Tag Archives for " differentiation "

Advertising in a crisis: Shit happens, but brands endure.

brand credibility from branding expertsEvery entrepreneur experiences setbacks… Markets crash. Key team members leave with your biggest accounts. There are supply-chain snaffus, natural disasters, and now, a novel virus that slams the door on a robust economy. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re advertising in a crisis, but this is when your branding efforts can really pay off.

All the work you’ve done over the years to stay visible and be a responsible, authentic brand will pay off in spades when times are tough.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that a nicely designed logo is going to make you magically immune from the business fallout of the Corona virus. (Logo is NOT synonymous with Brand and everyone will be affected)

brand credibilityI’m just saying that iconic brands are going to be more insulated — and more likely to survive — than the companies that haven’t been paying attention to branding.

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and when people are unsure, scared or threatened, they want to be comforted.

It’s human nature.

We cling to what’s familiar, and we want an escape from the UNknown. We narrow our choices dramatically and don’t entertain new options. We buy Campbell’s soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches. We re-watch lighthearted TV shows from by-gone days to make ourselves feel grounded. Better.

So being known — ie. maintaining top of mind awareness during good times — is crucial in this situation. The best brands know this, and maintain a presence all the time. In good times and bad. They don’t wait for disaster to strike, they’re communicating with people all along. That’s what breeds fondness and familiarity,

If you’ve been invisible in your market you need to be very careful about launching a knee-jerk reaction ad campaign right now. Especially if your ads start with “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need a new Kia.
Now, more than ever, you need to refinance your house.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a lot of Kirkland brand toilet paper.

We saw thousands of fill-in-the-blank ads like that during the crash of 2009, and the same thing’s beginning to pop up on social media, in email campaigns, and on the airwaves. Cliches like that are NOT going to help your brand. They just add to the clutter and fuel the fear. So if you are going to run advertising during a crisis, it better be a complete departure from that.

So this is a good time to step back and re-evaluate the tone, content and context of your brand messages.

Advertising during a crisis should not be business as usual. It makes for bad optics.

Take Kia for instance, the automotive king of “yell and sell” advertising. They’ve established clear leadership in top-of-mind awareness, but it would probably be wise for them to stop running their current advertising that screams “Credit, come and get it.” “Credit, come and get it.””Credit, come and get it.”

More debt is the LAST thing people need right now. Sometimes the best ad strategy is knowing when to shut up!

It’s almost as bad as running TV spots for a “fire sale” when there are forest fires burning all over the West. It sounds dreadfully callous, given the current state of affairs. (I wonder who decided that predatory lending practices should be a key brand attribute for Kia, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Any advertising that attempts to capitalize on the world’s misfortune will be seen for what it is: Cheap profiteering. If you’re not careful, the public will forever associate your brand with the outbreak of 2020 and will never buy into any messaging you attempt in the future.

But when it’s done well, advertising during these “slow” times can help you reach more people and solidify relationships. Media consumption is up, while most companies are pulling back, ducking the exposure.

So if your message is human, heartfelt and kind you have a real opportunity to differentiate yourself. (And ad rates are lower than normal!)

But you can’t pull a Kia-style hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t sell at all. This is not the time to persuade, it’s the time to reassure without asking for anything in return. Just stay aligned with your brand brand values and communicate what’s important, right now.

This is new territory…  even the most hardened business veterans haven’t faced anything quite like this. It’s going to leave a mark on us all, if not a festering wound.

So I’m not going to serve up platitudes like “It’s going to be okay” or “This too shall pass.” I’m sure as hell not going to say you need more advertising during a crisis or “now more than ever you need a branding firm.”

But I will share one of my favorite sayings… it’s an old Japanese proverb:

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

If you don’t know how to proceed and would like some advice, even for the short term, give me a call. We can do a quick assessment and help you devise a smart response to all the mayhem.

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

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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brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBranding

Brand credibility killers — 5 things guaranteed to set off my BS detector

brand credibility from branding expertsAll great brands share three traits : Relevance, Credibility and Differentiation. It’s like a three-legged stool of success. Today we’re going to focus on credibility, or lack thereof.

Many successful businesses are built around commodities or me-too products, with basically no differentiation. And you can build a trendy business on short-term relevance and one-time transactions. But you can’t build a brand that way.

By definition, Brands require loyalty. And without some degree of credibility, you’ll never establish a loyal following.

