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borrowed interest advertising

Borrowed interest and other attempts to attract customers

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

The scramblers spend a lot of money on digital ads, social media posts and every sort of promotional bribery they can think of.  Their marketing messages are all over the place, and they don’t ever seem to focus on the one thing what really matters to their target audience.

Instead, they borrow interest from somewhere else.

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

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

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

how to attract customers with cute babies and pets

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

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

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

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

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

It can be done, if it’s handled wisely.

The key to using borrowed interest successfully is relevance. Whatever idea you’re borrowing from better be relevant to your business category. Otherwise you’re just throwing money away. No one’s going to make the connection.

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

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

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

attract customers by being honestBorrowing interest from a worldwide pandemic is NOT a good brand strategy. Do you really want to affiliate your brand with death, uncertainty, sickness and social discomfort?

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

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

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

Goodwill is better branding than borrowed interest.

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

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

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

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

They recently did a very funny spot featuring a nosy neighborhood association lady. If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood with an HOA you’ll recognize the character immediately. The spot has nothing to do with car insurance, but that’s okay. It’s purposely ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

Storytelling in business — a good story equals strong leadership.

brand credibility from branding expertsLet me tell you a story about storytelling in business — the most important, most under-appreciated, leadership skill.

All business revolves around persuasion. You have to persuade prospects to buy, investors to invest, employees to perform and suppliers to deliver. There’s no getting around it… if you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to persuade.

You really only have two choices of how to do that:  You can devise a rational argument using conventional facts, data, logic and powerpoint slides. In some cases that might work. Eventually. But it’s going to take a long, hard bludgeoning.

Or… you can gently pull people in by tapping the imagination and harnessing the proven, natural power of storytelling.

If you study the greatest business leaders of the last 50 years, they all had a knack for telling stories. Even the introverts.

Successful salesmen have always known that a good story will do most of the work for them. As the old saying goes, “facts tell, but stories sell.”

storytelling in businessHarvey Mackay was an old-school envelope salesman who used stories to build a 100 million dollar business and published several best-selling management books. McKay never wrote a word about storytelling in business, and yet every chapter in every one of his books starts with a an anecdote of some kind…

“When I was a kid, my favorite ball player was Eddie Stanky, who couldn’t hit, couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, but he knew how to beat you…”

Mackay’s chapter titles had  stories built-in: “Ask an old grizzly.” “The wisdom of Dirty Harry.” “Calling Mr. Otis.” “Send in the clones.”

Plus, he featured real characters like Melvin the Haggler to demonstrate his points much more vividly than most business writers ever could.

Even his titles conjured up stories; “Swim with the sharks without being eaten alive.”

That’s why Mackay’s books sold more than 10 million copies. That’s why he has earned millions on the corporate speaking tour. He has a flair for the dramatic and a natural, friendly way of connecting with people through his home-spun stories.

There are no secrets to great storytelling  It’s in our DNA. It’s as natural as walking or hopping on a bike after 25 years of not riding.

Honestly. Anyone can do it. But in my experience, most business people do not.

They recite facts. They present cases. They try to impress with a lot of industry jargon. They literally talk till they’re blue in the face trying to convince, sell and cajole, when all they really need to do is tell a good story.

Storytelling is the only tried-and-true formula for holding people’s attention. Politicians know that. Comedians know that. Journalists know that. Even scientists and engineers know that stories are the key to getting their work widely accepted.

And now, neuroscientists have seen the fMRI data that proves that storytelling triggers the brain in uniquely positive ways. (Oxitocin synthesis)

Paul Zak, writing for Harvard Business Review sums it up:

“Our findings on the neurobiology of storytelling are relevant to business settings. They show that character driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of the key points weeks later… When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It twill capture people’s hearts, by first attracting their brains. ”

There are many models you can borrow from for your own brand storytelling.

storytelling in business a model from pixarPixar has a very simple framework that guides every movie they produce. Christopher Vogler, in his book “The Writer’s Journey,” lays out a useful formula, as does Donald Miller in “Building a Brand Story.”

