Tag Archives for " SMALL BUSINESS MANAGEMENT "

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“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Managers make monumental mistakes, but brands endure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

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

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

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

more effective advertising BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. Bad Puns

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

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

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

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

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank.

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank

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

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

2. False and misleading claims.

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

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

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

3. Bribery.

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

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

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

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

4. Talking about yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s human nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

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

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

new approach to website design

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

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

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

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

Of course.

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

It’s like direct response branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.

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

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

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

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

That’s hogwash.

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

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

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

truth in advertising BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same with sounds.

 

 

1 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

Branding Fundamentals – The ABCs of Branding are RCD

the importance of branding BNbrandingRelevance. Credibility. Differentiation. These are branding fundamentals. When you look at companies — large and small — that have become successful brands, you’ll notice strength, consistency and often superiority in those three areas.

Branding fundamentals begin with Relevance.

Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone.

My old friend Preston Thompson understood the importance of branding strategies and the need for a niche. He painstakingly crafted high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound. It’s only relevant to a very narrow, niche audience.

Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar.

But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.

Wisely, Preston doesn’t worry about that.

The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and trying to be relevant to a broad range of guitar players, they’re staying esoterically focused.

Relevant to few, but highly valued.

 

 

The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most. Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target.

Blackberry was once a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.

Relevance in the restaurant business is also ridiculously fleeting.  Foodies, who are the bread and butter of the trendy restaurant scene, suffer from a severe case of “been there done that” syndrome. So when something new comes along, they’re gone  and the hottest restaurant of the year gets quickly supplanted by the next great thing. The restaurants that thrive in the long run find an audience after the foodies have left the building.

The demise of Sears demonstrates a dramatic loss of relevance. There’s still a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years, but the brand can’t survive on that.  It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of retail. High school girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.

too many choices the importance of branding BNBranding Brand Insight BlogSometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives.

It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, Coke or Kool Aid in the summer.

The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance.

It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?

Being relevant equates to being meaningful. If your brand is meaningful, you’ll generate interest. People will desire it. And they’ll take action. That’s what you want: Interest. Desire. Action.

Many brands fail because they didn’t really mean anything to begin with.  Others lose their meaning over time, often due to a lack of credibility. They haven’t mastered the branding fundamentals.

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down. That’s one of the things that all great brands have in common… They live by their brand values.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsIt’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)

Good sales people often gloss over the realities of delivery in order to get the sale. Like the famous line from an old FedEx ad… “We can do that. Sure, we can do that! (How we gonna do that?”) Every time you over-promise and come up short, your credibility takes a hit.

Instead, set realistic expectations. And if things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to say, “yeah, we really screwed up.” And do it quickly! In this world of social media you have to move fast to stay ahead of any bad news.

So let’s assume that you know yourself well and you’ve established a trusted brand. The easiest way to screw it up is to advertise something you’re NOT. Like a personal injury lawyer claiming to be friendly and honest.

And if you really want to compound the problem, try using a celebrity of questionable credibility. That’s a double whammy! Every brand affiliation reflects on your credibility.

Often what you’ll see is advertising based on wishful thinking rather than brand realities or customer insight. The ego of the business owner clouds the message that gets out and harms the credibility of the company. Ego is also a common culprit when it comes to differentiation… CEOs and business owners start thinking they can do anything.

brand differentiation BNBrandingBranding Fundamentals: Differentiation.

The best brands take the conventional thinking of their industry and throw it on its ear, disrupting everything that came before. They discard the age-old excuse; “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”

You cannot differentiate your brand by watching the rear-view mirror or by following the lead of others in your industry. Instead, try the convention-disruption model… Think about the standard operating procedures and practices of your industry – the conventional approach – and do something else.

There are three key areas where differentiation can produce some dramatic business gains:

Product/Service Differentiation

The best marketing programs begin with products designed to be different from the get-go. There are plenty of ice cream brands out there, but only one with the crazy, mixed-up flavors of “Late Night Snack.” Ben & Jerry’s continually differentiates itself with its creativity in the flavor department.

Operational Differentiation

If you have me-too products you can still differentiate yourself through operational innovation. Be more efficient, more employee-friendly, more environmentally conscious, whatever. For Walmart procurement and supply chain management was the differentiator. That’s what enables them to keep prices so low.

Business Model Differentiation

This is a good option that applies mostly to start-ups. If you can find a better business model, and prove that it works, investors will notice.  But keep in mind, consumers might not know the difference, so you still have to do other things well.

Marketing  Differentiation

In crowded markets with many similar offerings it’s often the advertising and marketing programs that push one brand to the front of the pack. Additionally, in advertising circles there are three areas where you can differentiate yourself:  Strategy, media, or creative execution.

Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation.

The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.

RCD. Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Most companies are lucky to get one or two out of three. The greatest brands are three for three.

Call us to find out how Relevance Credibility & Differentiation matter to your business. 541-815-0075.

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3

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

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

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

Brands of love John Furgurson BNBranding blog post

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Brands of love - Howard Head - BN Branding

Howard Head

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

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

That’s branding.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

brands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blog

In focus groups people talk about love all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the Lovemarks website. 

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

4 Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

Class A office space, Class A brand — Brand alignment with your location

BNBranding Bend, Oregon advertising agencyIt was said to be Steve Jobs’ last great obsession… Apple Park.

The new corporate headquarters looks like a spaceship from a 1950’s sci-fi story. 12,000 employees in one building. 2.8 million square feet of space. The world’s largest panels of curved glass. 9,000 draught-tolerant trees. 5 billion dollar price tag.

The ultimate expression of the Apple brand under Jobs. And big-league brand alignment.

Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

 

 

Steven Levy recently wrote a fascinating feature about Apple’s new headquarters for Wired magazine. For that piece, he interviewed Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathan Ive, who recently left Apple to start his own firm.

Ive oversaw the design of every Apple product from 1997 to 2019. Since Design is the heart and soul of the Apple brand, one could argue that Ive is the heart of Apple.

“It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd, large numbers,” Ive said. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.” The value, he argues, is not what went into the building. It’s what will come out.”

 

More fantastic designs. More signature products from the world’s most valuable brand.

Brand alignment involves a lot of things… It’s how you communicate the Brand to your employees. It’s the events you sponsor and the companies you’re affiliated with. It’s the consistency of your messaging and graphics. It’s product design and yes, it’s even the design of your new office.

In Apple’s alternative universe, the giant circular ring of glass is perfectly aligned with the brand.

All Fortune 500 companies spend enormous sums on corporate headquarters because they understand that it really does matter to their most important brand ambassadors… employees.

Your office space says something about your brand and your culture. No matter how big or small your company is.

brand alignment Chiat Day building in Venice BNBranding.

Famed architect Frank Gehry designed this building for Chiat Day Advertising. Now it’s occupied by Google.

Small professional service firms should also make sure their space aligns with their brand.

When you’re selling a service, and have no tangible product, your workspace is an important physical manifestation of the brand.

(Or at least is used to be, before COVID 19)

In fact, depending on the business you’re in, your office space might be the single most important example of brand alignment.

For instance, when it comes to selecting an ad agency, office space always figures into the equation. The workspace is a tangible display of the agency’s creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking. (Or lack thereof.)

Clients love doing business with the cool kids in the cool offices. They want to go somewhere that feels different, more energized or more “free” than their own place of business. It’s an escape from their normal, day-to-day reality. Clients feed off that. (Take a tour of Weiden & Kennedy’s Portland headquarters and you’ll see what I mean.)

If you’re an architect or an interior design firm it’s even more important… Your office space is an everyday opportunity to show off your work. It’s “Exhibit A” in the firm’s portfolio. It better be impressive.

For attorneys it’s about showing off their ivy league law degrees and proving, somehow, that they’re worth $450 an hour.

Cue the leather sofa and the $20,000 desk.

Harry Beckwith, in “What Clients Love,” tells how State Farm Insurance chose a firm to handle a huge payroll and benefits contract. They looked at all the proposals, narrowed the field, sat through presentations and listened to pitches from several very capable companies. They were all pretty comparable in price and service.

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly.

The State Farm guys walked through the offices of each competing firm, said a quick hello to their contacts, and chose the office that “felt the best” based on that one visit.

It’s a completely irrational, emotional, gut-instinct thing. (Have you ever walked into a restaurant and just felt an instant, knee-jerkingly negative vibe?)

First impressions matter. Details matter… Location. Colors. Layout. Even the coffee you serve says something about your brand. Is your company percolating along on Folger’s, or is it serving up a hot shot of espresso with a perfect crema on top?

Ask yourself this: Is there a disconnect between what people see in your marketing materials and what they experience in your office? Be honest.

Is your office space in alignment with your brand and your corporate culture? Many small companies that are genuinely warm and inviting in person maintain offices that are far too chilly and corporate. They’re trying so hard to look big and important they overstep their own brand personality.

And vice-versa.

Big banks work hard to make themselves sound friendly and personable in their advertising. Then you walk into any branch, and the decor is vintage 1990s institutional snooze fest. And unfortunately, the customer experience is usually aligned with the decor.  (One notable exception is Umpqua Bank.)

TVA Architects BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Ideally, you want to align the look, feel and functionality of your office space with the brand personality, culture and operation of your company.

Easier said than done.

You can’t just take the “about us” section of your website and hand that off to an interior designer and expect a miracle.

If you’re moving into a new space, or thinking of a refresh of your current office, it helps to go back to an honest assessment of your brand… To your core values and your main messages that always seem to get relegated to internal documents and forgettable, corporate mission statements.

Your brand needs a bible.

That way, you always have a clear reference point. A testament. A philosophical road map that can be the inspiration for your marketing efforts, your business initiatives and your latest office makeover.

So when you’re looking at colors and carpet and furniture you can hold up the bible and say, “is this on brand? Is this really us?” Is this the right direction?

When I’m working with a new client I always start with that fundamental. I work with companies to spell out their brand and put it down on paper.

It’s not easy. It requires research, a lot of listening on my part, and a lot of soul searching from the client. (More than most people ever have time for.) But it saves tons of time later on by eliminating false starts when we’re working on tactical marketing items like digital advertising, a trade show booth, a powerpoint deck, or a new corporate video.

Or new interiors, for that matter.

“The right input is crucial for corporate jobs,” says Lisa Slayman of Slayman Design. “When clients are wishy-washy about their brand… that’s when things get difficult.”

The same goes for marketing.

“The best clients are the ones who are clear about what their company stands for. What their brand is. When I see it down on paper, that makes it a lot easier to translate to the interior design job. It makes every decision easier.”

Getting the brand message right and communicating it quickly and clearly is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. You can’t have brand alignment if you don’t have your brand defined.

Your brand bible should inform hiring decisions, marketing decisions, operational decisions and even finance decisions. It should unite people and provide the crystal clear marching orders you need to move continually in the right direction.

If you don’t have one, call me.

When you approach new office space from a strategic, brand perspective the interior design becomes another opportunity to reinforce a specific set of values and beliefs. You can integrate your brand aesthetic into the everyday lives of your people and your visitors. So if some prospective client just happens to pop in, you’ll leave the right impression.

The brand impression.

Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said about the new Apple Park… “Could we have cut a corner here or there? Sure. It wouldn’t have been Apple. And it wouldn’t have sent the message to everybody working here every day that detail matters, that care matters.”

