting a few calls…

“Well gee whiz, I didn’t think it’d be THAT much to fly to my cousin Ethel’s place outside of Winnemucca.”

Filling your sales pipeline with hopeless leads is a waste of money, and probably the worst advertising mistake you can make. In cases like that, it can kill a brand. (The company folded)

No matter how many TV spots they run it’s not going to help sell jet charters.

In that case, better production value wouldn’t matter either. They could hire James Cameron to produce an epic, 10-million dollar 30-second spot and it still wouldn’t move the needle. It’d just generate more phone calls from non-buyers.

Because the company is advertising where the prospects aren’t.

There are digital alternatives now that would deliver their video message much more efficiently than TV. Straight to people who have expressed interest in jet charters. And there are plenty of options that allow the charter company to pay ONLY when qualified prospects actually view the ad.

Look, I am not a media buyer. I don’ t have the propensity for spreadsheets, number crunching and data analysis that’s required for that line of work. However, I know a basic, lousy media buy when I see one, and that is one of them. TV is not the answer in those two cases.

I’m not saying you should dump your entire TV schedule. You should just think adding other options to the media mix that are more targetable.

Here’s one more example of bad TV, from my experience in golf industry marketing…

I have a client who recGolf industry tv advertising that misses the markently bought $35,000 worth of TV spots from the local cable company and he wanted my opinion on his media schedule. So I took a quick glance and saw, right off the bat, a whole bunch of time slots during daytime shows that skew heavily toward women.

How much golf equipment do you think women buy? How many golfers do you think are sitting around during the day watching “Psycho Coupon Horders?”

Again, it’s a mismatch.

Why would you spend your money running ads that are geared toward affluent men, during daytime TV programs that attract low-income women?  It’s just not common sense.

If you’re in the position of reviewing media schedules like that, use your head. Eliminate those time slots. Make the sales guy work a little harder to match his commercial inventory with your brand and your target audience.

And when those salespeople come knocking, always remember this: It’s demand-based selling that hinges entirely on their limited inventory. The popular shows are in high demand, and sell out easily. So the TV salespeople are left trying hard to sell the shows that are NOT in demand.

Yes, the shitty shows and the worst time slots.

Sometimes I think they throw-in some of those dogs on the schedule just to see if you’re paying attention.

I’m not saying that all TV advertising is a waste of money. Not at all. With enough frequency,  the right product or service, and a well-honed message, you can do very effective TVadvertising.

If you have an airline that’s selling $49 round trip tickets to Disneyland, by all means! Buy a bunch of TV ads. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. But if you’re selling jet charters to Disneyland, don’t waste your time on TV spots.

Duh.

So the first thing to do is make sure that TV is right for your company. Let’s assume that it is.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to do effective TV advertising in your local market:

A very clear message that’s aligned with your brand. You don’t want to be doing commercials on TV that doesn’t match your operation, like the patio furniture example.

A demonstrable product or service. TV is a visual medium. People are very quick with the Mute button, so your commercials better have some interesting visual elements that can tell a story with no sound. Drone shots of your parking lot or office building do not count!

Entertainment value. Effective TV advertising is the same as effective TV programming… it’s entertaining. It’s not just  information. In fact, too much information can kill your advertising.

A compelling story. Entertainment hinges on story telling. You ‘re not going to get an entertaining story if you rely on the sales rep to write a commercial for you. It’s as simple as that. Hire a copywriter or a commercial director with a lot of writing experience.

A campaign concept, not just one ad.  Broadcast advertising can win the hearts of your prospects long before they’re in the market for your particular product or service. But in order to do that, you have to play the long game and sustain your visibility year after year.

So you need a big idea that can carry on through a series of commercials.

If you’d like a review of your current advertising program, we can assess your strategy, your messaging, your value proposition and the creative execution. We will also collaborate with a media buyer friend who can save you money on that side of the equation and make sure your buy is as targeted and relevant as it can possibly be.

In the end, you will get you fair, honest assessment from pros who have been in the business for 30 years. The cost is very reasonable, so rest assured, it’ll save you money in the long run. Call me. 541-815-0075.

