Tag Archives for " MARKETING STRATEGY "

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

Keen branding

7

How to build a brand… First, own an idea.

I think all entrepreneurs should study advertising. Entrepreneurs are full of ideas, and advertising is an industry of ideas… Ideas on how to build a brand. How to build credibility and authenticity for existing brands. How to engage an audience and convert leads into sales.

It’s those big ideas — paired with exceptional execution — that builds iconic brands over time, and vaults ad agencies into the national spotlight.

The same can be said for start-ups. Entrepreneurs who start with a big idea, and then stick to it, are the ones who end up building iconic brands. They own an idea, like Zappos did for shoes or Patagonia for adventure gear, or Tesla for electric luxury cars.

how to build a brand - Maytag example by BN BrandingHere’s a good example from the archives of advertising history:

Maytag owns the idea of worry-free appliances. For more than 30 years their advertising has brilliantly communicated the idea of dependability with the lonely Maytag repairman who never has anything to do.
Now he even has an apprentice. The Leo Burnett Agency introduced a strapping new version of Maytag repairman… a side-kick who can talk about technological advancements and appeal to younger women.
The Maytag repairman character is so iconic Chevy actually used him in a television spot touting the Impala’s reliability. Maytag owns the idea. Chevy’s just borrowing it.
Maytag’s core brand idea helps segment the market and differentiate them from the competition. Nobody else in that category will try to claim the idea of “reliability.” Won’t work because everyone knows that Maytag = dependability.

Google knows how to build a brand. They own the idea of online search. So much so, it’s become a verb. “Google it.” It’s the world at your fingertips.

Campbell’s owns the idea of “comfort food.” That brand is not about flavor, it’s about the rainy day when your kids are home for lunch and you sit down for a bowl of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Campbell’s warms, comforts, nourishes, takes you back in time and puts a smile on your face.

For only about one dollar.

Volvo owns the idea of safety. That’s their clearly perceived position in the automotive market.

own an idea BNBrandingEven though driving an automobile is inherently risky, people believe they are safe in a Volvo. And that belief feeds the folklore that sustains that idea and Volvo’s brand image.

Even though Volvo models have all the glamorous features of a luxury brand, they’ll never be seen as luxury cars. Just safe cars.

Funny story about Volvo shopping… Some years ago I seriously considered buying a Volvo SUV for my family. I did the research and went to the local lot for a test drive. But the salesman blew it. He was so adamant about the brand’s safety record, he tried to convince me that Volvo actually used Swedish convicts as live test dummies. True story, he claimed. That’s how Volvo developed such a safe car… by crashing them with convicts at the wheel.

Needless to say, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s luxurious ride couldn’t trump the salesman’s idiocy. I bought an Audi.

Who owns the idea of “fast food?”

McDonald’s, of course. But when people began to realize that fast food wasn’t so good nutritionally, Subway had their own idea… “Healthy Fast Food.”  It was healthier than McDonalds, and Jerod proved it by losing like a thousand pounds while eating Subway Sandwiches.

That simple idea has propelled Subway to #1 in the fast food category. There are 44,800 subway Subway stores to 36,500 McDonald’s stores.

Jimmy Johns owns the idea of fast sandwich deliveryNow Jimmy John’s owns the idea of FAST sandwiches. Not fast food, or sandwiches like Subway, but sandwiches delivered quickly, wherever you may be.

That’s a good strategy of differentiation, especially because their sandwiches aren’t all that great. If they stick with the idea, and execute the idea religiously by actually delivering every sandwich faster than anyone expects, they’ll have a winning business formula.

It’s a core brand concept that’s easily demonstrable in advertising.

And that’s particularly important when it’s a category of parity.  The sandwiches at Quiznos, Tomo’s, Jimmy John’s and Subway are all pretty much the same, so the advertising idea becomes even more important.

Insurance in another such category. It’s a fairly even playing field in a low-involvement category. (Let’s face it, dealing with insurance is about as much fun as going to the dentist.)

Allstate owns the idea of mayhem. In their current advertising campaign the agency  put a face on mayhem, and gave him a smart-ass personality. Everybody knows somebody like that, you just hope your daughter doesn’t date the guy

State Farm has a long-running slogan, “like a good neighbor.”  Unfortunately, neither the advertising nor the customer service support that idea.

Geico saturates the airwaves with humorous advertising and outspends everyone in the insurance category. Thanks to an annual budget of $500 million a year the Geico Gecko and the cavemen have become fixtures in American pop culture. But the message is all over the place. There’s no core brand idea that anyone can grasp.

