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3 Branding firm BNBranding

5 Things All Iconic Brands Have In Common.

BNBranding logoSimon Edwards, former Brand Manager at 3M, started a lively online discussion around this question: “What are the common attributes of iconic brands?

He opened it up on Brand 3.0 — a Linkedin Group that includes 4,363 branding consultants, practitioners, creative directors, gurus and wannabes. It was an intelligent, worthwhile discussion that hit all the hot buttons of the branding world.

But we were preaching to the choir.

So in an effort to reach a few business people who aren’t completely inside the bottle,  I’d like to cover the high points of the discussion and add a few examples…

•  “Iconic brands plays a valued role in a consumer’s life. They deliver a feeling that the consumer just can’t get from any other brand. That feeling may be security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence or many others.” – Andy Wright

Here’s an example: At one time, I was a loyal Audi owner. Over a Thanksgiving weekend I had to drive the Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night. I felt all those things… security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence.

The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand. I couldn’t have felt safer in any other vehicle, short of a semi truck.

“The 5 criteria of iconic brands are:  relevancy, competitiveness, authenticity, clarity of promise, consistency of communication. The hard work is the proactive management of the brand (including product development) to ensure the five criteria are delivered.” – Ed Burghard

Authenticity. Clarity of promise. Consistency.

 

I like Ed’s point here about proactive, ongoing brand management. Many people seem to think of branding as a one-time event. — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all.

You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not constantly minding your brand.

Always Be Branding.

It’s a never-ending effort that should be intertwined into your day-to-day business.

“One element that has not been discussed is success. No brand can reach iconic status without being successful in achieving it’s purpose. Part is creating these wonderful brand connections – authentically, emotionally, as an experience. Part is communicating with clarity and consistency. Part is delivering on the promise. But a vital component is to have delivered results and exceeded expectations… yes?’    – Ed Holme

what great brands have in common PatagoniaPatagonia is an iconic brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a compelling story to tell.

It is clear and consistent. When that story is retold over time it establishes that intangible, emotional  connection that inspires people and fuels success.

What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit? Are you clear about that? Are you telling that part of your story in a compelling way?

• “I would like to add ‘Leadership’ to the list of attributes already mentioned. It’s not about market share, though; iconic brands play by their own rules. These brands tend to break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture, catching the competition off guard and finding unprecedented loyalty”… – Stephen Abbott

This was a contribution that really stood out. I believe leadership is a highly overlooked component of branding. If you don’t take a genuine leadership position in some aspect of  your business, your brand will eventually flounder. (Can you say GM?)

Iconic brands are not, necessarily, always the market leader.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticLook at Apple. The iconic leader in the computing world only has 9.6% market share in computers. What’s more,  an iconic brand does not guarantee business success. Farrells Ice Cream parlors were iconic in this part of the country, and they went belly up.

Was Saturn iconic?  Certainly for a few years in automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymouth? Many icons of industry have fallen.

To build on the ideas related to story telling…  Iconic brands often align with an archetypal character and story which is instantly recognizable, psychologically stimulating and meaningful. Coke embodies the Innocent archetype as expressed through their advertising from polar bears to Santa Claus or the classic ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ campaign.” – Brenton Schmidt

Executives at Coke shattered that innocence when they changed the beloved formula to “New Coke.”  Probably the single biggest branding screw-up of the last 50 years. One woman, who hadn’t had a Coke in 25 years, called to complain that they were “messing with her childhood.”  Now that’s brand loyalty!

“Some underlying attributes (of iconic brands) tend to be focus, clarity and authenticity. However, all iconic brands tend to connect customers with an overreaching philosophy that fosters emotional connection between the customer and the brand.

Examples of brands and the emotions they foster:

– Nike = Performance. “I feel like I can run faster or jump higher when I wear my Nikes.”

– Target = Affordable Design. “At Wal-Mart, I get the best price. At Target, I get style and price.”

