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hire the right marketing person

How to hire the right marketing person — the first time.

hire the right marketing person from a branding agency in bend, oregonBNBranding logoMost business owners have no idea how to hire the right marketing person. I’ve seen many good, stable companies churn through dozens of people before they find a match.

The revolving door gets costly.

The companies I work with rely on small, efficient teams of people for all their marketing needs, and without good leadership the marketing efforts can go completely astray.

So sometimes, the best marketing advice I can offer is how to hire the right marketing person.

It’s not easy, and the answer varies dramatically, depending on the skills and interests of the CEO or owner. But one thing’s for sure… If you have a fledgling start-up, you better think carefully about the type of person you hire to spearhead your marketing efforts.

The most common mistake is hiring a specialist to do it all… someone who’s deep into SEO, or social media, or web development, or graphic design. Whatever.

Those “doers” are all important team players in your marketing mix, but what you need is a thinker/doer to lead the way. Unless you’re a marketing generalist yourself, you’ll need an idea person who can wear many different hats.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “top marketing talent must be able to combine skills that don’t often go together, and might even seem contradictory…  Analytical + Creative. Innovation + Execution. Storytelling + sales skills.”  You won’t find that combination of skill sets in a specialist.

Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingIn this age of marketing specialization, you need a generalist… someone who can take the podium and speak for you one minute, and then jump in and get work done the next.

Here are three good tips on how to hire the right marketing person:

1.  Broad experience means better perspective.

The marketing game is changing quickly these days, and there are a lot of moving parts. You need someone with enough perspective and experience to understand the entire playing field and keep all the balls in the air.

If you hire a specialist you’ll get a myopic view of marketing and branding. If she only has experience in social media, she’ll assess your entire branding effort and come up with many creative ways to use social channels.

It’s like the old saying… if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Recently I sat in on a presentation by a young man pitching his social media expertise to a non-profit organization. With no research, no understanding of the brand or the business model, and no experience to speak of, he was absolutely convinced that the organization ­­should replace every other marketing tactic with social media advertising.

That’s not the kind of thinking that will take your business to the next level.

3. Specialists don’t know strategy. 

Specialists often talk “strategy.” One will offer an email marketing strategy, another candidate will bring a social media strategy, a digital strategy, a direct response strategy, a Facebook strategy, an SEO strategy and even a SnapChat strategy.

hiring the right marketing person Brand Insight BlogIf you’re not careful you’ll be swimming in “strategies.”

Don’t be fooled. There’s only one strategy. Everything else is just a to-do list.

British adman Simon Pont puts it quite well: “One strategy, one collective intent; many expressions and executions, all with moving parts and all aligned. It’s all about linking into that one given strategy and expressing it through many specialties.”

You can always hire outside help on a project-by-project basis to execute specific tactics and get through that tactical to-do list. What you can’t find so easily is someone who can think strategically and come up with ideas that actually do qualify as a true marketing strategy.

“A strategy is an idea… a conceptualization of how a goal could be achieved.”

Emphasis on IDEA! Successful marketing strategies are rooted in big ideas. Not punch lists.

For a big idea you need someone with creative skills, uncommon business sense and a good working knowledge of all the different marketing specialties.

In a perfect world you’d find an experienced, well-rounded marketing pro who brings advertising planning experience as well as creative skills to the table… a one man marketing machine who could to analyze market research data one day, extrapolate that one little nugget of consumer insight you need, and write a brilliant ad the next.

That’s a rare breed. If you find someone like that, pay him or her handsomely. Give them tons of freedom and let them in on every crucial management decision. I guarantee you, your company will be better off for it. If you can’t find that person, call me.

3. Effective managers know something about what they’re managing.

If you hire a manager who knows nothing about computer programming, he’s going to have a very hard time managing a team of computer programmers. Some fundamental knowledge of the material is necessary.

Same holds true in marketing.

Most specialists simply don’t have the fundamental knowledge of the material they need to manage the whole effort efficiently.

For example… If you hire a social media specialist to drive your entire marketing effort, she’s going to struggle when it comes to managing traditional advertising, content marketing, direct response TV, or any other tactics.

Don’t expect that person to suddenly be capable of doing anything beyond her specialty. That’s just not realistic. Marketing is important, and you could lose a lot of money waiting for your marketing leader to “grow into the position.”

Instead, hire a generalist who’s already there. Then hire a specialist to do her specialty thing under the leadership of the savvy generalist. Don’t hire a specialist to manage other specialists. It doesn’t work.