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Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation in advertising.

brand credibility from branding expertsI’m an advertising guy… a copywriter from way back. We’re not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation in advertising. (Got Milk?) But there’s one thing we all know:  the fastest, easiest way to get better ad copy is to delete all those ridiculous exclamation marks.

Someone has to speak out about all the poor use of punctuation.  If I see one more marketing cliche or list of features punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.

Exclamation points are everywhere these days — in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.

“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”

3027633I have news for you…  There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy.  Just the opposite, in fact.

The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.

Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Brakes! Air bags!”

Putting exclamation points on your list of standard features is not going to make them more compelling.

Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)

Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of  exclamation points at the end of  a sentence…

You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!

The longest, straightest driver ever!

Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!

Your whole family will love it!!!

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsReally?  Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility.

If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period. Periods are the best form of punctuation for advertising. Exclamation points are the worst.

In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable, professional, sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. All credibility is lost in a single keystroke.

Be understated instead.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for anything you write:  If you have to use an exclamation mark, you’re not using the right words. Go back to the well. Find words that punctuate the point in a dramatic fashion so you don’t need the extra punctuation.

 

You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy and social media posts without adding exclamation points. Or worse yet — emojis.

Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest.

Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test the microscripts on real people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.

I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. If it feels like your headline needs an exclamation mark, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.

It’s not easy. If you need help writing better ad copy, call me. Or if you want more info on how to improve your advertising copy, click here.

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Golf industry branding.

Fear Of Loss in advertising — Another effective angle of attack

brand credibility from branding expertsI have an ongoing debate with a client who says we should never, ever take a negative approach in her advertising. She believes, whole heartedly, that fear of loss — or any hint of trouble — should not be part of her brand narrative.

The debate’s been going on for years, and at this point we just agree to disagree. However, as the Creative Director on her account, it’s my job to always make sure she sees our strongest ideas. So I’ll continue to present a “negative” ad occasionally, even if I know she’s just going to kill it.

Let me be very clear… I’m not referring to trash talking ads that attack her competitors. This isn’t politics, where polling data has proven that negative ads pull better than positive ones.

I’m talking about using the fear of loss in honest, problem-oriented advertising that touches on deep-seated emotions that make people stop, notice and actually click or buy.

So let’s dissect the latest example…

The overall tone of this ad is sweet as pecan pie and perfectly on brand for Oregon’s largest pediatric practice.

It definitely passes the 5-second glance test…

The quick take away is “happy child,” and “promises kept.” What brand would NOT want to be associated with those two thoughts?

But there’s that headline… that “negative” angle of attack that touches a nerve with that particular client.

“No child gets turned away. Never ever.”

I don’t believe it’s a problem.

In a very subtle way it poses a relevant idea that the reader has probably never thought of:

At other practices she might get turned away because of her insurance. It’s a true, tangible differentiator for this client.

Here’s a realistic reaction: “Wait, what?…  some pediatricians turn kids away because of their insurance!  I better check on that. I don’t want my baby to get left behind.”

The threat of getting turned down because of a stupid health insurance issue is the emotional hook of the ad.

If you turn it around and look at it through rose-colored glasses, the headline might read: “All children are always welcome. Now and forever.”

Same touching photo. Same body copy. Much weaker ad.

Here’s why:

Too much sugar on top.

The natural reaction to that “nicer” headline is dismissive:  “Of course everyone’s welcome. What kind of doctor would NOT welcome me and my newborn?”

It’s a given. And if the conclusion is a given, people skip right over it, regardless of how sweet it seems.

It’s not going to make people stop and wonder. It doesn’t contain an idea that will stick because it’s nothing but corporate sugar coating.

Sometimes the recipe calls for a touch of salt, instead.

The suggestion of being left behind in the headline (fear of loss) is just enough salt to make our prospect stop and think. And it shows that COPA really cares.

If it’s all pretty pictures and happy-go-lucky outcomes all the time, eventually no one’s going to believe you.

Authenticity is crucial these days. Focusing on the problem occasionally makes you more credible.  It conveys the idea that you understand the prospect’s problem and makes your brand more authentic.

Look at this way: Great ads tell a story. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a 3-minute video format, print ad format, or social media format, it needs to have elements of a good story. And stories always include a villain or a problem.

