Tag Archives for " successful brands "

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“Brand” Trumps Managerial Incompetence.

I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Managers make monumental mistakes, but brands endure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they’re not, get rid of ’em.

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

definition of branding and brands BN Branding

6 good questions about branding agencies and their owners

brand credibility from branding experts

Questions always arise when people ask  me “What do you do?”

“I have a branding agency.”

“Oh, you mean like Coke, or like cattle branding?”

“Coke. Only smaller. We help the little guys become big-name brands. ”

Inevitably, that leads to even more questions. Branding is a broad, misunderstood term that often requires explanation. Our scope of work is far-reaching and always evolving, so I thought I’d help spell it out for you.

These are some of the questions I’ve heard over the years:

 

“Why the hell do we need a branding agency? We’re not a packaged goods company and we already have a logo.”

branding agencies do more than just package designMany business people think that branding agencies only design logos and packaging. So if they don’t have a product on a grocery store shelf they have no use for a branding firm. That’s not the case.

Packaging certainly is a big part of our business. And we love building new packaged good brands from the ground floor, like we did with Smidge.

But service business also need a lot of help because their offerings are intangible and often commoditized. For those companies, branding makes all the difference.

Like in the insurance business, for example. GEICO spent more than $2 billion on advertising in 2020. State Farm, Allstate and Progressive aren’t far behind. They’re all trying to bank some brand goodwill and top-of-mind awareness for the next time you decide to switch insurance carriers. It’s a low-involvement, no difference business, so their brand advertising becomes the only differentiator.

Every business in every category needs help with their branding, to some degree or another.

 

 

Branding agencies produce business magic BN Branding

“Do branding agencies have some sort of process that you follow, or is it just random magic that you’re pulling out of your hat?”

Sure, just about every branding agency has some sort of process graphic that outlines the basic steps we follow along the way. We need that visual aid in order to help set budgets and demonstrate that there is some method to our madness. CFOs always gravitate toward toward the process.

But quite honestly, those graphics are simply window dressing on what is inherently a chaotic, creative endeavor.

Volumes have been written about the secret to creativity. Academics try to deconstruct it, explain it, and wrap it up in context that business people can get their heads around. But at the end of the day it’s a highly intuitive, unapologetically unstructured process.

But it is a process, and it starts with good habits.

My team and I are in the habit of creation. We’re in the ideas business, so we come up with ideas every day, often starting in the early morning hours before we’re fully awake. We create, we iterate, and we throw away tons of crappy ideas. The more prolific we are, the easier the creative process gets and the more magic we create.

We also maintain balance in our lives so we don’t get burned out. Being outside having fun on the ski slopes, bike paths, hiking trails or golf courses, is also part of the creative process.

When it comes to naming businesses, we employ our own namestorming process that brings objectivity to a rather subjective exercise. It’s the hardest part of our overall branding effort, so every little bit of process helps.

 

“What’s the difference between branding agencies and design firms?”

Design firms approach everything as a visual exercise. Every problem has a visual solution. It’s very art oriented.

Branding firms approach things from a broader, business-oriented perspective. It’s more holistic. We do design, but we also work further upstream, on the foundational strategic work that informs the design. At my firm it’s strategy first, then copy and design.

Our job is to help you convey, communicate and build trust with your audience. Because trust is the root of all brand growth. To do that, you need words and well-written content as much as you need stunning visuals.

services of branding agencies like BN BrandingEvery business category has its own lingo. Food industry folks talk about SKU rationalization and store velocity. Golf industry insiders talk about coefficients of restitution and straight line frequency matching.

In the marketing business it’s CTRs, PPC, GRPs and UX iteration. It’s unfortunate because all the acronyms can be very confusing.

One of our jobs is to translate the industry insider mumbo jumbo into compelling story lines that anyone can decipher.