Here are the five simple steps that we use at BN Branding when we’re devising brand narratives:

  1. Once upon a time there was a ___________. Introduce the main character. Worts and all.
  2. She lived in a world where ______________.  Set the scene. Paint a picture of what life is like in the hero’s ordinary world. Convey the problem/pain point. Show what’s at stake. This is the “before” part of a before-and-after scenario.
  3. Then, one day, she discovers a possible solution to her problem. This is where your brand comes in. The hero is called to action because she’s been given a clear path to her goal. Your brand becomes the guide/mentor/tool that leads the way.
  4. With this new elixir in hand, she sets out on her journey. But it’s not easy. There are tests, allies and enemies along the way as she gets closer and closer.
  5. Finally, she prevails. She endures the supreme ordeal and comes back a changed person. This is “after” part of the before-and-after scenario, where you paint a very clear picture of how life changes for the better.
Just about every major motion picture and best selling novel fits roughly into this model. And the best selling brands take cues from that.
When it’s storytelling in business, there are a few nuances to remember…

• All good stories include passion, conflict and resolution. Start with passion.

The ability to put your passion into words in a “why” statement is the first step in any brand storytelling effort. Simon Sinek’s massively popular book “Always start with Why” is a must-read on that subject.

“Every business person can explain what they do, but very few can clearly articulate why, ” Sinek says. That’s what stories are for.

Why are you in business, other than purely selfish capitalist reasons? What are you passionate about? Demonstrate that passion so like-minded people can jump on board and put themselves in the story.

That’s the passion part of the equation. Passion is what drives characters in stories. For whatever reason, they care! If you can’t convey your passion for the business you’re in, you’ll never win big.

• For storytelling in business, keep your customer in the center of the story.

Sorry to break it to you, but it’s not all about you! Your customer’s the hero, not your brand. It’s her journey, not yours, that’ll produce the most compelling story.

That means you have to really know your customers. Do the research so you thoroughly understand the conflict that’s driving your prospects toward purchasing your product or service. If you want your story to resonate, you have to get inside their heads and truly feel their pain.

storytelling in business needs villains

• Embrace conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. 

Numbers in a slide deck can represent conflict, but people don’t empathize with numbers.

If you want your story to resonate you have to capture the real, human conflict that is inherent in any business category. Come down from the 30,000 foot view and depict the problem in very personal terms. Find the pain points that produce the most drama, and then build your stories around those.

• For storytelling in business, you need a villain. 

Stories revolve around opposing forces butting heads… The Starks and the Lannisters. The McCoys and the Hatfields. The Force vs. the Dark Side. Apple vs Microsoft. The ordinary underdog vs. The Man.  (Sticking it to The Man is a common theme in business pitches, but it’s almost always watered down with corporate terms like “a paradigm shift”  or “changing the Status Quo”  or “disruptive technology.” )

You have to define your villain and show what’s at stake, in plain english. You can’t be afraid of the dark side of your story or your industry, or even your product. Those imperfections are what make stories interesting, and characters worth rooting for. If you try to paint a completely rosy picture all the time, your stories will never engage anyone, and never ring true.

Branding firm BNBranding

• Tell truth stories.

Authenticity is a popular buzzword these days. Everyone wants authentic stories and an authentic brand, but what does that mean?

I believe authenticity begins by being truthful about your purpose. If you’re not clear on  your ‘why’ you have no chance of being authentic.

Matthews & Wacker, in their book “What’s Your Story” talk about the difference between what’s true, and the bigger truth that a good story conveys. “What’s true is generally expressed as data points, but the truth always comes in the form of a story.”

“Traditional business communications have always been viewed as the simple, direct and timely transmission of true statements. But to be an effective corporate storyteller you must understand that  your job is to build the truth — of your company, of your brands, of your history, and of your values.” (Try this post for more on truth, lies and advertising.)

