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“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

managerial incompetence Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingHonestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule.

Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads, nitwits and nincumpoops seem to rule the world.

These are just a couple examples of managerial incompetence that I’ve encountered in the last year:

• The retail store owner who has no handle on her inventory levels, media expenses or labor costs.

• The non-profit executive who has a revolving door of talent, going only one direction. (Four different marketing directors in five years.)

• The managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over-bills his clients. (Subsequently, that firm spends way too much time trying to land new clients.)

• The Director of Communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally. She’s completely siloed.

• The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything. The only decision he can make is to hire a consultant to help him make a decision.

 

Managerial failures like those are rampant. There was a study done by a Fortune 500 consulting firm that showed “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.”

(Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)

So the bad news is, there’s a 50-50 chance that your boss or your manager is incompetent. The good news is, 50% of the companies you compete with are chock full of managerial incompetence. So you might have a leg up.

And here’s more good news:  It’s well documented that a strong brand helps companies overcome all sorts of managerial incompetence and unforeseen market forces.

For instance, strong brand affinity can help companies maintain market share during a price war. People are willing to pay a little more for a brand they know and love.

According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front. People are more forgiving when it’s one of their brands that fail.

And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt. Look what happened to Toyota…

In 2009 and 2010 Toyota recalled 8.8 million vehicles due to safety concerns with accelerator pedals.  Time magazine ran a feature story titled “Can Toyota ever bounce back.” One industry expert told CBS Anchor Harry Smith, “We’ll be seeing major problems with the Toyota brand for at least a decade, maybe two.”

Toyota’s CEO quipped that he was not Toyota’s top executive as much as the company’s chief apologizer for blunders, mishaps and overall sluggish business. It was a PR disaster, and another example of managerial messiness.

Business Insider reported “The company failed miserably in its initial crisis management, but that’s what makes Toyota’s case so intriguing. Despite its monumental mistakes early on, Toyota still bounced back. Why? It didn’t take long for the public to remember Toyota’s previously stellar reputation.”

Contrary to all the doomsday speculation, the Toyota brand made a quick recovery, recapturing its status as the #1 selling car brand in America. (In 2016 they had the #1 and #2 selling car in America.)

Not surprising really, given the consistency and long-term track record of the Toyota brand.

“The Toyota brand showcased its resiliency, with its positive reputation built up over decades of good performance. The company leveraged this, focusing its marketing once again on safety and its proven track record. It had to show that this disaster — including its own horrible mishandling of the situation — was an aberration.”

branding blog about managerial incompetenceToyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics.

AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.

So what does this all mean for the typical small to mid-sized company? Here are a few lessons:

1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise.

Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance.

Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down.

What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?

2. Managers make monumental mistakes, but brands endure.

CEOs come and go, often in a flaming blaze of glory. Products sometimes fall drastically short. But if you’ve built a strong brand your devoted fans will cut you some slack. The emotional connection they have will prevail over any short-term disappointment.

3.  A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team.

They gotta know what you stand for, and they’re not necessarily going to know unless you spell it out for them. You have to communicate your brand promise all the time, and promote it feverishly with your team. How else are they going to understand the culture, the core values, the expectations of consumers, and the business goals? Don’t assume anything.

4. Great managers are hard to find. When you find one, treat her well.

No one has the childhood dream of becoming a great manager.  So if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.

5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished.

They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it. Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion.

If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

For more about the power of a great brand, read this post

content marketing for small business

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

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

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

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

What do you mean, “again”?

high quality content marketing for small business

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

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

How cool is that?

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content marketing is a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

high quality content Brand Insight Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Think about your brand first, and clicks second.

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

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

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

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

I don’t know. It’s still evolving.

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

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

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

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

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

And that’s great.

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

7 website design BNBranding

As long as first impressions matter, website design will matter.

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website design is a waste of money.”

It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.

One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.”  Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?

website design BNBrandingThis is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.