Ours is a business of creative reduction… we reduce down your messaging into its most impactful form and then serve it up in a variety of ways. It all involves design on some level, but it’s not limited to the visual arts.

The real magic is in the combination of all elements — words, visuals, sounds, textures — into a coherent, unforgettable brand experience.

 

“Do I really need a marketing consultant AND a branding firm? Seems like overkill to me.”

Marketing consultants are infamous for charging exhorbitant fees and leaving clients with impressive reports that never see the light of day. Just about every client I’ve ever worked with has been burned by a “consultant” of some kind.

In a perfect world management consultants would team up with branding firms on strategy and then stick around long enough to see their vision through to the logical conclusion. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

I’ve been trying for 20 years to get a management consultant to collaborate with us on how their clients might implement the consulting plan they just paid so much money for.

Branding firms work all the way through, from early strategy development to execution. It is, without a doubt, the broadest, most all-encompassing mix of services in the entire world of marketing. The best of the breed have serious consulting chops, as well as creative skills.

In a business filled with specialists, we are the ultimate generalists. We bridge the gap between management consultants and marketing tacticians. Art and commerce. For smaller companies and start-up brands, that’s a good thing. We can work efficiently, leverage our client’s skills and resources and save our clients money while producing long-term results.

 

“We already have a digital marketing agency. Why would we need you?”

Digital Marketing Agencies know a lot about technology, marketing automation, social media platforms and pay per click advertising. They operate deep in the rabbit hole of their respective specialties, like SEM, SEO or web programming. They can help you with some tactical planning and technical details, but they know nothing about persuasion, image and the power of a long-term brand strategy.

Producing clicks is not the same thing as producing trust.

At my firm we spent three years researching digital marketing firms. We talked to dozens and tested several before we settled on one. Now that company is an integral partner. Their technical know-how allows us to extend our branding services even further down stream, much to the delight of our clients who don’t have to try to understand and manage that digital world themselves.

It’s all part of one, big branding effort that’s led and inspired by us and executed by many.

We help our clients sort through the endless array of “marketing opportunities”  in order to prioritize their efforts and remain focused on long- term strategic objectives.

Because let’s face it… there’s always something else you could throw money at, some new techno marketing platform, but is it really a good move strategically? Is is on brand, or are you just chasing short-term results at the expense of the brand experience?

Branding agencies produce strategic campaigns that play well in any media outlet, from websites and print ads to outdoor, digital banners and social media posts.

For us, it’s not about the form or medium, it’s about the idea. When you have a great idea it’ll find its way into everything you do. From a branding standpoint, that continuity is critical. What you don’t want are social media ads saying one thing, and your website and sales presentations saying something else.

 

“What kind of background do most branding agency owners have? Where do you guys come from anyway?”

I’m an anomaly among branding agencies. I’m a writer, not a designer, and I’ve held a variety of positions which all led up to this. My origin story is unique, including stints in the video production business, advertising and even printing.

Most branding agency owners were trained as graphic designers. They rise up through the ranks at a design firm and then hang up a shingle of their own. So there’s a lot of cross-over between design firms and branding agencies.

Some of the owner/designers have teamed up with account executives or copywriters to form their agencies. That’s the ideal solution for clients because it always takes a team to produce the best work. The real magic happens when an art director and a copy writer team up and collaborate closely with the client. We don’t have all the answers, but we know how to get you moving in the right direction.

Want to see some of the branding we’ve done? Visit our portfolio. And here’s the full list of services we can provide.

If you have more questions about branding firms, ad agencies or anything else related to marketing, click here. Or just be dialing. I’d be happy to take your call. Fire away!

 

 

5 Porter airlines brand advertsing

Airline Industry marketing (One Canadian brand stands out)

BNBranding logoHere’s a news flash for all of you who are 35 or under: Flying wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when racking up frequent flyers miles was, actually, a little glamorous. You could fly the friendly skies and have a pleasant time. Sometimes the experience even lived up to the airline industry marketing hype.Porter airlines brand advertsing airline industry marketing

Sorry you missed it.

