Tag Archives for " strategic planning "

7 a bend oregon branding firm

Brand strategy: Put some meat in your marketing messages.

BNBranding logoEvery year, millions of dollars are wasted on advertising that is well-produced, but not very well thought-out. Like the stereotypical supermodel… pretty to look at, but with no brand strategy, there’s just no substance there. All sizzle, no steak.

A few years ago I was talking with a restauranteur about this very subject.

He had retained an ad agency to help promote the multi-million dollar launch of his new restaurant. They produced a nice looking website, some digital ads, a radio advertising campaign, some social media posts and a slogan.

brand strategy for small business from the Brand Insight Blog

And amazingly, they did all that without having a single, meaningful conversation with him about his business.

If they had, they would have realized that this particular business owner didn’t understand his own brand.

He had an exquisite restaurant in a perfect, high-rent location with an impressive interior and outstanding cuisine, but he had no story to tell.

No clear idea of what his core message ought to be or who his audience was.

He could not articulate anything noteworthy about is idea at all, beyond the details of the architecture and specific menu items.

He was passionate about making money, and that’s about it. He and I did more quality thinking over coffee than he had ever done with his ad agency. After our conversation he was convinced he needed to start all over.

It was an expensive lesson, and an all-too-common false start with his ad agency.

 

 

Here’s where many small ad agencies go wrong, especially in the world of digital advertising: They rely on the client for strategic insight and a cohesive brand strategy. Once they’re told what to say, they do a nice job of figuring out how to say it.

But in this case, they were following the “lead” of the restaurant owner, so what he ended up with was a campaign that he admitted “looks nice, but doesn’t really fit this place.”

He should have hired someone to help him define his brand strategy before diving into an ad campaign.

Before he pulled a name for the place randomly, out of his hat.

Before he paid a top-name architect to design the restaurant.

Before he ever developed the menu or arranged the seating, he should have known what his establishment was “all about.”

That’s the difference between a strategic branding company and most small ad agencies. With us, branding starts earlier — further “upstream” — and  goes much deeper. It touches all facets of the business, not just the outbound advertising messages. It goes beyond the sizzle to the meat of the business.

a bend oregon branding firm

That particular restaurant owner was not unique.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shows that the majority of VP and C-level execs don’t know their company’s strategy. Or at least they can’t verbalize it without launching into long-winded corporate mumbo-jumbo.

Companies that DO have a clear sense of their brand  strategy have a huge leg-up on the competition.

Little branding bend oregon brand strategyCaesar’s is a classic example. Their brand strategy was simple: Sell value and compete with Dominoes on price. How? Sell two-for-one pizzas, to be exact.

That was the strategy they took to their ad agency, and it was spelled out quite nicely: “Two great pizzas for one low price.” Then the creative folks at Cliff Freeman & Partners figured out how to communicate that simple strategy in a provocative way:

“PizzaPizza.”

 If you’re old enough, I’m sure you can still hear that quirky voice in your head. The chain used that line for almost 20 years, and then went back to it in 2012. The tagline actually outlived the promotion… they’re not offering the two-fer deal any more, but the line still works.

According to Ad Age, “They’ve been able to grow the brand with a price point that was affordable option for most Americans… They really stand for value more than any other brand. A recent Sandelman & Associates survey rated Little Caesars the best value for the money.”

That’s their story, and they’re sticking with it.

The benefits of a clearly defined and well-written marketing strategy are clear: You won’t run pretty ads in the wrong publications or on the wrong websites. You won’t change directions every year, just to be fashionable. And you won’t have digital advertising effort that doesn’t jive with the rest of your branding.

Bottom line… you’ll be more focused and efficient in everything you do.

But how do you get there? In most small ad agencies strategy is not a deliverable. Account executives do it by the seat of the pants based on information provided by the client, and on gut instinct. Then they’ll just jump right into the sexiest part of the project… the creative execution.

bend branding firm bend ad agencyThat fits with the prevailing perception: Most business people think of strategic planning as a left-brained activity, but ad agencies are enclaves of right-brained, creative thinking. Therefore, you can’t possibly get a brand strategy from them.