For more on why brand alignment matters, try THIS post. Bend BN Branding Logo

 

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Custom club fitting:  Path to perfection, or folly of the fragile golf psyche?

brand credibility from branding expertsOne of the hosts of an immensely popular golf podcast recently stated, on the air, that “club fitting is a total waste of time for most people.” It was the type of statement that boosts ratings and incites debate among those of us who do marketing in the golf industry.

His reasoning was pretty weak; “It’s not like real life,” he said.

But just because club fitting isn’t conducted on the course — with wind, rotten lies, competitive pressure and incessant heckling from beer-drinking buddies —  doesn’t mean it’s worthless. If it was, no one would be doing it.

The question is, does the average 18-handicapper, who forks over thousands of dollars for a club fitting analysis and custom club building, actually come away with a better game?

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Is he a savvy, well-informed equipment consumer who knows something the rest of us don’t know, or is he just a sucker, throwing away money on the great, shiny placebo of the modern golf world?

On one hand, a dynamic club fitting session is the only way to know, for sure, that you’re getting what you paid for. But as I’ve recently learned, it’s also an easy way to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on shiny new clubs that only produce miniscule improvement in track man numbers that may or may not translate to better golf scores.

Is club fitting a waste of time for people who do NOT play at an elite level? And what do you really get from a $350 club fitting session at one of the fancy new club fitting boutiques?

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here: I do branding, consulting and marketing in the golf industry. I’ve worked with several companies that offer club fitting services but this is NOT a paid post or a promotion of any kind. Just my overview of what’s happening in that business.

Basically, I’ve been drinking the club fitting kool-aid for more than 20 years, but what I’ve experienced recently really tests my faith. Even though custom club fitting is more prevalent than ever, I’m not sure that business is moving in a direction that benefits the average consumer.

One other thing:  I am not an equipment junkie. I’m not one to run out and buy the latest greatest anything. I hang onto my clubs, probably longer than I should, and I play more by feel than by data analysis. I play well to 9 handicap; but I was a 5, once upon a time, while playing with a set of Ping knock-offs made for me by a trusted old craftsman we called Uncle Milty.

It’s a story with more wrinkles than an Arizona centenarian and it begins back in the day of leather-wrapped grips and persimmon woods.

 

Lead tape and tinkering… The origins of club fitting.

marketing in the golf industryClub fitting, to some degree or another, has always been popular on the PGA tour. Arnold Palmer was famous tinkering with his clubs. He probably set his hands on more golf clubs than anyone in the history of the game. He was on a lifelong search for the perfect club, and said he never found it.

Palmer based his preferences on two things: how the club felt and how it looked. He believed that if it looked good, and felt right in his hands, he’d make it work.

Pros of Arnold’s era would add a little lead tape here and there, grind the soles, whittle the persimmon and bend the lie angles just so. It was more art than anything. They had no way to measure what they were doing; they were just eyeballing it and testing it on the course.

Trial and error.

That’s pretty much the way it was until the 1970s when Dr. Joe Braly added a little bit of science to the art of club fitting.

Braly was a fighter pilot, Veterinarian, aeronautical engineer and avid golfer who invented a way to sort shafts according to stiffness. His goal was to turn untested blank shafts into a matched set that the tour pros could trust.

To understand club fitting you have to understand Braly’s game-changing invention: The frequency machine. To this day it’s one of the main tools of the trade.

Frequency analyzers measure the oscillation of a shaft using a laser beam. The stiffer the shaft, the faster the rate of oscillation; the more flexible the shaft, the slower the oscillation.

frequency machine marketing in the golf industry BN Branding

Here’s how they work: Clamp the grip end into the frequency machine, then pull the clubhead back, let it go and watch the shaft oscillate back and forth.

The frequency analyzer counts the oscillation rate and displays it in the form of “cycles per minute” on an LED display. So Braly could assign a number to each shaft. He then built a set of clubs using only the shafts with matching numbers.

The idea caught on… Working with his son, Kim, they opened a repair van on the PGA tour circuit and by 1978 they had more than 100 tour players using their FM Precision Shafts. The two went on to start Project X and now KBS shafts.

The general public, however, didn’t see the benefit of Braly’s invention until a small, Idaho-based company called Henry Griffits brought custom club fitting to the masses and set the bar for every other company that wanted a piece of that untapped, unproven market.

 

 

 

The first consumer brand in the world of club fitting. 

I was first introduced to the wonky world of club fitting by the CEO of Henry-Griffitts in 2001.  Jim Hofmeister treated me to a tour of their facility and gave me thorough briefing on their unique approach to fitting and hand-crafting personalized golf clubs.

HG developed the processes and patented many of the tools that club fitters still use, and it was quite an eye-opener. The closest thing was PING’s color coding system, but that paled in comparison to what HG offered. It was a first in golf industry marketing. 

That was the first time I ever saw a frequency machine used to test the consistency of shaft flex, and I have to admit I was stunned. I had no idea that a “set” of brand name irons could be so completely screwed up.

They had a whole stack of reject shafts that were set to go back to the manufacturer. Hofmeister put one on the frequency machine and showed me the problem; He couldn’t even get a reading. Instead of oscillating back and forth, it just bounced all over the place.

That was lesson #1: The shaft manufacturing process is far from perfect. Discerning club makers who set tight tolerances for shaft flex consistency routinely send 15 to 25% of their shafts back. Every time.

Lesson #2: You can throw the labels right out the window. Shaft flex can vary dramatically from one club to the next within a set of so-called regular flex clubs. Especially when you’re talking graphite shafts. Not only that, every shaft manufacturer and every big golf brand has a whole spectrum of “stiff” shafts, “ladies” shafts and every other shaft category. And the spectrum shifts from one company to the next. There are no industry standards for shaft flex. One company’s “stiff” shafts is another company’s regular shafts.

