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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. Bad Puns

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

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

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

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

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank.

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank

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

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

2. False and misleading claims.

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

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

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

3. Bribery.

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

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

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

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

4. Talking about yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Consistency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small-business branding and a big-business blunder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for credibility. So much for authenticity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be consistently authentic.

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

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

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

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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

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

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

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, it worked.

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

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

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

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

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

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

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

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Porter airlines brand advertsing

Airline Industry marketing (One Canadian brand stands out)

BNBranding logoHere’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes the experience even lived up to the airline industry marketing hype.Porter airlines brand advertsing airline industry marketing

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees, dying dogs, laptop bans and physically bouncing people from flights, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

It’s still too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a long-term success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

 

 

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International.

Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline industry marketingFrom the blog, Design Sponge:

“This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

In terms of airline industry marketing, and a sophisticated brand design, Porter stands 30,000 feet above everyone else.

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog:  “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

launch of Porter Airlines BNBranding Brand Insight BlogMany people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.)

I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way.  So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

14

Brand authenticity (Keeping it real, honest, genuine and true)

I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.

brand authenticityLately, it’s “Brand Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.

In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”

If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.

 

 

 

“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.

Most definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand, brand authenticity is defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”

I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.”

In Philosophy of Art “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.

The same holds true for brands.

The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck.  They are the exception to the corporate rule.

The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”

brand authenticityI think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. We are born skeptics.

Guilty until proven innocent!

And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Instagram fans.

Ouch.

In a Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”

Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups.  They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.

Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”

It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.

“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”

Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.

In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.

Amway is now known for brand authenticityAmway, for instance.

Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”

The front-line MLM culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.

It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. The antithesis of brand authenticity.

But I digress.

Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?

Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!

Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.

That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.trust and brand authenticity

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that you’re sincere and will be more likely to trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.

It’s always tempting for successful small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.

Align your marketing messages with your brand.

You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose.  You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.

Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?

Be consistent.

Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to

put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.

Lead by example. 

One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders

with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.

So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R&D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.

Hire good PR people. 

Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.

Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.

For more about brand authenticity, try THIS post. 

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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.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same with sounds.

 

 

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Brands of Love (How to build a loving relationship with your customers.)

BNBranding logoI’ll never forget my first pair of skis… Hand-me-down Heads from a by-gone era. Jet black. Heavy as can be, but oh so lovable!

That was 5th grade. Since then, I’ve purchased eight more pairs of skis and four were the same brand: Head.

Brands of love John Furgurson BNBranding blog post

That’s me. Notice the head logo on the tips. No photoshopping involved.

The latest is a pair of Head Rev 105s, and I’m absolutely loving them. I tested many different brands — and they were all good — but I chose Head.

Why?

Because it’s one of those brands of love that I grew up with.

Every time I ski on them, and every time I see another Olympic racer on the podium with Heads at their side, I get even more attached to that brand. It’s a life long love affair.

The Head Ski Company was founded in 1950 with the first metal composite ski — a revolutionary progression from the days of hickory.

In the 1960’s Head sold more than 50% of  all the skis in the U.S., even though they were priced two times higher than the competitors. It was a premium product with plenty of sex appeal. Jean Claude Killy raced on Heads. Today it’s Lindsey Vonn.

Brands of love - Howard Head - BN Branding

Howard Head

To me, buying skis is like buying a car. I can name every car and every ski I’ve ever owned, and I have fond memories associated with every one.

I  strayed from Head for awhile, cheating with Atomics, Blizzards and Rossignols, but I keep going back to my first love — to the brand that I first associated with the freedom, thrill and challenge of skiing.

That’s branding.

A lot of people gripe about commercialization and marketing as an evil activity or a “dark art.”  They say they’re being manipulated, somehow, into buying stuff they don’t want or need.

That’s nonsense. I believe we need MORE relationships like that. More love of any kind! Less indifference and more brands of love.

Just think… If we could all be passionately connected to more of the things we purchase on a day-to-day basis, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

 

 

Imagine how your day might go if you felt as passionate about your filling station and your pharmacy as I feel about my skis.

What if the routine chore of picking up dinner was transformed into a delightful experience that you could look forward to every time. What if you had a genuine love for your dental office?

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

It’s human nature to love. We crave strong, loving connections to the things and people in our lives. Brands play that role quite well. We’re naturally drawn to the companies and products that show love to their employees, their customers, their environment.

Whole Foods, Patagonia, Clif Bar are three good examples… they’re passionate companies that attract passionate customers.

In his book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about closeness, trust, intimacy, passion and commitment. Those are the traits of any loving relationship,  and if you can attain that in your relationship with customers you’ll have what Robert calls a Lovemark. The gold standard of brands.

What you have to remember is that Love is a matter of the heart, not the head.

You’ll never achieve Lovemark status by sticking to facts, data and a logical list of product features. Not unless you’re selling to robots.

And empty, corporate catch-phrases are even worse. Like a bar-closing come-on by a desperate frat boy… you might lure someone into a one night stand with that approach, but it’s not going to get you a second date, much less love.

brands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blog

In focus groups people talk about love all the time.

“Oh, I just love my Subaru.”  Or, I just love Tide. I won’t buy anything else.”

Subaru took the loving feedback from their customers and built it into its advertising. (It doesn’t move me, but I’m not a Subaru guy. There are a lot of W

RX fans and Outback fans who’ll absolutely love that approach.)

So stop thinking about how to improve “customer satisfaction” and start thinking about how to make them LOVE you. Want you. Chose you.

How can you initiate a relationship like the one I have with Head Skis?