Right???

Traditional thinking also says you need a consulting firm for strategy.

What’s more helpful is a sensible combination of both services from one team: Strategic insight and disciplined execution. A left-brain, right-brain, one-two punch. That’s how my firm approaches it… insight first, THEN execution.

No amount of creative wizardry will save a marketing campaign that lacks a strong, well-defined sales premise. That’s why we put so much emphasis on message development and front-end strategic issues.

Setting aside time for some productive strategic thinking is the most valuable thing you can do for your business. And it’s not about spreadsheets, it’s about story telling.

Chances are, you’ll need help. You’re too close to the situation. Too consumed by the quarterly numbers. Or just too darn busy.

So find someone you trust. Block out a day, get out of your office, and think it through with your most trusted advisors. Look at everything you’re doing, and ask yourself this: what is this company really all about? What’s the message of substance behind your marketing? Is your brand all beauty and no brains?

BTW… That restaurant I referred to in the beginning of this post has since gone out of business.

Need help pinpointing your brand story? Shoot me an email or a LinkedIn Message. John Furgurson. Johnf@bnbranding.com.

 

 

 

Want more info on brand strategy and strategic message development? Try this post.

6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For only about one dollar.

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

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

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

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

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

Who owns the idea of “fast food?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

how to build a brand by BN Branding

2 how to differentiate your company - BNBranding

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

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

Be Disruptive!

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

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

Don’t be different. Be the same.

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

Loud and clear.

 

 

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

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

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

Brand differentiation is hard to come by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.

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

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

That’s precisely why we remember them.

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

hire the right marketing person

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

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

The revolving door gets costly.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

1.  Broad experience means better perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Specialists don’t know strategy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same holds true in marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

About the author…

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

saying no in business

Just say NO. Sage advice for small business

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

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

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

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

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

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

They even say no to their their best clients sometimes.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

We serve our clients. We aim to please.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Your operation will become more streamlined and efficient. 

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

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

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

truth in advertising BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

Wier said no to Walmart! 

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

Now that’s courage. And focus. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Naming, rebranding, and the role of your brand origin story.

brand credibility from branding experts

Origin stories are big business in Hollywood. Millions of people will pay top dollar at the box office to get the back-story on their favorite superhero or sci-fi villain. (The Joker grossed $849 million in just two months.) Unfortunately, brand origin stories are highly underrated and underutilized in the business world.

Let’s say you’re involved in a start-up and you’re pitching your idea to potential investors. They’re going to want to know where you came from. How you got there. And what you’re all about. A well-crafted brand origin story can answer those questions — in dramatic fashion.

A look back helps illuminate the way forward.

Sometimes it’s the founder’s entrepreneurial journey that attracts a tribe of like-minded people and helps get the company off the ground. In other cases it’s the team that triggers success… their past experiences, skill sets, passions or unique insights.

Sometimes it’s the product itself or the timing of the product launch that gives the company traction. Whatever the case may be, that brand origin story should be an important component of your brand narrative.

 

 

 

At BN Branding our clients never come asking for an origin story, but they almost aways need help with one. When they come to us for a brand name and identity, we always start with the brand origin story.

When we dive into the heritage of a company, the reputation of the brand, and the past experience of the key players we often find the DNA of the brand hidden beneath the haze of time, growth and outside influences. A lot of clients are just stuck.  They have lost something they had when they first started their business, but they can’t put their finger on it. That’s why it helps to go back to the very beginning.

Let me give you an example, and answer a question I get all the time about the naming of my own company…

This is the brand origin story of BN Branding…

It begins with my childhood crush on a couple of iconic brands. By the age of seven I was smitten was Tonka trucks and Schwinn bikes.

I really, really, really wanted a Schwinn Sting Ray with the banana seat, sissy bar and a five-speed stick shifter. That never happened, and I’m scarred for life from the years I spent riding a cheaper, embarrassing knock-off that my dad bought at a thrift store.