In the age of strip searches, baggage fees, dying dogs, laptop bans and physically bouncing people from flights, most airlines are as bad as Greyhound busses. Cattle have it better on the way to the slaughterhouse. Every time I board a flight I think, “wow, there’s gotta be an opportunity here for an airline to do things differently.”

Sure enough, a small airline out of Toronto is jumping in, and turning the clock back to better days in coach.

It’s still too early to tell if Porter Airlines will become a long-term success story in the airline industry, but there’s a lot to be learned from their launch. From a branding standpoint, they’ve done it right.

 

 

In 2006, Robert Deluce, Porter’s CEO, made a conscious decision to build his airline around the brand, and vice-versa. According to Marketing News, he approached branding agencies with his vision, a business plan and a well-defined value proposition built on three things: speed, convenience and customer service.

Convenience was guaranteed by making Toronto’s City Center Airport the home base, eliminating a long commute from Pearson International.

Speediness comes from fast turboprop planes and streamlined check-in and baggage service. And customer service… well the bar was pretty low, and Porter’s a fairly small airline, so it’s been easy to provide service that one customer described as “a real joy.”

Early on, Winkreative, a branding firm with offices in London, New York and Tokyo, was hired to coordinate the entire affair. They handled everything from naming the company to the interior design of the airplanes, website development and furniture selection in the airline’s lounge.

Rather than splitting it up between three or four firms, it was a well-coordinated effort based on a solid brand premise and a single creative approach. And it’s carried through in every aspect of the operation.

“It was meant to be something fresh, something innovative, something stylish,” Deluce said. “There’s a part of it that’s a throwback to the past… to a time when travel was a bit more fun.”

I love the simplicity of the name. “Porter” conveys how the airline would carry passengers with care and help lighten their load. And the tagline, “flying refined,” sums it up without pouring on the fluff.

Thankfully, the graphic design falls in line perfectly with the idea of refinement. If you say you’re refined, you better look refined!

The sophisticated, subdued color palette and the quirky raccoon character work tremendously well together. Sorta reminds me of Olympic mascots from years past. You can debate the wisdom of using a raccoon, but the design work is fun, distinctive and superbly executed in every medium. No one’s going to forget it once they’ve experienced it.

Porter airlines branding case study airline industry marketingFrom the blog, Design Sponge:

“This Canadian boutique airline is the most well-designed airline I’d ever been on and seemingly every detail had been given a lot of thought (including their adorable lunch boxes and chic on-board magazine named Re:Porter).

In terms of airline industry marketing, and a sophisticated brand design, Porter stands 30,000 feet above everyone else.

But the Porter brand is a lot more than just pretty pictures and a fancy in-flight magazine. From what I’ve heard and read, the entire operation is living up to its brand promise and exceeding expectations.

Travelocity says: “From top to bottom, inside and out, Porter Airlines has raised the bar. This new standard in air travel is evident not only in their ultra-modern facilities, but also in the quality of their staff. Each team member has been specially selected and trained to put travelers first with impeccable and innovative service.”

Nine out of ten customer reviews on SkyTrax are overwhelmingly positive.: “It’s exactly what it advertises: flying in style… thanks for bringing back the type of air travel everyone should experience and expect!”

And after scouring the travel blogs, I couldn’t find a single negative review.

From the World Hum travel blog:  “I loved flying Porter Airlines… A smooth operation, friendly staff, and free snacks. It was a pleasant reminder that air travel doesn’t have to be a succession of minor inconveniences and discomforts.”

launch of Porter Airlines BNBranding Brand Insight BlogMany people have never known anything but discomfort and inconvenience in air travel. So for them, Porter will be an entirely new experience, somewhat foreign and unexpected. And once they’ve flown Porter, their perception of the other brands will be forever tainted.