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, tells of learning an important lesson back in high school; “Sometimes the truth alone isn’t enough. The presentation of the truth is just as important” So when Hsieh speaks at SXSW or at a Ted Conference he always follows a simple formula: Be passionate. Tell personal stories. Be Real.

It’s been said that a brand is a promise. And there’s a popular book on writing titled “A Story Is A Promise.” The parallels are undeniable. 

A good storyteller must know his audience. An entrepreneur must know his, as well.

A good storyteller keeps people’s attention. Good managers do too.

Great leaders inspire people, just as great stories do.

Tell a good story and you can build a successful business. Tell a great story and you can start a movement that attracts a tribe and builds a brand. And if you combine a great story with an iconic leader you can change the world.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

The new normal in e-commerce — How to sell more stuff online.

brand credibility from branding expertsThe COVID 19 pandemic has created a frenzy of activity in the e-commerce industry. One of my CPG clients saw a 550% increase in online sales – until they ran into supply chain issues and had to post “out of stock” on every item. The new normal for e-commerce is going to be huge.

The lockdown has created “Cyber Monday” levels of volume for three consecutive months. And even after we’re able to return to the malls, online sales will never go back down to pre-COVID levels. Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will enjoy a piece of the online buying frenzy.

Last year, e-commerce sales in the U.S. rose 14% to $569 billion. This year’s growth could be as high as 50% in many categories. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the growing pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.

A good place to start is with your target audience.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Most are looking for insight on a specific product category. Before they fill their online shopping cart they need more information. So they hunt and click for real stories about how your product might fit into their lives. They look for facts, reviews, videos, articles or any kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

But amazingly few e-commerce brands deliver any content at all that could be called useful or differentiating.

If you want to establish a successful e-commerce brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact manufacturer’s blurb, the same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else. You have to differentiate your online store. Somehow…

You could offer a unique product mix.

Choose one main thing BNBrandingMost niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. So maybe your new normal in ecommerce is a product mix that’s more carefully curated or even more niched.

You’ll never be able to compete with Amazon on breadth of offerings, so you might as well specialize.

But even if you could find something that your competitors don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.

You could offer lower pricing.

One thing’s for sure, the new normal in e-commerce is going to involve a lot more competition. Drop-ship companies are springing up everywhere, and many of the new players will get caught in a race to the bottom when it comes to pricing.

Do you really want to be positioned as a low-price leader? Do you want to compete with WalMart.com? Is that really “on brand” for you, or are you more interested in providing quality products with good overall value?

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

Even if you have basically the same product mix at the same price as your competition, you CAN differentiate yourself. All you have to do is customize your product pitches, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

If you’re not doin that you’re not really an e-commerce retailer, you’re just a virtual warehouse.  Retailing, by definition, means selling, merchandising, and packaging up other people’s products into a unique buying environment. Brand building, by definition, means building loyalty and lots of repeat business.

Brick and mortar retailers like Nordstrom know all about that.

And let me tell you about another category of companies that applied wise retail thinking to a new delivery system.

Early in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Back then, in the days of J Peterman and Montgomery Ward,  there was a lot of competition among catalog companies. But Norm Thompson offered a highly differentiated buying experience.

We offered the best guarantee in the business, a meticulously curated collection of high-quality, high-margin products, and a unique tone of voice that resonated with Norm Thompson’s mature, upscale audience.

We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story of both functionality and fashion. When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

On other occasions it was pure fashion. We’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more chivalrous times.

The brand was Helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories.

The long narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked. The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry. We routinely got 30% response rates on our direct mailings.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena.

Here’s the new normal in e-commerce… More and more high dollar, high involvement purchases will be made online. And the role of the well-informed retail sales person is falling on the shoulders of the e-commerce entrepreneur.