Look, hiring right is very hard. I know that. (That’s why I’m a firm believer in hiring HR specialists to handle the initial screening and recruitment and help with the interviewing.)

Hopefully this piece will help you avoid costly trial and error when hiring a marketing person. And maybe a great, well-rounded marketing generalist will find the perfect position that will lead to fame and fortune. In either case, it helps to have a strategic branding company on your side, as well.

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About the author…

John Furgurson is one of those valuable generalists. He cut his teeth in the direct response advertising and has done corporate film, advertising of all kinds, content marketing, PR, social media and just about every other specialty under the big branding umbrella. So if you’re still wondering how to hire the right marketing person, hire him to lead your marketing team, and then just add a couple specialists in supporting roles. 

3

When Branding outpaces the brand. And vice versa.

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

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

Branding is much more than that.

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

If you redesign the product, that’s branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differentiation: The Tazo packaging resembled nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

But the mystery is gone.

For another example of outstanding branding, try THIS post.

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Truth and clarity about Guerrilla Marketing

BNBranding logoIt’s 1810. Napolean’s armies have conquered all of Europe and are enjoying the spoils. But in Spain, small bands of dedicated freedom fighters wage their own war against the occupying forces.

They sneak. Strike. Move. Hide. And strike again. They involve the enemy in a long, drawn-out war, and ultimately prevail.

That’s how the term Guerrilla Warfare came to be. The literal, Spanish translation is “small war.”

Fast forward to 1983. Jay Conrad Levinson, an old-school, advertising guy from Chicago, borrows the term for a marketing book he’s writing. “Guerrilla Marketing” becomes one of the most popular business books of all time, with endless spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins.

1235585847_16010911_bgToday “Guerrilla Marketing” has become a cliche.

The words stick, but few business people have any idea what it really means. They confuse guerrilla marketing with blow-up gorillas.

For some, guerrilla marketing is nothing more than a convenient catch-phrase; justification for poorly planned, seat-of-the-pants marketing efforts.

They throw together a last-minute  promotion and call it guerrilla marketing.

They run a Facebook campaign to support the sale of the month, and call it guerrilla marketing.

They  print posters for telephone poles, and suddenly, they’re king of the guerrillas. Godzilla marketing!

The problem is, many people don’t understand Guerrilla war to begin with.

Guerrilla warfare might seem like a sporadic, hit and miss affair, but it’s not. Every attack is part of an expertly devised strategy. There’s always someone planning and orchestrating the attacks to make sure the guerrilla tactics produce the most damage at the least possible cost.

Strategy first. Execution second.

Levinson spells it out: “Guerrilla Marketing enables you to increase your sales with a minimum of expense and a maximum of smarts.”

balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBrandingRepeat, “maximum smarts.”

Levinson repeatedly stresses the importance of planning, especially for small businesses that have limited resources. His idea of Guerrilla Marketing involves wise strategic planning, big ideas and inexpensive but effective tactics.

A balance between strategy and tactics. 

“Entrepreneurs must govern tactical operations by marketing strategy,” Levinson said. “And all marketing efforts have to be weighed against that strategy.”

Good advice.

Most small businesses have all sorts of “guerrilla” tactics, but no strategy whatsoever.

And here’s the catch: Guerrilla tactics won’t work unless they are strategic and sustained. Unrelentingly.

Levinson’s book stresses personal commitment and consistency, like those Spanish fighters had. But many business owners give up campaigns and change directions on a whim. They don’t plan, they react. They wait and see how much they can afford for advertising and then spend haphazardly. It’s a knee-jerk effort that seldom produces any lasting results.

Instead of a knee-jerk approach, guerrilla marketing consists of a continual advertising presence all year long. It may be small, but it’s a presence.

So the true essence of Guerrilla Marketing, according to the book on the subject, is an innovative strategy and unwavering commitment. Your tactics may be inexpensive to execute, but you have a plan and you stick with it like a track on a tank. That’s Guerrilla Marketing!

“In working with small clients  the greatest stumbling block is their inability to understand commitment,” Levinson said. “You must think of marketing as an investment. Not an expense. And you must see to it that your marketing program is consistent.”

True guerrillas are committed to the bone… they won’t give up until they’re dead, or until the enemy is defeated. Guerrilla armies are outnumbered, out gunned, and out-classed in every conventional way. That’s why they resort to unconventional tactics.