For older generations, Porter is a throw-back. An emotional trigger that harkens back to a simpler time when all the airlines did a better job.

I haven’t flown Porter, but I hope to. (It’s almost enough to justify a trip to my grandma’s hometown in Nova Scotia.)

I hope they can succeed in a tremendously difficult and competitive industry. I hope they can scale up their operation without sacrificing the heart of the Porter brand. And I hope more airlines follow suit.

But I’m not optimistic. Few airlines are built on such a solid brand premise, and most are just too darn big to change direction in any substantive way.  So the opportunity for little carriers like Porter, will still be here for the taking.

If they can just remember those good ‘ol days.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

14

Brand authenticity (Keeping it real, honest, genuine and true)

I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.

brand authenticityLately, it’s “Brand Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.

In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”

If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.

 

 

 

“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.

Most definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand, brand authenticity is defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”

I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.”

In Philosophy of Art “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.

The same holds true for brands.

The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck.  They are the exception to the corporate rule.

The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”

brand authenticityI think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. We are born skeptics.

Guilty until proven innocent!

And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Instagram fans.

Ouch.

In a Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”

Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups.  They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.

Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”

It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.

“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”

Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.

In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.

Amway is now known for brand authenticityAmway, for instance.

Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”

The front-line MLM culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.

It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. The antithesis of brand authenticity.

But I digress.

Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?

Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!

Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.

That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.trust and brand authenticity

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that you’re sincere and will be more likely to trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.

It’s always tempting for successful small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.

Align your marketing messages with your brand.

You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose.  You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.

Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?

Be consistent.

Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to

put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.

Lead by example. 

One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders

with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.

So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R&D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.

Hire good PR people. 

Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.

Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.

For more about brand authenticity, try THIS post. 

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Mt. Bachelor brand experience

Brand experience – How one ski area is trying its best to manage expectations.

bn branding's iconic logoSki area operators live and die by the whims of Mother Nature. So the brand experience often comes down to how the staff handles the inevitable shit storms. It’s a tough job… managing and marketing an experience when the experience is out of your control.

brand experience at Mt. Bachelor - BN Branding

It’s not hard to attract skiers and boarders when the snow is plentiful, the sun is shining and all the lifts are spinning. On days like this, it’s going to be a damn good brand experience for pretty much everyone.

That’s when ski areas — and brands in general — need to bank a lot of goodwill.

Inevitably, they’re going to need it.

A few winters ago high winds coupled with a massive ice storm toppled trees and wrecked havoc at Mt. Bachelor’s lift system.

That same season, flooded roads cut access to Crystal Mountain. A lift tower at Whistler snapped. A landslide took out a lift at Snoqualmie Pass. And some poor guy at Vail found himself hanging upside down and naked from a chairlift.

2020 was  even worse than that.

So how do you manage the brand through all the drama and mayhem of a pandemic, or a drought year, or any series of unfortunate events? How do you handle those days, weeks and even seasons that don’t qualify as chamber of commerce material?

What do you do when you’re faced with a no-win situation, like all ski areas are facing during COVID pandemic?

You cash in on all the successful branding you’ve done over the years. You fall back on all the love you’ve been spreading and the positive brand experience your customers have had in the past.

Your brand is your safety net. The more brand loyalty you build up, the more leeway you’ll get when things go wrong.

 

 

The brand experience for any skier or boarder on any given day is nuanced and complex.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in a day of skiing, from the first check of the ski report in the morning to the apres ski scene after the last run is done. There are dozens of ways to screw it up.

Not so long ago ski areas routinely fibbed when they recorded the morning ski report. But now social media makes it impossible to get away with any little white lies. The lift ride is plenty of time for skiers to tweet the exact temp, wind speed, barometric pressure and a detailed grooming report.

“Is sucks, stay home.”  “It’s Epic. Get up here.” “Fogged in. Can’t see two feet.” “It’s blowing the dogs off the leashes.”