Lesson #3: Lie Angles matter. If a golfer is playing with clubs that are way too flat or too upright, he’s going to adopt all sorts of bad habits in order to compensate for the mis-fit clubs and make the ball go where he wants.

As Hofmeister told me, “Golf clubs create golf swings.”

 

 

 

That look behind the curtain at Henry-Griffitts planted a seed of doubt in my head that will never go away.  Once you’ve seen a set of brand name, off-the-shelf irons tested and plotted on a frequency chart, you can’t unsee it.

So I left Idaho thinking “how can anyone trust the clubs they’re swinging if they buy right off the shelf? There’s no way the big manufacturers take time to test every shaft before assembly.”

When I returned home I contacted Andy Heinly, the local Henry-Griffitts guy, and went through the entire club fitting process. I was sold, hook line and sinker.

Upon delivery Andy confirmed the lie angles and the launch trajectory for every HG club in my bag, and that was before the days of the Track Man. He could tell, just by watching ball flight, that I got exactly what I paid for.

I’ll never forget how well I was hitting the ball after getting those HG clubs and doing a lesson with Andy. That was their secret sauce; They recruited and trained PGA teaching professionals to do fittings and sell their clubs. If you couldn’t teach, you couldn’t sell Henry-Griffitts.

It was a great way for PGA certified teaching pros to earn extra money and find new students. But with the advent of simulators and launch monitors, that model has fallen by the wayside.

Many people in the golf business today believe club fitting and instruction should be completely separated. Like church and state. Master club fitters do the best they can with the swing their clients bring on any given day. And they get very squirrely when a teaching pro encroaches on their rarified turf.

But here’s what both camps have in common; they’re trying to help build your confidence. Whether it’s with one new club, or a series of lessons, or a combination of a full club fitting session plus lessons, the end goal is the same.

I can testify to how that feels when it all comes together.

That buying process I went through with Andy provided the one thing that every golfer will pay for: Confidence.

I had confidence in the irons themselves, confidence in HG’s building process, in the fitter and perhaps even in even my swing.

It seemed like I was making a better swing with my new clubs. Maybe that was Andy’s expert tutledge or maybe that was just my imagination. It doesn’t really matter, because the confidence was real.

 

Golfers are drawn to shiny objects and we’re suckers for empty promises of more distance. We buy for completely irrational, emotional reasons and then conjure up all sorts of logical rationale for our purchase of those objects.

My first club fitting experience provided the ultimate purchase rationalization.

“Of course I needed new clubs honey, my old ones didn’t fit me. The lie angles were off and they weren’t frequency matched.”

There’s another subtle mental benefit to club fitting that’s worth mentioning… That little voice in your head that says “my equipment’s better than your equipment.”

At the amateur level If you’re playing in a tournament head-to-head against a guy with stock clubs, your equipment becomes a competitive advantage.

At the elite level club fitting is standard operation procedure. So you have to do it just to keep up with everyone else in the field. You can’t NOT get fit because you can’t afford any tinge of doubt about your equipment.

Doubt sells a lot of golf clubs, and it seems to be a key selling point for the new breed of club fitting operations. Doubt and the fragile golf ego.

Doubt is what drove me to replace my reliable HG driver after five years of good performance. Somehow I got it in my head that I was giving up distance by playing steel shafts. So on a whim during a trip to Bandon Dunes, I “upgraded” to an Adams driver with a lighter, graphite shaft.

If I had compared the two drivers on a launch monitor I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have made that purchase.

Instead, I spent the next five years trying to convince myself that it was a smart buy. Ego prevailed over buyer’s remorse and prevented me from cutting my losses and moving on. Even though I was missing more fairways I couldn’t admit that I had made a bad purchase.

Finally, a couple summers ago, I swallowed my pride and decided it was time for a do-over. The driver needed to go. I wanted that feeling of confidence again. Plus, I had a hankering for something shiny and new. I wanted an entirely new set. I deserved it.

Luckily I didn’t have to walk into a big box store completely blind and trust some random sales guy to fit me properly. I went back to my fitter/instructor who sold me my HG irons all those years ago. Andy Heinly now owns a golf shop offering all the big name brands and all the latest, greatest launch monitors to help gauge what’s best for me.

He adheres to the old truism in club fitting that says “90% of you are going to be better off with a shaft that’s more flexible than what you think you need.”

Plus, Andy knows my swing and he recognizes that I’m not getting any younger. So he put me in a set of Callaway Apex irons with lightweight graphite shafts that seemed significantly more flexible than my steel shafted HGs.

They felt weird, fast and easy to swing. But Andy assured me that it was the right move, and I had no reason to doubt his opinion. Besides, the launch monitor data confirmed that they “worked better” across the board.

But did they, really?

I don’t recall any detailed A-B testing on the dispersion pattern of the Callaways versus the old HGs. But I do remember that I was getting more distance.

Maybe I was momentarily taken by the age-old golf industry sales pitch of a few more yards. But I know better!

It’s common knowledge that the big brands have been steadily decreasing the loft on their irons in order to deliver on that overused promise. In his book, The Search For The Perfect Club, Tom Wishon calls it The Dreaded Vanishing Loft Disease. So that new Callaway 7 iron was probably equal to my HG 6 iron.

I was not comparing apples to apples, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was dead set on getting new clubs so those Track Man numbers fit perfectly with my pre-conceived notion of what I needed.

I only saw what I wanted to see. Heard what I wanted to hear.