Without a problem you have no meaningful solution.

Without conflict there’s no resolution.

Without a villain you have no hero.

Without trouble you have no story —  just a pretty picture and a headline with no meat.

Donald Miller, in his best-seller “Building a Brand Story” talks about the challenge companies have when it comes to pointing out the downside of NOT buying a particular product or service.

“Clients don’t want to be fearmongers, but fearmongering is not the problem that 99% of business leaders struggle with. It’s just the opposite… they don’t bring up the negative stakes often enough, and their story ends up falling flat.”

Miller points out that you probably don’t want to build an entire campaign using the negative approach, and I agree with him in this case.

Happy moms with happy babies is the predominant visual tool for pediatric practices everywhere. I’m not saying we should change that, I’m just saying we should leave room for other approaches, such as this:

Every mom can relate to those times when her baby’s not being herself. That’s reality for her, and the reality of any pediatric office.

If you ignore the back door angle of attack you’re missing at least 50% of the possible creative solutions to any ad. So you’ll never know what might have been.

As a writer and advertising creative I was always taught to turn things around and look at problems from a different perspective. That training that has served me well, not just on creative assignments, but in all aspects of business.

As Alex Bogusky says, “First you have to think big. Really, really big. Then you have to sit back and think of all the ways you’re not thinking big enough.”

There are plenty of very successful brands that have done that, and built campaigns from an opposing angle of attack. Just look at the non-profit world… they always sell the problem in order to raise funds.

The World Wildlife Fund paints a clear, creative picture of what climate change might mean to people.

PETA shows nothing but sad looking animals, and they raise millions every year.

St Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

And Allstate Insurance…

The Mayhem Man campaign revolves entirely around the problem — the potential mayhem that might befall us. It’s a brilliant campaign that attacks the boring subject of insurance in a memorable, albeit “negative” fashion. They give the villain a face and paint a dramatic, lighthearted picture of what’s at stake.

It’s way more compelling than any ads showing what a wonderful, rosey life we’ll lead because of our Allstate insurance policy.

Here’s another example of the fear of loss approach from BNBranding’s portfolio of :

When we helped launch the Worx Wedge we talked to a lot of golfers about their use of a sand wedge, their attitudes toward golf industry marketing, and the challenges they face around the greens.

The insight from those discussions came through loud and clear… the average golfer has a completely irrational level of fear when it comes to sand traps.

Golf industry branding by BNBranding. Advertising, marketing and branding services for the golf industry

To them, the potential embarrassment of being stuck in a bunker is much more poignant than any positive message of hope that we might employ. (The golf industry is riddled with hopeful bullshit promises of more distance.)

So instead of promising them roses and lower scores, we attacked the problem head on.

Fear Not.

There’s a story in these simple, two word ads… We acknowledge their fear, show that it is not unfounded, and position the Worx Wedge as the tool they need to conquer it.

fear of loss in advertising brand insight blog

Psychologists and neuroscientists have actually conducted quite a bit of conclusive research on the persuasive power of the loss-aversion pitch. Turns out, the fear of loss is often more powerful than the hope of gain.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University says “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.”

fear of loss in golf industry advertisingMothers remember, quite vividly, those trips to the doctor with their screaming 6-month old. And they forget all about the positive experiences with their pediatrician.

Golfers never forget the experience of being stuck in a pot bunker during a bucket list trip to St. Andrews.

In advertising there are market realities to consider, as well. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a me-too product in a crowded category, focusing on what the product is NOT is the better strategy, by far.

Let everyone else tout the generic product category benefits and attempt to position themselves as the hero, while you focus on the problem and let the customer be the hero in the story.

There are really only two possible outcomes for any advertising story…  customers either gains something, or they lose something.  Advertising your product or service as a way to avoid that loss really can work.

You just can’t be afraid of the fear of loss.

 

 

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How to build credibility for your brand, one chapter at a time.

BNBranding logoYour business is not like WalMart. You can’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with advertising in order to sway public opinion and build credibility for your brand.

You have to build credibility every day — by delivering a great product, providing exceptional service, and generally exceeding all expectations.  So brand credibility is not just a marketing issue, it’s also an operational issue.

