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1 branding blog by BNBranding in Bend Oregon

Paralysis by Analysis (How fear and big data can kill great marketing)

BNBranding logoEveryone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the holy grail of marketing. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.

But it can also be a drag.

Here’s an analogy:

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Thanks to new technology, golfers can now get data on every little nuance of the golf swing. Hop on a launch monitor for 30 minutes and you’ll have more swing data than you could ever possibly decifer. And with shot-tracking technology, you can analyze every last shot of every round.

But in golf, over-analysis never produces good results.

If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing — rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — your execution will fall short.

Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses.

It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the data that comes along with your long list of marketing tactics.

People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed.

Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.

 

Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.

Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. For a lot of these people, date-driven marketing is a safety play.

“Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”

Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.

In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and  “Just Do It.”

Branding blog on data-driven marketing from BNBranding in Bend Oregon When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:

“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”

Widen it they did!  In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”

“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wannabe athletes and weekend warriors.

And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario only applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.

Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”

At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.

And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.” Their institutional memory overrides good new ideas or any insight that might be generated by data-driven marketing.

And how’s that working out?

Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.

Advertising agency for real estate developersThey fill their teams with clones of themselves and with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat.

Avoid these people at all costs!

To the insecure over-analyzers I say this:  Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!

The best way to gather more data is to get something done and then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.

If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing.  Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.

Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.

So by all means… employ data-driven marketing. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data-driven marketing to be the panacea. Big data doesn’t replace the need for a big idea.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, check out THIS post.

 

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Restaurant Branding — Recipes for failure and success

BNBranding logoAt what point does a trendy new restaurant become an iconic brand? And when do all the branding efforts under the sun produce nothing but another shuttered dining establishment?

The restaurant business is littered with cases of meteoric success and dramatic failure. It’s an inherently volatile business. This is the story of several competing restaurants in a small but rapidly-growing market. It’s a story of restaurant branding success — and failure  — that any business owner can learn from.

Prior to 2000, the culinary scene in Bend wasn’t much to write home about. Some would say, non existent. So when Merenda opened in 2002 it generated tons of buzz.

Restaurant Branding BNBrandingAs the Bend Bulletin reported, “Chef Jody Denton pioneered a renaissance in fine dining in Central Oregon.”

But the Merenda brand wasn’t about fine dining. It was about partying. It was a loud place in downtown Bend where large groups would gather and drink generously from an outstanding wine list and a good assortment of adult beverages. Not great for a quiet dinner date.

The vibe was more urban — the energy level more electric — than anything previously found in Bend. Many nights you couldn’t hear yourself think, and the bar scene at Merenda became a notorious pick-up joint for older divorcees.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, across town in a nondescript location next to a car dealership, a restaurant called Zydeco quietly began to build a loyal following. The contrast was dramatic.

The first, most fundamental element of any restaurant branding effort is the name.

So let’s compare… What a great name:”Zydeco.”

It’s fantastically memorable with positive associations of fun in New Orleans. It’s authentic. Zydeco serves delicious cajun cuisine, which, years later, is still unique for this town. It’s also an aspirational name that the restaurant has grown into over the last 15 years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOn the other hand, “Merenda” just didn’t work as well.

It sounds nice and has an elegant, upscale ring to it, but it’s so much softer than the product and the experience. The name didn’t fit the vibe and the location.

Plus, if you want to get nit-picky, “Merenda” translates to “snack” in Italian. But it was not an Italian restaurant. It wasn’t a snacky kinda place.

Trendiness seldom translates into a lasting brand.  

Many of Merenda’s customers were only there because it was THE place to see and be seen. It was a superficial relationship, not a genuine bond. Success by association. When new restaurants like Zydeco opened, the crowds thinned out at Merenda.

At Zydeco, it was more than that… It was the service, the friendly, family-owned vibe, and the overall, everyday quality that set it apart. It was upscale, but accessible. Popular but not trendy. It wasn’t trying to be cool, but it was. And still is.