Even though it was bit of a blow to my golfing ego I went with Andy’s recommendation to use iron shafts that were on the softer side of the “regular” flex spectrum. From that particular shaft manufacturer anyway. (Matrix Recoil ES 760/F3)

When my new set of Callaways arrived Andy took time to check the lie angles and confirm the launch parameters, especially with the driver. A quick click click with his handy wrench and my new driver was launching them quite nicely with a “smash factor” that was very close to perfect. I was getting every inch of distance I could get out of my swing speed.

marketing in the golf industry BN BrandingI started feeling pretty good about myself, especially when I realized I was wielding a 9 degree driver. That’s contrary to everything I’d heard about how most people need more loft with the driver, not less.

But the dynamics of club fitting are such that a 9 degree driver in my hands behaves differently than the same 9 degree driver for the next guy.

It’s the way I deliver the club into the ball, in addition to an endless combination of other variables. There are so many different variables involved, it’s ridiculous.

Wishon lists 21 different variables in club fitting, but he’s only talking about the measurable stuff that he can control, like lie angles, swing weight, shaft spine alignment, shaft torque, frequency, etc etc.

We can’t forget about the “real life” variables that the podcast host was referring to. Like “feel,” how the club interacts with the grass, and they type of ball you play. (He contends that hitting practice balls off a matt just doesn’t cut it.)

In real life my new clubs have been performing quite well. My handicap went down 3 points and I’ve hit some of the best iron shots of my life. And perhaps, more importantly, my misses have been better.

I had absolutely no complaints about the clubs Andy sold me until I started doing research for this article. The deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the worse it got.

 

 

Blinded by bling – and too many choices.

High-end boutique club fitting firms have popped up all over the country in the last 10 years. Companies like Cool Clubs, True Spec, Hot Stix, Club Champion and GOLFTEC didn’t exist when I bought my last set, so I was very curious to see what they offered.

The first stop was a master club fitter with one of the fastest growing club fitting chains in the country. It’s a “brand agnostic” operation, meaning they carry a dazzling array of colorful shafts and high tech clubheads from dozens of major manufacturers. One of the chains claims to offer more than 50,000 different possible combinations.

Perfect for the guys who buy golf clubs like women buy jewelry. For me it was more like mix and match till my head explodes!

After a nice warm up period and a couple quick questions about my game, the fitter fired up the Track Man and started assessing data from my 6 iron shots. 173 yards of carry from 82 miles per hour of clubhead speed. “Not bad,” he said.

With that data point established he headed over to the frequency machine. (He did not check the lie angles.) He tested three random irons and determined that 291 was the frequency number.

“Oh, these shafts are way too soft for your clubhead speed,” he announced. “These are like super soft ladies flex.”

All I heard was “Why are you playing Granny shafts?” “Those are so soft you couldn’t smash a rotten pumpkin.”

My head was spinning and my ego was bruised. The seed of doubt was firmly planted.

At that moment, if I didn’t know any better, I would be really angry with my friend Andy. But he’d never put me in Granny shafts. No way. Something was amiss.

I told the master club fitter that I was absolutely sure I had ordered regular flex shafts. Then I asked, “How could they possibly end up being Granny shafts according to your frequency machine?”

He said it was clear that I didn’t get what I had paid for. “It was the build that they did at Callaway,” he said. “They probably tipped ‘em wrong so they came out much softer than what the factory specs say.”

Oooookay. Never heard of that, but since my Callaways had never been on a frequency machine I couldn’t deny that possibility.

But the more I thought about that, the more unlikely it sounded. Andy and I confirmed the lie angle and the launch of each club after delivery. I’m pretty sure we would have seen some weird dispersion pattern or launch angle anomalies on the Track Man if Calloway mistakenly gave me a whole set of Granny-shafted irons.

In any case, I went along with the fitter’s assessment because I wanted to see what other nuggets of wisdom he might provide. Besides, there were all those pretty shafts to try out.

One that looked particularly enticing was $400. For one shaft. I opted to NOT test that one for fear that it would produce the best numbers of the bunch and I would be somehow morally obligated to buy the entire bank-breaking set.

As he changed out clubheads and tried different shaft combinations one thing became quite clear: the shot pattern produced by my Callaway irons was pretty damn good. The baseline was high. Nothing I tried that day showed a dramatic improvement in both ball speed and dispersion, relative to the clubs I already had.

The fitter told me, “Your driver’s fine. Don’t change a thing.”

He also told me that my Apex clubheads were very good, and were out performing many of the clubheads that we tried. So one option, he said, was to re-shaft my current Apex irons with stiffer shafts.

Not a bad idea, except that alone would cost me $1000 — if they generously re-used my existing Golf Pride grips. For $2400 I could have a whole set of the new-and-improved Apex irons with stock grips that I don’t like.

I was far from sold.

The track man data showed that I would gain one to three yards with my six iron. That’s not going to make one bit of difference in my scoring. No freakin’ way. In my book, two extra yards with the same dispersion isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or $20 for that matter.

So the good news was, my set current performed well compared to all the new options we tested. According to the Track Man data there was no compelling evidence to suggest I needed anything different. The bad news was, I was left scratching my worried old head regarding his comment about 291 being granny shafts. It was like a parent being told his child is “a little slow.”

At that moment of vulnerability and confusion I turned to friends and family for support.

Word of advice: Don’t ever ask your arch-nemesis for club fitting advice. Any concerns you share about your set of clubs will be amplified 1000 times. On every tee box. At every opportunity. Especially when you’ve made a couple birdies in a row. Imagine his delight when he heard I’ve been playing with Granny shafts all my life. I’ll never live that down.

So I was on my own trying to decide whether I should I stick with the advice of my trusted friend Andy and his Track Man numbers, or believe this guy’s interpretation of the frequency machine data?