So you can’t build a brand without credibility.

And once you’ve established credibility in your niche, you have to work really hard to maintain it. Because a lot of little things can whittle away at that leg of the stool, until you fall on your ass.

So let’s look at some things that can kill brand credibility.

brand credibility and bullshit article from BNBrandingWhile our tolerances vary, everyone is sensitive to marketing bullshit. Consumers are quick to call you out on anything that looks like it, sounds like it, or smells like it.

P. U!

So here are a few things that trigger my own BS detector. I’m talking about business practices, marketing tactics and common oversights that alert, annoy and turn-off prospective customers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a nose for this stuff.

Brand Credibility Killer #1:  A crappy product or service.

The single most important contributor to brand credibility is the product or service you deliver everyday. The work has to speak for itself. Credibility needs to be built in.

Doesn’t matter if you position yourself as a credible “thought leader” in your industry if the product you put out is a stinky, second-rate knock-off.

What you DO carries far more weight than what you SAY.

So if you’re concerned about your credibility in the marketplace, don’t start with a content marketing initiative. Start with a product improvement initiative.  Then build a story around that.

Killer #2: Too many “yeah buts.”

This one is closely related to cred killer #1. Anytime I hear the a lot of  “yeah buts” from a business owner or salesperson, I know it’s more than just a credibility problem. It’s either an issue with the product or the fundamental business strategy.

You often hear it from enthusiastic entrepreneurs who are trying to raise money to get a half-baked idea off the ground with no go-to-market strategy.

A potential investor says, “Wow, that’s a really crowded category with a lot of big-name brands slugging it out for market share.”

“Yeah, but we’re different.”  “Yeah, but they’re too big to capitalize on this opportunity. We’re more nimble.” “Yeah, but our mousetrap is better.”

There’ no way you’re going to establish brand credibility if you’re always making up excuses, playing defense and using “yeah-buts” on a regular basis.

My favorite — from the natural foods industry — is the flavor yeah-but.  I’ve heard this one when companies are fighting for retail shelf space or distribution deals.

The buyer diplomatically delivers the bad news: “Your flavor profile just isn’t up to par in this category.”

“Yeah, but our product is chock full of nutrients.” “Yeah, but ours doesn’t have any additives or fillers.” “Yeah, but ours is Keto!”

Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t taste good.

Do whatever you have to do to eliminate all the yeah-butts from your marketing pitch.

Brand credibility killer #3: Gross exaggerations and/or flat out lies.

Nothing triggers the human defense mechanisms faster than blanket statements and bold-faced lies. You’d be amazed how many companies routinely con people.

The industry I’m in — marketing services — is crowded with inexperienced people scrambling to establish brand credibility.  Self-proclaimed “experts” will hype up the latest “marketing strategy”  and proclaim that “This is it! This is the holy grail of marketing! You’ll never need anything else.”

Then, a few months later, it’s something else entirely.

By chasing the shiny object and short-term sales, they sabotage their own credibility.

One big-name marketing consultant says, flat-out, “there’s no such thing as a visual product.” He contends you don’t have to show what you’re selling, just write about it.

brand credibilityThat’s nonsense, of course.

If that were true there would be no fashion industry and every automobile would have the design aesthetic of a Pontiac Aztek.

Other experts stick to the old adage: “A picture’s worth a thousand words” and insist on a visually-driven advertising for every product under the sun.

That’s not the answer either.

The truth is,  you need visual, written and oral brand messages.  And the marketing mix depends…  It depends on your product or service. It depends on your audience. It depends on the medium. It depends on what the competition is doing.

There are infinite variables.

Blanket statements, pat answers and guaranteed systems simply don’t help the brand credibility of any professional services firm. Your credibility, online reputation, and brand authenticity will be better served by simply admitting that you don’t have all the answers.

Confident, credible companies aren’t afraid to say  “we don’t have the answer for you yet, but we’ll sure find out.” That means they’re genuinely listening, and they’re working with your best interest at heart.

That’s far better than forcing everyone into the same “my way or the highway” mentality.

Killer #4: Ridiculously lower prices.

I’m not an expert on pricing strategy, but I know a stinker when one wafts across my computer screen.

Every time my firm buys another URL  or files another Trademark application we get boatloads of junk mail offering us ways to make that new brand successful.

Like the crowd-sourced “brand logos” for $79.