In some of his later work Levinson defines Guerrilla Marketing this way… “a body of unconventional ways of pursuing conventional goals.”

Unfortunately, few guerrilla marketers qualify as unconventional. They employ the same tactics as their traditional competitors, only they do much less of it. They cut corners on important executional details and chalk it up to their guerrilla approach.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

For a guerrilla army, it’d be like launching an attack in broad daylight with nothing but but BB guns.

Execution matters!

Levinson hardly mentions creativity in his original book, but creative, unconventional execution is crucial for guerrilla marketers. The biggest brands can throw money at a problem and run ads until a year from Tuesday. Guerrilla marketers can’t. They have to be smarter. Sharper. More persuasive. More creative.

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

Small businesses simply cannot afford messages that don’t resonate. Words that don’t inspire. Or photos that fall flat and impotent. Every element of every guerrilla marketing war needs to be honed and crafted, not thrown together at the last minute.

Levinson said, “many a hard-working, well-meaning business owner will sabotage their business with ill-advised marketing. Guerrillas market like crazy, but none of it is ill-advised.”

Giant, blow-up gorillas in the parking lot are ill-advised. Cutting corners on important executional details… also ill-advised.

For example: A business owner writes his own radio commercial and doesn’t spend any money on talent, editing, or sound design. Then he places the ads on a busy station with lots of national ads and high production values. Two weeks later he’s wondering why the ads aren’t working. A week after that he’s ready to give up on radio advertising all together.

That’s not Guerrilla marketing, and not good business either. A Guerrilla army would never give up simply because one little attack failed to live up to expectations.

History proves that guerrilla campaigns are effective in the long run. The Spanish against Napolean’s army. The French resistance against the Germans. The Afgans against The Soviet Union.

You might not defeat your industry’s superpowers, or even your biggest local competitor, but if you have the fortitude to stick it out, you can win enough little battles to build a great business.

“Confidence is your ally. Provided that your products or services are of sufficient quality, confidence in yourself and your offering will attract buyers more than any other attribute. More than quality. More than selection. More than price,” Levinson said.

Before Levinson’s book, marketing was something only fortune 500 companies could do. He was the first person to put marketing in context for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He put it in terms that common people could understand, and made it seem achievable. Even for underdogs.

“The guerrilla approach is a sensible approach for all marketers, regardless of size. But for entrepreneurs and small business owners who don’t have the funding of a Fortune 500 company, it’s the only way.”

The bottom line here is that even guerrilla armies need generals. They need someone who can plan the strategy and manage the ongoing battles on every front. The same can be said for your marketing efforts.

So if you need help managing all the moving pieces of your own Guerrilla Marketing war, give me a call at BNBranding.

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 What you can learn from the Olympics. (Branding and the Olympic Rings.)

I’m a big fan of the winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I’ve even watched some of the curling competition and ice dancing (yikes).

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

 

 

 

 

The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists. But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.

In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a sad note, with the death of a luge competitor. There have been other unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996. But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand  is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002.  As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.

The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.

Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.

The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.

And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.

Corporate America could learn a thing or two.

• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.

There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregonThe competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.

• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.

The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent:  Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.

With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.

For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.

The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including  a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But it goes much deeper than that.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit.

What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.

When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.

 

For more marketing lessons on brand credibility, try this post on the Brand Insight Blog.

 

 

brand personality of the Duck Dynasty brand on the brand insight blog

Cammo brand personality (Duck Dynasty goes high fashion.)

How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.

branding tips from the Brand Insight BlogYessir. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ. On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,”  throwing the F word around and the next page you have the Duck Dynasty dudes in their cammo-wear quoting bible passages and promoting their own, quirky brand personality. What’s next? Forbes?

Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too. A branding coup, for sure.

Back in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt. I recently saw a line of camouflaged living room furniture. Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They have the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 13 million viewers at its peak— more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale, and even Hunny Boo Boo.

The Duck Dynasty Brand is everywhere these days. And the brand personality has become legendary. They have deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For holiday season branding Hallmark launched a line of Duck Dynasty cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album oduck dynasty brand personality on the brand insight blogf holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. That’s the type of brand affiliation that pays dividends.

What’s the secret to success for this good ol’ boy brand? As the old saying goes: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little bird hunting niche into mass market appeal.

Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal. If you’re going to turn your business into an iconic brand, you need all three.