Guess who owns the idea of sparkling white teeth?  It’s not Colgate. Not Crest. Not a toothpaste, at all.  It’s Orbit chewing gum, a fairly new brand from the master marketers at Wrigleys.

The Orbit girl “cleaning up dirty mouths” campaign helped them capture the #1 spot in the chewing gum market.

(I think Orbit copied the Progressive Insurance advertising. Progressive is the sparkling white insurance brand, for whatever that’s worth.)

Coming up with a core brand concept is hard work. You really have to dig. And think. And explore.

Most of the good ideas have already been done, or can’t be owned authentically. That’s the trick… finding a conceptual framework that honestly fits with your product or service offering.  (BNBranding can help you with that.)

Many big brands don’t own an idea at all.

JCPenny, or JCP as they’d like us to say, doesn’t own an idea. They’re trying desperately to be younger, cooler and more hip than they used to be, but the name change and the slick new execution of their print advertising doesn’t make up for the lack of a relevant idea. They’re closing stores by the hundreds, and are destined to become yet another retail dinosaur.

Whether you’re selling insurance or chewing gum, building a brand begins with a simple idea.

Anybody can borrow some money, hang up a shingle and start their own business. But the companies that last — the ones that become iconic brands — almost always start with a clearly defined, highly demonstrable idea that goes beyond just the product or service.

Do you need ideas? Need help with your brand messaging? Get started right away. Click here. 

Want to learn more about how to build a brand? Try this post.

 

how to build a brand by BN Branding

1 positioning strategy BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

brand credibility BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines are equally important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on building an authentic brand 

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2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

How to differentiate your company (Disruption as a branding discipline)

BNBranding logoThe word for the day is Disruption, with a capital D. That’s the easiest way to differentiate your company from the competition.

Be Disruptive!

Unfortunately, in our society there’s a stigma against all things deemed disruptive.How to differentiate your business - BNBranding

When I was in elementary school I learned to not be disruptive in class. Or else! Sit still in church and don’t disrupt the service. By the 6th grade it was “don’t cause a scene or call attention to yourself.”

Don’t be different. Be the same.

Write like everyone else. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else and you’ll get along just fine. That’s the message we got, and it’s the message our kids are getting.

Loud and clear.

 

 

Maybe that’s why so many business owners and executives flee from the idea of disruption like a fox from a forest fire. It’s ingrained in our society. Most business owners are deathly afraid that some new competitor with “distruptive technology” is going to come along and threaten their turf.

And yet, if you’re trying to differentiate your business it’s disruption that separates the iconic brands from the ho-hum ones.  Disruptive advertising. Disruptive product ideas. Disruptive marketing messages. Disruptive cultures. And even disruptive social media posts.

Jean Marie Dru, Chairman of the advertising conglomerate TBWA, has written two outstanding books about Disruption, but it’s still a hard sell. To most executives disruption is bad. Convention is good. And the results of this mentality are everywhere.

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

As management guru Tom Peters says, “we live in a sea of similarity.” Social convention and human nature lead us into a trap of conformity where all websites have the same basic layout. All sedans look the same. All airlines feel the same. All travel ads sound the same.

And it works to some degree, because there’s comfort in conformity. (Vanilla still outsells all other flavors of ice cream.)

But in the long run, conformity is the kiss of death for a brand.

Great brands do things that are disruptive. Rather than shying away from the word, the executives embrace the idea of disruption and they make it a part of their everyday operation. They are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their companies, and every new idea is considered productive change that stimulates progress.

But even when they succeed with disruptive products, disruptive technology and disruptive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to sustain.

When Chrysler first launched the Plymouth Voyager the Minivan was a groundbreaking idea that threw the auto industry into total disruption. It was a whole new category, and everyone scrambled to copy the market leader. Within five years, minivans were — you guessed it —  all the same.

There used to be a Television network that was radically disruptive. MTV launched hundreds of music careers and shaped an entire generation, and now where is it? Lost in a sea of mediocre sameness.

When they first burst onto the scene in the 80’s, the idea of a micro brewery was very disruptive. Now, in Oregon, there’s one in every neighborhood and they’re all pretty much the same. Good, but IPAs are everywhere.

Successfully disruptive ideas don’t last because its human nature to copy what works. This process of imitation homogenizes the disruptive idea to the point where it’s no longer different. No longer disruptive.

how to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSo if you want to sustain a competitive advantage and continue to differentiate your company from new upstarts, you have to keep coming up with disruptive ideas. Not just incremental improvement on what’s always worked, but honest-to-goodness newness all the time.

Avatar is a disruptive movie that spawned numerous knock-offs.