Trendiness is a common problem in restaurant branding, fashion and high tech. The next big thing or hot spot is always right around the corner. So successful brand managers have to find ways to stay relevant with their past customers, or become relevant to a whole new group.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticRelevance, differentiation and credibility. Those are the three key ingredients of restaurant branding success.

After five years Chef Denton got distracted. Just when Merenda needed a little extra attention he opened another restaurant less than a block away. And his place called Deep never got above water.

Brands need constant attention.

This seems like a no-brainer, but many people dream of having a business that runs on autopilot and generates an endless flow of effortless revenue. That doesn’t work in any industry, much less the restaurant business.

You have to mind the store.

In 2005 Cornell University published a seminal study on why restaurants fail. One of the surprising contributors was simply a lack of attention, time and effort by the owners.

“Failure seemed to stem from an inability or unwillingness to give the business sufficient attention… The immense time commitment was mentioned by all of the survey respondents who had failed.”

restaurant brandingAt Deep, Denton was determined to create something completely different. As he told The Bend Bulletin: “That’s been kind of my business model: finding what Bend doesn’t have and filling that void. I’ve always enjoyed the environment of a sushi bar. It’s always been something appealing, both from the restaurant’s and the chef’s standpoint.”

What he failed to consider was how much attention his other brand required. He was spread too thin and his upscale sushi place was ahead of its time.

Differentiation doesn’t guarantee success in restaurant branding.

Being different from the competition is certainly important, but it’s not everything. Tiny morsels of Kobe beef served on a hot rock for eight dollars a bite… That’s different! “Angry Lobster,” Monkfish paté, grilled yuzu and marinated, chopped maguro tataki were all impressively different, but not appealing enough to inspire repeat business by a large group of people in a relatively small market.

Bottom line: Deep was a high-end sushi place in a meat and potato town.

All successful brands have a clear, well-defined concept that goes beyond the product.

As I have said in previous posts, if you want to build an iconic brand, first own an idea. The Cornell study proved that clarity of concept is essential to restaurant success.

“Perhaps the key finding was the focus on a clear concept that drives all activities… Successful restaurant owners all had a well-defined concept which encompassed an operating philosophy and business operation issues. Failed owners, when asked about their concept, discussed only their food product.”

In other words, successful restaurants have core brand concepts that go beyond just the food.

Denton certainly had vision beyond food for both his restaurants. But the concepts behind Merenda and Deep were based more on Denton’s past experience and personal preference than on the realities of the local market.

There’s an old saying… “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

In Denton’s case, his restaurants served the classes. His high-end brands only resonated with a small segment of the population, and he didn’t reinvent Merenda when he needed to.

In the end, Denton’s concept for Merenda was not clear enough to sustain the business over the long haul. (Being first in the market isn’t a sustainable brand strategy for a single restaurant.) And the concept for Deep never had a chance. So both restaurants were shuttered and his investors came away empty handed.

Eventually, Merenda reopened under a new name with a new owner. “800 Wall” never created the buzz of the original, and it’s now cruising along, probably doing fine in the summer, but not exactly inspiring loyalty or write-ups in Gourmet Magazine.

Zydeco, on the other hand, has grown and evolved. When they moved into a larger, fancier location downtown they bought a loyal following with them. It’s now more popular than ever, despite the fact that new restaurants keep popping up around town.

For more on brand strategy, try this post.

If you want help with your restaurant branding, call me.

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Small-Business Management 2020 — Unusual times require an unreasonable approach.

brand credibility from branding expertsYou’ve heard this pessimistic preamble a thousand times by now… “In these unprecedented times…  Blah blah blah.”  And you’ve probably seen the memes that categorize 2020 as spoiled lutefisk on moldy toast, and other equally stinky analogies.

It’s sad that so many businesses choose to lead with that line of thinking. But it is understandable. Times ARE tough, and it’s natural to be afraid. But when it comes to small-business management, pessimism seldom plays well.