I’ll never forget the Christmas, some years later, when I finally got a yellow, Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. I had truly grown up… Way beyond the JV sting ray.

The other brand I was passionate about during those wonder years was Head skis. I got a hand-me-down pair from a racer friend of mine, and I was in snow-bound heaven. Head skis are the Schwinn of my winters, to this day.

Fast forward to high school when my infatuation with brands really blossomed. Classroom doodles were detailed recreations of skateboard brands, ski logos and slalom courses. I could draw perfect replicas of the iconic Rossignol R as well as the Sims logo,  G & S, Nordica, Marker and Sun Valley.

My PeeChee was a well-branded work of art and those logos are forever etched in my subconscious.

In Graphic Arts class I channeled that interest quite successfully. I created logos for imaginary companies, silk screened T shirts, ran a letterpress, worked in the dark room developing my own photos and operated an offset press.

I can honestly say I learned a trade. In fact, I printed up a resume, walked into a local print shop and landed my first job, which I desperately needed to pay for my brand-name skateboards, brand-name ski gear and brand-name car.

bend oregon branding firm Origin BNBrandingThat print shop was not exactly what you’d call state-of-the-art. Quite the opposite, in fact.  It was an ancient, run-down relic of a by-gone time. It reeked of ink, acetone and darkroom chemicals.

But I loved it.

The big, hand-fed letterpresses were similar to what we had at school, but the type collection was dramatically larger… Row after row of font drawers, each one full of backward letters and punctuation marks just waiting to be magically transformed into wedding invitations, event flyers or business cards.

That’s where I learned to set type. Literally… Choose a font. Fish out every letter. Set the spacing. “Lock it all up.” Hold the whole thing up to the mirror to check for typos. Back to the drawer to replace that b with a d.

I developed a keen awareness of letterforms, x heights, leading and line spacing.

I developed a keen awareness for how words look in type.

I came to recognize inspired design work, true craftsmanship and high-quality printing.

I learned the hard way that designers could be extremely meticulous, and that I wasn’t really a talented artist.

And most of all, I learned at a very young age that image really matters. It’s was on-the-job training that serves me well to this day.

 

I had ink under my nails all through high school and college. My biggest take-aways from that experience in printing?…

1. The Linotype machine is one of the most amazing contraptions ever invented. (YouTube doesn’t do it justice.)

2. All the glamour’s on the front-end — in the planning, writing and design of those promotional materials. Not on the back end in production.

So in college I took all the advertising, writing and marketing classes I could. Then I took my Journalism degree and dove into a career in advertising.

I started as a direct response copywriter selling high-end goods for a company called Norm Thompson. In that environment money talks. Not art. We tested everything, and routinely produced 25% response rates on direct sales letters to our house list. I learned that the right words translate directly into better response and more cash flow. It was the perfect training ground for a young copywriter.

I gave up the security of that position to pursue my dream of working in a “real” ad agency.

I worked in several Portland agencies where I did print campaigns, some brand identity projects and lots of collateral projects. (printed sales materials.)  That’s where I learned the magic of the writer/art director collaboration, the toxicity of dysfunctional bosses and the pitfalls of the advertising agency business model. That’s also where I learned to award-winning write radio ads. (I discovered I had a knack for writing dialog that sounds natural.)

But that agency experience left a gap in my on-the-job training. I wasn’t getting any opportunities to do TV.  I didn’t feel well rounded, so I decided to take a job at a production company that did corporate video work as well as direct response TV.

That’s where I learned how to write a treatment and pitch a story. That’s where I learned how directors work and how valuable high production values really are.

After a few years of that my career path meandered in a different direction, to the small resort town of Bend, Oregon. It was a lifestyle choice that revolved around raising a family, so I hung up a shingle with just two clients.

What to call my fledgling little agency?

By that time I had done a half dozen naming projects, so I dove into the exercise with a fair bit of bravado, a blank pad of paper and the world’s thickest thesaurus.