You can’t just say the right thing, you also have to do the right thing. If you want to build credibility, your marketing message have to be aligned with a well-tuned operation.

Here’s an example from one of our golf industry clients: His little shop is not like the big box store right up the road.  But like all retailers, he always wanted to advertise low prices. Sales get people in the door, he says.

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“You can’t compete on price,” I said. “It’s just not a credible message.”

“Yes we can… They’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”

“No they don’t,” he said. “No different than what we get.”

“That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. The public believes that the big box store will be cheaper. And you can’t fight that perception.  It’s like City Hall.”

“Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. If you want a credible brand, you have to hang your hat on something else.”

In that case, it was personalized service that became the centerpiece of their advertising. That’s not just a good story, it’s a credible brand message.

 

The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it.

But it’s not enough to just start running digital ads or TV spots that say you have great service. First you have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day. That way, all the reviews and stuff that show up on social media will substantiate the claim.

It’s not just about good story telling. It’s also story proving. That’s how you build brand credibility.

Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but they are not neutral about it, due to their inherent skepticism.

It’s the built-in BS meter they all have. They don’t believe anything you say.

So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do little things that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief.

It’s a far cry from getting them to believe your pitch or trust your brand, but it’s a start. You have to build brand credibility, step by step.

The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to 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” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

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.”

In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment.

If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality.

Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it. That’s the importance of context.

In novels, vivid, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality (context) make the story more believable. More engaging.

The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Dramatic details and believable situations help you sell your story and sway skeptics. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.

Instead of shoving your product features down their throats, try for a more novel approach.

Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category.  Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build brand credibility, if you use them right.

Here’s one simple way to build brand credibility: Choose the right photos for your website.

Every image should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy stock images that look fake, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos. Your brand cred will be shot.

how to build credibility for your brand by Bend, Oregon marketing firm BNBrandingThat retail client of ours needed images that would support his story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that idea with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and the store. Good service wasn’t just talk. It was guaranteed.

Headlines are equally important.

You should keep your headlines consistent with the images and with the secondary reality of your target audience. (You can’t show one thing, and say something else.)

If you keep all those little executional details in sync with your operation, and maintain good practices over time, disbelief will turn to reluctant acceptance, acceptance to approval and approval to purchase. For a few lucky brands, it’ll even progress to a lifelong love.

As movie goers, game players and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture.

Mayhem guy - how to build credibility for your brandThe Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.

We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what brand credibility is all about.

So when you’re working on content for your website, or a story for your latest PR effort, make sure that it rings true with your operation.

For help with your own brand message, call me at BNBranding.

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How to compete in the booming Kombucha Market

Insight on the booming kombucha market — An interview with Steven Lee of Kombucha Wonder Drink.

Steven Lee Kombucha market brand insight blogIn the tea business Stephen Lee is a household name. A pioneer. You could also say he’s the father of Oregon’s booming Kombucha market.

Lee first tried the popular elixir of fermented tea on a business trip to Russia, back when the U.S. and the USSR were coldly pitted against one another.

“When I first tried Kombucha in Russia I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever experienced,” Lee said. “There was no question in my mind. I knew it was going to be a phenomenon.”

So Lee brought a SCOBY back with him and started brewing his own kombucha in his kitchen. But it would be many years, and several start-ups later, before he would jump into commercial kombucha production.

Over the years Lee built and sold five different tea companies. He literally wrote the book on Kombucha and  recently sold Kombucha Wonder Drink to Harris Freeman, America’s largest private label tea packer.

I sat down with Steve to talk brand building in the kombucha market, business creativity and his long list of successful entrepreneurial ventures.

 

It all started with Universal Tea Company in the early 1970s with $2500 and a basement full of herbs, spices, teas and dreams…

SL: When we started Universal Tea Company back in 1972 there was there wasn’t much competition… Lipton, Celestial, Bigelow and Twinnings. We were selling bulk to natural foods stores, but we really hit on peppermint… We were bringing peppermint in from Eastern Oregon — It’s the finest peppermint in the world — and selling it in bulk. We actually bought a wheat combine for $800, reversed the airflow, got a tractor-trailer license and began processing and hauling. We sold hundreds of tons of mint to Lipton and Celestial Seasonings.
tea and Kombucha market

JF: How did that transition into Stash Tea Company?