– Apple = CounterCulture. “I want style, simplicity and usability. My Mac says to the world that I’m different and unique. In short, I hate Windows and everything it represents.”

– Jason Milicki

I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, and I’d add the word Contrarian. Proudly contrarian, even. (My kids helped make sushi for Thanksgiving, and my son dubbed it a “Contrarian Turkey Dinner.” I think I’m handing it down.)

Finally, here’s one parting thought on iconic brands, from yours truly:

You don’t have to be  a multinational company, or even the biggest player in your niche, to become a successful icon in your own right. Gerry Lopez is an icon in the world of surfing, yet unknown to the general public and to Wall Street.

If you want to build an iconic brand — even a small one — start with passion, purpose and focus. Then work your ass off.

Of course, BN Branding can help take some of the burden off  your shoulders. Call us. 541-815-0075. For more on the common attributes of iconic brands, try this post.

5 things all iconic brands have in common by BN Branding

 

1 Branding firm BNBranding

Death in a small business — Brands outlive their founders.

BNBranding logoIf you got hit by a bus, what would happen to your brand?

Nothing derails a small business faster and more dramatically than death. In many cases, death IN a small business means the death OF the business.

No two ways about it… When a partner dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. If a key employee dies, it’s terribly, horribly disruptive to the typical small business.

The question is, have you built a brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss? Have you done any business succession planning that would allow your small business to survive?

My dentist lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident.  How do you go back to drilling teeth after that?

bnbranding Brand Insight BlogMy business partner lost her 14-year old son to a rare form of brain cancer. Jumping back into her role at work wasn’t exactly a priority.

Our lead art director dropped dead shoveling snow a couple winters ago. It was horrible.

Children. Siblings. Parents. Clients. Close friends. When you lose them, you also lose hard-fought momentum, motivation and money if you’re in business for yourself.

And chances are, you won’t even care.

All those niggling managerial details that seemed like a high priority will almost certainly fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, clients and vendors are usually very forgiving in times like that, but if you don’t have some kind of contingency plan, you’re liable to experience yet another loss… of your business.

 

 

Personal loss is particularly hard on professional service businesses. When my mother died, I was physically ill for weeks. I was literally grief sick and unable to work. Thankfully, I have a great team behind me, and a strong brand to fall back on.

Imagine a key attorney in a small law firm. A star architect. A senior executive recruiter with a big, fat rolodex. These key players are often the lifeblood of a company. Or as CFOs like to call them, “irreplacable assets.”

When those people go, the business goes often with them.

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some practical tips on what can you do to protect yourself from death in a small business. It’s not just about hiring the right law firm and doing some succession planning. (Although that’s a good idea.) It’s about working ON your brand, from day one.

Protect yourself from a death in your small business by building your brand before you need it.

Once you’ve built an iconic brand, the business is much more likely to survive a traumatic loss. Sounds great, but how do you do that?

BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

Make it about more than just money.

Great brands stand for something beyond business. There are values built into the brand that transcend time and personnel.

Patagonia for instance… if Yvonne Chounard were to die in a climbing accident, the brand would endure. Not just because it’s a big company, but because they have a large clan of customers and employees who share the company’s core values.

Have a better hiring strategy.

Business succession planning involves hiring the right people to carry the torch. You want people who share your values and your vision, not your management style. Rather than hiring clones of yourself, find people smarter than yourself, with diverse backgrounds, experience and style. That way you’ll achieve some balance in the organization and it’ll be easier to fill a void, if something terrible happens.

positioning strategy BNBrandingKeep your story straight.

Too many companies get fixated on their logo and forget about the brand story they have to tell. Logos change and evolve, but the core brand story should always stay consistent.

Unfortunately, many C-level executives can’t articulate their brand story. Even Richard Branson has a hard time with the question, “what’s the Virgin brand about?”