I wanted something that would convey my USP at the time, which was an unusual combination of creative wordsmithing and insightful strategic planning. The work had to be creative, but also undeniably effective. So this name and tagline came pretty easily:

AdWords. What to say, and how to say it.

Short. Direct. Precise. Intriguing. Plus, the URL www.adwords.com was available, so I snatched that up right away. (That was before URLs were the be-all end-all of corporate naming.)

The tagline, “what to say and how to say it” still rings true today. At BN Branding it’s strategy first, THEN execution.

Strategy determines what to say. Creative execution is the “how to say it” part. One without the other is like a Ferarri without a throttle.

So “AdWords” it was!

Over the next seven years I built a team and a substantial body of award-winning advertising work in tourism, technology, golf and real estate development.

Then, on February 10 of 2004, I got a phone call from an attorney who made an offer to purchase the AdWords brand name and URL. I thought it was a birthday prank from one of my buddies, and I politely declined.

But a couple months later he called back with a better offer. Then another, and another. He wouldn’t tell me who his client was, but it didn’t take a big leap of imagination to figure out it was Google. I held out for more than a year.

The windfall from that sale gave me time to write a golf book, help start a non-profit, reevaluate the direction of the firm, and rebrand my company.

Back to the drawing board. As it turned out, the RE-branding process was much more difficult than my original branding effort.

As all Creatives know, doing work for yourself is harder than doing work for clients.

The cobbler’s shoe syndrome is rampant in my business.

First of all, I had to do some serious soul searching. I had to step back and take a realistic look at what the company was. And what is was NOT.

We never offered media buying as a service. That was not in our wheelhouse. So really, AdWords never was an ad agency. We provided creative services, and produced advertising in all forms, but it was more of creative boutique than an agency.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for someone who had dreamed of having an “agency.”  And during that re-naming process I wasted a lot of time comparing my company to advertising agencies.

In that world there are a lot of acronyms… BBDO, CP+B, R/GA, WPP, and even TBD. But I hate acronyms. I’ve never recommended an acronym while doing a naming project. Not once. I have recommended the use of the owner’s name, but never an acronym.

I’ve never seen a cool, start-up ad agency use an acronym. They all gravitate toward hip, one word names like Smoke, Dig, Preacher, Omelet, Stoke or Walrus.

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.

The consensus on my team was, “No, nothing like that! That’d be off brand for us.”  So the thousand dollar question was, what would be ON brand for me and my team?

The reality was this:  It wasn’t just about me and my copywriting skills. It wasn’t even about advertising anymore. I had to let that go.

Clients were asking for much more, and our service bundle had evolved to accommodate those requests. We were still delivering creative advertising work, but we were also working further up stream — doing brand strategy, marketing planning, small business consulting and account planning. It was a broad range of services that all fell under the broad umbrella of branding.

So it was decided.. we would be a branding firm. Or a strategic brand consultancy. Or a branding agency. Something like that. But we still needed a name.

We kicked around a whole slew of options, including one that was just a symbolic letter. V.  Not V Branding, just V. That one was interesting, but a bit of a stretch.

We toyed with “Guidon” which was also interesting, but its military connotations caused problems.

Another practical consideration was corporate structure. I was advised to incorporate, but I already had one S corp in the family, so it seemed like a lot of unnecessary legal mumbo jumbo to me. Two corporate tax returns… really? Why not just become part of the family business?

My wife had a market research firm called BN Research, and there was some synergy between the two companies.

BN Branding. Hmmmmm… Seemed kind of boring, but it had a nice ring to it. Good phonetics. So I put that idea in the drawer and continued down the rabbit hole that is namestorming.  It’s never easy… sometimes it takes weeks to come up for air.

In the end, those two letters kept rising back to the surface… BN, BN, BN.

So we started playing around with this question:  What else could the B and the N stand for? How could we attach meaning to those two letters and extend it into a campaign that has legs… something that would be graphically bold and completely different than anything else in the Branding niche.

Gary Vanyerchuck , aka “Gary Vee,” has built a brand around his hard to pronounce name. When asked about that, he said, “a brand name is not chosen, it’s made. You have to make something out of it.”