The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.

This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every website design is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.

As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean”  and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

 

 

So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.

We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.

If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.

One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.

website design BNBrandingI guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse.  There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.

Poor website design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”

When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding.  It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “website design.”  In that case, balance is the key.

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.”

If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it.  The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.

One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good website up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a very pretty mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

bn branding's iconic logo

I’ve been a fan of Starbucks since they opened their first store in Portland, in 1987.  I don’t think there’s been a brand, since McDonalds, that has had a bigger effect on our society than Starbucks. It truly is, one of the most iconic brands in the world, and has grown to be one of the most valuable.

 

Interbrand ranks Starbucks as the 56th most valuable brand in the world. It’s market cap of 120 billion dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo.

 

A great article in Fast Company magazine reveals some of the latest nuances added to the siren logo.

 

 

 

 

 

I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

 

 

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

 

 

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

 

 

 

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the logo evolved, it got too perfect. It lost some of the mystery of the older versions. Lippencott article in Fast Company

 

 

 

 

Definition of digital marketing — 3 things you HAVE to know

BNBranding logoSurely you’ve heard the online chatter about “digital marketing.” There are a million platforms, channels, systems, software programs, “strategies”  and agencies that are guaranteed to help you “kill it” online.

Every month it’s something new. (You using Facebook Messenger as an ad platform yet?)

If you’re a business owner you have better things to do than follow the scuttlebutt about the shifting landscape within various specialties that fall under the banner of digital marketing.

It’ll make your head spin.

So here’s a little advice… If you’re choosing a digital marketing firm, or thinking of hiring an in-house “digital marketing specialist,” read this post all the way through.

At least you’ll get a handle on the definition of digital marketing. That’s the bare minimum you need to know before diving in. You can’t manage their work effectively if you don’t know the basics:

1. Know the definition of “Digital Marketing.”

You have to understand that the term itself varies dramatically from one firm to the next. Depends on their niche… Some say it’s SEO. Some say it’s web development. Some says it’s pay-per-click advertising. Some say it’s lead-gen. Some say it’s all of the above.

Here’s a definition used by one of the big players in that business:

 

 

“Digital marketing is data-driven and targeted brand promotion through technology.”

“Data Driven” and “Targeted” are popular buzzwords these days. But guess what… Marketing consultants, direct response agencies, media-buying specialists and market research firms have been “data driven” since the early 1950’s.

Even Advertising Agencies… They use hard market research data to devise creative campaigns, and then they use sophisticated media targeting to deliver the message to the right people.

This is NOT a new concept in the marketing world.

Digital marketing firms are just using new tools to do the work. And for the most part, it’s good, valuable work that should be part of every marketing plan. But it’s just a part.

Note the use of the word “promotion”.

By definition, promotions are transactional, tactical tools that can boost short term sales. But they do not build brand loyalty. Don’t confuse promotional tactics with marketing strategy or brand building.

And wait a minute… That same firm also claims: “We have the means to take over your marketing from top to bottom, evaluate your brand’s needs and develop a powerful strategy that maximizes profits.”

That’s where they begin to overpromise.

I don’t know any small digital firms that have account planners, market researchers or brand managers on staff who can help you with a brand strategy. Digital marketing people are detail-oriented, technology-minded specialists. They’re not trained — nor wired — to see the big picture.

For that, you need a real a marketing consultant or a strategic branding firm. Even an ad agency would be a better choice for strategy work than a digital marketing firm. Let the digital guys stick to their own definition of digital marketing, and use someone else to oversee the strategy.

2. Know where digital marketing firms fit into the overall marketing landscape.

Naturally, all digital marketing firms contend that “digital is the future of marketing.”  And a lot of business owners are buying into the idea that a digital marketing firm is all they’ll ever need.

But the world’s greatest brands, and the fastest growing small businesses, recognize one old-fashioned business school fact: The best marketing is a MIX of things.