Brand Personality

In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.”  To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.

Brand Authenticity

Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.

“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”

Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.

Visual Appeal

Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt. The beards are a key component of their branding. Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.

beards-back-490x255

Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”

Sure enough, the show is ending its run in 2017.

So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. Will they maintain the brand personality they’ve established? That’s the real test.

Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching?  The possibilities are endless. I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.

For more insight on brand personality, try THIS post. 

Want to build your own iconic brand? Call me at BNBranding.

Marketing lessons from the not-so-surprising failure of Sears

Marketing lessons from Sears on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsThe recent demise of Sears, once the country’s largest retailer, is replete with valuable marketing lessons for business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing execs and brand managers.

It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.

When the Sears store in my hometown closed its doors. a 60 year presence in the market I was not exactly distraught.

I bought a few tools there, once upon a time. And an appliance or two, but I certainly wouldn’t say I had any fond memories of the place, much less brand allegiance.

Sears dates all the way back to 1886 when Richard Sears started selling watches to his coworkers at the railroad. Alvah Roebuck was his watchmaker, and in 1893 the name Sears Roebuck & Co. was incorporated.

marketing lessons from Sears and BNBranding in Bend OregonThey grew the business rapidly by selling all sorts of merchandise through the mail at a price that undercut the local mercantile. The product offerings were broad — everything from violins to patent medicines and do-it-yourself houses — but the target market was narrowly defined: small towns where the general mercantile was the only real competition.

It was wildly successful niche marketing, for awhile.marketing lessons from sears on the Brand Insight Blog by John Furgurson

Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago.Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.

By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.

Over the next 50 years Sears became a multi-national retail empire, with 2200 stores and the world’s tallest building as its corporate headquarters. The company obviously did a lot of things right over the years.

For instance, Forbes Magazine reported that “Sears successfully developed some of the strongest and most famous private-label brands in history.  Those brands include Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Weatherbeater paint, and Roadhandler tires.

Marketing lessons from Craftsman on the brand insight blog

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

Those are great names, and the success of those product lines is textbook branding. Someone at Sears was well advised to resist the line extension trap and NOT put the Sears name on a car battery or a paint can.

Some Wall Street insiders believe it’s those proprietary brands that could save Sears from its current “slow motion liquidation.” In fact, there have been rumors that Sears will begin selling some of those brands through other retailers, including Costco. Maybe there’s a future for Sears as a wholesaler???

Sears is a good example of how success often leads to temptation and complacency. Temptation to expand and diversify into other businesses and complacency when it comes to the core of the brand. (I’m not sure anyone in the last 30 years could even define the core of the Sears brand. They were all over the place!)

Sears got into the insurance business with AllState, the financial services business by buying Dean Witter Reynolds, the real estate business with the purchase of Coldwell Banker and even the credit card business, with the launch of the Discover Card.

In the meantime, they missed an opportunity to dominate the direct marketing business, they neglected their retail stores, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular private label brands languish.

So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.

For 20 years Sears has been trying to re-position itself as a competitor to Macy’s, JCPenny, Kohl’s and Target. Remember the slogan, “The softer side of Sears?” That was an ill-fated attempt to sell clothing. Now they have the Kardashian Collection. Yikes!

Marketing lessons from The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

Forbes magazine reported: “Sears is relying mainly on inauthentic celebrity exclusives (does anyone really believe that Kim Kardashian would actually shop at Sears?) to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers, and it is clear that Sears has lost its way.”

As Laura Ries put it, “When faced with a broadening of its category, Sears should have narrowed its focus and become a specialist. Instead of shifting to the “softer side of Sears,” the retailer should have further embraced its harder side.”

The department store niche is not the answer to Sears’ problems. Walmart has taken both the price and one-stop shopping advantage.

Target is positioned as the trendy, aspirational choice for millennial girls.

Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement.

has the online convenience advantage. Best Buy dominates in electronics. Lowes is succeeding with appliances. There’s just no room for a general purpose department store that’s trying to be all things to all people.

Even if there wasn’t all that competition, you’d still never convince people that Sears is a good place to buy clothing. That was never going to fly!

Sears Brand car battery

Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.

It will be very interesting to see what becomes of the company now that it’s merged with Kmart and owned by infamous hedge fund manager Eddie Lampbert. The stock has lost half its value. They’re closing 120 stores this year. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to revive it.