That’s exactly what we’ve done with the “Be” campaign. We started with a rather benign name, and built something memorable around it.

It started with two simple words: Be Iconic. That was the spark of the idea… They I said, what’s more iconic than the curves of Coca-Cola bottle?

Then came Be Inspired, which implies a broader role where we’re touching more than just design and advertising. We inspire entire teams, not just marketing guys.

A new approach to website design BNBrandingSuddenly the name BN Branding didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

17 years later we’re still working out new ideas for the “Be” campaign. Those two green letters are now iconic, in their own right. You don’t even need to see the name or the logo to know it’s a message from BN Branding.

BN by itself is not an exciting name, but Be Iconic is the main benefit of working with us. Be Inspired is what clients are looking for. Be Nice is how we roll.

We’ve attached meaning to those two letters over time, and the more we repeat those, the stronger our brand becomes. BN is just a trigger for a much bigger, more meaningful idea.

Our clients can fill in the blanks. They can “be” whatever they want to be.

So that’s our brand origin story, and the answer to the common question “why do you call it BN Branding?”

 

 

 

So, what can the average business owner learn from the branding of a branding company?

• Naming is probably the hardest step in the brand identity development process. It’s even hard for professionals who have 25 years experience. Don’t assume that you can do it  yourself.

• Details, visual aids, and quality writing makes a big difference in the value of your brand origin story. Like any good story, it needs characters and conflict. It needs to ebb and flow… you can’t just go straight to success.

 • Look to the past for inspiration and a compelling brand origin story, but don’t hang on too tightly to what you thought you were. You gotta Be Nimble.  Circumstances change, people leave, markets shift, but brands endure.

• When evaluating possible names it’s often helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture. Get away from the word and the URL hunt, for a bit, and think big. It has to start with a big idea.

• Your company name is only one component of your brand identity. It’s important, for sure, but it seldom stands alone. It’s always “consumed” within the context of something else. You have to support the brand name, and make something of it.

• Names that may not seem all that great at first can become quite powerful as context and meaning is revealed over time.

• Context matters. A well-crafted brand origin story provides context for people, and can create greater understanding of your real value.

• Brand origin stories are especially important for service business and companies that revolve around a few, key people.

•  A good origin story can become the stuff of urban legend, told and retold to your benefit.

 

If you’d like some help exposing your brand DNA, and telling your origin story, give us a call. We’d love to hear it.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

Non-profit branding (A story of start-up success and failure)

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.”  It was the type of non-profit brand that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on little faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day. It was also a great example of non-profit branding.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was non-profit branding “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. (We conducted large-sample phone surveys as well as focus groups.)

Once we saw encouraging results from the research, we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy and built a business plan around that. After our strategy was clear, and the business plan written, we came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

 

 

non-profit branding case study by BNBranding bend oregon

Print ad for Working Wonders Children’s Museum

At first, Working Wonders was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” Initially we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play.

And it caught on! Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping, “museum without walls” strategy achieve the immediate goal: Proof of concept.

Parents and kids loved it. In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point. We had a location and we had enough money to open the doors. Just barely.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years traveling around, trying to raise more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go:  We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net. We were relying on the on-going generosity of a couple key donors and most of all, corporate sponsors.

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. A non-profit branding success and the biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

Working Wonders ran successfully for four years. It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town in 2009. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually branded too well.

Many customers and community leaders thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. (mine) Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about non-profit branding for marketing for 501c3 organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.non-profit branding by BNBranding Brand Insight Blog in Bend Oregon

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability.

For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors who can provide an endowment.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors.

In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships, and those dried up overnight when the economy tanked.

As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives: Attracting visitors and attracting donors.

But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. Non-profit branding is absolutely important! But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people. Solidify the base of financial support first, then open your doors.

more effective advertising from BNBrandingIt’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer. And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?”  Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before  you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

For more marketing tips and non-profit branding advice, check out THIS post:

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

market research for small business BNBranding

Strategic listening and consumer insight – Small business market research

BNBranding logoI’m a big proponent of small business market research. For me it’s insight first, THEN execution.