Take ski boots, for example. Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. Most people prefer to try them on before buying. And returns on ski boots are quite common.

But on-line retailers could dramatically reduce returns simply by  explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

No technical feature is as important as fit, and yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have peasant feet, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these. If you have big calves, try these.

I were a ski boot retailer I’d focus on the pain ski boots can inflict: Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $150 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the boot fitter.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting the wrong fit. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet.

But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same mundane sales pitch.

After hours of online research I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

That’s what separates the best e-commerce stores; A higher degree of expertise. Better salesmanship. And a brand that means something beyond just making a quick online sale.

In 2019 Norm Thompson’s parent company announced that they would be “exiting the brand.” It’s too bad… the company that started in 1949 selling flies to avid fly fisherman and morphed into one of the leading catalog companies couldn’t make it in this new world of e-commerce.

But before they started losing money, they lost their focus on wealthy baby boomers. They lost their unique tone of voice. They lost their differentiating personality. They lost the soul of the brand after multiple buy-outs.

So that’s the new normal in e-commerce.  Even though business is booming, the brands that lose focus will fail. Cars, appliances and many other big ticket items are now routinely purchased with just a click of the mouse, but that doesn’t guarantee success.

So here’s the question for all e-commerce entrepreneurs: What are you doing to make the buying experience better for your customers?

What are you saying that’s different than what your competitors say?

What information are you providing that’ll improve your credibility and set yourself apart?

What features do you offer on your site that’ll guide customers through the research and make purchase process easier?

What does your online store really say about the potential longevity of your brand?

Are you running a nameless online store, or building an e-commerce brand?

If you’re hard pressed for answers, give us a call. We can help.

 

a new approach to website design BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s human nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

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

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

New word, old idea — The definition of content marketing

BNBranding logo“Content” is a sizzling buzzword in the marketing world these days. There are all sorts of specialists peddling different versions of content. “Content is King, Content is King,” they all scream.

Everyday I get multiple offers to provide content for this blog, and for my firm’s website, and for my clients’ websites. I hear from content marketing agencies, off-shore content factories, content producers, content designers, video content producers, social media content specialists and content journalists. Every one offers “expertise in my niche” and “professional” writers and producers.

Not one has ever actually panned out.

I’m not alone.  A recent survey from Forrester Research shows that 87% of all companies are struggling to find content that produces a discernible ROI. Companies are churning stuff out, but they’re not content with their content.

And here’s the ironic part… when you ask web development companies about their biggest daily frustration, without fail they all say “it’s really hard to get our clients to provide good content in a timely manner.”

The clients are waiting for the web guys to provide content, and the web guys are waiting for the clients.

Hmmmm. What’s wrong with that picture?

Part of the problem might be the term itself. It’s like the term “marketing”… no two people can agree on what it really includes. Some people think content refers only to copywriting for websites. Others say it’s infographics, or blogging, or video. Gotta have video!

They’re all right. It’s all “content.”

Content, the noun, is nothing new. 200 years ago marketing content appeared in the form of printed hand bills hung up in the local tavern or town square. Then there were newspapers, and magazines and the advent of paid advertising and editorial placed by publicists but written by journalists.

Radio brought sponsorships, jingles and professionally produced commercials. Many great brands were launched on that platform of “theater of the mind.”

In the late 1940’s TV became the original form of video content. At the same time, billboards started popping up, and in the 60’s, direct mail became a highly effective tool for marketers.

So content’s been around forever. It’s just the form and the delivery methods that have changed.

BNBranding long copy is more convincingThere are many more options now, and a totally new vernacular, but the crux of it is the same as always … It’s all designed to forge a connection with consumers. So when it’s time to buy, they are already convinced.

Seth Godin’s widely quoted as saying “Content marketing is all that’s left.” Well, I guess that’s true, in a sense, because content marketing is all there’s ever been.