(It’s not just about Richard Branson)

So before something bad happens, put your brand story down on paper. Hire someone to help you craft the story that doesn’t revolve around any one person. Then stick with it.

Build strong alliances.

Successful companies tend to have a large number of friendly  brand affiliations.  They don’t operate in a vacuum.

The more companies, people, brands and causes that you are affiliated with, the more support you’ll have in tough times. But don’t forget… all those affiliations need to be aligned with your brand. You don’t want just random alliances.

Devise a succession plan before you need it.

It’s kind of ironic… in order to get funding, start-ups have to include a slide about their exit strategy. And it’s usually pie in the sky stuff.

But many established businesses that are actually good targets for acquisitions never even think about succession, much less a devistating death of a partner.

It’s one of those painful things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile.

But you need to make time for business succession planning and long-term branding.  If you’re an owner, a manager, or just an employee, you need to know what would happen in the worst-case scenario.

For more on how to build an iconic brand, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2 Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBranding

Keen Footwear is a great branding case study. If the shoe fits.

Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBrandingApparently, I have peasant feet.  At least that’s what the nice sales person at REI told me as I was buying a pair of Keens.  That comment inspired me to use that brand as a good branding case study.

Here’s how the story goes…

Back in medieval Europe, peasant’s feet were short and stubby, with toes that were all close to the same length.

Noblemen, on the other hand, had narrow, pointy feet, with toes that tapered off like an Egyptian profile.

Keen shoes seem to be tailor-made for peasants.

I’ve purchased two pairs of Keens for work, one pair of sandals, and two pairs of light hikers because they fit my feet perfectly. But I’ve never heard anything from Keen about fit. ( Or about catering to peasants, for that matter.)

Instead, the Keen brand strategy revolves around the theme of the “hybrid life.” Where did that come from, you might ask.

 

 

Like most great brands, Keen was launched with one simple idea. Their entire brand strategy focused on sandals with toe protection. It’s yet another branding case study that proves the power of singular focus.

Designer Michael Keen’s ah-ha moment derived from his experience as a competitive sailor.  At the time, serious sailors never wore sandals. Too many stubbed toes! So Keen came up with the Newport Sandal and dubbed it a hybrid — somewhere between a shoe and a sandal with visible reinforcement in the toes.

Stylish? Not really. But they sure are functional.

Sailors soon started moving away from Top Siders and embracing the protection provided by Keen’s distinctive toe design. There’s even a Keen model that looks like a deck shoe.

Keen shoes brand strategy on the Brand Insight BlogBut sailing is a preppy, upper crust activity, and Keen’s brand personality is definitely not preppy. That’s where this branding case study gets interesting.

You won’t see any sailing in Keen’s marketing materials, and I doubt they’ll be sponsoring an America’s Cup boat any time soon.

You’re more likely to see Keens on a dirt bag vagabond than an ivy league yachtsman.

Keen shoes are not high fashion, but they’re highly functional and amazingly comfortable. They appeal to river rafters, hikers, beachcombers, bicyclists, campers, fishermen and just about anyone who loves to play outdoors. Every model they make shows Keen’s original benefit… toe protection.

Needless to say, the brand plays well in the workboot category. But more than that, it’s also popular among urban hipsters in places like Portland, Seattle, Boston and Austin, Texas.

For branding purposes, the company latched onto Michael Keen’s term and expanded it into the “hybrid life.”

Unfortunately, most people don’t know what that means. It’s a conjured-up lifestyle thing that only makes sense to a tiny sliver of the peasant market. Like those of us lucky enough to live in Bend, Oregon.

Bend Oregon Advertising Agency Keen branding case studyWhen it comes to brand affiliations, Bend is the perfect town for Keen.

We get it. Recreation’s the name of the game here, and locals are very good at getting outside and having fun… Paddling  or fishing the Deschutes River, mountain biking, skiing, hiking, running the river trail.

The hybrid life is what we’re all doing here. Or at least aspiring to do.