SL: We sold universal Tea Company to our bookkeeper for $45,000 in 1977. It had taken us five years to figure out what we wanted to do with Stash Tea, because everything we tried failed. We finally decided to sell tea bags to the food service industry and through mail order. It was a slow build over 21 years. We did everything as inexpensively as possible.

JF: From what I heard, you had some very innovative marketing programs.

SL: Yes. We had more than 100,000 people on our mailing list. We used gifts, discounts and eventually free shipping to create loyal customers. By the late 80’s mail order accounted for 10% of our revenues, but 35% of the company’s total profits. Eventually Fred Meyer (the grocery chain) called us, and asked if we’d be interested in selling our tea in their stores here in the Northwest. So they were our first retail account.

By 1990 Stash was the second largest purveyor of specialty teas, behind Bigelow. Lee and his partner, Steve Smith, sold Stash tea in 1993 to Yamamotoyama, the oldest tea company in the world.

JF: What did you do differently after that, when you were starting Tazo?

SL: Well, we started Stash tea with $2500. Tazo was capitalized with a half a million. Plus, we had 20 years of experience under our belts. We had a lot of courage and a lot of confidence. We just marched right out there with it. We knew where to go. Who to contact. How to be creative…

branding blog on tazo teaWe got a very talented team of people together. The guys at the design firm and a copywriter worked with my partner, Steve Smith, and they were just brilliant together. Such a creative force!

There are a lot of people who get involved in the brand building process early on who set precedents. The name, for instance… With Stash, from the day we came up with that name, we had to back-peddle. “No, we’re not about marijuana.”

With a name like TAZO, and the right creative team, anything could happen. The writer said, “it’s kinda like marco polo meets Merlin on the crossroads of existence.” That was the beginning of the whole storyline. They pulled that one outta their hats.

Steve Sandoz, the copywriter on the Tazo project, once told a reporter that Tazo was “the name of the whirling mating dance of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and a cheery salutation used by Druids and 5th-century residents of Easter Island.” Proof that sheer creativity can pay tremendous dividends when it comes to building a brand.

JF: It also helped that the specialty tea category was booming by the time you started. Didn’t Republic of Tea pave the way for Tazo?

SL: They certainly did. There were no longer just five or six tea companies out there. There was some real innovation happening and consumers were aware of better teas.

JF: Tazo launched with a product that cost almost twice as much as Stash. Was premium pricing a big part of your strategy, or was it just that the ingredients were more expensive?

SL: Our strategy was to launch with a product that was made of much higher quality ingredients, and that dictated the retail price. We made no more margin. 40 to 45% gross margin.

early origins of Oregon's kombucha marketIn 1998, Steve Smith and Steve Lee noticed that Starbucks was piloting a brand of tea called Tiazzi, which they perceived as an infringement on the Tazo brand. A polite “cease and desist” letter led to a meeting in which Starbucks offered to buy the Portland company. The sale closed for a reported $9.1 million. Only five years from founding to acquisition. Tazo grew to be a billion dollar brand before being replaced by another Starbuck’s brand, Teavana.

JF: So at that point you had the exit that every entrepreneur dreams of. You could have done anything… What drove you to start all over again?

SL: That’s what I do. My forte is getting things started that inspire and motivate me, then surviving through tough times.

JF: (laughing…) That’s your entrepreneurial strategy??? Get it started and then hang on?

SL: Yeah. I’m attracted to esoteric, romantic categories that inspire me. Tea is very romantic. I was very inspired by that first taste of kombucha that I had in Russia.

SL: The first domestic commercial kombucha that I knew of was a brand called Oocha Brew, here in Portland, that started in 94. That was before GT Dave. I was ready to invest in their company. Unfortunately for Oocha Brew, they learned very fast that when you create a raw kombucha you have to be very careful… If it’s not handled properly all the way through the distribution channels to the store and all the way home into the fridge there’s a high risk of being too high in alcohol. In 1998 they sold a large quantity to QFC stores and the bottles all started exploding. The caps were coming off. That was enough to bankrupt them.