With minute-by-minute updates like that accompanied by real-time user-generated videos, sugar-coated conditions reports from the marketing department just don’t cut it.

(All the locals knew what “light” winds really mean. Not a good way to build brand loyalty. )

Authenticity is no longer a choice. Brands have to own it… whatever it is.

A few years ago, when that epic ice storm shut things down at Mt. Bachelor, CEO John McLeod and his team launched a new communications program designed to manage expectations and quell some of the bitching. (Skiers can be a surprisingly whiny group.)

Mt. Bachelor’s staff uploaded some videos that show what the lift crews really faced.

They owned the challenge of it and made the best of a bad situation.

It’s hard to complain about a lift not opening promptly on time when you’ve seen the manual labor required to do the job… and the realities of operating safely in a high alpine environment after a wind and ice “event.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlYZUlHzby4

The videos showed time-lapse photography of an employee climbing up a 40-foot lift tower, tentatively chipping away at ice three feet thick. They showed logging crews and snow-cat drivers working together to clear 60-foot fir trees from the middle of a ski slope.

That’s powerful stuff that I haven’t seen on any other web site or in any other industry. They used reality TV as an effective branding tool. It was a pretty good reaction to very rare weather event.

Fast forward to the spring of 2020 when they were reacting to something even more unheard of… a shut down caused, not by weather or mechanical failure, but by the COVID 19 virus.

When Mt. Bachelor reopened for two weeks in May they did it for all the right reasons, and yet the brand took a hit. It was a classic perception vs reality thing

The reality was that McLeod and his team pulled off an operational miracle to get the place back up and running at all. It was one of only 4  ski areas in the nation that did that.

The perception something else entirely. Mt. Bachelor brand experience

Everyone was dying to get back up on the slopes after two months of lock-down. Pent-up demand was off the charts.  So when Mt. Bachelor released their limited supply of spring skiing reservations, the whole system broke.

A very tiny number of  lucky season pass holders got access to the mountain during those two weeks in May. And even for them, it sounded like the brand experience wasn’t so great.

McLeod later admitted that that the free software they used for that momentary spring fling wasn’t quite up to the task. (I suspect that someone in their I.T. department was in trouble for that decision.)

So yes, technology can, in fact, have an affect on your brand. For good or bad.

A lot of people were left with a bad taste in their mouths from that experience, and that simmering flavor of discontent seems to be carrying over into the 20/21 ski season.

There’s a lot of grumbling going on about the parking reservations that are now required. The design of that system was a matter of choosing the least-bad option among a slew of bad, COVID-related options. But so far, it seems to be working pretty well.

Some of Mt. Bachelor’s competitors chose differently.

As one Facebook friend posted, “at least we don’t have to drive up to the mountain and spend two hours in our cars in order to NOT get to ski, like you do at Timberline.”

Even though Mt. Bachelor has tried hard to manage people’s expectations for a COVID-style ski season, I think the brand it going to take another hit. Sometimes the customer’s expectations are just unrealistic.

What the Mt. Bachelor team needs to do, right now, is OWN the unknowable.

They simply don’t know how the parking system is going to work in the long run. They don’t know what’s going to happen with the COVID restrictions. They don’t know what affect the weather will have on their capacity or how well people will heed their call for cooperation and patience.

Almost nothing is certain. They are winging it, and there’s no other way to describe it.

Might as well own it. Might as well just admit that the ski season is going to be a mess.

honesty in political advertisingIn this era of Facebook falsehoods and the ridiculously amplified online grapevine, over communicating is better than under communicating.

Silence can chip away at your brand credibility.  Like ice on a lift tower, eventually it’ll all come crashing down on your head.

I get the impression that the Mt. Bachelor team is holding some information back, because they’re afraid it’ll be wrong.

The situation is just too dynamic, and things are changing too rapidly. They don’t want to have to back pedal and retract anything.