The sure-fire product launch formula for $29.

“Expertly-written” website content and blog articles for only $12.95

Many of those offers are just too good to be true.

Everybody loves a good bargain, but when I see someone claiming to provide a 1-minute explainer video complete with scriptwriting, animation, editing, sound and talent, for $168, I just laugh.

And it’s not a nice laugh. It’s a scoffing, “no fn’ way” laugh that says you have absolutely no credibility and no chance of making a sale. The ridiculously low price pegs the service as schlocky, unprofessional and downright worthless.

So make sure your pricing is aligned with your competitors, to some degree or another. You gotta be on the same playing field, even if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. Let someone else jump on that race to the bottom.

Brand Credibility Killer #5: The faceless website.

more effective advertising from BNBranding

No one wants to do business with a faceless corporation or a shell company. And yet, everyday I run across another ecommerce company that’s selling stuff online with absolutely no hint of who’s behind the curtain.

No “about us” page. No blog. No social media links. No background, history or purpose, other than making a few bucks.

I made the mistake of buying something on a site like that. Once.

Unless you’re a felon selling counterfeit fashion items, you need to have some sort of content up on your site that shows who you are and what your company is all about.

Even if it’s just a side hustle, it needs a face,  a brand personality, and a story of some sort. If you think you have nothing to say, be honest about that. Own it.  Even a boring story is better than no story at all.

So, if you want to build a credible brand, here’s the plan:

  1. Build a great product or service that people will want to talk about.
  2. Eliminate all the “yeah buts” from your marketing language. No excuses.
  3. Set your prices strategically, with your purpose and position in mind. Don’t race to the bottom.
  4. Be honest. Stop making blanket statements and bullshit offers.
  5. Put a face to the company. Make it human. Give it some personality.

Oh, and I almost forgot… do what you say you’re going to do. If you don’t do that, routinely, the rest of it won’t matter.

Get more on truth in advertising.

Learn about brand integrity and truth in natural foods marketing.

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new approach to website design

Brand design with a bang – Visual cues and consistency across platforms

BNBranding logoA lot of people ask me about our brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.

They see the same visual cues on the BNBranding website, in social media posts, in our ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.

brand design that produces resultsThey comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. Some people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”

Of course.

Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. It’s brand design that produces response.

It’s like direct response branding.

As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots, even stupid cat videos get ignored these days.

They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”

The incongruity of the image or message, relative to everything else they see, creates natural human curiosity. It’s just the way our brains work.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingOn the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.

So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.

Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.

The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.

It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.

Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.

Brand design advice Tom PetersTom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values.

Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”

Some people seem to think that “branding messages” do not belong on social media or in digital advertising. And that you can’t design a “branding” website that also moves product.

That’s hogwash.

As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.

Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.

If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.

truth in advertising BNBranding

If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.

If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.

Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore. Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.

If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.

Or click here for an inexpensive yin/yang assessment of all your marketing efforts.

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Same with sounds.

 

 

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

Absolutely Better Branding Strategies (Lessons from a strong shot of vodka.)

dill pickle vodka BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsChocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.

Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer.  And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.

Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.

So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.

The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.

If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even.

Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.

BNBranding can help you do that. ”Here’s how:

• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.

There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.

• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.

Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea.

The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.

• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.

Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)

Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.

These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.

• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.

The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.

In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.

In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers, but they’re virtually invisible to consumers.

But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.

Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.

In 1980 Absolut  was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.

But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.

So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.

TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.

Needless to say, it worked.

The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.

The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

marketing strategy for alcoholic beverages That’s my own quote.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!

Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)

They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.

Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.

But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.

Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.

Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.

Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.

For more on marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, try THIS post. 

 

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Personal branding from BNBranding

4 Ingredients of small-business branding – Learning from breakfast cereal and a 4-buck burrito

small-business branding from branding experts at BNBrandingBranding is a popular topic in the business press and in business schools these days. Unfortunately, coverage of big brands like Tesla, Nike and Virgin make it sound as if Branding is a discipline reserved only for Fortune 500 companies and globe-trotting billionaires. As if small-business branding isn’t even a thing.

Let me set the record straight on that: It’s entirely possible to build a successful brand without a million-dollar marketing budget or a cadre of high-paid consultants.

Small-business branding is very doable. In fact, many business owners do it intuitively. They build a successful business, step by step, year after year, and eventually a great brand emerges.

small business branding from bnbrandingIt does not happen the other way around.