This viral turn of events that we’re all experiencing doesn’t spell doom for most businesses. Despite the pandemic, most owners, managers and entrepreneurs are finding ways to adapt and survive. We look for silver linings, no matter how small, and we shift our thinking in ways that help us cope.

small-business management BN BrandingIn American culture that means moving forward. Making progress. Anything but a stand-still!

There’s a very interesting quote from George Bernard Shaw that’s relevant to small-business management these days:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

On the surface, this makes no sense. You can’t change the world to fit your whim. Right?

Wrong. We can change our own, little worlds.

Entrepreneurs do it all that time. They start businesses that are built on that very goal, and that higher level of purpose is what propels them past big bumps in the road — like this pandemic.

Purpose paves the way to progress.

The reasonable person would say, “I don’t have any control over this COVID thing, so I’m just going to play the cards I’m dealt, hunker down, and hope for the best.”

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The unreasonable person says, “What can I make of this horrible situation? How can I change the world in some little way that aligns with the core of my being and produces some financial return? ”

A lot of smart, reasonable, people are wasting their time analyzing the COVID statistics, dwelling on the scope of the problem and worrying about the lack of any clear path out of this mess.

They’re reasonable, but stuck.

Progress depends on unreasonable people… The visionaries who flip the script. The dreamers who choose not to accept fear, constraints, and outside circumstances at an excuse for inaction.

Action is the antidote to despair.

Being UNreasonable in this situation doesn’t mean you dispense with common sense and good decision making. It means you get outta your head, and into action. It means embracing the uncertainty, and pushing forward anyway.

This is definitely not “business as usual” for anyone. It’s unusual, uncomfortable, and unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be your undoing.

Let’s play a little word game: Think about all the negative, UN words you can apply here, and start editing them out of your vocabulary — and out of your business operations.

Unhappy. Make it your personal quest to make sure your people are happy, even if you have to cut their hours back. That means making sure they’re learning, growing and progressing. It’s not just about the money.

Unfocused. Use this opportunity to re-focus your marketing efforts around a sound business strategy. Streamline your offerings. Narrow your niche. Pivot if you have to.

Unclear. Clarity should be lesson #1 in small business management:  Clarity should be a priority in your marketing communications, in your presentations, and in your personal correspondence. It’s one of the simplest little changes that you can make, and it pays off handsomely. Just take time to be more mindful about how you communicate.

new approach to website designUnassuming.  I’m always amazed by how many successful entrepreneurs are terrible self-promoters. They’re so humble, and focused on doing their specialized work, they don’t see their true value in the marketplace. So they fly under the radar and continually underachieve.

Unaware. In small-business management, awareness is the first step toward progress. A business interruption can be a great opportunity to actually stop and look at the big picture. Reevaluate your efforts. Be more aware of what’s going on, inside and outside of your immediate little world. Do some strategic listening and you just might see a clear answer to your problem.

Uninspired.  Inspiration may be hard to come by right now. If that’s the case, keep reading the Brand Insight Blog. Hire us to infuse some new thinking into your operation. Or better yet, schedule a retreat to Bend, Oregon for a nice, safe change of scenery and a huge dose of branding inspiration.

No one is unaffected by the pandemic, but you can choose to be undeterred by it.

You can be unflappable. You can be undeniably determined to succeed, regardless of what’s going on.

So start being unreasonable for a change. You might be surprised how much progress you can make.

 

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Sorting through the endless “marketing opportunities”

BNBranding logoThe marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.

Most clients I know can’t possibly wade through the complex maze of choices.

They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one.

the modern marketing landscape BN BrandingQuite frankly, it’s silly to even try.

There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding,  blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that’s just the first two  letters of the alphabet.

It’s nuts. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.

Even the biggest brands in the world, with massive marketing departments, can’t make sense of it all. Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers summed it up at a recent conference in Orlando.

“Yes, there’s been substantial technological progress. But is that progress getting us anywhere? The answer is no,” Liodice said. “We should not accept this byzantine, non-transparent super complex, digital media supply chain. No one can understand it. ”

 

Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 30 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.