That’s understandable, but maybe they need to shift their perspective on that.

In a situation like this, “We Don’t Know! ” is an acceptable answer. It’s not back-pedling if you set the expectation, up front, that you’re probably going to be changing directions. Many times.

Here’s the message I’d go with…  “Look, we’re trained to deal with a lot of unpleasant circumstances here at Mt. Bachelor… We have contingency plans for everything you can imagine, but no one imagined this. There is no playbook for any of this, so we’re calling the audible, every day.”

“Bear with us while we provide the best experience we possibly can, under the circumstances. It might not be the brand experience you’ve come to expect from Mt. Bachelor, but we’re doing our absolute best.”

So here’s the take-away from a branding standpoint…

Transparency is what people want from brands. It’s what we love to see from any company we do business with.

‘Pivoting’ is just part of the program this year, in any industry. Deep down, even your biggest critics know that and they’ll cut you a little slack.

Every chance you have to fix a problem or right a wrong is an opportunity to build your brand.

And finally,  the Mt. Bachelor brand is strong enough to weather this storm too.

 

Yeah, but what about the naked guy dangling from a lift in Vail???:

www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/06/vail-chairlift-accident-l_n_155578.html

Here’s more on branding in the ski industry.

 

 

1 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

Branding Fundamentals – The ABCs of Branding are RCD

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

Branding fundamentals begin with Relevance.

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

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

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

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

Wisely, Preston doesn’t worry about that.

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

Relevant to few, but highly valued.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brand differentiation BNBrandingBranding Fundamentals: Differentiation.

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

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

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

Product/Service Differentiation

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

Operational Differentiation

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

Business Model Differentiation

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

Marketing  Differentiation

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

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

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

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

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

WantMore on the importance of branding and branding fundamentals?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branding the Olympics – leading by example in sports marketing

brand credibility from branding experts

 

In the world of sports marketing one event rises above the competition in terms of branding and worldwide audience appeal… the Olympics.

If you’re thinking of sponsoring a sporting event, signing an athlete as as spokesperson, or marketing your own sporting event, you can learn a lot by studying what the International Olympic Committee does.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be built, and a sub-brand to be designed and marketed.

No other brand in sports marketing can match the symbolic power of those five, multi-colored Olympic rings. One could argue that the Olympics, in fact, is one of the world’s strongest, most meaningful brands. Here’s why:

• Differentiation: The Olympics are dramatically different than any other sporting event.

If you’re marketing any kind of event it better be differentiated from all the other events that are vying for people’s time and attention.

The Masters at Augusta National is different than any other golf tournament. The IronMan Triathalon is different than any other endurance race. LeMans is different than any other car race. And the Olympics are compellingly different:

• More variety.  There’s something for everyone during the two-week span of the Olympics, from mainstream running events and soccer games to exotic, high-adrenalin sports like skeleton and common household games like badminton and table tennis. There’s something uniquely engaging about watching garage games performed at such a high level. Everyone’s played ping pong, but not like they do in the Olympics.

• The Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup. There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they pay hundreds of millions for sponsorship rights, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand at the track, or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

• Authenticity: Branding the Olympics so they mean something beyond just winning.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But the brand goes much deeper than that.

Branding firm BNBrandingOlympic competitors take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event.

They willingly put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central theme of the Olympic brand. Even though the line between amateur sports and professional sports is now blurred, it’s still relatively pure.

Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are professional track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.

The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA or NFL.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

The 2012 London games was the most-watched television event in U.S. history. 40 million Americans watched the opening ceremonies, and NBC’s primetime broadcast averaged 31.1 million viewers a night for a total of 219.4 million viewers. Worldwide, the estimated number was 900 million viewers, according to Reuter’s.

At the Rio Games in 2016 342 million people worldwide watched the opening ceremonies.

By comparison, the most-watched Super Bowl was the 2015 match up between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. That game drew 114.4 million viewers in the U.S., and an estimated 30-50 million internationally.