Now at this stage of the story I’m compelled to explain, as briefly as possible, the numbers that club fitters attach to the frequency machine results. One article on Golf WRX calls it the biggest can of worms there is in club making, so I’m going to barely scratch the surface.

Remember how I said that each company offers a spectrum of flex variation within each label? And the spectrum varies from one company to the next…

According to that particular master fitter, a frequency of 310 cpm is what I need. He described that as “the stiff side of regular flex,” and he was quite sure about that. He showed me his frequency matching chart to prove it.

But frequency matching charts vary dramatically. One says 310 is “Stiff.” Another says it’s “Regular.” On several of the charts that I found 291 looked perfectly fine, falling on the soft side of “Regular” or the stiff side of “Senior.”

Almost every one of them showed 310 with a 6 iron is way out of my physical league. None showed 291 at the bottom of the chart in the granny shaft column.

So I asked Jim Hofmeister about that. “Every company does it differently, uses a little different numbers, and then they’ll turn around and tell everyone else they’re doing it wrong.” he said.

So if you’re an unscrupulous salesman whose only job is to sell a ton of high-end golf clubs on commission, you’d create your own frequency chart and show that to every guy who walked into the shop: The one that bruises his ego and paints a grim picture of his current set of whimpy, granny shafts.

And vice versa; you could show every lady a chart that paints her clubs as way too stiff and manly. Impossible to play with.

It’s like the psy-ops of golf industry sales strategy.

Luckily I had one more ace up my sleeve. I have a friend who learned how to fit, build and design golf clubs at McGregor, back in the day when Jack Nicklaus and many of the other big names were playing that brand. He worked with Arnold Palmer and many other tour stars.

I call him the club whisperer. You can blindfold the guy and he’ll tell you if you’ve hit it on the heel, the toe, or the sweet spot. He’s also one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever met. Everything he knows and does has been proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, over the span of 50 years in the business.

So I boxed up my perfectly good irons and sent them to Florida for his expert opinion. I specifically requested confirmation of the frequency numbers and on the overall “build” of the set.

What he found didn’t exactly align with what I heard at the fancy, boutique club fitting studio.

Frequency machine numbers club fitting BN Branding

The perfectly matched frequency numbers of my irons. The white area indicates “Regular” flex. The blue area is “Ladies” flex. Green is extra stiff.

 

First of all, he saw nothing that would indicate my clubs were built incorrectly or “not to spec.” Six out of seven were absolutely consistent with the 6 iron: 296 on his frequency machine. The five iron was the only club that was slightly off, and he fixed that by puring the shaft and reassembling the club.

Compared to the thousands of sets he sees every year, the club whisperer said that my Callaway irons were an A grade. “Those matrix shafts are really good,” he said. I hardly ever see any big issues with those.”

All of my irons fell within the spectrum of what he categorizes as “soft regular flex” or “Stiff Senior.” Grandpa shafts, perhaps, but definitely not granny shafts.

Whew! What a relief. Two out of three fitters said my current shafts are fine. I can put my wallet away.

His final assessment was this: “Most fitters would just look at your swing speed and say you need a slightly stiffer shaft,” he said, “but the only difference would be trajectory. If you’re not hitting it too high — If your launch angle numbers look good on the Track Man — then forget about it! I wouldn’t worry about the frequency machine numbers or the labels.”

Good answer.

While I waited for my Callaways to return from the club whisperer in Florida I decided to dispense with all the technical club fitting nonsense and just go play golf. My cousin happily offered to loan me an old set of Ping i3 irons, vintage 2000, that were gathering dust his garage. They had the original, crusty grips and steel shafts marked “stiff.” He was playing the odds. Messing with my head.

My first few swings with those eyesore irons were a little bit shaky, but after a few holes I was beginning to believe I could actually play with shafts as stiff as 310.

At the par-5 ninth hole I hit that crusty old Ping 8 iron to four feet. Made an easy birdie.

On the 11th hole – a par 3 – I hit 8 iron again and made birdie from 6 feet. Of course I did!

By that point the irony of it was laughable, to say the least.

Then, on the par-four 13th, I hit the most perfectly humorous golf shot of my life. It was that magic old 8 iron again. The one that seemed unfit for human consumption. This time, from 154 yards in the light, winter rough.

The instant the ball left the clubface we started laughing. It was dead straight, right at the flagstick. Even my nemesis was rooting for it. The ball bounced once on the front fringe and rolled straight into the cup. Dead center for eagle.

No amount of club fitting or over-analysis could possibly replicate that.

After all research involving launch angles, spin rates and frequency numbers, I hit, quite literally, the perfect golf shot with a crappy old 8 iron that fit like my grandfather’s suits.

What the hell!  I couldn’t have scripted a more fitting, more golf-y, ending.

 

Conclusions:  

So what’s the average struggling golfer supposed to conclude from all this? Here are my key takeways that I hope will help anyone who’s thinking of diving into the same club fitting rabbit hole.

 

The human element is the most crucial piece of the club fitting puzzle. It ain’t the track man.

That podcast host didn’t say anything about the biggest, most important variable all: The experience and skill of the fitter. Or lack thereof.

All the data in the world don’t mean squat unless you have someone well trained and impartial to interpret the numbers for you. The fitting technology is only as good as the club fitter.

I’m lucky. I have a club fitter who’s also my swing instructor. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years so he can read between the lines and piece this puzzle together intuitively. I have complete, utter faith in him. I doubt very many people can say that about the kid at Golf Galaxy who just sold you last year’s TaylorMade driver.

So if you’re determined to spend a lot of money on new, custom-made golf clubs, don’t just do a fitting. Shop for a fitter. Find someone with a skilled eye, years of experience, and in-depth knowledge of swing mechanics. Don’t settle for a salesman with a Track Man.