The company’s latest hail-mary strategy  is “a free social shopping destination and loyalty rewards program called “Shop Your Way.” (Note to management: A loyalty program’s probably not going to work too well in all these towns where the stores have been shuttered.)

Even the most beloved retail chains have a hard time with loyalty programs. A recent study by McKinsey & Co. found that despite their general growth and popularity, loyalty programs actually erode margins and destroy value for their owners. Companies with them grew no faster than — and sometimes slower than — those without loyalty programs.

The latest update on the Sears saga has Lampbert borrowing a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, blaming irresponsible media coverage for Sears’ troubles.

According to the Business News, Sears has not shown a profit in the last six years. And talk about spin… Lampbert went so far as to liken that performance to Amazon’s early years.

That’s delusional leadership.

Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up the best:  “If the hedge-fund mogul knew how to fix Sears, he’d have done it by now.”

There are only two things the company has going for it: massive real estate holdings, and some great brands NOT named Sears.

For more marketing lessons and insight on marketing leadership, try this post.

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2 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

Branding Fundamentals – The ABCs of Branding are RCD

the importance of branding BNbrandingRelevance. Credibility. Differentiation. These are branding fundamentals. When you look at companies — large and small — that have become successful brands, you’ll notice strength, consistency and often superiority in those three areas.

Branding fundamentals begin with Relevance.

Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone.

My old friend Preston Thompson understood the importance of branding strategies and the need for a niche. He painstakingly crafted high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound.

Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar. Duh!

But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.

Wisely, Preston doesn’t worry about that.

The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and  trying to be relevant to a broad range of guitar players, they’re staying esoterically focused.

Relevant to few, but highly valued.

The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most. Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target.

Blackberry was once a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.

Relevance in the restaurant business is also ridiculously fleeting.  Foodies, who are the bread and butter of the trendy restaurant scene, suffer from a severe case of “been there done that” syndrome. So when something new comes along, they’re gone  and the hottest restaurant of the year gets quickly supplanted by the next great thing. The restaurants that thrive in the long run find an audience after the foodies have left the building.

The demise of Sears demonstrates a dramatic loss of relevance. There’s still a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years, but the brand can’t survive on that.  It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of retail. High school girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.

too many choices the importance of branding BNBranding Brand Insight BlogSometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives.

It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, Coke or Kool Aid in the summer.

The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance.

It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?

Being relevant equates to being meaningful. If your brand is meaningful, you’ll generate interest. People will desire it. And they’ll take action. That’s what you want: Interest. Desire. Action.

Many brands fail because they didn’t really mean anything to begin with.  Others lose their meaning over time, often due to a lack of credibility. They haven’t mastered the branding fundamentals.

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down. That’s one of the things that all great brands have in common… They live by their brand values.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsIt’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)

Good sales people often gloss over the realities of delivery in order to get the sale. Like the famous line from an old FedEx ad… “We can do that. Sure, we can do that! (How we gonna do that?”) Every time you over-promise and come up short, your credibility takes a hit.

Instead, set realistic expectations. And if things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to say, “yeah, we really screwed up.” And do it quickly! In this world of social media you have to move fast to stay ahead of any bad news.

So let’s assume that you know yourself well and you’ve established a trusted brand. The easiest way to screw it up is to advertise something you’re NOT. Like a personal injury lawyer claiming to be friendly and honest.

And if you really want to compound the problem, try using a celebrity of questionable credibility. That’s a double whammy! Every brand affiliation reflects on your credibility.

Often what you’ll see is advertising based on wishful thinking rather than brand realities or customer insight. The ego of the business owner clouds the message that gets out and harms the credibility of the company. Ego is also a common culprit when it comes to differentiation… CEOs and business owners start thinking they can do anything.

brand differentiation BNBrandingBranding Fundamentals: Differentiation.

The best brands take the conventional thinking of their industry and throw it on its ear, disrupting everything that came before. They discard the age-old excuse; “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”

You cannot differentiate your brand by watching the rear-view mirror or by following the lead of others in your industry. Instead, try the convention-disruption model… Think about the standard operating procedures and practices of your industry – the conventional approach – and do something else.

There are three key areas where differentiation can produce some dramatic business gains:

Product/Service Differentiation

The best marketing programs begin with products designed to be different from the get-go. There are plenty of ice cream brands out there, but only one with the crazy, mixed-up flavors of “Late Night Snack.” Ben & Jerry’s continually differentiates itself with its creativity in the flavor department.