Teaching prospective customers and giving them reasons to believe has always been the heart of marketing. But now it’s easy to go deeper than we could with Radio, TV, print or outdoor advertising.

The media mix is more fragmented than ever, so the exercise is twofold:

  1. Create content that resonates with your people. Make it relevant, regardless of the medium.
  2. Find the media outlets for that content that best fit your target audience and brand strategy.

If you want to be mindful and authentic about the content you use, you have to start with a deep dive into your business strategy. That’s probably why so many companies are unhappy with their content marketing efforts… there wasn’t any strategic thinking behind it. At all.

It’s usually just a purely tactical exercise.

Strategy work is the single most important component of your content marketing effort.

It’s the only way you’ll know what to say.

The fact is, every company has a lot of stuff they could say. But those messages may not be relevant to the audience, or they might not be differentiated from your competitor’s messages or they not be true to the operational realities of your business. There are a hundred things that could sabotage your content.

You’d be surprised how many companies are out producing content trying to “increase engagement” without even having their value proposition nailed down. So when you do that strategic work, you’ll immediately be ahead of the pack.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingOnce you’ve determined what to say, you also have to be creative in how you say it. That’s the execution piece.

When it comes to content, the right words matter. Concepts, themes and fundamental storylines matter. Images matter. Details matter. Guts matter. Restraint matters.

Many companies try to say too much, all the time. They pack their communications full of technical details that don’t enlighten or connect. They mistake facts and data for effective communications. They post ten times a day, just to say they did.  It’s a quantity over quality mentality.

You can’t just take a facebook post and turn it into a digital ad and expect it to perform well. Your content needs to be crafted to match both the target audience and the medium.

Make no mistake about it… no matter what kind of content you’re producing, precise word smithing and stunning visuals can mean the difference between failure and success.

In content marketing (and all marketing for that matter) what you show is just as important as what you say.

Part of the strategic work is determining what imagery should be attached to your brand. Here are some good questions to ponder:

Does your brand have its own, unique visual presence, or are you recycling the same stock images and selfies that every other company is using?

Would your social media person know if an Instagram post was completely “off brand?”

What’s the takeaway for people who don’t read a word of what you put out there? If you are seen but not heard.

If you have a food product, does your content look like something from Gourmet magazine or a tattered menu from a cheap Chinese place?

Once you’ve determined your brand visuals it’ll be much easier to define the type of images you want to pair with written content. There will be clear marching orders, and boundaries that will keep everything in alignment.

Long before”content marketing” was ever a thing, I was preaching about Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility.  Low and behold, the new model for content marketing fits perfectly with that tried and true model.

Try this post for more on content marketing.

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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:

Choose one main thing BNBranding1. 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.definition of digital marketing by BNBranding

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.

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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new approach to website design

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

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

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

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

Of course.

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

It’s like direct response branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.

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

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

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

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

That’s hogwash.

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

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

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

truth in advertising BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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Same with sounds.

 

 

market research for small business BNBranding

Strategic listening and consumer insight – Small business market research

BNBranding logoI’m a big proponent of small business market research. For me it’s insight first, THEN execution.

Insight is the foundation of every ground-breaking idea in history. Insight drives the strategy that directs the execution that produces results.

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. I’ve seen, first hand, how research can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups.

Can you say, “Got Milk?”

strategic listening in advertising

Got Milk print ad

But I’ve also done my share of branding strategies and marketing campaigns based on nothing more than gut instinct and the client’s opinion. It can be done, when the budget demands it, but believe me… it’s much harder and riskier.

I don’t think small business owners do enough strategic listening. (And their branding strategies usually reflect that.)

They often skip the research because they think they already know it all. The sales manager says “I’ve been in this business for 25 years, I know what customers want.”  Or the owner says “We tried that already, it didn’t work.” Or the marketing assistant says “We have some data from Survey Monkey on that.”

Don’t bet on it. Often times, customers don’t even know what they want.