In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.

• Brand Credibility:  A gold-medal history of unscripted, authentic storylines of ordinary people.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregon

Bend, Oregon’s hometown hero, Ashton Eaton. Decathalon Champ dubbed the world’s greatest athlete.

It’s always interesting when superstars like Tom Brady or LeBron James win another championship. But those guys are from another planet.

Olympic athletes, and their stories, are far more relatable and compelling for the average Joe or Mary at home.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment.

At The Olympics the narrative remains consistent: National pride. Lifelong dreams of glory. Individual triumph over adversity.

Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature.

But not every Olympic story is positive. There has been plenty of heartbreak and unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996.

The 2010 Vancouver Games started with a fatal crash in during luge training. And now, for the first time since World War II, a complete postponement of the Games, thanks to COVID 19.

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0But every time the Games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002.  As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

•  Branding The Olympics — how the games remain relevant after more than 100 years.

There have been hundreds of iconic moments in the history of the modern Olympic Games. Jesse Owens winning Gold in Berlin, in 1936, with Hitler in the stands. Micheal Phelps, with 23 gold medals. The U.S. win over Russia in hockey in 1980.

The stories are what keep the games relevant.

I’m a big fan of the Winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since.

Back then, Klammer’s gold medal run in the downhill was the biggest thing in adrenalin sports. But these days, you have  the X Games, all sorts of hair-raising Red Bull events and a constant barrage of edits on YouTube to pull attention away from Olympic sports.

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

The Olympics has adapted, and upped its game to keep pace. They added snowoarding events and freestyle jumping, and wisely cut some of the most boring stuff, like the compulsary figures in ice skating.

No doubt about it, there’s plenty of danger in the Olympics.

Try plunging head first down an icy, serpentine track on a sled, at 70 miles per hour, like they do in the Skeleton competition.

Try throwing a quadruple-twisting triple flip on skis.

But that’s not what draws so many viewers or corporate sponsors year after year. It’s the mix of danger and artistry. The skill of an archer and the brute strength of a weight lifter.  It’s the juxtaposition of a 7-foot basketball player parading in next to a tiny little gymnast. It’s small, African nations contending with the big, powerhouse countries.

That’s why the Olympic brand is what it is.

For more marketing lessons on brand credibility, try this post on the Brand Insight Blog.

 

 

2

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

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

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

Brands of love John Furgurson BNBranding blog post

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Brands of love - Howard Head - BN Branding

Howard Head

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

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

That’s branding.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Even root canals would be a more pleasant experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

brands of love on BNBranding's brand insight blog

In focus groups people talk about love all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the Lovemarks website. 

Guerrilla marketing in BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

brand personality of the Duck Dynasty brand on the brand insight blog

Cammo brand personality (Duck Dynasty goes high fashion.)

How do you know when the alignment of the planets has gone completely askew? When the guys from Duck Dynasty are featured in GQ magazine.

brand personality - tips from the Brand Insight BlogYessir. The Robertson clan has risen from the swamps of Louisiana to the pages of GQ.

On one page you have Bradley Cooper, “the prettiest man on the planet,”  throwing the F word around and the next page you have the the kings of cammo quoting bible passages and promoting their own, quirky brand personality.

What’s next, Forbes?

Oh, wait. They’ve been there, done that too. A branding coup, for sure. Proof that

Back in November 2013 Forbes reported on the irrepressible creep of camouflage into homes and wardrobes of Americans everywhere. Walmart’s best-selling piece of apparel in 2013 was a Duck Dynasty t-shirt.

I recently saw a line of camouflaged living room furniture.

Overall, the Robertson family’s Duck Dynasty merchandise has raked in $400 million in revenues. They had the most popular show in the history of reality TV, pulling in 13 million viewers at its peak— more than American Idol, Survivor, the Breaking Bad finale. Even more than Hunny Boo Boo.