You need a rich mixture of marketing tactics, marketing perspectives and marketing talent — both generalists and specialists.

You also need a mix of different media outlets to keep your brand visible and relevant. Not just social media posts or paid Instagram ads.

A healthy marketing mix means that some of your marketing efforts will be designed for a short-term bump in sales, while others will be designed for building long-term brand loyalty.

Some will be creative, design-oriented, “feel good” efforts like what you get from design firms and ad agencies.

Other tactics will be analytical and numbers-driven, like what you get from digital marketing firms.

Both can move the needle for your brand, but all those pieces should be aligned under one, coherent, overarching marketing strategy.

Digital Marketing Agencies are constantly promoting themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Which is perfectly on-brand, because that’s their wheelhouse. They commonly boast that they “manage $x millions in digital media spending”  which tells me they fit squarely in a specialized niche within the bigger niche of media buying services.

They don’t tout their strategic prowess or creative thinking. Just their ability to manage your social media posts and paid ads on all the various digital channels.

The business model that’s taught by all the digital marketing gurus is based on mass scaleability. “Just follow this model and you’re going to crush it,” they all claim.

It’s true. Media planning and buying always has been a highly profitably business model. (That’s how advertising agencies made their millions.) But there’s a dirty little secret in the new model that digital agency owners don’t want clients to know:  When they “scale” the clients pay a price.

The mindset is this: We managed a facebook campaign for a natural foods company that worked well, so we’re going to replicate that and run the exact same thing for a bunch of clients in the same category. All we have to do is change out the logos.

It’s an efficient cash-flow generator for the agency owners, but it’s not necessarily good for your brand. Do you really want to be saying, showing, and doing the same thing as your competitors?

Seth Godin posted this recently:

“Online marketing has become a messy mix of direct marketing, seo, tricks, tips, code and guesswork. It’s an always-moving target and it’s mostly focused on tactics, not strategy, because tactics are easy to measure.”

3.  Know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

Digital marketing firms will tell you how “strategic” their social media work is, and they’ll claim that everything they do is based on “strategic targeting.” Sure, targeting is important, but do not expect marketing strategy from a digital marketing firm.

Mark Ritson, a world renown brand strategist and Professor of Brand Management puts it bluntly: “‘Digital Strategy’ is a contradiction in terms. What’s happening all the time now is tactics are getting perverted into ‘strategies’. What you really need is a marketing strategy.”

Strategy first, THEN tactics. That’s what we do at BN Branding.

I know it’s confusing. And don’t feel bad if all your efforts have been tactical. Ritson says that 80% of all British companies don’t have a coherent marketing strategy. Everyone’s fixated on tactics these days.

Here’s a good post where you can read more about the differences between marketing strategy and tactics. 

definition of digital marketing by BNBranding

 

Strategy first. Tactics second. 

The old 4 P’s of Marketing still apply.  You should  pay attention to all four, not just the one that’s covered by digital marketing firms.

There’s “Place” which has to do with distribution strategy.

There’s Pricing. 

There’s Product. (A great product makes all the other elements of marketing much easier.)

And finally, there’s “Promotions” which is a catch-all phrase that includes all marketing communications and tactics, including every specialized facet of Digital Marketing.

So you see, the tactical work that Digital Marketing firms do well — SEO, SEM, SMM, CPM — and all those other confusing acronyms — is really just a small part of the overall tactical marketing picture.

Digital marketing firms like to compare themselves to “traditional advertising agencies” because the old, Mad Men model is an easy target.

But digital agencies are actually more similar to Direct Response agencies than they are to traditional ad agencies. Direct Response firms always have been driven by quantifiable data and measurable ROI.

I believe it won’t be long before the term “digital marketing” is dropped entirely from the industry jargon. Because everything’s digital these days. Even traditional old things like radio advertising and print are delivered digitally. The lines are blurry, and the terminology continues to confound many people. (For a primer on marketing terms, try this post from the AMA.)