The name “Fuzzy Yellow Balls” is brilliantly disruptive in the on-line tennis market.

brand differentiation on the brand insight blogThe American Family Life Assurance Company was utterly forgettable until they changed their name to AFLAC and launched a campaign featuring a quacking duck.

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review, AFLAC’s CEO Daniel Amos risked a million dollars on that silly duck campaign.

Amos could have gone with an idea that tested incrementally better than the average insurance commercial, but he didn’t. He took a chance and went with that obnoxious duck. He chose to differentiate his company. He chose disruption over convention, and everyone said he was nuts.

But it turned out to be a radically successful example of brand differentiation.

The first day the duck aired AFLAC had more visits to their website than they had in the entire previous year. Name recognition improved 67% the first year. And most importantly, sales jumped 29%. After three years, sales had doubled.

AFLAC’s success was based on disruption in advertising and naming. But for many companies, there’s also an opportunity to stand out with disruptive strategy. In fact, Dru contends that breakthrough tactics are not enough, and that the strategic stage also demands imagination.

Here’s another good example of how to differentiate your company…

When Apple introduced the iPod, the strategy wasn’t just about superior product design. It was about disrupting the conventions of the music business. It was about introducing the Apple brand to a whole new category of non-users and establishing Apple as the preferred platform for all your personal electronic needs.ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

You can get away with mediocre tactics if your strategy is disruptive enough. And vice-versa…  If your advertising execution is disruptive, you can get by with a me-too strategy. But if you want to hit a real home run like Apple did with the ipod, start with a brilliantly disruptive strategy and build on it with a disruptive product and disruptive marketing execution.

It’s kind of ironic… In business, no one wants to cause a disruption, and yet they’re clamoring for good ideas. And good ideas ARE disruptive. They disrupt the way the synapses in the brain work. They break down our stereotypes and disrupt the business-as-usual mentality.

That’s precisely why we remember them.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingRichard Branson said, “Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.”

Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.”

Ask yourself this: What are you protecting yourself from? What are the conventions of your industry?  Why are are you maintaining the stats quo? What are the habits that are holding you back? Are you copying what’s good, or doing what’s new?

What are you doing to be disruptive?  What are doing to differentiate your company on a dialy basis? Are you really willing to settle for vanilla or are you really committed to brand differentiation?

For more on disruption and how to differentiate your company, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

hire the right marketing person

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

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

The revolving door gets costly.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Broad experience means better perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Specialists don’t know strategy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same holds true in marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

About the author…

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

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

BNBranding logoWhen it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. The minute the boss gives them the bad news… “gotta cut your marketing budget”  they go straight to the list of tactics and start chopping off the bottom of the spread sheet. Not a smart trimming around the ears, a military-style buzz cut…

how to cut your marketing budget

First thing to get chopped  is  community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernible ROI.

The next thing on the chopping block is ”image” advertising.” Anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window.

Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Quite often, the only thing left is nearly-free social media posts and tiny little digital display ads that don’t get seven seconds of attention.

The short-term reaction often leaves companies looking quite bad in the long run.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cutting your marketing budget.

Rather than a military barber’s approach to cost cutting, try thinking like a surgeon. First, do no harm. Start by eliminating the marketing messages that are off brand, off target, or both.

In order to do that, you might need a second opinion.

You need more than just the bosses’ orders and one person’s opinion to wisely cut your marketing budget. You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the marketing planning process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

So here’s an idea… why not start with an objective assessment of what you’re currently doing? Get a second opinion on your messaging, your media buy and your overall tactical plan.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem…

Print ads say one thing, social media says another and the web site implies something else. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Get your message aligned with your strategy. Reevaluate every marketing “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness. Then scalp all the wild hairs.

If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.”  No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

And you know what they say about ass-umptions.

Here’s an example from the medical profession: Our client, the CEO of a multi-location pediatric practice, was enamored with the idea of “excellence.”  He wanted to build a “pediatric center of excellence” and recruit specialists from all over to “elevate the level of care to new heights.”  Operationally, that’s a great idea, but it was a terrible idea for advertising.

Because the assumption — that the quality of care is relevant to young mothers — turned out to be false. Moms believe that ALL doctors are good doctors. They just want one that they like in an office that’s convenient. So in that case, we started by cutting out all the communications that were focused on the quality of care.

Here’s another example of the messaging process gone wrong. I wrote a post about an ad for Wales Tourism. A classic case of paying a lot of money to place an ad  in Golf Digest that was wrong in both its strategy, and its execution.

As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.”  And even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales Tourism probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

truth in advertising BNBrandingAny decent marketing person can buy media that will reach the desired target audience and choose tactics that will drive traffic. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely.

Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand  image.

So if you absolutely have to cut your marketing budget, start by reading this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

saying no in business

Just say NO. Sage advice for small business

BNBranding logoSaying no is one of the most difficult yet liberating things you can do when you’re running a small business. You might want to practice at home, with your kids.

 After 30+ years working with hundreds of clients, I can honestly say it’s some of the most sage advice for small business that I can offer. The most effective managers, and the most successful executives, say no a lot. And they do it without hesitation. Without any anguish.

For instance, they politely decline to pursue new business that doesn’t fit their strategic objectives. Even though it might produce a short-term bump in revenues.Sage advice for small business - saying no. BN Branding

They say no to employees and salespeople and suppliers who try to hijack their time.

They don’t tolerate overblown financial projections and long, drawn-out presentations.

They say no to new initiatives that don’t fit the brand or the corporate culture.

They even say no to their their best clients sometimes.

 

 

 

 

The typical small-business owner, on the other hand, says yes, yes, yes to anything that comes along.

Turning down work is just not part of the program. So in an effort to grow the business and put food on the table, they make a habit of appeasing people. 

Sage advice for small business - Say no to build your business BNBranding“Sure, we can do that.”  Yes, we can do that too.”

I have to admit, I was guilty of that for many years.  It’s a particularly common problem in professional service firms. Because after all, it IS a service business.

We serve our clients. We aim to please.

But an overly agreeable approach is often symptomatic of two glaring managerial shortcomings:

 

  1. Little or no strategic thinking. 
  2. A brand that’s not very focused or well defined.

 

Defining a Brand Strategy means choosing a specialty, setting specific goals, and turning away business that doesn’t fit with your core brand values. If you don’t say no in business, you’ll never have an iconic brand.

The clarity that comes from a well-defined, well written brand strategy makes it much easier to say no when you really need to.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company was, in his own words, “in deep shit.” They had at least 13 new initiatives and product ideas but no direction. No strategic focus. No “gravitational pull,” as he put it.

Jobs killed all but two of the initiatives. One was the iMac and the other was the G4. By saying no, he set the company in a specific, definable direction that’s still paying off today. It’s sage advice for any small business…

Sage advice for small business - BNBranding's brand insight blog“Companies sometimes forget who they are.” Jobs once said. “Fortunately, we woke up. And now we’re on a really good track…”

“It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” 

Sage advice for small business: Say no to 1,000 things — in order to get one thing really right.

Peter Drucker believes the only people who truly get anything done are monomaniacs – people who are intensely focused on one thing at a time.

“The more you take on, the greater chance you will lose effectiveness in all aspects of your life.”

Best-selling author Ken Blanchard, (The One-Minute Manager, Gung Ho) says without clear goals you will quickly be a victim of too many commitments. “You will have no framework in which to make decisions about where you should or shouldn’t focus your energy.”

So I guess modern day multi-tasking isn’t the shortest route to success.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.” That’s sage advice for small business

As a Creative Director I say no a lot. I say no to ideas that my team presents. I say no when clients make impossible requests at the 11th hour or float their own “creative” ideas in early strategy meetings. (Sometimes, I swear, they’re just trying to get a rise outta me. Deep down they know their ideas are lame, but they want to see how I handle it.)

Here are some good things that come from saying no in business:

• You have more opportunities to say yes to the right customers, at the right time. You can pick your battles. 

• You have more time to focus on more important tasks, like long-term planning, strategic thinking and branding.

• Your operation will become more streamlined and efficient. 

• You’ll have a better sense of balance in life — between work, home and play.

• Saying “no” expresses how you really feel. You’re not hiding anything, and you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings. It’s more authentic than a forced “yes.” 

• Saying no actually increases your value in the market niche you’ve choosen.

truth in advertising BNBranding

At BNBranding one of the goals of our new business development effort is to say no more often. And not just to accounts that are too small, but also to businesses owners, marketing managers and entrepreneurs who might pay well, but don’t share our core values.

As the old saying goes, “values mean nothing in business until they cost you money.”

We need more work, but not just any work. We need to do work that we’re proud to show off. Work that will help companies with a purpose that goes beyond just a fast buck. 

We need clients, but not just any clients. We need clients who we’re genuinely happy to help, and are honestly grateful for it.

Fast Company magazine always has sage advice for small business. In an article about Jim Wier, the CEO of Snapper lawn mowers, they demonstrate how his biggest NO was the best example of his leadership skills.

Wier said no to Walmart! 

He gave up tens of millions of dollars in annual sales with one visit to Arkansas. They wanted his mowers, but he was adamant that selling Snapper mowers through Walmart stores was incompatible with their strategy and their brand.