Insight is the foundation of every ground-breaking idea in history. Insight drives the strategy that directs the execution that produces results.

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. I’ve seen, first hand, how research can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups.

Can you say, “Got Milk?”

strategic listening in advertising

But I’ve also done my share of branding strategies and marketing campaigns based on nothing more than gut instinct and the client’s opinion.

It can be done when the budget demands it, but believe me… it’s much harder and riskier.

I don’t think small business owners do enough strategic listening. (And their branding strategies usually reflect that.)

They often skip the research because they think they already know it all. The sales manager says “I’ve been in this business for 25 years, I know what customers want.”  Or the owner says “We tried that already, it didn’t work.” Or the marketing assistant says “We have some data from Survey Monkey on that.”

Don’t bet on it. Often times, customers don’t even know what they want.

 

 

Here are five common problems that business owner run into when doing market research for small business:

1. Questions are written from an insider’s perspective.

2. They ask the wrong questions.

4. They question the wrong people.

5. They don’t know what to do with the data once they have it. Or they just don’t want to hear it.

market research for small business strategic listening BNBranding

First, let’s talk perspective. (Or lack thereof.)

As the old saying goes, you can’t read the label if you’re stuck inside the bottle.

Most people are so wrapped up in their day-to-day business they can’t see the bigger issues well enough to ask the right questions. Their own bias creeps in at every turn.

An outsider’s perspective — and the objectivity that a professional brings to the table — is really the only way to get research that you can take to the bank.

That lack of perspective leads directly to:

Problem number two: The content of the research questions themselves.

A lot of time and money is wasted asking research questions that are dumber than a rock.

For instance, I recently ran across a survey about the current plight of private country clubs. It’s no big secret that they’re hurting, and yet the survey started with a useless series of questions that just rehashed commonly known industry facts.

Don’t waste time asking questions you already know the answers to.

Clarify your objectives before you start. Spend some quality time framing the problem so you can ask better questions. Stick to subjects that honestly baffle you.

Branding firm BNBrandingProblem number 3:  The issue of semantics in market research questionnaires.

There’s incredible nuance in the wording of a good questionnaire. In fact, how you ask a question can often guarantee results, one way or another.

Polling companies have known this for 75 years. That’s why there are Democratic pollsters and Republican pollsters. They can always get the results to skew in their preferred direction. Left or right.

Here’s a story that illustrates my point perfectly:

There were two priests who both wanted to know if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time. So they wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question in this manner:  ‘Is it permissible to smoke while praying?’ and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention. The other priest asked “Is it permissible to pray while smoking”  and was told that it is, since it is always permissible to pray.”

Chances are, if you’re writing your own questionnaire, you’re not being as clear as you should be. And clarity is one of the cornerstones of building an iconic brand.

The fourth problem arises when you ask good questions of the wrong people.

Many companies have feedback systems for their customers, but they never hear from their non-customers. Sometimes it’s more useful to poll the people who are loyal to your competitor’s brand. Why they don’t buy is just as important as why they buy.

When you do research make sure you have a representative sample of people on all sides of an issue. If you’re working with a research firm, insist on samples of real people, not professional focus group respondents.

The last, and probably biggest problem with small business market research is your ability to do something with the data once you have it.

In most companies there’s a huge gap between insight and execution. In the market research industry, that’s the most common complaint: Quite often, comprehensive studies end up on the back shelf, filed under “that’s interesting, now get back to work.”

All kinds of things can sabotage your best efforts. Sometimes corporate culture gets in the way. At HP the engineers run the show and even the most analytical marketing guys take a back seat. Innovation is a core value, so they might ignore market research in order to launch quickly and demonstrate their engineering prowess.

market research for small business branding strategies BNBranding

It’s like the software business. When they launch a product everyone knows it’s just v.1.0., and it will quickly to be replaced by v1.2 and 1.3. Their mantra: Launch first, ask questions later.