Here are five common problems that business owner run into when doing market research for small business:

1. Questions are written from an insider’s perspective.

2. They ask the wrong questions.

4. They question the wrong people.

5. They don’t know what to do with the data once they have it. Or they just don’t want to hear it.

market research for small business strategic listening BNBranding

First, let’s talk perspective. (Or lack thereof.) 

As the old saying goes, you can’t read the label if you’re stuck inside the bottle. Most people are so wrapped up in the day-to-day business they can’t see the bigger issues well enough to ask the right questions. Their own bias creeps in at every turn.

An outsider’s perspective — and the objectivity that a professional brings to the table — is really the only way to get research that you can take to the bank.

Your lack of perspective leads directly to problem number two: The content of the research questions themselves.

A lot of time and money is wasted asking research questions that are dumber than a rock. For instance, I recently ran across a survey about the current plight of private country clubs. It’s no big secret that they’re hurting, and yet the survey started with a useless series of questions that just rehashed commonly known industry facts.

Don’t waste time asking questions you already know the answers to.

Clarify your objectives before you start. Spend some quality time framing the problem so you can ask better questions. Stick to subjects that honestly baffle you.

Problem number 3:  The issue of semantics in market research questionnaires.

There’s incredible nuance in the wording of a good questionnaire. In fact, how you ask a question can often guarantee results, one way or another.

Polling companies have known this for 75 years. That’s why there are Democratic pollsters and Republican pollsters. They can always get the results to skew in their preferred direction. Left or right.

Here’s a story that illustrates my point perfectly:

There were two priests who both wanted to know if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time. So they wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question in this manner:  ‘Is it permissible to smoke while praying?’ and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention. The other priest asked “Is it permissible to pray while smoking”  and was told that it is, since it is always permissible to pray.”

Chances are, if you’re writing your own questionnaire, you’re not being as clear as you should be. And clarity is one of the cornerstones of building an iconic brand.

The fourth problem arises when you ask good questions of the wrong people.

Many companies have feedback systems for their customers, but they never hear from their non-customers. Sometimes it’s more useful to poll the people who are loyal to your competitor’s brand. Why they don’t buy is just as important as why they buy.

When you do research make sure you have a representative sample of people on all sides of an issue. If you’re working with a research firm, insist on samples of real people, not professional focus group respondents.

The last, and probably biggest problem with small business market research is your ability to do something with the data once you have it.

In most companies there’s a huge gap between insight and execution. In the market research industry, that’s the most common complaint: Quite often, comprehensive studies end up on the back shelf, filed under “that’s interesting, now get back to work.”

All kinds of things can sabotage your best efforts. Sometimes corporate culture gets in the way. At HP the engineers run the show and even the most analytical marketing guys take a back seat. Innovation is a core value, so they might ignore market research in order to launch quickly and demonstrate their engineering prowess.

market research for small business branding strategies BNBranding

It’s like the software business. When they launch a product everyone knows it’s just v.1.0., and it will quickly to be replaced by v1.2 and 1.3. Their mantra: Launch first, ask questions later.

So make sure you’re in the position to act on the information you gather. Otherwise, don’t bother. Ask yourself some tough questions ahead of time…

• Do you have the brainpower inside the company to analyze the data and understand its implications? If not, can you hire someone who does?

• Do you have the financial resources to implement changes based on the analysis?

• Is the subject you’re researching important enough? Is it a C-level initiative, or just a mid-level management thing?

• Are you empowered to act? If not, who is? Do you have the allies you need to get things done?

research for branding strategiesIf you can answer yes to most of those questions, great. Here’s a fairly simple (simplified) approach that will produce information you can actually use.

In general, there are two types of research the typical business owner or manager can do:  Listening and asking.

It’s best to start with strategic listening because that will keep you customer focused.( And branding strategies that are customer-facing are almost always better than inward facing strategies.)