Now that’s courage. And focus. 

Most large companies with a well-respected brand like Snapper would be tempted to launch a line extension strategy to accommodate Walmart… Just produce a cheaper mower overseas and slap the Snapper name on it.

But Wier knew that would just dilute the brand and confuse people. That’s bad branding.

Like when Subway recently announced they’d be test marketing pizzas. How does that fit with their “eat fresh” healthy fast food strategy? Can you see Jared, the Subway spokesperson, losing 60 pounds while eating pizza?  I don’t think so.

Someone should have stepped up and said no to that idea.

For more on establishing a clear brand strategy, try this post.

If you need some help establishing a clear marketing strategy, and executing it, give us a call. We might say no, but we might not. 541-815-0075.

 

Lessons learned from 30 years in a professional services business

 

brand credibility from branding expertsProfessional services marketing is one of the toughest specialties in my line of work. First of all, marketing an intangible service is much harder than marketing a tangible product, like a tasty new food item. Second, it’s hard to know where to spend your money, and which tactics are appropriate for a professional services firm.

There are a million different things you could do, and a lot of professionals struggle to make sense of all the options. A quick Google search for “business-to-business marketing tips” produces an unprecedented amount of misinformation.

Like this little gem of nonsense:

“While consumers choose products based not only on price but also on popularity, status, and other emotional triggers, B-to-B buyers make decisions on price and profit potential alone.”

B-to-B marketing, they claim, is all about reason and logic.

These misinformed “experts” expect me to believe that emotion plays NO role in B-to-B marketing decisions. As if real people are magically transformed into corporate purchasing automatons the minute they set foot at the office.

honesty in political advertising

Give me a break.

Thirty years running a professional services business, and I can’t think of one single client we ever landed because of some rigorous analytical purchasing process. Not one.

People buy for subjective reasons, then they justify the purchase decision with a logical checklist of excuses. In B-to-B purchases, they just need a little longer list.

In the case of BN Branding, when we ask clients why they chose us, here’s what they say:

“Because I like those ads you did for Smidge.”

“Because I really relate to that article you wrote about the yin and yang of marketing.”

“I just got a good feeling from your website.”

All purely subjective, intangible excuses.

Other clients say it’s because we have a disciplined branding process. But even that’s not an objective reason. Our process produces a FEELING of confidence that allows them to act. But no one’s going to tell you what’s really going on, deep down. They might not even know why they really buy from you.

 

 

In B-to-B marketing it’s gut first. Then heart. And then the head.

The psychology of rationalization is well documented. The latest advances in neuroscience and behavioral economics prove, time and time again, that  it’s human nature. That’s how our brains are wired.

So that’s lesson #1 from all my years  in professional services marketing: Never underestimate the power of emotion in B-to-B purchases.

If your marketing efforts revolve around checklists of facts and features, you’re not going to see the results you’d like. Facts can’t be the centerpiece of your marketing. You have to dig deeper than that.

Facts seldom offer an emotional hook, or any reason whatsoever for the brain to pause and seriously consider your service offer. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to gloss right over facts and data, and move on to more meaningful things.

Like stories and distinctly different graphics. Facts tell. Stories sell.

What stories are you telling? What proprietary branded graphics have you produced lately?

professional services marketing lessons from the Brand Insight Blog

Lesson #2: Love what you do.

Service businesses are easy to start, but hard to grow.

That’s because the business model for most professional service firms is sub-optimal.  Sales cycles are long and drawn out. Delivery is highly dependent on talent. And every client requires your skill and attention, to some degree.

Most are not scalable because they hinge on the talent of a few key partners.

The challenges are substantial, so you better love your work. In fact, you better be downright passionate about your particular specialty.

Branding, in one form or another, has been my passion since I was 15. I absolutely love producing eye catching ads, effective websites, or inspired content…  whatever it takes to help clients succeed.

I love the collaboration with clients and designers and programmers. I love the collision of art and commerce. I still get a charge out of the creative process, even if it’s just a little digital ad that we’re producing.

That enthusiasm is infectious.

On the other hand, “inspiring banker” is an oxymoron. And I’ve never met an accountant who seemed genuinely passionate about her work.

I’ve tried six different accounting firms over the years, and not one has shown any interest in my business whatsoever. Not one has ever called, in the middle of the year, to check on my progress and offer financial advice. (In fact, not one has ever sent any kind of proactive communication of any kind.)

Not one has positioned herself as anything more than an end-of-year number cruncher. Seems like a great opportunity — for someone. (If there are any really good accountants out there, give me a call!)