So make sure you’re in the position to act on the information you gather. Otherwise, don’t bother. Ask yourself some tough questions ahead of time…

• Do you have the brainpower inside the company to analyze the data and understand its implications? If not, can you hire someone who does?

• Do you have the financial resources to implement changes based on the analysis?

• Is the subject you’re researching important enough? Is it a C-level initiative, or just a mid-level management thing?

• Are you empowered to act? If not, who is? Do you have the allies you need to get things done?

research for branding strategiesIf you can answer yes to most of those questions, great. Here’s a fairly simple (simplified) approach that will produce information you can actually use.

In general, there are two types of research the typical business owner or manager can do:  Listening and asking.

It’s best to start with strategic listening because that will keep you customer focused. (And branding strategies that are customer-facing are almost always better than inward facing strategies.)

Put your own agenda aside and listen to what your front-line employees have to say. They hear it all. Revisit the customer feedback forms you’ve been collecting. Get out of the office and have in-depth discussions with real customers.

And by all means, tap into social media and other online sources. That’s a great way to “hear” what people are saying.

“I have numerous examples where we’re finding key nuggets, insights, aha moments and watch-outs coming from various online sources,” said Kristin Bush, Senior Manager of Consumer & Market Knowledge at Procter & Gamble.

“It’s definitely an area that we’re exploring quite heavily… we get the unprompted voice of the consumer, the real sentiments, the real points of view.  I think there’ s a huge opportunity in this space, and the companies that really figure out how to listen and respond in meaningful ways are going to win in the marketplace.”

Once you’ve tapped all the existing lines of communication, then follow up on with traditional market research techniques. Surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews are useful for asking specific questions and probing deeper into topics that come up on the blogosphere.

New on-line tools make it easier than ever to get a survey done. But the do-it-yourself approach of Survey Monkey won’t pass the muster unless you follow the guidelines above.

Want more insight on branding strategies and small business research?

Want some help with small business market research? Give us a call. 541-815-0075.

5 Strategic Thinking vs. Tactical Acting – Your marketing needs both.

BNBranding iconic logoI’ve been writing the Brand Insight Blog regularly since 2007. The single most popular post I’ve ever written focuses on the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Thinking and planning vs. doing and implementing.

Seems there’s a some confusion there, to say the least, about the definition of tactics and strategy.

For example, I saw a blog recently titled “Top 10 Social Media Strategies.” But the list was purely tactical. Not a strategy to be seen.

Here’s a quick tip: If you see the word “strategies” – plural- it’s probably not really a strategy.

Strategy is singular. Focused. Unique.

Tactics are plural. Every business should have a long list of marketing tactics. They’re done by everyone, including your competitors.

So if you’re still a bit unclear about the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics, here’s another way to look at it…

Think about Insight vs. Execution. Insight being the crucial strategic thinking that has to happen before you execute the tactical plan. Think, then act.

marketing strategy BN Branding's Brand Insight BlogGraham Robertson of Beloved Brands talks about the difference between strategic thinkers and tactical implementers. He writes…

“To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first.” Whoever wrote that blog post on social media definitely sees answers first, and social media is it.

Strategic Thinkers ask a lot of “what if” questions before they begin to develop solutions.  They think, they reflect, they plan and they stew on things before they act. In fact, many never act at all. They deliver a report and walk away, or they delegate the execution to the tacticians.

Tactical people jump right into answers.

They believe that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking, so it often turns into a “ready, fire, aim” scenario. They are impulsive doers who often get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

It’s like Captain Kirk in an old StarTrek episode yelling at Spock; “What we need now, Spock, is a little less analysis and lot more action!”

Spock was the strategy guy. Captain Kirk was the execution guy.

 

 

There are many business owners with A-type personalities who fall into the category of non-strategic implementers. They’re the ones who quickly jump on every new marketing bandwagon that comes along, hoping for a home run without ever taking batting practice.

They do a lot, but without clear direction they often do a lot of the wrong things. They’re all over the place.

