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5 The ultimate franchise retail branding experience – like a kid in a candy store

bn branding's iconic logoMy annual Christmas shopping excursion always eventually leads me to one place: Powell’s Sweet Shop. To me, it’s the ultimate example of successful retail branding. (And it’s not even called Powell’s any more)

lovable franchise brands Ben & Jerry’s has a lot of appeal  in the summertime, but Powell’s resonates with me on a completely different level.

To me, it’s a mood-altering drug.

It’s virtually impossible to leave Powell’s without feeling warmer, younger at heart, and at least a little giddy. It’s more fun per square foot than any store I’ve ever seen.

Franchise Industry consultants call Powell’s Sweets “an involving retail experience that taps into deep-seated emotional connections with long-forgotten childhood brands.”

They are banking on the power of nostalgia to sell everything from collectable lunch boxes and Pez dispensers to gelato and old-fashioned candy. They have all the brands you haven’t seen since childhood, and all the flavors that linger in the palette of your memory.

 

 

Powell’s is a store full of  stories. And vivid, authentic stories are the main ingredients of success for franchise retail branding.

As I browse through Powell’s, or even just peer in the window, the stories come flooding back… My little sister, hair in braids, eating Fun Dip in the back of the station wagon.

My older sister hording her tube of Flicks. The penny candy selection at Jack’s Country Store.  The red, black and purple licorice I loved so much at summer camp.

That stuff sticks with you.

successful retail branding from the Brand Insight Blog

Powell’s always has Willy Wonka playing on the TV in the back of the store.

But Powell’s triggers more than just memories. It also triggers the imagination.It ignites the senses and conjures a latent, childlike creativity in us that gets beaten down by the demands of modern society.

Not too many retail stores can honestly say that.

Maybe that’s why I go back every year. Maybe that’s why I want to linger so long.

It’s not just satisfying my sweet tooth, it’s filling a need for creative inspiration and optimism. I can feed off the energy of the kids and the delight of the parents. There’s laughter and smiles and buzz you just don’t find at the Starbucks next door.

Unfortunately, the Powell’s website doesn’t capture any of that laughter and buzz that I’m raving about. Their site is a boring, disconnected piece of corporate communications that wouldn’t move anyone to do anything. (I hope they’re working on a refresh!)

So what can you learn from a little candy store in downtown Bend, Oregon?

You want customers to tell stories about you. You want products and service that create lasting memories. You want positive word-of-mouth that’s more powerful than anything you can say yourself.

Here are a few, random reviews of Powell’s from Yelp.com:

“Move over Disneyland – this is the happiest place on earth.  I feel like I step into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time I come here.”

“This candy store rocks. It has everything you want especially if you’re looking for some candy that will blast you right back to your childhood.”

“The best candy shop. Period.”

Retail branding in a candy store BN Branding“I want to hug the person who came up with the concept of this store…they are pure genius and manage to put a huge smile on my face the minute I walk through the door!”

Interestingly, the nostalgic theme of every Powell’s store seems to work equally well on children. Because the appeal of it is timeless.

The candy that we thought was so cool, still is. The element of surprise and the sense of discovery works just as well now as it did 30 years ago.

That’s why brick and mortar retail stores will never go away… they can deliver a sensory experience that can never be duplicated on the screen of your phone or computer.

It’s sensory branding… the cumulative effect of the smells, the sights, the colors, the selection, the sounds and the flavors that trigger that flood of fondness.

So if you’re trying to build an unforgettable retail branding experience, I’d suggest a visit to Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Just soak it all in, eat some sweets, and see what happens.

For more on ecommerce, try this post.

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1 balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

The Yin & Yang of Marketing – Are your efforts in balance?

BNBranding logoIn Eastern philosophy yin yang represents the concept of duality. Two halves working together toward wholeness and harmony. It’s the dance of opposites — where seemingly contrary forces are actually complementary.

marketing strategy vs. tactics: yin yang of marketing

Like marketing strategy and tactics.