Operational Differentiation

If you have me-too products you can still differentiate yourself through operational innovation. Be more efficient, more employee-friendly, more environmentally conscious, whatever. For Walmart procurement and supply chain management was the differentiator. That’s what enables them to keep prices so low.

Business Model Differentiation

This is a good option that applies mostly to start-ups. If you can find a better business model, and prove that it works, investors will notice.  But keep in mind, consumers might not know the difference, so you still have to do other things well.

Marketing  Differentiation

In crowded markets with many similar offerings it’s often the advertising and marketing programs that push one brand to the front of the pack. Additionally, in advertising circles there are three areas where you can differentiate yourself:  Strategy, media, or creative execution.

Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation.

The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.

RCD. Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Most companies are lucky to get one or two out of three. The greatest brands are three for three.

Call us to find out how Relevance Credibility & Differentiation matter to your business. 541-815-0075.

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4 path to marketing success

Who reads long copy these days? The hungry ones.

BNBranding logoI’m really tired of people telling me no one reads anything anymore. “Copywriting doesn’t matter.” “Long copy is dead.”

A prospect recently said he didn’t want professionally-written web copy because, “no one reads it anyway.” He insisted that “People go to a site looking for something very specific. They don’t want to read, they just want to find what they’re looking for and move on.”

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSo instead of a sharp, well-crafted message on his new website, he threw together a series of meaningless, self-serving “blurbs” that he could pick up and and Tweet.

None were authentic or compelling in any way. Good for nothing soundbites, to quite frank.

That’s too bad.

Why spend good money on a new site, and then cut corners on the message development and copywriting? It makes no sense.

If a user has found your site, and has gone to the trouble of clicking in, they’re obviously looking for something they think you have… Information, products, services or insight of some kind. They’re hungry, and they’re following a crumb of promise, and you darn well better feed them something tasty.

When people are serious about a purchase, they read plenty!

It’s self-selected relevance… ONLY people who are interested in your product, company, or niche will feast their eyes on your copy. There’s absolutely no need to address anyone else. And it’s been proven, time and again for more than 100 years, that people will read long copy if it’s relevant to their needs.

So to that client, I suggested he think of his website as a catering gig… The home page is the appetizer. You can’t just tease them with the first course and then leave the party. At some point, you gotta give them the meat.

give 'em the sizzle. BNBranding.And guess what… When you do give them substantial, well-written copy, your website will perform better from an SEO standpoint. (Google it!)

Many companies invest big money on the design and programming of a new site and then insist on using free,“factual content” from inexpensive third party sources. Or they have an intern cut and paste “keyword rich” copy into the site.

But the faulty logic of “free content” leads to a detrimental, self-fulfilling prophecy… A couple months later that business owner will look at his Google analytics and see that users aren’t spending any time on those pages of the site. Inevitably,  he’ll say, “told you so. Long copy doesn’t work.”

Of course no one read that free content. It has no flavor!

There’s no connection to your brand, your company’s culture, your product or your unique selling proposition. It’s the exact same tasteless corporate blah, blah, blah that everyone else in your niche is saying.

BNBranding long copy is more convincing

It left a bad taste in their mouths, and they went elsewhere. You had them at the table, and you left them hungry and disappointed.

The argument for free content reminds me of the business owner who says, “Oh, I tried radio and it never worked.”

How many times have I heard that one? My response is always the same: “Uh-huh. Let’s hear it.”

Inevitably, the radio spot used to prove the point involved two on-air “personalities” and some inane dialog that’s about as natural as botox on a Pug’s face. Boring, vanilla flavored crap. Or worse yet, a locally produced jingle.

The fact is, people will  respond to a well-written radio spot if it’s relevant to them. If it’s not relevant, or incredibly entertaining, they’ll simply change channels.

Same with web copy.

long copy still works brand insight blog from BNBranding bend oregon

long copy still works

People have been debating the benefits of long copy since Claude Hopkins made millions writing ads in the early 1900s.  Later, David Ogilvy, the grandfather of modern advertising, was a big proponent of long copy.

He understood the need to do two things:

1. Strike an emotional chord that resonates within the deepest, reptilian recesses of the brain.

2. Back it up with enough proof to hurdle the objections of the analytical mind. Often that means long copy.

There’s abundant A-B testing that proves long copy outsells short copy. But it’s not that simple. Crappy long copy won’t work better than well-written short copy. It’s not the word count, it’s the quality of the message, the concept, the story and the choice of words that really matter.