I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics…

• Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.

• Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.

• Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.

• E-commerce sales copy on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster E-commerce sales.

• High-dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!

• Marketing tactics and strategy get completely out of alignment.

• A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely –  one that can’t possibly afford the product.

• Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.

Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.

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So what are you supposed to do? How can business owners find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?

First of all, you need to have a general grasp of the complex marketing landscape.

Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing

Second, find someone you trust implicitly to help you wade through all the marketing clutter.

There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time and accept their outside perspective as a positive.

It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.”  They may not know it as well as you do, but what we do know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring us for. We can learn the ins and outs of your operation as we go, just as you can learn the basics of marketing and branding.

Third, set clear goals, expectations and metrics.

Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBrandingYou need to balance your strategy and tactics and possibly even pull all the pieces together with marketing automation tools.

So start with strategy, not tactics.

Social Media marketing is not a strategy.

Digital advertising  is not a strategy.

Marketing automation is not a strategy.

If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to  outsource your marketing.

Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.

I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me.

He has read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and traveled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. He’s learned a lot, and yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely.

But now he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him choose his opportunities wisely, and maximize every one.

Here’s more on how to find the right person to manage the complex marketing landscape.

If you want help navigating it all, call BNBranding. 541-815-0075.  And if you’re thinking about marketing automation tools, we should talk.

 

Storytelling in business — a good story equals strong leadership.

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

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

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

storytelling as a leadership skill BN BrandingOr… you can gently pull people in by tapping the imagination and harnessing the proven, natural power of storytelling.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Paul Zak, writing for Harvard Business Review, sums up the importance of great storytelling:

“Our findings on the neurobiology of storytelling are relevant to business settings. They show that character driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall…

When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts, by first attracting their brains. ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

storytelling in business needs villains

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

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

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

• For storytelling in business, you need a villain. 

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

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

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• Tell truth stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great leaders inspire people, just as great stories do.

Tell a good story and you can build a successful business. Tell a great story and you can start a movement that attracts a tribe and builds a brand.

And if you combine a great story with an iconic leader you can change the world.

 

Let us help you tell a more compelling story. Call 541-815-0075.

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Successful branding – 3 logical reasons why brands need more emotional thinking

BNBranding logoIn the battle between right-brained marketing people, and left-brained finance people, the left brainers usually win. Our entire culture is driven by the left-brained rationalists.

They have data, spreadsheets, and the graphs to support their decisions.

We have gut instinct, intuition, experience, taste, style and emotion on our side. But we also have neurobiologists who can prove that successful branding hinges more on emotional thinking than on logic. In fact, in the three-step branding process — Gut, Heart, Head — the rational head comes in last.

“Joseph DeDoux, professor of Neuroscience at New York University says, “The amygdala can literally hijack our mind and body, causing us to respond emotionally while completely bypassing our cerebral cortex, the seat of conscious awareness.”

Dodge Viper example of successful branding at Chrysler

The Dodge Viper was not an analytical decision.

Bob Lutz, former CEO of Chrysler and Vice Chairman of GM, once said he vetoed the finance guys and made a gut decision to develop the Dodge Viper.

In a Harvard Business Review column, Lutz said “There were those at Chrysler who thought the budget could be spent more prudently, but those of us who looked at it from a right-brained, emotional perspective saw what the car could do for the company.”

The Viper wasn’t exactly a hot seller – only about 500 were sold in 2016, the last year of production. But the world’s first moderately-priced supercar certainly is a case study of successful branding. And there was nothing rational about it.

“The best companies balance the perspectives from both sides of the brain when making decisions. The problems occur when the left brainers wield too much power in senior management,” Lutz said.

 

 

So here are some good, logical reasons to embrace emotional, right brain thinking in your business. It really is the secret to successful branding in the long term.

1. There is no such thing as a completely rational decision. 

Don’t kid yourself. Even when CEOs methodically assess every detail of raw data and attempt to be completely rational there’s still an element of gut instinct at work.