 

Take every number with a grain of salt.

I could have easily been swayed into a big purchase by one number: 310. That was the frequency that I was told I needed in my iron shafts.

Was that master fitter just gaming me into buying a new set of clubs for a ridiculously inflated price? I don’t know. I’d rather believe that it was an honest mistake; he just read the numbers wrong, or he grabbed the wrong frequency matching chart, or he didn’t clamp the grip quite right, or my extra-thick grips affected the read out, or the frequency machine was unclean or uncalibrated.

All I know is, his number was incorrect and I’m very glad I didn’t spend $2500 on a set of clubs based on that inflated number. I probably would have gone to my grave trying to make those irons work.

310 is not some goal that I should swing to achieve. And if you want to get even more confused, many fitters use numbers ranging from 3.5 – 6.0. You should only use frequency matching to identify faulty shafts and ensure consistency across the set.

Swing speed another misleading number that’s routinely over-played by inexperienced club fitters. There’s absolutely no way you can correlate swing speed to a specific shaft flex. The shaft manufacturers provide rough guidelines, but every person is different. Every 80 mph swing is unique. You have to look at the bigger picture.

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Sometimes, the problem really IS the club, and not your swing.

Faulty shafts are a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, you probably have at least one club, out of the 14 in your bag, that’s just plain wrong in relation to the rest of your set.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but it does take a different mindset to do something about it. Most people just blame their golf swing for any bad shots. Even though they haven’t hit a single good shot in three summers with that new 3-wood, they’ll keep trying to figure it out.

Regardless of how much you paid for that unruly golf club, take it out of your bag. Stop trying to make that one work, like I did for years with my Adams driver. It’s an outlier. Stop making excuses. Just get rid of it.

The fact is, even lousy golfers can groove a swing that matches the majority of their clubs. My friend, the club whisperer, sees it all the time.

“I had a guy in my shop just recently who was playing with custom fit clubs that were 5 degrees off on the lie angles,” he said. “He was trying like hell to make those things work. He didn’t have very good golf swing, but it was definitely consistent. And when he saw that ball going right every time, he started changing his swing to compensate. It went from bad to worse.”

You’re likely to develop a lot of bad habits trying to make mis fit clubs work for you. Then, if you get clubs that are more “correct,” you’ll have to UNlearn whatever it was you were doing to compensate. So you’re likely to get worse before you get better.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have a club fitter who’s also a good instructor. Guys like Andy can tell the difference between swing faults and equipment issues.

 

Don’t let ego and confirmation bias sabotage your fitting or your golf game.

We all have our preconceived ideas of what works and we like, but if you want to get your money’s worth from a club fitting session you have to be open minded and honest with yourself.

This comment recently popped up on a golf group on Facebook: “Just got done with a club fitting. Had to swallow my pride. No more blades for me.”

If a guy believes that he needs blades, or stiff shafts, he’ll find data to back up the belief and he’ll pretty much ignore any facts that are contrary to that. Andy sees it all the time…

“Even if a guy sees great data from the launch monitor; perfect launch angle, perfect dispersion pattern, perfect spin rate, he won’t buy if the shaft says “senior” on it. He stubbornly insists on what he wants, instead of what you know he needs.”

Skewed perception outweighs reality. Ego wins over common sense. But if you eliminate the senior label and show him the same numbers he’ll defer to the launch monitor data without hesitation.

Several industry insiders I’ve talked with believe they should do away with shaft labels entirely, but no one can agree on numbers that would standardize the process from one manufacturer to another.

So consumers like me are left to believe what the “expert” club fitter tells us. Or not.

 

The real value is in the placebo effect.

In reality, there’s no way a $400 shaft is going to be four times better than a $100 shaft. You’re not going to get 4x better dispersion pattern. And four extra yards with a five iron isn’t really going to bring your handicap down or make you a better person.

But it’s not about reality. It’s about perception. Belief. Faith. And confidence.

Who cares where the confidence comes from? If money’s no object, knock yourself out. Go ahead and pay top dollar for a very expensive sugar pill.

There’s no doubt that more and more golfers are interested in fitting, and the industry is stepping up to provide it, not only at high-end studios but also at a growing number of big-box stores and pro shops

But debate about the value of club fitting isn’t going away.

On one end of the spectrum you have guys who wouldn’t touch custom clubs with a ten foot pole. “When they show me a shaft that’s guaranteed to eliminate my snap hook, then I’ll talk to a fitter. Until then, I’m buying off the rack.”

On the other end you have people who have convinced themselves that their $400 driver shaft is radically superior to any $100 shaft and you’d be an utter fool to settle for anything less. “If you’re not getting fit, you’re crazy.”

I believe club fitting is quite useful, to a point, but I definitely crossed over into an area that falls into the realm of too much information. The more I researched it, the less I believed.

Club fitting, to some degree, IS important for beginners and high handicappers. Because if they’re trying to play with clubs that are way, way too stiff, or way too upright, it’s going to be very hard to see any improvement. And golf’s hard enough.

There’s also a clear benefit in club fitting for elite amateurs and pros. No doubt about it. They need every little edge they can get just to stay on the same playing field.

But for the players like myself, who fall in between, I’m not so sure.

I could spend an entire golf season, and $5000, futzing around with my equipment and never see one iota of improvement. It can be a costly, time-sucking endeavor.

I’d be better off spending my time on the practice green and my money on a good instructor. $1000 worth of instruction is going to get me much further than $1000 in club fitting expenses.

If you’re shooting in the 70’s or low 80’s consistently, chances are you could shoot similar scores with just about any set of clubs. Stiff, Regular or Senior shafts, it wouldn’t matter. You’d make some small adjustments, figure it out, and manage to score.