But the folks at Keen like to say “hybrid life” is deeper than just what you do in your spare time. It’s “a call to create, play and care.”  That’s the heart of the Keen brand, and the company has demonstrated authenticity on all three fronts.

It’s one of those companies that’s genuinely trying to do good things. And that commitment is built into their brand strategy.

When it comes to caring, Keen walks the talk. When the tsunami hit Thailand and Indonesia in 2004, Keen donated its entire marketing budget for the year, almost $1 million, to tsunami recovery efforts.

Since then Keen has donated over $5 million to non-profits that share “a philosophy of caring, conscience and sustainability.”

On the sustainability scale, Keen CEO James Curleigh considers Keen an “accidental environmentalist”.

They launched a line of bags and wallets using scrap polyester and nylon. So now the company is heralded as “green” and eco-friendly. But to hear Curleigh tell it, the move had more to do with material costs and smart business decisions than environmentalism.

The Portland-based company encourages its employees to volunteer in the community, offering up to 36 hours of paid time each year to participate in volunteer activities. Appropriately, on Earth Day nearly 40 of the company’s employeeKeen shoes brand strategy on the Brand Insight Blogs helped with trail maintenance in Portland’s Forest Park.

And one of Keen’s recent advertising campaigns encouraged people to rekindle one of the favorite parts of their childhood and incorporate Recess into their adult lives.

Sounds good to me. Peasants deserve a break. We work hard.

The campaign is an improvement over Keen’s past advertising efforts where the hybrid life was sort of shoved down our throats. “Designed for your hybred life” was actually one of the headlines. (A classic case where the brand strategy statement made an unfortunate appearance as an ad headline.) The message has also lacked consistency over the years…

“Shoes with adrenalin.”

“Bear tested, Bear approved” with Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild.

“Live Outwardly.”

Keen’s agency is obviously trying to make “Recess” more inclusive. They’re working to expand the definition of  “outdoor recreation” and include a broader range of audiences.

Maybe they’re trying a little too hard.

The ads feels a little forced. The photography has a stock look, and doesn’t sKeen advertisingeem authentic to me.  Compare it to the photography that Patagonia consistently produces… it’s no contest.

In the Keen ads there are no peasants, no grungy hipsters, no bearded mountain men. They’re all models — cleaned, pressed and ready to trek from one photo shoot to the next. I’ll bet most of them even have noble, pointy feet.

Which brings me back to Michael Keen’s original design.

Keen said he considered all kinds of feet before deciding on a last that fits 90 percent of the population. But there aren’t that many of us with peasant feet.

The fact is, the lucky people with noble, Egyptian feet can fit into just about any shoe, including Keens. But not vice-versa.

Try shoving a stubby, peasant foot into the typical golf shoe. It’s impossible. Just look how pointy they all are. It’s almost as-if the powers that be in the golf industry want to perpetuate that image of noble exclusivity.

Golf shoes just don’t fit peasant feet.

They won’t even make shoes for the working class, much less golf courses!

So here’s what I hope:  I hope Keen gets into the golf shoe business.

If they choose to make deck shoes and biking shoes, why not golf shoes? The toe construction of a Keen is absolutely perfect for the demands of the golf swing, and no other golf shoe accommodates the common foot.

And when they do move into that market, I hope I can do the ads. Because nobody knows peasant golf like I do.

For more on Brand Strategy, check out THIS post: 

Interested in buying some Keens? Check them out at GoodPairOfShoes.com

 

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

The Inside-Out Approach To Building A Brand — Start with your people

brand credibility from branding expertsI’m always amazed by business owners and CEOs who spend considerable time and money building a brand, only to neglect the most important component of their brand: Their people.

If you want to build a great brand, it’s wise start on the inside and work your way out. Seriously. If you can’t convince your employees to be your greatest brand ambassadors, who can you convince?