You can’t just come up with a nice name and a great logo and expect the business to become a successful brand overnight. Without a good, solid business operation and a realistic brand strategy, you’ll never have a great brand.

If you look closely you can find plenty of inspiring brands in everyday places. Like the breakfast table and the local Mexican restaurant.

Because the fact is, branding is not exclusive to big business. If you deconstruct it, you’ll see that small-business branding shares four important things with fortune 500 branding:

Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Consistency.

Forget about Proctor & Gamble for a minute and consider the small businesses branding case studies in your town or neighborhood.

Think about the little guys who have a ridiculously loyal following. What makes them successful? What have the owners done that turned their typical small business into an iconic local brand?

small-business branding - big fat burrito from the brand insight blog BNBrandingIn Bend, Oregon there used to be a popular little restaurant named, simply, “Taco Stand.” It wasn’t the best Mexican food in town, but for many years it was the most popular, despite an embarrassing location and many other shortcomings.

Taco Stand was in a tiny building in a hard-to-find spot next to a run-down laundry mat.

It was never open for dinner. They had no web presence, advertising budget or social media following. And yet, for 20 years it was a successful little business, doing much better than many high-end restaurants downtown.

Taco Stand had all four ingredients of an iconic brand, with a bit of Tabasco thrown in for good measure.

The owners of Taco Stand consistently delivered on a very simple value proposition: Big flavor for a small price. All the locals knew you could get a big, great-tasting burrito for very little dinero.

They never wavered from that focus. Consistency led to a loyal following, which added to their credibility, which led to profitability. There’s good money in rice and beans.

Small-business branding and a big-business blunder.

Most people think differentiation and credibility is easy for big corporations. Companies like Kellogg’s can launch a new brand with a massive multi-media campaign, effectively differentiating their product on nothing but advertising creativity and pretty packaging.

But even the big boys make mistakes that leave a bad taste.

brand credibility in cereal branding Take, for example, Smart Start cereal…

The idea at Kellogg’s was to launch a cereal that could compete with all the rising stars of the natural foods industry. The consumer trend was overwhelming… people wanted healthier breakfast alternatives. They wanted whole grains, fiber and good taste without all the sugar.

So Smart Start was positioned as a “healthy” and “wholesome”adult cereal. The elegantly set promo copy described it as “Lightly sweetened, toasted multi-grain flakes and crunchy oat clusters.”

It was launched in 1998 with beautiful, minimalistic package design from Duffy & Partners and a Fortune-500 style marketing effort with lots of  full page, full color ads in targeted magazines like Shape and Parenting.

Great name. Great-tasting product. The greatest package design in the history of breakfast cereal. And a premise that was complete BS.

When my kids were young they liked Smart Start. And for some reason I felt okay about serving it to them, despite the fact that I knew it was a big, fat lie.

One glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see that Smart Start isn’t as nutritious as it’s cracked up to be.  It’s loaded with sugar… 18 grams of sugar plus high fructose corn syrup, honey,  molassass,  sugar, sugar and more sugar.  That’s more than Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs or Cap’n Crunch.

So much for credibility. So much for authenticity.

From day one, Smart Start was built around a brand promise that the product could never deliver upon. It was doomed from the start because the actual product was not aligned with the brand promise.

Over the lifespan of that product Kellogg’s tried a number of things to stem the bleeding. Rather than addressing the underlying weakness of the product, they tired the old line-extension trick… They did a “Strong Heart” variation that has 17 grams of sugar, a Strawberry Oat Bites variety and an antioxidant variety.)

Just keep launching new flavors and spin-offs of Smart Start , maybe they’ll forget about its UN-healthiness.

The packaging also devolved over the years… what started as a distinguished, minimalistic design slowly become less and less unique with every variation.

So Smart Start’s credibility was sorely lacking for anyone who pays attention to nutrition labels. The brand’s consistency is debatable with all the line extensions. And the brand’s relevance is dwindling as more people find out about its nutritional shortcomings and turn to truly healthy alternatives from brands like Kashi.

Even a big company like Kellogg’s, that has deep pockets and a 33% overall market share in the cereal isle, can’t get away with that.

In October 2019 Kellogg’s settled a $20 million class action suit for false claims of being “healthy” “nutritions” and “wholesome.” The suit involved five flavors of Raisin Bran, 16 types of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start cereals and 24 types of Nutri-Grain bars.