4. Know who’s really doing the work.

The business model for many Digital Marketing Firms is pretty simple: Scaled Outsourcing. They exploit and monetize multiple sources of cheap labor such as crowdsourcing websites, freelance markets like Upwork or “white label” firms from Asia. Then they mark it up. Dramatically.

It’s a good business model for them because it’s easily scalable, but it’s not designed with the best interest of the client at heart.

There’s no synergy to those efforts because every little marketing tactic is being executed by a different person who knows nothing about your business. Plus, in most cases there’s no strategy to guide the efforts. The right hand seldom knows what the digital left hand is doing at any given time.

So before choosing a digital marketing firm, just know that they cannot help you with the big picture strategy work that’ll build your brand in the long run.

So you have two choices… Become your own, best brand manager and get really good at strategy, OR hire a brand strategy consultant to map things out before you ever jump on board with a digital marketing firm.

Without it, your digital tactics will not be as effective as everyone would like.

If you’re still confused about the definition of digital marketing, give us a call. We’ll coach you through it, from a strategic perspective. 541-815-0075.

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1 research for branding strategies

Fake thrills and false advertising — Another automotive marketing misfire.

BN Branding's iconic brand identityAutomotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. The big brands seldom produce memorable spots, print ads or campaigns. And at the dealer level there’s nothing but obnoxious yell & sell retail ads. Many have been accused of false advertising.

Let’s look at a campaign for the Toyota Camry… This isn’t what I’d call blatantly false advertising. It’s more like delusional, wishful thinking.

You have to start with this fact: The Camry is not an exciting car.

In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but vanilla-flavored toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and was the best-selling car in America for almost 20 years.

article on false advertising from BN Branding

Obviously, there’s a huge segment of the American car-buying population that does not care about horsepower, handling, sexiness or style.  They just want reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation.

Plain old toasters on wheels.

My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

What a great concept… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format.

They built an elaborate, hot-wheels style track and then too people for a rid up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.  I want to drive!

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

 

 

 

This is a classic case of a great advertising idea executed for the wrong brand. Some might even call it false advertising.

Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not. If this campaign was for the Mazda Miata, then yeah. Maybe it would work.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course”  features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel.  There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?”  Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Brand Insight Blog article on false advertising

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy.

But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up!  Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014  the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.”  That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

False advertising vs. truth in advertising BNBrandingAnd more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry  differently???  Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plent

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners concerning false advertising or grandiose claims…

If you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

Stick with the core truth.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla like the Camry, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath. And it’s basically false advertising.

For more on truth in advertising, try THIS post.

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1 positioning strategy BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

brand credibility BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.

By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” ubrand insight blog post about brand credibilitys on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines are equally important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on building an authentic brand 

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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.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

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. 

1 BNBranding brand insight blog example of incongruity in copywriting

How to make your copy more compelling: Mix up the words for better results.

BNBranding logoSometimes, when it comes to copywriting, one word can be the difference between a marketing home run and a dribbling bunt.

Use a boring, expected word, and you’ll get boring results. Introduce incongruity into the word choice, and you’ll hit it out of the park.

Here’s an example:

I was doing a campaign for a commercial real estate concern, and the client was completely fixated on one word in a headline: “Precious.”

“I don’t like it. Babies are precious, not parking places,” she argued.

“Yes, that’s precisely why it works,” I countered. “The inconguity of it. Besides, diamonds are also precious. And what’s more valuable than diamonds?”

By using that one word I exaggerated the value of “free parking” and elevated a mundane product feature to an entirely different realm.

It was an effective use of incongruity in advertising copy, and she just couldn’t get her head around it.

So I showed her some alternative adjectives that I knew would not work…

“Popular parking places” just didn’t have the same effect.

“Convenient” didn’t have the alliteration I was looking for.

“Valuable” just sucks.