It also depends on the product, the category, the value proposition, the context and many other variables. It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition.

Unfortunately, there’s a trend right now toward one size fits all web design. It’s a move away from anything wdon't settle for plain vanilla copy. Bend Oregon ad agency.ritten to a more visual approach with a lot of  boxes, buttons and clipart info-graphics. It’s a template-driven, paint-by-numbers approach that guarantees a big, homogenized playing field of similar-looking sites. All vanilla.

Most companies are trading differentiation and persuasion for the convenience of off-the-shelf execution. And they’re getting lost in the process.
If you’re making a complex, business-to-business pitch, your site should not look, feel or behave like a site selling a simple impulse item. The higher the level of involvement, anxiety or skepticism about your product, the longer the copy should be. In that case, the old-school idea of “the more you tell, the more you sell” still applies.

Let’s say you blow out your knee and you need ACL surgery. Chances are, there are several knee specialists in your market to choose from.

If you’re an orthopedic practice you could load-up generic medical info about the statistical outcomes of ACL surgery.  Or you could provide the facts, wrapped with some emotional reassurance. Call me a whimp, but if it were me, I’d want a friendly little pat on the back that says, “It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to be okay. Here’s what you can expect. Here’s the PT you’ll have to do. Here’s what others have said about the experience.”

You can’t do good beside manner in one paragraph.

Plus, in that scenario, facts just don’t cut it. The tone of the copy and the overall presentation need to do more than inform, they need to put the patient at ease. For that, you need well-written copy not vanilla flavored content.

positioning strategy BNBrandingHere’s another example… I have a client who has a very involved, do-it-yourself product sold exclusively online. It involves a long selling process and full weekend of yard work after the purchase.

Do customers want the facts about installation and detailed instructions? Of course. But they also need a friendly nudge to actually get the job started. They need reassurance that they won’t get stuck in that Ikea-like hell with a half finished job and lots of left-over parts.

In that case, it’s customers who will be hungry for the long copy. And if you don’t provide it, they may end up paying for a product that’s just collecting dust in the garage.

These days, you can’t just tell them. You also have use every modern marketing devise to demonstrate, illustrate, persuade and prove your case. Long copy still sells, it just has to be served up a little differently.

Use video for presenting meaty customer testimonials or show-and-sell product demonstrations.

Use white papers and case studies to present deep, elaborate arguments that prove your value proposition. (A recent Harvard survey showed that case studies are THE most-read form of content in B-to-B content marketing.)

Use YouTube, Twitter and everything else in your power to deliver the appetizers. But don’t forget the main course. There HAS to be some meat on that bone, somewhere.

You can’t just keep leading people through a site, deeper and deeper and deeper, without ever delivering the whole story.  It might only be a small percentage of users, but there ARE people who hungry for that. And often it’s your best brand ambassadors.

For more insight on copywriting

For examples of great copywriting

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2

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

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

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

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

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

non-profit branding case study by BNBranding bend oregon

Print ad for Working Wonders Children’s Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

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

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

Some people contend it was actually branded too well.

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

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

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

One key question that came up:

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

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

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

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability. For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors who can provide an endowment.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors. In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships, and those dried up overnight when the economy tanked.

As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives. But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Strategic Thinking vs. Tactical Acting – Your marketing needs both.

BNBranding logoI’ve been writing the Brand Insight Blog regularly since 2007. The single most popular post I’ve ever written focuses on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Thinking and planning vs. doing and implementing.

Seems there’s a some confusion there, to say the least, about the definition of tactics and strategy.

For example, I saw a blog recently titled “Top 10 Social Media Strategies.” But the list was purely tactical. Not a strategy to be seen.

Here’s a quick tip: If you see the word “strategies” – plural- it’s probably not really a strategy. Strategy is singular. Focused. Unique.

Tactics are plural. They’re done by everyone, including your competitors.

So if you’re still a bit unclear about the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics, here’s another way to look at it…

Think about Insight vs. Execution. Insight being the crucial strategic thinking that has to happen before you execute the tactical plan. Think, then act.

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands talks about the difference between strategic thinkers and tactical implementers. He writes…

“To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.” Whoever wrote that blog post on social media definitely sees answers first, and social media is it.

Strategic Thinkers ask a lot of “what if” questions before they begin to develop solutions.  They think, they reflect, they plan and they stew on things before they act. In fact, many never act at all. They deliver a report and walk away, or they delegate the execution to the tacticians.