A glaring lack of passion is an easy way to UNsell the clients you’ve already sold. The fact is, passionate professionals like me want to do business with other passionate professionals. Or if not passionate, at least interested. Engaged. Semi-helpful!

Harry Beckwith wrote three great books on service industry marketing. In “Selling the Invisible” he says the first priority is the service itself. You gotta get the service right. I believe that starts with your attitude.

If your attitude sucks, the service will too. If you don’t love the professional service you provide, fix it or get out. Go do something else before your business crumbles beneath you.

Lesson #3: Be persistently adaptable.

At my parents’ 50th anniversary my dad shared his secret to a happy marriage: “Persistence,” he said.  “Simple as that.”

The same can be said for successful service businesses. You’d be amazed by how many fail simply because the key partners quit working at it. Sometimes they run out of steam because they don’t love what they do. Sometimes they devote all their energy to one big client, and forget about everything else. Sometimes other priorities prevail.

Over the last 30 years I walked away from my business twice… Once by choice (thanks to an offer I couldn’t refuse) and once because of the economy. For a few years after the crash of 2009 it became a side hustle while I did what I had to do to survive. But I never quit on it. Never lost the passion for it.

One thing’s for sure: Shit happens. Circumstances change. Markets shift. People come and go. And new technology changes the game. You have to be able to adapt.

When I rebuilt the business it took on a different form… Virtual workforce. New processes. Different talent pool. And even more flexibility.

At BN Branding we adapt to the needs of our clients. The services we deliver vary dramatically depending on what they need. Most clients have no idea so we have to figure it out for them, and lead the way. That’s how we’ve developed long term client relationships.

With commitment, patience, consistency, and adaptability. It’s about relationships, not transactions.

Professional services marketing Lesson #4: Keep learning.

In my line of work every new client, every product category and every new project requires study, learning and growth. Without it, we’d never survive.

Experience has taught us a lot, but every business is different. Every marketing situation is unique. We can’t assume anything.

There are a lot of new digital agencies that do nothing but cookie-cutter ads in one particular niche market, like dental practices or car dealerships. They literally run the exact same ads for all their clients. Just swap out the logo.

I’d shoot myself.

It’s variety that keeps things interesting. Wards off burnout. Keeps the creativity alive.

And it’s our thirst for learning that enables us to do great work for all sorts of businesses… One day it’s the nutritional benefits of organic alfalfa in rabbit food, and the next we’re dealing with software as a service in the fintech segment.

Variety is the spice of professional services life.

I often counsel clients to discard products and focus on a more narrow niche. But sometimes you have to sacrifice specialization for your own sanity.

If you’re an architect, do you really want to design nothing but elementary schools your whole life? If you’re a consultant, do you really want to devote your entire practice to cannabis dispensaries?

 

professional services marketing lessons from BN BrandingLesson #5: Little gestures matter.

There’s an old Jewish proverb that says, “don’t open a shop if you can’t learn to smile.”

At BN Branding we like to celebrate little victories with our clients…  Like when a website goes live. When a new brand that we’ve created hits the store shelves. When one of our ads starts popping up on our phones or on billboards up the road.

That’s just the way we roll, and come to find out, the marketing professors have a name for that: “Managing the evidence.”

In professional services marketing you have to keep proving that you’re delivering on your promises. You have to provide evidence of your performance, or at the very least, proof of life.

Radio silence is the kiss of death.

I’m always annoyed by service providers who disappear in the middle of a project. It doesn’t matter if they meet the ultimate deadline and deliver great work, if they don’t communicate at all during the process I won’t be doing business with that person, or that firm, again.

Process matters! And decent communications is part of any process.

I’m not asking for perfection. I’m just asking for the common courtesy of an email update or a quick text message that says “hey, we got pulled away on an urgent matter, and we’ll get back with you tomorrow.”  That’s all it takes, assuming you actually do get back to me tomorrow.

Success hinges on keeping promises like that. It’s a lot of little gestures over a long period of time. That’s how you nurture relationships and build credibility. That’s one of the fundamentals of professional services marketing.

Lesson #6: Life’s a lot easier when you build a brand.

Beckwith summed it up quite well: “In service marketing almost nothing beats a brand.”

A brand makes your sales efforts easier and more efficient. A brand reduces stress for your prospects and makes buying easier. A brand improves credibility and aids word of mouth.”

“A brand is money.”

We can help you make both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Scott Bedbury brand insight blog

Living The Brand, Scott Bedbury Style.

bn branding's iconic logoIn the world of branding consultants, Scott Bedbury is kind of a big deal…

He worked at Nike during the “Just Do It” years. He helped Howard Shultz build the Starbucks brand. His book, “A New Brand World” is a must read in our business.