I bet they won’t be putting the American Heart Association logo on their packages from now on.

 

So what’s the lesson here for small-business branding?

Smaller companies can’t afford to mess up like Kellogg’s. Credibility too hard to come by, under the best of circumstances. If you launch a new brand under false pretenses of any kind, you’re going to fail.

brand credibilityDon’t choose a name, like “Smart Start,” that cannot be substantiated by the facts.

Naming is hard, and when it’s not done right it’s a recipe for a small-business branding disaster. The name and the identity design and the packaging and the claims need to be aligned with the brand strategy and the product itself.

Make sure your product claims are not only truthful, but also relevant to the target audience. 

For instance, “Healthy” is not part of the Taco Stand value proposition. It would be a silly claim to make because people who want a big, cheap burrito don’t really care about healthfulness. It’s not relevant.

Credibility would also suffer because no one would believe that a Taco Stand burrito is really healthy.

Be consistently authentic.

If you serve a great, cheap lunch, don’t try to do fancy dinners. If you do sugary cereals, don’t try to compete in the health food world. The big food brands have learned that lesson… now they just buy-up successful natural food companies instead of trying to do their own brand.

For more on what all great brands have in common, try THIS post.

For help with your small-business branding and marketing management, schedule a test drive with BNBranding. We’ll run you through a simple brand assessment that can help jump-start your branding efforts. 541-815-0075.

perception vs reality in natural foods marketing by BNBranding

Secondary Reality (Alternative facts in natural foods marketing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingGolfers, for instance, live in a constant state of delusion about how well they could ever play. It’s wishful thinking based on a skewed reality of hope… “If only I had that new $450 driver I’m sure I’d break 80.” They construct a set of assumptions such as “more distance equals lower scores” and “that big-name pro would never steer me wrong with lousy instruction.”

The fact is, those perceptions drive sales. Reality doesn’t even come into play. In fact, it’s quite perilous if you choose to present a story that contradicts that alternate reality with actual facts.

They just don’t want to hear it.

In the natural foods industry there’s a secondary reality that says if it’s in this category, then it must be good for me. That’s simply not true. The reality is that many so-called “natural” foods have no health benefit whatsoever.

Doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.

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

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

Vitamin Water is healthier than Coke or Pepsi. It’s less bad for you than the traditional option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

natural foods marketing on the brand insight blog by BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go here for more on truth in marketing,

Keen branding

 

 

 

 

3 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website Design & Development – How to make websites work on many levels.

BNBranding logoIt’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.

These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.

The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.”  In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.

So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…

The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.

The same can be said for your local, “Google My Business”  listing. It’s very important to cover the basics on there, in addition to your website. I can’t stress that enough for those of you who run retail businesses… More and more, people just do a quick, local Google search and skip the click-through altogether.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. Your website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.

Here’s an example:  Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

website design on the brand insight blog

 

But here’s a completely different buying scenario:  Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there,  so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a dramatically different set of needs and expectations.

Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior.

So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high.  They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

The conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinctive” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography.  It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for?  What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

BNBranding - too many marketing opportunitiesThe deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization.  This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.

Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.

The conversion level.

Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product.

So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.

Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.

More on the importance of branding or on Website design and development

marketing strategy BNBranding

1 positioning strategy BNBranding

The secret, missing ingredient of content marketing.

BNBranding logoIt’s the age of information, and much of the marketing buzz these days revolves around content marketing. Especially for business-to-business marketers, it’s all the rage.

We have YouTube videos, webinars, blog posts, slide sharing Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, tweets, podcasts, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.

In many cases, all that content just adds up to too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.

The model that’s emerging seems to rely on dry, analytical information. Curated data, not original stories.

Data, data and more data. Most of it is totally devoid of emotion.

Occasionally, when someone gets really creative, they take the data and spruce it up with an “infographic.” So it looks a little cooler, but that doesn’t make the data any more interesting or relevant. It’s still just boring, factual stuff written for 20 bucks by someone in a faraway land who doesn’t know your business, your audience, your market or your brand.

What’s missing is a compelling narrative. A relevant story. An inkling of copy that will touch a nerve, make an emotional connection, and persuade people to do something.

As the old saying goes, facts tell, stories sell.

content marketing blog post from BNBranding in Bend Oregon

For better content marketing, be novel – tell a story!