The more options I showed her, the better the word “precious” seemed. The incongruity of it was perfect for that context and purpose. Eventually the client relented, and the ad ran, quite successfully.

 

 

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingIncongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad and an existing frame of reference. (Elements being product photo, brand name, endorser, music selection, word choice, etc.)

Academic research on the subject has shown that “incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system”…

That’s precisely what advertising people are going for: a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand. That’s what good copywriting is all about. That’s what iconic brands are built on.

“Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with INcongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.”

On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all.

Here’s an example of bad copywriting from a Bed & Breakfast website:

“Welcome to our home! We invite you to look around our website and consider a stay with us on your next visit to or through Lexington. When we open our door to you, we consider you as welcome guests, but want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own home. Our mission is to provide you with lodging, rest and meals that are memorably special, to do so with the kind of Southern hospitality you expect and deserve, in tasteful household surroundings that carry the tradition of Old South charm. You will find something “extra” everywhere you turn during your stay, from the bedding, room amenities, complimentary toiletries, and more…Each area has its own entertainment system, open WiFi access, and, for each room, individual climate controls. We believe you will enjoy your stay with us so much that you will regret having to leave, but depart looking forward to another visit. We hope to see you soon.

No one’s going to stick with this copy beyond the first four words. And “Complimentary toiletries”… Really? I sure hope so.

Copy like that is, what I’d call, boringly congruent. It’s so expected and chock full of cliche’s no one’s going to hear it. Our brains are wired to weed out the mundane, like a triple speed fast-forward button on the TV remote.

In marketing, the opposite of incongruity is not congruity. It’s invisibility.

BNBranding brand insight blog example of incongruity in copywriting

When all the elements line up in the same, old, expected way the message becomes completely invisible. Without some degree of incongruity, the copywriting fails.

But effective incongruity hinges on proper, relevant context.

examples of copywriting from BNBrandingExample: I recently used some nonsensical words in a campaign directed toward restaurant owners.

They know what babaganoush is. And Paninis.

The context made the incongruity of the words effective. If the target had been the general public, it’d be a different story.

If an element is totally out of context AND incongruent, it seldom works.

I recently saw a TV spot for a local realtor that was so wildly out of context and incongruent, it didn’t work at all. All you see are tattooed arms putting a puzzle together while the voice-over talks about “the real estate market is tearing families apart.”

Creepy.

If you’re a client who purchases advertising, try to embrace incongruity in the right context.  It could be one word in a headline that seems not quite right, or one image or graphic.

Chances are, if it seems just a little outta place it’s going to work well. It’ll stop people in their tracks and engage the creative side of their brain.

So next time you’re working on an email campaign, a powerpoint presentation, or anything… take time to throw in at least one unexpected word that will break through all the “babaganoushit.”

It makes all the difference.

For more on making your advertising messages more memorable, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

1 bank branding on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBranding

Is “Inspiring Bank” an Oxymoron? The Branding of Umpqua Bank

It’s interesting, where people find business inspiration. For some, it’s the pages of Forbes or podcasts with big-name entrepreneurs. For me it’s the bookstore, or conversations with clients. I don’t think anyone looks at bank branding as a source of inspiration.

bank branding on the brand insight blogMost banks are not known for their inspiring interiors or creative marketing practices. The most exciting thing to ever happen at my old bank was the emancipation of the counter pens…

They were released from their chains and replaced with crappy logo pens that are now free to take home with just a purchase of a $10,000 15-year Certificate of Deposit.

Nope. The banking industry is the last place I’d look for business inspiration or marketing insight.

That is, until I met Ray Davis, the the former CEO of Umpqua Bank.

 

Turns out, Davis is not inspired by bank branding either.

According to Davis, the key question driving strategy discussions at Umpqua Bank has been, “How can we get people to drive by three other banks to get to ours?”

That question has steered the bank’s team to look outside the financial sector for inspiration. For instance, Umpqua’s brand has been heavily influenced by the retail industry. “Build the branches around interactions, not transactions.”