Tom Peters calls him “perhaps the greatest brand maven of our time.” And now he consults with a few lucky businesses and does speaking engagements all over the world.

Even Kazakstan. Nice!

Scott Bedbury branding consultant - from the Brand Insight BlogBedbury’s a very genuine guy, which is good, because that’s part of his branding mantra; the importance of being genuine.

These days, you can’t get away with being disingenuous. Some blogger, somewhere, will call you on it faster than you can say, “Where the hell’s our PR firm?”

As Bedbury said, “the days of the corporate comb-over are gone.”

Speaking of corporate comb-overs… The first step in our process as branding consultants is the brand assessment. Like it or not, we have to do the research  to get the truth behind a brand, instead of a well-polished corporate version of the truth.

But some companies don’t like looking in the mirror. They aren’t forthcoming because the genuine attributes of their brand just aren’t pretty.

I’ve seen plenty of cases where a company’s internal perception of the brand doesn’t jive with the consumer’s reality.

If that’s the case, your branding efforts will have to reach much deeper than just the marketing department. You’ll actually have to change the product, tweak the operation or hire a different team. Because “everything matters.”

 

 

It’s nice to hear that Bedbury’s donating his talent for good causes these days. As he says, great brands use their superhuman powers for good and place people and principles before profits. “Give a damn, and give back,” to be exact.

Patagonia's purposePatagonia is a brand that gives a damn.

There’s nothing fake about Yvonne Chouinard’s dedication to environmental causes, and it shows in everything the company does.

The Patagonia brand, the operation and the products are aligned perfectly around a single, unifying idea… Save the environment so we can all enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, few companies are as focused or philanthropic as Patagonia. Several business plans came across my desk in the past week, and it reminds me why Bedbury’s branding message is so important.

All too often, the startup is only about cashing out. Nothing else.

Jim Collins, author of Built To Last, has something to say about that:

” The entrepreneurial mind-set has degenerated from one of risk, contribution, and reward to one of wealth entitlement. I developed our business model on the idea of creating an enduring, great company — just as I was taught to do at Stanford — and the VCs looked at me as if I were crazy. They’re not interested in enduring, great companies, just an idea that you can do quickly and take public or get acquired within 12 to 18 months. “

Anyway, even if you don’t have a great company that donates a portion of your profits like Patagonia does, you should still have a cause that drives your operation. You need a purpose the employees can rally around… something more meaningful than just boosting the stock price.

Scott Bedbury’s boss at Nike, Phil Knight, was adamantly against his employees watching the stock price. When Bedbury got to Starbucks it was posted by the hour, up on a bulletin board for everyone to see. Not sure if Bedbury was able to change that practice or not, but it never sat well with him. He’d rather think long term.

Another thing about Bedbury is that he can still laugh at himself. (Or at least he could the last time I saw him speak in Bend, Oregon.) Again, he’s following his own advice. An amusing anecdote and an easy chuckle are perfectly “on brand” for Scott Bedbury.

branding consultants BN BrandingHe’s not the type of guy you’d find as a Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 500 company, that’s for sure. He’s more storyteller than suit.

Storytelling is a big part of branding. For branding consultants, storytelling comes with the territory.

Once you’ve figured out the real crux of your brand, you have to communicate it in a form that people can understand. And nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned story.

Doesn’t matter if it’s delivered via the latest, greatest mobile technology, it’s still just a story. Tell it well. Tell it often. And keep it real.

One last piece of advice, inspired by Scott Bedbury… Don’t be afraid to reinvent your brand from time to time. Every summer he “shuts it down,” and hangs out with his family in Central Oregon. He writes, plays a little golf and recharges the batteries. So his own, personal brand will be fresh and ready for the next, big brand adventure.

For more insight on brand stories and similar case studies, try THIS post. 

 

BN Branding consultants

7 Marketing lessons from GM — Will a $30 billion bailout buy them some focus?

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The top guns of the American auto industry parked their private jets, piled into their big, luxury hybreds, and headed back to Washington last week. The goal: 50 billion dollars in loans, credit and other forms of bailout money. The second installment of what one reporter called, “a long term payment plan in $35 billion installments.”

There’s no doubt GM’s failure would a terrible economic blow. Those jobs would be sorely missed, but would anyone miss the mediocre brands that GM’s been consistently producing for the last 35 years?

I don’t think so. Other than some loyal Chevy truck fans, consumers won’t miss a beat.