Or maybe even hole out from 150 yards, like I did with that old Ping iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2021 John Furgurson – BN Branding All rights reserved. Not for posting, copying or plagiarizing.

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Fake thrills and false advertising — Another automotive marketing misfire.

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

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

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

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

article on false advertising from BN Branding

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

Plain old toasters on wheels.

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

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

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

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

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand Insight Blog article on false advertising

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with that.

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

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

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

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

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

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

Stick with the core truth.

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

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

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

For more on truth in advertising, try THIS post.

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Getting to the point for better PowerPoint Presentations

BNBranding logoEvery year at the Mac Expo, Steve Jobs used to unveil some fantastic new, game-changing technology from Apple. His presentations were always outstanding, both for the content and for entertainment value.

macbook_air_introFor instance, when he introduced the MacBook air back in 2009, he didn’t just talk about the specs of the new product, he demonstrated its thinness by pulling thin new laptop out of a 9×12 manilla envelope.

That’s great showmanship. And salesmanship.

It wasn’t just passion and natural charisma that made Jobs an effective communicator. It was his ability to convey ideas in simple, concise ways. He used honest demonstrations. Stories. Theater. And yes, some Hollywood special effects.

Not Powerpoint. PowerPoint is the antithesis Apple, the enemy of innovation and the world’s biggest communication crutch.

 

 

If you really want better Powerpoint presentations, just go without it!

Some time ago I attended a two-day branding conference down in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker was a wise old pro who speaks and teaches professionally all across the country. He had an assistant with him, as well as tech support from the conference facility staff.

It was a disaster. Three hours into it and he was still fumbling around with his computer…

Lights on. Lights off.

Sound’s way too loud. Sound’s not on. Sound’s out of sync.

Slides are out of order. Video won’t play. How many times do we have to look at this guy’s desktop?

For him, a better Powerpoint Presentation would have meant no computer at all.

But to be fair, even if the computer had behaved itself his Powerpoint Presentation still would have fallen flat. Because his ideas were totally scattered. His slides were loaded with text that he read verbatim. And his speech wasn’t really a speech at all.

Thank God, I’m not a middle manager in a big corporation where I’d have to endure daily doses of that crap. Powerpoint, as it’s commonly employed, is a terrible form of communication.

In “The Perfect Pitch,” Jon Steele says, “most presenters start with the slides, and then treat what they are going to say simply as an exercise in linkage. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the presenter is reduced to a supporting role. To all presenters, I say this: YOU are the presentation.”

That’s easy to say if you’re as big as Steve Jobs. But you don’t have to be famous to put on a gripping and persuasive Powerpoint presentation. You just have to change the process and forget about Powerpoint until you’re three-quarters of the way through.

If you want to deliver better powerpoint presentations, think of yourself as a storyteller, not a presenter.

better powerpoint presentations from BNBrandingI’m talking about the old-fashioned, verbal tradition of story telling. Stories are way more compelling than slides. No matter how boring the topic may seem, there’s always a story buried in there somewhere.

So tell the story. Write it down. Flesh it out and practice it before you ever open Powerpoint.

Here’s another way to look at: Concentrate first on how you sound and what you say, then use the software to create visual support for your main verbal points. Not the other way around.

You’ll be amazed how focused your message becomes.

The first rule of communicating is to eliminate confusion.

Make things clear! When you throw a bunch of data up on a slide, you’re not making things more clear, you’re just adding confusion.

AED1345115281_463_work_work_head_image_eepv1aBack in the day, before PowerPoint was ever conceived, corporate presentations were done with slide projectors. You had to send out for slides, way ahead of time!

So you were forced to think long and hard about the design and content of each and every slide.

You had to plan the flow of the presentation. You had to know the most important points and you were forced to boil it down until there was absolutely nothing else left. Then you’d cover the rest of the detials in your speech.

We were forced to be good speakers.

Powerpoint makes it too easy to add slides and overwhelm people with charts and graphs. The technological tool has become a crutch that hobbles great communication. Got an idea? Just jump right into PowerPoint and start creating slides.

Another unfortunate side effect of PowerPoint is lousy, truncated speaking. People think they have to limit their words to fit the slides. And what they. End up with. Is choppy. Confusing. Information. That doesn’t. Flow. Or Communicate. Much of anything.

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If you write the script first and then use PowerPoint slides as visual aids to drive home the main points, you won’t have that problem. You’ll be speaking from a coherent, human, story-based script, not reading random bullet points right off the slides.

The difference is dramatic.

I suspect that much of the problem stems from the fear of public speaking. And that’s understandable. People with that fear like to hide behind the PowerPoint slides. They can become almost invisible.  But that’s not how you’re going to make a sale, further your career or build a successful business. You have to suck it up, and put yourself out there.

Truth is, if you want to improve your presentations you’re going to have to get comfortable with public speaking.

Join Toastmasters. Watch some YouTube videos and see how the pros do it. Find a good mentor… Salespeople are usually the best at it, so if there’s someone really good at your company offer to be an audience as they practice. Watch, listen, and learn. And forget about mastering all the technical bells and whistles of PowerPoint. That will just distract you from the main objective.

So here’s the final word for better Powerpoint presentations:

If you want people to remember your words, translate them into a picture. Put the picture up on the screen, then speak the words.

Don’t put the written words up there, just to be repeated from your trembling lips. It’s redundant. It’s boring. And it’s unimaginative. Words up on the screen do not make great visual aids.

Steve Jobs didn’t put the words “thinest laptop on the market” up on the screen. He showed us. He demonstrated how thin it was while he talked about the details.

That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

If you need help writing better Powerpoint presentations, give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.
If you want more on how to be more clear and concise in all your marketing communications, try this post.

 

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