It’s not easy because that one is connected to some of my fondest childhood memories. Think about that… If you really want to ramp up your branding efforts, start creating memories that your customers will love to recall, 50 years from now.

It takes a lot of extra effort, attention to detail, transparency and goodwill build brands of love. But it pays off… in better sales, in higher business valuation, and in articles like this one.

Write a comment… Tell me about your favorite brands of love.

If you want more on lovable brands, try THIS post.

Or the Lovemarks website. 

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6

Comparison ads – From Cola Wars to Computer Wars

BNBranding logoA client recently asked me if he should run some comparison ads. It’s a good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors.

There are many examples of successful comparison ads. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war is still popular topic of college marketing classes and business books. It even hit prime time TV on All In The Family and Saturday Night Live.

“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi famously said.

Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to smart phones, software and fast food. Taco Bell’s trying to compare its breakfast to a McMuffins and nerds all over the world are claiming “I’m a PC.”

It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.

software wars on the brand insight blog BNBrandingEvery since 1984, when Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with one of the most famous superbowl commercials of all time, the folks up in Redmond have been paranoid about Apple. So paranoid, in fact, they’ve ignored one of the most basic tenets of marketing and comparative advertising…

Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.

This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft once did, don’t give a puny little competitor like Apple the time of day. Don’t get suckered into a fight, and don’t design an ad campaign that directly mimics the competitor’s campaign.

 

 

Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv6Ah_MVJU Those spots work on so many different levels, it’s ridiculous… probably the most brilliant “talking head” advertising of all time.

comparison ads on the brand insight blog - BNBranding

If the Microsoft execs were smart they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

Duck and cover! Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own.

You’re the market leader, remember!

But noooo… They played right into the enemy’s hands and produced a knock-off version of the Apple spots. They hired an actor who looks like the guy in the original Apple spots, and gave him this opening line: “Hello, I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”

All that did was shine the spotlight back on Jobs & company.

Microsoft’s copycat spots gave the Apple campaign a whole new life. Every time one ran, the audience was reminded of the original Apple spots. Not only that, the media coverage of the comparison ads gave Apple free airtime on the evening news, effectively extending the smaller competitor’s media budget.

I’m not sure if Apple was purposely trying to get a rise out of Microsoft, but they sure did. And every time Microsoft responds in kind, they dig themselves a deeper hole.

Next, Microsoft upped the ante in their ad war against Apple.They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they could find for under $1000. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQOzNDZzZzk   

It’s a nice, authentic feeling spot. Probably the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. From an execution standpoint, it’s very well done. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace…

It’s the computer for cool people. The phone of the hip. The brand of creativity.

Apple has always been a premium brand that’s not for everyone. That’s not news. So why does Microsoft continue to run ads that help cement that message?

In the “Laptop Hunter” spot they’re basically admitting that a Mac is what everyone aspires to. If you can’t afford one you settle for a second-best PC. The spot flat-out encourages people to compare Windows-based laptops to Apple laptops, and the more that happens, the more market share Apple will steal.

Fox News did a nine-minute segment about the misguided Microsoft comparison ads, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSure, there is some low-hanging fruit in the market for low-end laptops, but that’s just a short-term message that hinges more on the economic climate than any genuine brand strategy. Not the type of message a #1 player should even consider.

Tit for tat works for Apple. Not for Microsoft.

The market leader should lead, not follow, in its advertising.

Besides, you can’t take pot shots at a perceived underdog, it just doesn’t look good.

The fact is, Microsoft’s never had a decent ad campaign before landing at Crispin Porter. On the other hand, Apple has a long history of groundbreaking advertising, from “Think Different” to the iconic iPod spots and “I’m a PC.”

Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. They can do comparison ads because the facts back-up the hype. They have superior products, in so many ways.

Microsoft… not so much.

So that’s the first criteria for comparison ads: If you truly, clearly have a product that’s factually better than the competition’s product, by all means, run comparison ads. Truth rules!

But if the product or service is just the same, or even just subjectively different, don’t do it. You’ll get sued.

Every ad, every social media post, every point of purchase display Apple ever creates is a comparison ad of sorts. Not overt, but a subtle comparison nonetheless. Because as consumers, we immediately categorize things.

ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

When these ads for the iPod came out, we immediately thought “Wow… that’s cool. Microsoft sure doesn’t have anything like that.”

In fact, there were a number of functional MP3 players on the market at the time, but they weren’t cool looking. They weren’t branded. And they weren’t as well designed as the iPod.

These print ads summed it all up in one, simple graphic solution. They didn’t have to beat people over the heads with product features and mind numbing facts. They just showed the product in its jamming simplicity.

So here’s another criteria for comparison ads… You can do them when public perception is on your side.  Before Apple ever launched the “I’m a PC”  campaign, the whole world knew the score. The TV spots just confirmed what everyone was already thinking.

And finally, when it’s a David and Goliath situation, only David can throw out comparison ads successfully. Like when the little start-up burger chain called Wendy’s took on McDonald’s.

comparison ads BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOne brilliant comparative ad — three words — solidified that brand and cemented Wendy’s success.

“Where’s The Beef?”

It was a brilliant, humorous twist on comparison advertising. Their hamburger patties really were thicker and juicier than McDonald’s, and the old lady just said it, flat out.

Watch it here. 

Notice that the word “McDonald’s” is nowhere to be found in that script. Doesn’t have to be… everyone knew that they were referring to the market leader. In that case, there’s no denying the success of that comparison advertising.

Unlike Microsoft, McDonald’s was smart enough to NOT respond to the humorous jab.

For more on advertising strategy, try this post. 

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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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8 visual cliches Brand Insight Blog

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

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

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

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

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

brand image and visual cliches of stock photography - Brand Insight Blog

Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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