SL: GT Dave began in ’95, grew very slowly until he got some funding in 2003. At that point, Synergy quickly became #1 in the kombucha world with a raw product, and he never looked back.

We started developing Kombucha Wonder Drink in 1999 and launched in 2001. We had a lot of confidence then too, because all the retailers that I talked with said, “oh yeah, if you do kombucha we’re all over it.” So getting it in the stores was easy for us, but moving it off the shelves proved very difficult at first. What we discovered was, even natural foods consumers didn’t know what it was. We did a lot of sampling, and it was a real love/hate thing. Some people would just gag.

JF: An acquired taste…

SL: Yes. Even though our product was a little more palatable than some. Even now, less than 10% of American consumers are aware of what kombucha is. So it still has a long way to go among the so-called “early adopters.”

We determined from the very beginning that the way to go was shelf stable. Our premise is, most all the benefits of kombucha are in the acids. Those are not affected by pasteurization. But in two years time, in 2003, we were still struggling with consumers accepting the taste. It was a slow process.

kombucha marketing kombucha wonder drink brandJF: Was that a strategic error, not doing raw kombucha? Were you kickin’ yourself then?

SL: There was a five year period there of self doubt and struggle. We grew every year, but it was not like what was happening in the raw segment. The two other founders left… Didn’t want to do it anymore because the kombucha market wasn’t growing like it had with Tazo or Stash.

We thought we saw the market, but it was tougher than we expected. Then in 2010 there was the mother of all recalls, when all unpasteurized kombucha brands got yanked off the shelves. Even Honest Tea had a raw kombucha that got recalled. CocaCola had a 1/3 interest in Honest Tea at the time, but they had no interest in doing anything with raw kombucha, so they just let it die. It never returned.

In order to get back on the shelves Synergy and all of them had to change the way they made their kombucha. They had to filter out most of the bacteria and prove that they wouldn’t exceed the .5% alcohol limit. We never had a problem with that, with our brand.

JF: So where’s it going now? In Oregon the kombucha market seems to be booming… every time your turn around it seems like there’s a new brand of kombucha popping up. You have Brew Dr., Eva’s, Hmmm, Lion Heart, and dozens of others just in Oregon. Pepsi bought Kevita. Coke’s investment arm has an interest in at least one kombucha company…

Kombucha market Kombucha Wonder DrinkSL: Yes, everybody’s going to have a kombucha. Good tasting, functional drinks are rising by leaps and bounds right now. There are different sodas with less sugar and different sweeteners. There’s Kefir. It’s changing rapidly.

SL: Our trade association, Kombucha Brewers International has 80 members. And that’s not all… there are well over 100 brands. It’s an easy product for people to launch. You can brew kombucha in your kitchen, go to a couple farmer’s markets, become enthusiastic, find and a couple local stores, and you’re in business.

JF: Sure, the kombucha market is booming, so it’s easy to launch. But it’s not, necessarily, easy to succeed in. Just because they can brew it doesn’t mean they can build a brand, like you did.

SL: That’s true. It’s too hard for too many people.

JF: Even now that’s it’s a $600 million market it’s a relatively small pie. I’m sure it’ll get to a billion dollars soon enough, and it’s going to continue to grow, but the question is, is it growing fast enough to support all the new competitors who are jumping into it?

SL: The answer is no. But time will tell. Everything’s going to happen in kombucha market. Everyone is going to experiment and there will be every form and flavor possible. But there’s always a falling out of brands. Phenomenon or not, only five out of 100 startups make it. The shakeout is happening simultaneously as more brands are launched.

But Steven Lee has launched his last company. His future now is in writing. He recently wrote a book about kombucha for Random House, and he plans to use those connections to do something else that inspires him. Something romantic.

“Once I’m done with Kombucha Wonder, I’m going to go write children’s books,” he said.

Keen branding

If you’re thinking about entering the Kombucha Market or if you have an existing natural foods company, BNBranding can provide all the insight and creative inspiration you need. Call me. 541-815-0075.  Or view our natural foods portfolio.

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