Umpqua Bank has grown from $150 million to $24 billion in assets during Davis’ time as CEO. Today it has 350 stores in three states. But perhaps more importantly for the brand, Umpqua has been included in Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 best places to work  — eight years in a row.

Bankers and banking consultants from all over the world visit the Umpqua headquarters in Portland and the San Francisco branch to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And what’s even more impressive is that executives in completely different industries are also looking to Umpqua for inspiration.

Turns out, we really can learn from a bank when it comes to branding.

So what’s behind it? What’s turned this small town brand into one of the fastest growing banks in the nation?

“Umpqua started to take off once we realized what business we’re really in,” Davis said. “I don’t believe we’re in the banking industry. We’re in the retail services business.”

When Davis applied for the job at Umpqua he warned the Board of Directors that he was going to throw out all the old conventions of the banking industry and start something completely different. Because he believed they couldn’t compete against the big guys in any conventional way.

“Banking products are a commodity,” Davis said. “You can’t differentiate yourself that way. The big guys are just going to copy any good new product we come up with. But they can’t copy the way we deliver the service. They can’t copy our experience.”

bank branding on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBrandingFor that, he borrowed ideas from two great retailers… Nordstrom and Starbucks.

Umpqua stores look more like the lobby of a stylish boutique hotel than they do a bank. You can settle into a comfortable leather chair and read all the leading business publications. Have a hot cup of their Umpqua blend coffee. Check your e-mail or surf the web. Listen to their own brand of music and maybe even make a deposit or open a new account. Who knows.

It’s a dramatic leap when you compare that experience to the cold, marble standards of the banking industry.

Clearly, Davis knows how to execute. He doesn’t talk about “execution” per se, but he obviously has the discipline to match the vision. He’s knows how to motivate and how to manage an organization through dramatic changes. And he’s built a corporate culture that aligns with the brand promise.

Here are some of the things Davis has successfully implemented and some reasons why bank branding is now on my inspiration radar…

• Random acts of kindness:  Local Umpqua teams just do good stuff, like buying coffee for everyone who walks into a neighboring Starbucks. They don’t have to ask permission.

• They get their customer service training from Ritz Carlton.

• Every Umpqua employee gets a full week of paid leave to devote to a local charity. That’s 40 hours x 1800 employees! Any other banker would do the math and say it’s too costly. Davis says it pays off 100 fold. That’s bank branding at it’s best.

• They have their own blend of coffee. Shouldn’t every great brand have its own blend of gourmet coffee?

• Proceeds from Davis’ book “Leading for Growth. How Umpqua Bank Got Cool And Created A Culture of Greatness”go to charity.

• They invented a way to measure customer satisfaction. As Fast Company Magazine put it: Umpqua Bank has a rigorous service culture where every branch and each employee gets measured on how well they deliver on what they call “return on quality.”

• They embrace design as a strategic advantage. At Umpqua branches, everything looks good, feels good, and even smells good!  It’s the polar opposite of a crusty old bank. It’s a pleasing environment, which makes an unpleasant chore much nicer.

• Davis GETS IT. He knows, intuitively, that his brand is connected to their corporate culture. “Banking executives always ask, ‘How do you get your people to do that?’ It’s the culture we’ve built over the last 10 years. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one day and say, gee, look at this great culture we’ve got here. Our culture is our single biggest asset, hands down.”

Umpqua-bank-interactive• He’s a great communicator. Davis doesn’t use banking stats to motivate and persuade. He uses stories, analogies and real world examples.

• He embraces the idea of a big hairy audacious goal. In fact, everyone answers the phone “Thank you for calling Umpqua Bank, the world’s greatest bank.”

So the next time I’m looking for inspiration, maybe I’ll skip my usual haunts and head down to the bank for a cup of coffee.

For more inspiration, try THIS post.

For inspiration regarding your own marketing efforts, call me at BNBranding.