Spock-like analysis is tainted by knowledge of who did the spread sheets, where the data came from, what other, similar data they’ve used in the past, and a dozen other factors.

Humans make decisions in the blink of an eye, and every one is influenced by a hundred factors, beyond the facts.

We like to think we’re rational and fair in our decision making, but we’re not. The human brain reaches conclusions before we even know it has happened.

Before any conscious thought or choice occurs, we FEEL something. Something emotional and completely irrational. It might be curiosity. Amusement. Desire. Arousal, Or, quite possibly, repulsion. But whatever it is, it’s not rational.

So before anyone has a chance to analyze any of the facts, the adaptive unconscious has already sent a gut reaction coursing through their veins. The conscious, analytical brain doesn’t have a chance. Therefore, branding success hinges on powerful, immediate, emotional connections.

In Harry Beckwith’s book You, Inc. he says, “People don’t think, they stereotype. They don’t conclude, they categorize. They don’t calculate, they assume.”  And they do it quickly.

Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller Blink is all about that.

2. Simple is better.

An analytical approach to marketing communications is inherently more complex than an emotional approach. And in the battle between complexity and simplicity, simplicity wins every time.

When the guys in the white lab coats start wagging the marketing dog, you get fact-filled ads and mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations devoid of any emotion at all. There’s no heart in it.

successful branding from BNBrandingIn the absence of emotional context, listeners/viewers/users simply check out and move on to something that does resonate subconsciously.

Say you’re pitching a new idea to your bosses, or to a group of investors. You’ve analyzed the problem from every angle. You’ve devised a brilliant solution and written a compelling argument for it, backed with tons of data. But you never get past the snap judgment.

By the time you get to slide #5 of 75, they’ve already made up their minds.

People don’t wait around for their analytical brain to kick in and say, hey, this is worth my time. That train has already left the station. The gut feeling of irrelevance has already won out, and that gut feeling is far more powerful than any most people care to admit.

So successful branding hinges on the gut.

3. Sometimes the data is just plain wrong.

The market research industry has revealed many useful facts over the years. But when it comes to predicting how new ideas or new products will be received, market research data often misses the mark.

examples of successful branding from BNBranding

Market research could not predict the success of this chair

When the Herman Miller Company first designed the Aeron chair, all the pre-launch research pointed to a dismal failure. It didn’t look comfortable. It didn’t look prestigious. People didn’t even want to sit in it.

It became the best selling chair in the history of the company and the inspiration for countless knock-offs and imitators.

The successful branding of the Aeron chair stemmed from the gut reaction to the feeling of sitting in it. Their butts and backs were talking, which led to a love affair of customers who weren’t shy about sharing their passion.

And what about the famous marketing debacle called New Coke…

“Coke’s problem was that the guys in the white lab coats took over,” Malcom Gladwell said.

First, Pepsi launched something called The Pepsi Challenge, and proved that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over the taste of Coke.  It was a brilliant move in the Cola Wars, and it provoked a bit of panic from Coke.

For the first time in history, the folks at Coke started messing around with their famous, patented formula.  They tweaked it and tested new versions until they had something that beat the flavor of old coke in every taste test.

The executives were absolutely sure they should change the formula to make it sweeter, like Pepsi.  The market research showed people would buy it. But as Gladwell says, in the most important decisions, there is no certainty.

It’s not the flavor that sells so much Coke. It’s the unconscious associations people have with it, including the advertising, the shape of the bottle, the brand’s heritage, the childhood memories associated with it… It’s THE BRAND!

New Coke marketing failure

One of the all-time biggest branding failures

The guys in the white lab coats at Coke-a-Cola didn’t take the brand into account, and they could not possibly imagine the fallout.

No one knew how much Coke-a-Cola was truly loved until it was taken off the shelves and replaced with “better tasting” New Coke.

This was 1985 — way before Twitter, Facebook and blogs — and still, the company was deluged with immediate customer rants.  “How dare you!” was the overwhelming sentiment.