Put your own agenda aside and listen to what your front-line employees have to say. They hear it all. Revisit the customer feedback forms you’ve been collecting. Get out of the office and have in-depth discussions with real customers.

And by all means, tap into social media and other online sources. That’s a great way to “hear” what people are saying.

“I have numerous examples where we’re finding key nuggets, insights, aha moments and watch-outs coming from various online sources,” said Kristin Bush, Senior Manager of Consumer & Market Knowledge at Procter & Gamble.

“It’s definitely an area that we’re exploring quite heavily… we get the unprompted voice of the consumer, the real sentiments, the real points of view.  I think there’ s a huge opportunity in this space, and the companies that really figure out how to listen and respond in meaningful ways are going to win in the marketplace.”

Once you’ve tapped all the existing lines of communication, then follow up on with traditional market research techniques. Surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews are useful for asking specific questions and probing deeper into topics that come up on the blogosphere.

New on-line tools make it easier than ever to get a survey done. But the do-it-yourself approach of Survey Monkey won’t pass the muster unless you follow the guidelines above.

Want more insight on branding strategies and small business research?

Want some help with small business market research? Give us a call. 541-815-0075.

1 balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

The Yin & Yang of Marketing – Are your efforts in balance?

BNBranding logoIn Eastern philosophy yin yang represents the concept of duality. Two halves working together toward wholeness and harmony. It’s the dance of opposites — where seemingly contrary forces are actually complementary.

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Like marketing strategy and tactics.

“Wholeness” — ie optimal results — is only achieved when you strike that delicate balance between the two. When the marketing tactics flow naturally from the strategy.

If your marketing efforts are predominantly tactical, without adequate strategy, you’ll be throwing money at ill-conceived tactics. Ready, fire aim!

If your marketing efforts are tipped the other direction, you’ll spend all your time preparing, planning and aiming, without pulling the trigger.

When you employ both halves of the marketing equation you can touch a glorious chord of emotion while still employing a data-driven strategy. It’s old-school story telling balanced with new technology and analytics.

Right-brain creativity with left-brain analysis. Yin and yang. Marketing strategy and tactics. One cannot live without the other.

All marketing programs are a mix of strategy and tactics, but most small business owners gravitate heavily toward the tactical side of the equation. They forego the strategy part for several reasons:

• Because they can’t do it themselves or they don’t understand it.

• Because they perceive it as being too expensive.

• Because they don’t have time… too many other things to do.

• Because they don’t see the value in it.

They skip the most important step to save a few bucks, but they pour a lot of money into tactics.

They use social media specialists and graphic artists to produce content. They purchase TV time and digital ads. They produce videos for YouTube and run radio ads, but there is no thread of continuity. No consistency of voice or message. No strategic platform from which to work.

No yin yang balance.

balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Therefore, the effectiveness of each tactic is compromised.

Let’s look at some of the opposing, yin yang elements of any good marketing program:


Inward vs. outward.

Many businesses are too inwardly focused when it comes to marketing. Instead of addressing the needs, wants and emotions of their prospects, they talk about themselves and their industry. It’s all me, me, me, me, with a bunch of jargon thrown in for credibility purposes.

Not only that, outward facing marketing tactics and messages are often out-of-balance with the internal operation of the company. The ultimate success of your brand doesn’t hinge on what the marketing people say, it hinges on what you actually do. When you do great things, effective marketing messages are much easier to come by.

So what are you doing internally that your marketing department could build a strategy around?

Emotional vs. analytical marketing.

If you want your marketing strategy and tactics to balance, you can’t underestimate the influence of feelings.

Many business owners operate as if cold, calculating characters like Spock make all the buying decisions. They line up the spreadsheets, produce some charts and graphs, and expect facts and data to do all the work. But it NEVER does.

balance your marketing efforts with BNBrandingThe latest brain research — fMRI testing — proves that emotion commingles with reason, even in rigorous business-to-business purchasing decisions. In fact, many studies show it’s emotion that triggers action.