For awhile there, the Duck Dynasty Brand was everywhere. And the brand personality has become legendary.

 

 

The Duck Dynasty brand has deals with WalMart, Target, Kohls and many smaller chains. 1200 products in all, from ear buds and books to their original Duck Commander duck calls. For holiday season branding Hallmark launched a line of Duck Dynasty cards and ornaments and the family recorded Duck The Halls, an album oduck dynasty brand personality on the brand insight blogf holiday music featuring the Robertsons singing songs like ‘Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas’ alongside George Strait and Allison Krauss. That’s the type of brand affiliation that pays dividends.

What’s the secret to success for this good ol’ boy brand? As the old saying goes: “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”

Middle America, and more specifically the NASCAR nation, is a massive and wildly lucrative market. WalMart’s proven that, and the Robertsons have done a good job parlaying their little bird hunting niche into mass market appeal.

Three things really stand out about this brand: Authenticity, Personality, and Visual Appeal. If you’re going to turn your business into an iconic brand, you need all three.

Brand Personality

In the GQ profile the Robertsons are described as “immensely likable, funny and even cool.”  To me, the best thing about this family, and the brand they’ve built, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. The guys know they’re a bunch of knuckleheads, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes the show so appealing. Funny human foibles of everyday folks make great TV.

Brand Authenticity

Say what you will about Phil Robertson’s “enthusiastic” religious beliefs and stance on any given political issue, but he’s authentic. No apologies. And the whole brand is absolutely true to the family values he has instilled. They are not trying to be all things to all people and their aw-shucks honesty is appealing.

“They are remarkably honest with each other and with the viewing audience,” GQ reported. “Uncle Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, Jep’s boozing and drug use in college, and Phil’s early years of hell raising are all out in the open. And the more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.”

Most companies try to hide behind a facade corporate double-talk, and shield the public from the brand’s shortcomings. The Robertson’s just put it right out there.

Visuals are a key element of any brand personality.

Consistent, memorable visuals are essential building blocks of great brands. The Robertson’s would not be where they are today without their immediately recognizable ZZ Top beards and cammo wear. They stand out in a crowd like a turkey at a duck hunt.

The beards are a key component of their branding. Plus, those are good looking guys behind those beards. Not Bradley Cooper beautiful, but attractive enough to appeal to the female audience. And they have beautiful wives.

brand personality BN Branding

Phil and his CEO son Willie know that this 15 minutes of fame may be fleeting. The lifespan for this type of show is typically not more than five years, so as Michael Stone, CEO of Licensing Agency Beanstalk so aptly put it, “they have to make hay while the sun shines.”

Phil told GQ: “Let’s face it, three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever.”

Sure enough, the show is ending its run in 2017.

So the question is, what will the Duck Dynasty brand become once the show and its merchandise tie-ins have died? They’ve done a good job of managing the current onslaught of opportunities, but how will they do in the long-run. Will they maintain the brand personality they’ve established? That’s the real test.

Will the Robertsons go back to just the core business of making Duck Commander duck calls? Will they leverage their popularity into an entire line of Duck Dynasty brand camping, fishing and hunting gear? Or maybe Phil will retire from the family business and just travel around, hunting and preaching?  The possibilities are endless.

I just hope it doesn’t involve cammo colored business attire.

For more insight on brand personality, try THIS post. 

Want to build your own iconic brand? Call me at BNBranding.

4 Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

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

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

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

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

Brand Insight Blog Apple's new HQ

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

brand alignment Chiat Day building in Venice BNBranding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they dropped in, unexpectedly.

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

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

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

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

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

And vice-versa.

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

TVA Architects BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

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

Easier said than done.

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

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

Your brand needs a bible.

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

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

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

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

Or new interiors, for that matter.

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

The same goes for marketing.

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

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

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

If you don’t have one, call me.

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

The brand impression.

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

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

 

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