Strategists, on the other hand, often think themselves to death and never get anywhere.

My firm is often brought in for tactical projects because many clients don’t think they need the strategy help. But in most of those cases, we have to work our way “upstream” to answer those key, strategic questions before we jump into creative execution of a website, ad campaign, social media effort or whatever.

marketing strategy rafting the deschutesTactical implementers never paddle upstream. They just go with the flow.

To be a great marketer you have to wear both hats.

“While pure strategy people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand, Robertson said. ” They’d keep analyzing things to death, without ever taking action.  And while tactical people get stuff done, it might not be the stuff you actually need done.  I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and tactical, almost equally so.”

A tall order for most marketing people. In fact, Robertson estimates that only 15 to 25% of all marketing people are legitimately “strategic”  in their approach to their jobs. There are far more tactical marketing implementers than there are strategic thinkers.

If you’re building a career in marketing you need to pinpoint your strengths. If you’re more of a manager, organizer and list-making delegator, you’ll probably want to find people for your team who can fill in the strategy gap.

You can’t just suddenly decide to “be strategic.”

Being strategic means reading between the lines, delving deeper than just factual data, and trusting your instincts.

That takes years of practice and a certain personality type. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a good tactical implementer who gets a lot of stuff done.

tactic definition - balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Balance your marketing strategy and tactics for best results.

There are thousands of successful design firms and small ad agencies that have no strategic thinkers at all. The account executives simply coordinate the list of tactics they’re given by the client. The creative specialists — writers, graphic designers, web programmers, SEO guys, photographers, and social media specialists execute those tactical projects.

That can work for companies that already have a well-defined brand and a clear-cut marketing strategy. But it doesn’t work if the business owner doesn’t have her story spelled out on paper.

In that case, those creative implementers will spin their wheels and go through a lot of false starts before they hit on something that strikes a chord with the client. And more importantly, with consumers.

Launching a FaceBook contest is not a strategy. It’s a tactic. (And by the way, it’s not an effective tactic if you think it’ll replace other forms of paid advertising.)

“Content Marketing” is not a marketing strategy. It’s a tactic. One of many things on your to-do list that will help you achieve your marketing goals.

Producing and running a Super Bowl commercial is a tactic. Deciding which product or service to focus on, in that Super Bowl commercial, is strategy.

The most common mistake in marketing strategy is a lack of focus. A strong strategy demands focus, but most business owners want to be all things to all people.

I was talking with a real estate firm the other day and they had all their “specialties” listed on their website: “First time home buyers. Second time home buyers. Golf homes. Down-sizers.”

Upscale, low scale, middle of the road scale. Nothing was left out, which made the whole idea of specialization ridiculous.

Time to start swimming upstream!

But strategic thinking is tough. It involves hard decisions and thoughtful contemplation that many business owners simply don’t have time for.

The most important strategic “what-if” question you can ask yourself is this: What are you going to hang your hat on? What’s the ONE thing that you can shout from the rooftops? What if it’s this? What if it’s that?

Imagine that you can only advertise your business on billboards along the freeway. You get one idea and one idea only. Five words max.  Otherwise, no one whizzing by at 65 will see it. Good luck with that. Distilling your marketing strategy down to that level is a rare talent.

If you make the strategic decision to NOT specialize, your tactical execution will suffer dearly. Generalizations never work as well as specifics, and when you’re “targeting”  “men and women age 35 to 64” you’re really talking to no one.

In that case, a good advertising team will simply ignore the strategy-that’s-not-really-a-strategy, and hone in on one very specific idea.

Occasionally, some great business strategies come out of this process. Purely by accident.  But it’s much more efficient to have your marketing strategy mapped out first and then match the tactics to that.

Think Strategically. Act Tactically.

If you need help thinking strategically, or executing any of your marketing tactics, don’t hesitate to call. 541-815-0075. BNBranding can help take your business to the next level with a balance of logical strategy and quick action.

Want to read the original post on strategy vs. tactics? Click Here. 

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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?

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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.