Sergio Zyman, CMO at Coke-a-Cola at the time, called it “an enormous mess.” It took the company only 77 days to reverse their decision, and go back to the original, “Coke Classic.”

The fact is, if the leadership at Coke had listened to their instincts, instead of just the data, they never would have done it.

Which brings me back to Bob Lutz who said the all-powerful voice of finance is a familiar enemy to innovation.

“It’s a classic example left-brained thinking shooting its pencil-sharp arrows straight into the heart of right-brained creativity.”

That’s what kills successful branding.

Here’s more on successful branding of the Dodge Viper

For more on the emotional side of branding, try THIS post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

The ancient, proven path to marketing success – Credible, Emotional, Rational

BNBranding Bend, Oregon advertising agencyHumans love instant gratification. In fact, our brains are wired for it. But the path to marketing success is not instantaneous. It starts in the gut, meanders around till it hits your heart, and finishes in the head — if you play your cards right.

Say hello to the holy trinity of marketing success: Credible, Emotional, Rational. Gut, Heart, Head, in that order.

This isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s a proven process of persuasion that dates back thousands of years, to the ancient greeks.

the ancient proven path to marketing success - Aristotle

Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher.

Aristotle was onto something. His famous modes of rhetorical persuasion — Ethos, Pathos and Logos — were strikingly similar to Gut, Heart, Head. Effective arguments, Aristotle said, include all three.

The path to marketing success begins with Ethos — the credibility piece.

Aristotle recognized the importance of credibility, and said persuasive power often comes from the character of the presenter.

The idea goes like this… If the audience has a good gut reaction to the presenter, they are much more likely to believe the presentation or buy the product.

It comes down to trust.

Back in the Mad Men days of advertising Ethos was used to sell everything from toothpaste to pick up trucks… put an actor in a white coat and you’ve got yourself a credible expert. “Nine out of ten dentists recommend…”

These days people are more skeptical, and it takes more effort to earn trust in the marketplace.

That’s what being a “thought leader” is about. That’s why white papers and case studies make for good “content.”  That’s why authenticity is such a hot topic in marketing circles.

That’s also why so many companies pay millions for celebrity endorsements. When they don’t have an honest differentiator, they often borrow credibility from A-list Hollywood stars. They even pay for big-name voice-overs.

Ethos in advertising bend advertising agencyWhen Donald Sutherland does a voice-over for orange juice, even the farmers feel the love. That’s ethos plus pathos. Gut and heart equals booming orange juice sales.

Pathos represents the emotional heart of your sales pitch.

The english words “sympathy” and “empathy” come from Greek root, “Pathos”.  This is where passion and creativity comes into play, and it’s where most business people fail miserably.

Managers, particularly those inclined toward the finance side of things, think vertically. They work in a straight, logical line from one thing the next. Top to bottom. It’s hard for them to leap out of that left-brain world and into the realm of emotion and empathy.

Creative folks, on the other hand, think horizontally, diagonally and vertically. Sometimes all at the same time.  We bounce from one seemingly unrelated thought to another and connect the dots in brilliant new ways.

That’s why creativity is so valued in the advertising world.

All the latest brain research proves that emotion drives behavior. Not logic. Logic rationalized behavior. So smart brand managers know the path to marketing success is hiring advertising pros who can communicate the emotional heart of their brand messages.

It’s not just a digital media buying exercise. It’s strategic message development. It’s not just reaching an audience, it’s making an honest, emotional connection with real people. It’s not shoving stuff on unsuspecting consumers, it’s making a genuine connection with people.

Logos is the left-brain rationalizer.

Sometimes you need more than just a credible presenter and a heart-felt pitch. That’s why there’s Logos. Pure Logic. Stats and data. The left-brainier, cognitive leg of the stool.

Unfortunately, many companies rely solely on this. They present all sorts of supporting facts about the features of their products and forget all about the main emotional benefit.