If they aren’t drinking the Kool-aid, and building a brand with enthusiasm, who will?

more effective advertising from BNBranding

It’s interesting what we learn during a brand audit. We often compare the company’s external market research data with prevailing internal attitudes. I’ve seen companies that accurately claim to have a 98 percent approval rating. “Customers love us,” they say.

But when we talk to employees, suppliers, past employees, and friends and family, a completely different tune emerges.

thumbs-down-smiley-mdDespite the happy customers, we often find a vocal group that is ready, willing and quite happy to talk smack about the company’s policies, procedures and practices.  Not only are those groups NOT great brand ambassadors, they’re brand bashers.

When that becomes a pattern your brand image, and ultimately your business, will take a hit.

That’s why it’s so important to hire wisely, pay people well and treat them fairly.

That’s why you start on the inside. That’s why branding is not just a marketing department thing, it’s an every department thing.

That’s why the H.R. department actually plays a critical role in building a brand.

Yes, H.R.!

 

 

 

Just as there are sponsorships, ad campaigns and even products that are “off brand,” some employees can also be off brand.

Especially when it comes to senior management teams. If your VP of Marketing is not on the same page as your CEO, you’re going to have some major challenges. If you have a parade of people leaving the company, your brand will take a hit.

thumbs-up-smiley-hiIn order to avoid those conflicts that create a revolving door of turnover, your H.R. department, or whoever’s recruiting and screening new recruits, needs to be immersed in your brand.

They should know your corporate culture inside and out and they should understand your purpose, mission, vision and management style.  That’s how they find new employees who will become brand ambassadors rather than brand bashers.

Think about that. Of all the places you’ve worked, how many of those companies do you still talk up, and how many do you talk down?

Chances are, you’re still loyal to a few.

I know people who worked at Apple, Amazon and Nike 20 years ago who still follow those companies fervently. They run in the shoes, invest in the stock and remain brand loyal long after they’ve moved on to different jobs. Even when they’re off building a brand of their own, they’re still devoted to the old brand.

There are more than 2000 Starbucks employees who are attending Arizona State University free of charge, thanks to the Starbucks College Achievement plan. I bet those kids will be Starbucks fans for life.

In “Built To Last’ James Collins and Jerry Porrass show that great companies have “cult-like” cultures. (I think the word “cult” is not quite right. It’s more like a club.)

The point is, Collins proved that great companies have a very clearly defined ideology that you either buy into, or not. “If you’re not willing to adopt the HP Way or the gung ho, fanatical customer service atmosphere of Nordstrom, then you’re not a good fit for those brands. If you’re not willing to be “Procterized” then you don’t belong at Procter & Gamble.”

You won ‘t see a Walmart executive or store manager leave for a position at Whole Foods. Not going to happen.

blog article from ad agencies bend oregonPatagonia, Nike, Whole Foods… companies with passionate, clearly defined cultures are not always easy to work for. In fact, they often demand more of their people than the competitor next door.

But the alternative is much worse…  No culture to speak of. No clearly defined brand. No core ideology for people to rally around. Poor morale. High turnover. Weak leadership. Those are the hallmarks of a brand in decline.

Scott Bedbury uses a nice parenting analogy in his book A New Brand World. “As brands evolve over time, they absorb the environment and karma of an organization, not unlike the way children are influenced by the place they call home. Both brands and kids thrive in an inspiring, learning, caring environment where they are appreciated, respected, protected and understood… So organizations, like parents, must instill values and behaviors that are not only positive, but consistent. ”

If the leadership of a company changes frequently, consistency goes out the door with them.

When you work on your brand from the inside out, your team shows a united front, and front-line employees become what Seth Godin calls “sneezers.” Spreading the gospel of your brand in positive way. When you neglect your people, and focus only on customers, disgruntled employees spread something much worse.

It’s up to you.

 

 

If you want help building your brand, contact me… John Furgurson at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

If you want more information on building a brand from the Brand Insight Blog, try this post.