Nothing teaches more effectively than a good story. Stories suck people in and involve the listener/reader/user on a gut level.

The use of character archetypes, metaphors, plot and drama can bring any subject to life. Even if you’re in a highly technical, scientific market niche, you can still use narratives effectively in your content marketing.

And that applies to all forms of content marketing, from cheesy little YouTube videos to elaborate webinars. You need to forget about information for a minute, and think about entertainment.  How you can involve the audience, so their eyes don’t just glaze over?

The trick is taking all that data, and pulling a story out of it that will resonate with the target audience.

There aren’t very many people who are good at that.

If you have a marketing staff of ten people, you might find one who can do it. If you’re a department of one, or a business owner/Chief Marketing Officer, forget about it. You don’t have time to research the articles and craft good stories.

So you better outsource it. Very carefully.

You need a good copywriter who can translate all your insider information, market research data, and “repurposed” sales material into something that actually engages people.

It doesn’t matter what type of content is is… could be a script for your next video production, or an investor pitch, or a trade show presentation. You need someone who can come up with a big idea and spin information into a memorable, relevant tale.

Nobody’s better at that than advertising people.

Many business people these days seem to think there’s no redeeming value in advertising. They think content is better, and that consumers will rail against anything that smacks of advertising. But people aren’t dumb… they know your “content” is just advertising in disguise.

branding blog from BNBranding in Bend Oregon about content marketingAdman George Lois said it well in his book, What’s The Big Idea: “I think people are absolutely brilliant about advertising. They have a microchip in their heads that places any ad in marketing context in lightning speed, enabling them to judge astutely what they see.”

So if they know it’s really advertising, you might as well make it great advertising.

Ad guys know how to tell stories that originate from one big idea. We can synthesize a whole bunch of client input into 30-seconds of entertainment. We can engage an audience quickly and effectively with repeatable sound bites and compelling, memorable images.

“Advertising can crystalize, in a few words, what the client’s business is all about,” Lois said. “If you create both visual and verbal imagery, one plus one equals three. Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system.”

I bet your content marketing doesn’t do that.

Content marketing, like traditional advertising, needs both a strategic foundation and  exceptional creative execution. It should be one part science & technology, three parts art.

Advertising people are the only professionals who can bring those elements together. Journalists can report on what’s going on at your company, but they can’t deliver the missing ingredient in most content marketing efforts… art.

Advertising is an artistic mix of images and copy. It’s big, game-changing ideas based on savvy business insight. It’s craftsmanship in design, typography and copy. And it’s painstaking attention to detail.

If companies would apply those same standards to content marketing, we’d all be better off.

For more on George Lois, try this site.

For more lessons from the advertising greats, try this post. 

9 visual cliches Brand Insight Blog

How stock photos sabotage your brand image – Beware of visual clichés.

BNBranding logoEvery business needs photos… (Your brand image can’t be built on words alone.)  Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to free stock photo sites. Doesn’t matter if the images are for the website, ads, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts or powerpoint presentations, they go to the same source every time.

The problem with cheap stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying “I’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s nothing new or interesting here.”

How many times have you heard this cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your _______ needs, blah, blah, blah.”

Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

visual cliches Brand Insight Blog

Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.” The image above is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.

Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world.  ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.

Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right. And it’s always a better creative product.

Unfortunately, clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “Those photographers want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

Let me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business?

What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

golf industry advertising and photography by BNBranding and Dogleg StudiosI’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.)

There are thousands of decent stock images of golf we could use. And these days, everyone seems to think that drone footage is the answer. But stock photography or drone fly-overs are a dime a dozen.

There’s nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska at Dogleg Studios sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny.

This shot is a good example. It exemplifies everything that this club is all about. Sure, it’s a beauty shot of the golf course, but it’s also a story of friendly competition, camaraderie, social life and hope.

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas…

If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

So the next time you’re thinking that another stock photo will help your brand image, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.

Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it.

The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images.

The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand image will be better for it in the long run.

Another option is to develop your own, proprietary graphics that actually tie-in to the brand identity. For instance, at BNBranding we use a series of images like this to help drive home our points, without resorting to stock photos that are nothing more than borrowed interest.

I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: johnf@bnbranding.com.

If you want to learn more about brand image, try this post. 

If you want help polishing the brand image of your company, call me: 541-815-0075

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