This is especially true in business-to-business marketing and in technology marketing. Most CEOs are simply unequipped to make the leap from the rational, factual side to the emotional side of the equation.

path to marketing successBut just because someone’s making a buying decision at work doesn’t mean she’s suddenly turned into Mr. Spock. She still has feelings.

In their extensive research, Antonio Dumasio and Joseph LeDoux of USC have verified the theory that the head is primarily used to justify decisions that have already been made in the gut and the heart.

We aren’t rational, but we are rationalizers.

Their studies show that emotions don’t decide for us, but they weigh in early and heavily into the decision making process. Plus, emotions are inextricably interconnected with rationality, so no decision is purely logical.

“We’re not thinking machines, we are feeling machines that think.”

That’s why it’s very difficult to sway a consumer to change from one tried and true brand to something completely new. A long list of rational bullet points cannot compete with gut feelings.

Douglas Van Praet, in “Unconscious Branding” sums it up for marketers: “The emotional part of the brain serves as the primary driver of our behavior, while our rational mind acts as a backseat observer that, more often than not, goes along for the ride.”

So the path to marketing success is a matter of balancing Aristotle’s three elements.

Ethos — credibility to elicit that positive gut feeling about you and your product. Without it, no one will be open to receive your message.

Pathos — emotional content to connect in the heart and create brands that are truly loved.

Logos — facts and data to help people rationalize their decisions in their own heads.

If you want a more balanced marketing effort, give us a call.

541-815-0075

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

BNBranding small business DIY branding

The DIY mentality and small business marketing (2 clearly different paths)

BNBranding logoSmall-business owners are naturally self-reliant. We’re all in business for ourselves because we have that classic, American mentality that says we should get our hands dirty and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.

Damn the torpedoes!

According to the SBA there are 27.9 million small businesses registered in America and  22.5 million of those are “non-employer” companies.  That’s a lot of one-person firms.

Not only that, the vast majority of those small businesses are started by technicians… Skilled specialists such as lawyers, auto mechanics, programmers, artists, plumbers or writers.

BNBranding small business DIY branding

They’re experts in a trade, not in business. They might not have one speck of experience in small business marketing, management, finance, or any other business discipline.

They just know how to do the work.

These tenacious, small-business do-it-yourselfers often make the fatal assumption that because they’re good at the technical work of a business, they understand the business itself.

That’s just not true. A plumber knows how to run pipe, fix leaks and do the work. He doesn’t necessarily know how to run a plumbing business.

That’s the crux of The E Myth, by Michael Gerber. If you have a business, or are planning to go into business of any kind, you need to read that book.

the E Myth on the Brand Insight Blog top 100 branding blog

There’s a big difference between a DIY business owner and an entrepreneur.  The DIY business owner creates a job for herself. The business is entirely dependent on her own skills.

The entrepreneur creates an enterprise that’ll provide jobs for many. It’s built with an eye toward growth and a future acquisition by a corporation. It’s bigger than any one person.

As Gerber puts it, the DIY owner goes to work IN the business, the entrepreneur works ON the business.

The DIY owner does all the small business marketing herself. The entrepreneur hires smart people who implement a systematic approach to marketing.

Marketing strategy first, then tactics. 

The DIY owner is constantly scrambling to make widgets and get them out the door. The entrepreneur creates business systems that automatically deliver the widgets.

Architects are almost always DIY owners. Just because you can design great buildings doesn’t mean you can run a great architecture firm.

Talent, by itself, isn’t a guarantee of success.

 

Yet here’s what often happens: Two or three key people in an established architectural firm leave with a few clients, just knowing they can do it better on their own. But then they start a company that’s cut from the exact same cloth as the last place they worked. They use the same accounting software, the same small business marketing strategy, the same fee structure, and even the same value proposition.

The only thing that’s changed is the location and the letterhead.

The two founders dive right into the work of architects, and they neglect the work of an entrepreneur or manager.

So why are they surprised when they run into the same challenges and problems that their former employers experienced?

