Tag Archives for " successful brands "

1

“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

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. 

Bend BN Branding Logo

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

Deschutes Brewing Going National (How to grow without selling your soul.)

Bend, Oregon is a small town better known for big fun than big business. There are only a few local brands that have grown to national prominence. It’s fitting that one is a craft beer.

When it comes to craft brewing and brewery marketing, Oregon is the undisputed leader. And Bend is #1 in Oregon, with the most brewpubs per capita in the country.  (28 at last count, with at least a dozen more in the works. Bend’s population is 90,000.)

brewery marketing in Bend, Oregon by BNBrandingIt all started 30 years ago when Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery. Since then, Deschutes has grown into the 6th largest craft brewery in the country, and the 11th largest U.S. brewery, period.

That’s big. And with the planned building of the new Deschutes Brewery in Roanoke, Virginia, it is getting bigger all the time.

So here’s the challenge: How do you grow rapidly and build a national brand without alienating the home-grown early adopters who got you started?

Oregon’s full of them… influential beer snobs who drink a lot and blog about hop crops, IBU counts, and the relative benefits of barrel aging.

 

 

I sat down with Jeff Billingsley when he was the Director of Marketing at Deschutes Brewing, to discuss the Deschutes brand and the lessons learned from his career in brewery marketing.

Billingsley is one of the only employees at Deschutes that has experience in “Big Beer.” As a Brand Manager for Coors and then Miller/Coors, Billingsley managed some well-known brands, including Miller High Life, Keystone and Hamms before joining Deschutes in 2012.

“After the merger at Miller/Coors the company was completely financially driven. It was all about the bottom line,” he said. “When I started at Deschutes it was just the opposite. The brewmasters ran the show, and they concerned themselves with brewing the best beer, not managing to a certain margin.”

Brewery marketing -Deschutes Brewing goes national Of course Deschutes wouldn’t be so successful if they didn’t have some processes in place. Billingsley said the team has become more business minded in the past few years, but the culture at Deschutes still is firmly rooted in the craft of brewing and the cult of the brewmaster.

“We (in the marketing department ) don’t identify market opportunities and say, “brew this.”  Billingsley said. “We still let our brew masters do what they think is right and try to guide the category, rather than follow it. Gary Fish (Deschutes CEO) has always believed in that. Just because there are many breweries killing it with IPAs doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do.”

Brewery marketing has never been so tough. The competition in every craft brew category, from IPAs to stouts and sour beers, is fierce.

There are now 3,040 craft brewing companies in the country, and that number is expected to double in the next few years. Everyone’s jumping on the local beer bandwagon, and the mind-numbing number of choices is becoming one of the biggest challenges for Deschutes — and everyone else.

“There’s tremendous growth in the industry right now, and every market we enter has some good, local brewers that we have to compete with,” Billingsley said. ” I think the local movement is more of a threat than our bigger competitors. We can’t talk to beer geeks in markets outside of the West Coast. To those people, we haven’t established credibility. We’re just another brewing company trying to come in and steal business from the little local start-up.”

Billingsley said that being entrepreneurial is one of the keys to competing on a local level in any market. It also comes from the top at Deschutes. Gary Fish was named Earnst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.

brewery marketing blog post by BN Branding“It’s a much more entrepreneurial environment than I imagined it would be,” Billingsley told me.

“We really are empowered to try new things.” That’s one of the keys to Gary’s success. We’re less focused on what the competition is doing, and more focused on what WE should be doing. That’s what motivates our people.”

“You have to define winning for yourselves, on your own terms. For us, winning isn’t just about market share. It’s about the experience of our fans, it’s about maybe getting people to try something new, as much as it is about volume.”

Billingsley said the company recently went through a “deep dive” of self examination and research to get a clear picture of their corporate culture and their brand. They hired a new ad agency out of Boulder Colorado and will be introducing new packaging and new advertising in the coming months.

So what is the single most important thing?

DeschutesIPAForayBelgianIPA“Understand what your brand really stands for, stick with it, and find the right execution that fits that. Don’t change who you are in order to chase a market or some new opportunity.”

As the old saying goes, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. At Deschutes, that’s the”damn tasty beer.”

Their craft beer continues to win awards at the most prestigious national and international brewing competitions. Their two flagship beers, Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, do well in every market they enter. Their downtown Bend Brewpub had its biggest month ever in August. And most importantly, they’re introducing new flavors that keep the Deschutes taps relevant even for the most discriminating beer lover.

According to brewery marketing data by the Brewer’s Association, Deschutes currently has three of the top 15 new craft beer brands. I personally think they’re killin’ it with Foray, their seasonal,  Belgian style IPA. D-licious. Deschutes.

Note: This is not a paid post on brewery marketing, although I happily accept gifts in the form of free growler fills.

For more on brewery marketing and more examples of successful local brands that have gone national, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

8 visual cliches Brand Insight Blog

How stock photos sabotage your brand image – Beware of visual clichés.

BNBranding logoEvery business needs photos… (Your brand image can’t be built on words alone.)  Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to free stock photo sites. Doesn’t matter if the images are for the website, ads, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts or powerpoint presentations, they go to the same source every time.

The problem with cheap stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying “I’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s nothing new or interesting here.”

How many times have you heard this cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your blah, blah, blah needs.”

Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.

brand image and visual cliches of stock photography - Brand Insight Blog

Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.

Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.” The image above is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.

Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world.  ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.

Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.

Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right. And it’s always a better creative product.

Unfortunately, clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.

 

Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.

“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”

“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.

“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “Those photographers want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”

The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?

“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.

Let me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business?

What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?

The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.

brand image golf industry photography by BNBranding and Dogleg StudiosI’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.)

There are thousands of decent stock images of golf we could use. And these days, everyone seems to think that drone footage is the answer. But stock photography or drone fly-overs are a dime a dozen.

There’s nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.

So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska at Dogleg Studios sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny.

This shot is a good example. It exemplifies everything that this club is all about. Sure, it’s a beauty shot of the golf course, but it’s also a story of friendly competition, camaraderie, social life and hope.

I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas…

If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.

tips for new logo design by BNBranding

So the next time you’re thinking that another stock photo will help your brand image, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.

Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it.

The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images.

The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand image will be better for it in the long run.

Another option is to develop your own, proprietary graphics that actually tie-in to the brand identity. For instance, at BNBranding we use a series of images like this to help drive home our points, without resorting to stock photos that are nothing more than borrowed interest.

I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: johnf@bnbranding.com.

If you want to learn more about brand image, try this post. 

If you want help polishing the brand image of your company, call me: 541-815-0075

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