GM’s business problems are far reaching and complex. The Wall Street Journal says “it’s a bloated organization with too many dealers and too many factories producing too many cars for the marketplace.” (GM has 7000 dealers in the U.S. Toyota outsells them with just 1500.) The company is burning through cash faster than a Suburban sucks gas — $75 million a day, according to one account. Turning that land yacht around is is going to be much harder than anyone’s predicting. As one consultant said… “Even with a generous series of government loans, GM is likely to go bankrupt within the next two years.”

Let’s face it. GM has been losing ground slowly but surely since muscle cars were killed by the oil embargo of the 1970’s. If congress looks at the situation from a marketing standpoint, they wouldn’t cough up a dime.

According to Automobile magazine, “it’s been 50 years since GM built a car that was the standard of the industry in any category.” Overall, GM products have been poor in all respects, from design and driveability to safety and fuel efficiency.

I believe that GM’s quality issues and their current financial crisis is a direct reflection Alfred P. Sloan’s famous, flawed strategy of “a car for every purse and purpose.” Sorry, but quantity over quality just doesn’t work in the modern automotive industry.

GM’s business model for the past 30 years has been built around the assumption that they can keep making money off products that are unremarkable, at best. But even when you’re as big as GM, you can’t be all things to all people. Over time, that lack of focus is going to kill you.

Look at GM’s track record in the small-car market. First they had the Chevette and the notorious Vega, a car reknown for being the first aluminum block engine ever produced… (not exactly the type of innovation that propels a company into a new era.)

While Honda, Toyota and Nissan were dominating that market in the 80’s, GM introduced The X-cars… the Citation, Omega, Phoenix and Skylark. Yikes! Those weren’t economy cars, they were just awful, underpowered sedans.

GM fumbled around for 20 years trying to build a small car under the wrong brand: Cadillac. Remember the Cimmeron? It’s on Time Magazine’s list of the worst cars ever built. And the Catera, “the caddy that zigs.” The advertising was unbelievable and the product, unbelievably bad. For consumers, a small, sporty Cadillac just doesn’t compute.

Then there was Saturn, GM’s great hope of 1990. Nothing in the history of GM could match the enormity of this brand’s launch. They built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Springhill Tennessee. They opened a new dealer network and adopted innovative new marketing and customer service programs, including a policy of “no haggle pricing.” To their credit, they did everything differently in order to compete with the Japanese.

Despite the plastic body panels, Saturn succeeded for a while. The cars were affordable, and they even won some industry accolades in the subcompact category. Unfortunately, GM starved that division of cash, kept them from launching new products for 10 years, and now is contemplating a shutdown of that brand.

So they can’t compete in the small car market. But what about GM’s bread and butter categories, like vanilla-flavored sedans? Unfortunately, they’ve even been losing on that front as well. The Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the country for years, followed by the domestically produced Toyota Camry. In the meantime, The Oldsmobile brand limped along for years before GM execs finally pulled the plug in 1999. They tried all sorts of marketing ploys to save it, including more than a dozen different slogans for the brand over a 15 year period. They did everything BUT build a car that appealed to anyone.

GM missed the boat entirely on the minivan craze, and they were slow to market with their SUVs. (But no one will deny the success of the Suburban.) GM actually had the lead in green technology in the late 90’s with the EV1 electric car, but they pulled the plug on that for short-term financial reasons. Now, while the Toyota Prius flies out of showrooms, GM’s playing catch-up yet again with the Chevy Volt. The volt is not a hybred. It’s actually an electric car, leaps ahead of Toyota in the green car game. It plugs in and it looks racy too, but it might be too late to the starting line.

Clearly, GM has been all over the place strategically. Now it looks like the bailout will force them to focus their efforts a bit. There’s already talk of paring the product line-up, and in the recent Senate hearings GM execs said their new strategy is “to focus available resources and growth strategies on the companies profitable operations.”

I guess that means four core brands… Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. And potentially four more marketing failures: Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and the king of them all, Hummer. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

Even with the forced focus on just four brands, GM will have a difficult time turning a profit. According to Automobile Magazine, the Cadillac CTS is actually one of GM’s small glimmers of hope for something better down the road. “It’s not relevant at $60k, but it’s a reminder that GM knows how to build a very special automobile. It’s the pride of Lansing Michigan and proof positive that GM has a lively pulse.”

Hmmmm. How can a car be “not relevant” in the market, but hopeful? And why does the mainstream press assume that GM will suddenly “start building fuel efficient cars that people want to buy” as soon as this bailout comes through? They haven’t done it yet. And no marketing blitz or government bailout can turn a lousy product into a branding success.

There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “great advertising just kills a bad product faster.” Sadly, GM’s history is littered with products that died fast, deserving deaths.