Those two DIY owner architects have to do a lot more than just architecture. They also have to wear the marketer’s hat, the manager’s hat, the HR hat and the entrepreneur’s hat.

It’s a tall order.

Nobody’s good at everything. Plus, it’s human nature to gravitate toward what you’re good at, and neglect the other stuff. So in most small businesses there are many tasks that get shoved to the side.

If you’re starting a business, or if your current business is stagnant, do an honest assessment… are you a DIY owner, or a true entrepreneur?

small business marketing by BNBranding

There’s nothing wrong with creating a job for yourself and just being a busy, DIY business owner. You probably won’t ever become a multi-millionaire, but you can make a good living doing the work you love. And you’ll enjoy the freedom that many people covet.

Cheers to that!

If you decide to be a DIY owner, some word of mouth advertising and a little bit of social media might be the only marketing tactics you need.

But if you want to grow your business and be a successful entrepreneur, you’ll need much more than that. You’ll need a systematic approach to marketing, and to your entire business.

If you want to be an entrepreneur you may have to stop doing the work you really love. Either that, or you’ll need to find a true entrepreneur to partner with… an experienced business person whose skill set will balance nicely with your skills as a specialist.

Here’s an example of a specialist who approached his business as an entrepreneur from day one.

In 1985 Scott Campbell graduated from OSU Veterinary School and bought a small-animal veterinary clinic called Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, Oregon. But instead of spending all his time treating fleas and ticks, he immediately started working on the business model.

Campell’s brand was built with one clear purpose in mind: To provide a better level of care for pets and a better model for the veterinary care industry. He did everything that Michael Gerber recommends in The E Myth…

He devised a long-term strategy. He built new business systesmall business marketing in the veterinary industryms and installed computers. He hired BNResearch to do market research and carefully track customer satisfaction. He basically reinvented the way vets do business.

Scott Campbell didn’t work in his business, he worked on it.

In true entrepreneurial fashion, Campbell took the lone, Banfield Pet Hospital and built it into Medical Management Inc, (MMI). When the company was acquired by Mars, Inc. in 2008 there were over 500 Banfield Pet Hospital locations worldwide, each doing approximately $2.5 million a year.

That might make Scott Campbell the world’s first billionaire veterinarian.

He wasn’t just passionate about pet care. Every vet is passionate about that. He was obsessive about building a business that would provide better health care for pets around the world.

Every DIY business owner is passionate about her line of work. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gone into that business in the first place. But very few are obsessive about the business of their work.

Most artists are intensely passionate about their painting, or their photos, or their poetry or whatever. But they’re not obsessive about the business part of it. On the contrary… Many absolutely hate it.

But here’s what you need to realize if you’re going to be a successful, DIY owner: You don’t have to do everything well in order to succeed, you just have to do a little more than the next guy.

Yeah. The bar is surprisingly low when it comes to small business marketing and management.

Most of your competitors will also be DIY owners who are NOT following Gerber’s advice. So if you just work ON your business a little bit, you’ll have a competitive advantage over those who only work IN their businesses.

A good place to start is with your marketing.

These days, marketing is a ridiculously confusing jumble of options.  Very few small business owners can navigate all that, and still keep up with all their other duties.

So put on your entrepreneur hat, for just a minute. What would she do differently?

She’d hire an experienced marketing person to manage all the moving pieces and put some systems in place that would produce long-term growth. And in the process, she would make life way easier for herself.

That’s the secret to success for DIY owners… find at least one key task that you hate to do, and outsource it to experienced pros. That way, you’ll have more time to work in the business, doing what your love.

If you decide to make the leap in the entrepreneurship, well, either way you’re going to need some help with your marketing. If you want to take your business to the next level give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.

Looking for more insight on small business 

Keen branding

branding and marketing? Try this post.

 

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.

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

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

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

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

A good place to start is with your target audience.

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

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

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

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

You could offer a unique product mix.

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

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

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

You could offer lower pricing.

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

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

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

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

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

Brick and mortar retailers like Nordstrom know all about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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