Tactical people jump right into answers.

They believe that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking, so it often turns into a “ready, fire, aim” scenario. They are impulsive doers who often get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

It’s like Captain Kirk in an old StarTrek episode yelling at Spock; “What we need now, Spock, is a little less analysis and lot more action!”

Spock was the strategy guy. Captain Kirk was the execution guy.

There are many business owners with A-type personalities who fall into the category of non-strategic implementers. They’re the ones who quickly jump on every new marketing bandwagon that comes along, hoping for a home run without ever taking batting practice.

They do a lot, but without clear direction they often do a lot of the wrong things. They’re all over the place.

Strategists, on the other hand, often think themselves to death and never get anywhere.

My firm is often brought in for tactical projects because many clients don’t think they need the strategy help. But in most of those cases, we have to work our way “upstream” to answer those key, strategic questions before we jump into creative execution of a website, ad campaign, social media effort or whatever.

marketing strategy rafting the deschutesTactical implementers never paddle upstream. They just go with the flow.

To be a great marketer you have to wear both hats.

“While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand, Robertson said. ” They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action.  And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff you actually need done.  I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and tactical, almost equally so.”

A tall order for most marketing people. In fact, Robertson estimates that only 15 to 25% of all marketing people are legitimately “strategic”  in their approach to their jobs. There are far more tactical marketing implementers than there are strategic thinkers.

If you’re building a career in marketing you need to pinpoint your strengths. If you’re more of a manager, organizer and list-making delegator, you’ll probably want to find people for your team who can fill in the strategy gap.

You can’t just suddenly decide to “be strategic.”

Being strategic means reading between the lines, delving deeper than just factual data, and trusting your instincts. That takes years of practice and a certain personality type. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a good tactical implementer who gets a lot of stuff done.

tactic definition - balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics for best results.

There are thousands of successful design firms and small ad agencies that have no strategic thinkers at all. The account executives simply coordinate the list of tactics they’re given by the client. The creative specialists — writers, graphic designers, web programmers, SEO guys, photographers, and social media specialists execute those tactical projects.

That can work for companies that already have a well-defined brand and a clear-cut marketing strategy. But it doesn’t work if the business owner doesn’t have her story spelled out on paper.

In that case, those creative implementers will spin their wheels and go through a lot of false starts before they hit on something that strikes a chord with the client. And more importantly, with consumers.

Launching a FaceBook contest is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. (And by the way, it’s not an effective tactic if you think it’ll replace other forms of paid advertising.)

“Content Marketing” is not a marketing strategy. It’s a tactic. One of many things on your to-do list that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Producing and running a Super Bowl commercial is a tactic. Deciding which product or service to focus on, in that Super Bowl commercial, is strategy.

The most common mistake in marketing strategy is a lack of focus. A strong strategy demands focus, but most business owners want to be all things to all people.

I was talking with a real estate firm the other day and they had all their “specialties” listed on their website: “First time home buyers. Second time home buyers. Golf homes. Down-sizers.”

Upscale, low scale, middle of the road scale. Nothing was left out, which made the whole idea of specialization ridiculous.

Time to start swimming upstream!

But strategic thinking is tough. It involves hard decisions and thoughtful contemplation that many business owners simply don’t have time for.

The most important strategic “what-if” question you can ask yourself is this: What are you going to hang your hat on? What’s the ONE thing that you can shout from the rooftops? What if it’s this? What if it’s that?

Imagine that you can only advertise your business on billboards along the freeway. You get one idea and one idea only. Five words max.  Otherwise, no one whizzing by at 65 will see it. Good luck with that. Distilling your marketing strategy down to that level is a rare talent.

If you make the strategic decision to NOT specialize, your tactical execution will suffer dearly. Generalizations never work as well as specifics, and when you’re “targeting”  “men and women age 35 to 64” you’re really talking to no one.

In that case, a good advertising team will simply ignore the strategy-that’s-not-really-a-strategy, and hone in on one very specific idea.

Occasionally, some great business strategies come out of this process. Purely by accident.  But it’s much more efficient to have your marketing strategy mapped out first and then match the tactics to that.

Think Strategically. Act Tactically.

If you need help thinking strategically, or executing any of your marketing tactics, don’t hesitate to call. 541-815-0075. BNBranding can help take your business to the next level with a balance of logical strategy and quick action.

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