As one writer put it, “emotion is in the Oval office while the rational brain is in the press center, justifying the decisions that have already been made.”

Trust is not a rational thing. Trust is a feeling. And it’s trust that builds brand loyalty.

Simon Sinek says it succinctly, “Most companies are quite adept at at winning minds; all that requires is a comparison of features. Winning hearts, however, takes more work. That starts with WHY. People don’t buy WHAt you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Fast vs. slow

Some tactics need to get done quickly. For instance, social media posts are often very time sensitive, so there’s not much consideration for craftsmanship. Promotions are also short-term. TV commercials or print ads, on the other hand, demand careful attention to detail, so you need to leave time to do it right. Branding is a long-haul play.

Strategy also takes time and thoughtful consideration. Strategic issues arise when the strategy is rushed to accommodate the tactical to-do list. Confusion and credibility issues arise when the tactics are produced in a vacuum, with no strategic guidance. All yang, and no yin.

Positive vs. negative.

Some marketers believe that you should never mention the competition. Always stick to a rosy picture of positivity, they say.

But there are some strategic situations that demand a negative approach to execution. Sometimes it’s simply stronger to refer to someone else’s weakness than to talk about your own strengths.

The yin & yang of competition is often the most poignant and effective approach for campaigns.

All great brands have arch enemies. Coke has Pepsi. McDonalds has Burger King. Apple has Microsoft. Don’t shy away from that just because you’re afraid of offending someone. Better to offend some, than be invisible to everyone.

That said, you can’t have a marketing campaign that’s completely negative, all the time. Especially in small town. It’ll probably come off as snarky.

Male vs. female

A comedian once said that women make 80% of all the decisions — and they have veto power over the other 20%.

Keep that in mind when you’re working on tactics, planning your strategy and building a brand. Women remember things! And they’ll attach very strong emotions to those memories, so you better not piss them off.

On the other hand, if you show genuine empathy, and make them feel good, they’ll be great brand ambassadors for you. And don’t forget… Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram skew heavily toward women.

Yin Yang is not static. Neither is your marketing.

The nature of Yin Yang flows and changes with time. So does your marketing. Sometimes it’s stop and go.

Some initiatives are purely tactical, while others are more strategic. Factors outside your control can change your strategy completely or rob you of tactics that you once counted on.

The seasonal nature of most businesses means that tactics may be bunched heavily into one time of year, while planning takes place another. Not only that, goals can change dramatically from one year to another. So you can’t just upload the same marketing plan year after year and expect it to work. You can’t keep running the same ads on the same shows or websites.

The balance point is always shifting. Hot & cold. In and out. Yin and yang. Enlightenment is achieved only when marketing strategy and tactics come together.

If you’re wondering about your own balance point, give us a call. Let’s start a conversation about your brand. 541-815-0075.

Read more on marketing strategy and tactics.

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branding sites that sell

The Allure of Ecommerce (4 reasons why small retail brands often fail at online sales)

These days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.

It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.

First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.

According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.

retail marketing Amazon Go store

According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point.  “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.” 

So it goes both ways.

More on retail industry branding.

One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.

Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.

We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.

Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…

1. They forget what they’re really all about.

If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.

For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.

Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.

So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.

too many choices BNBranding Brand Insight Blog2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.

There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.

It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.

They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.

You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.

So how are you supposed to do that?

You could offer a unique mix of products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer. So scratch that.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)

You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)

You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.

That, you can do!  Learn how with this post.

3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Information. Insight. And peace of mind.

Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.

But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.

In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.

If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.

ecommerce differentiationEarly in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.

For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.

Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.

The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.

4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.

It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what?  It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.

There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.

Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=

So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:

Bricks & clicks REI coopI recently bought a new pair of walking shoes.  I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.

I wanted to feel the difference.

So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.

I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.

REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.

The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.

That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.

It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.

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