“Wholeness” — ie optimal results — is only achieved when you strike that delicate balance between the two. When the marketing tactics flow naturally from the strategy.

If your marketing efforts are predominantly tactical, without adequate strategy, you’ll be throwing money at ill-conceived tactics. Ready, fire aim!

If your marketing efforts are tipped the other direction, you’ll spend all your time preparing, planning and aiming, without pulling the trigger.

When you employ both halves of the marketing equation you can touch a glorious chord of emotion while still employing a data-driven strategy. It’s old-school story telling balanced with new technology and analytics.

Right-brain creativity with left-brain analysis. Yin and yang. Marketing strategy and tactics. One cannot live without the other.

All marketing programs are a mix of strategy and tactics, but most small business owners gravitate heavily toward the tactical side of the equation. They forego the strategy part for several reasons:

• Because they can’t do it themselves or they don’t understand it.

• Because they perceive it as being too expensive.

• Because they don’t have time… too many other things to do.

• Because they don’t see the value in it.

They skip the most important step to save a few bucks, but they pour a lot of money into tactics.

They use social media specialists and graphic artists to produce content. They purchase TV time and digital ads. They produce videos for YouTube and run radio ads, but there is no thread of continuity. No consistency of voice or message. No strategic platform from which to work.

No yin yang balance.

balance your marketing tactics and strategy with BNBranding

Therefore, the effectiveness of each tactic is compromised.

Let’s look at some of the opposing, yin yang elements of any good marketing program:


Inward vs. outward.

Many businesses are too inwardly focused when it comes to marketing. Instead of addressing the needs, wants and emotions of their prospects, they talk about themselves and their industry. It’s all me, me, me, me, with a bunch of jargon thrown in for credibility purposes.

Not only that, outward facing marketing tactics and messages are often out-of-balance with the internal operation of the company. The ultimate success of your brand doesn’t hinge on what the marketing people say, it hinges on what you actually do. When you do great things, effective marketing messages are much easier to come by.

So what are you doing internally that your marketing department could build a strategy around?

Emotional vs. analytical marketing.

If you want your marketing strategy and tactics to balance, you can’t underestimate the influence of feelings.

Many business owners operate as if cold, calculating characters like Spock make all the buying decisions. They line up the spreadsheets, produce some charts and graphs, and expect facts and data to do all the work. But it NEVER does.

balance your marketing efforts with BNBrandingThe latest brain research — fMRI testing — proves that emotion commingles with reason, even in rigorous business-to-business purchasing decisions. In fact, many studies show it’s emotion that triggers action.

As one writer put it, “emotion is in the Oval office while the rational brain is in the press center, justifying the decisions that have already been made.”

Trust is not a rational thing. Trust is a feeling. And it’s trust that builds brand loyalty.

Simon Sinek says it succinctly, “Most companies are quite adept at at winning minds; all that requires is a comparison of features. Winning hearts, however, takes more work. That starts with WHY. People don’t buy WHAt you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Fast vs. slow

Some tactics need to get done quickly. For instance, social media posts are often very time sensitive, so there’s not much consideration for craftsmanship. Promotions are also short-term. TV commercials or print ads, on the other hand, demand careful attention to detail, so you need to leave time to do it right. Branding is a long-haul play.

Strategy also takes time and thoughtful consideration. Strategic issues arise when the strategy is rushed to accommodate the tactical to-do list. Confusion and credibility issues arise when the tactics are produced in a vacuum, with no strategic guidance. All yang, and no yin.

 

 

Positive vs. negative.

Some marketers believe that you should never mention the competition. Always stick to a rosy picture of positivity, they say.

But there are some strategic situations that demand a negative approach to execution. Sometimes it’s simply stronger to refer to someone else’s weakness than to talk about your own strengths.

The yin & yang of competition is often the most poignant and effective approach for campaigns.

All great brands have arch enemies. Coke has Pepsi. McDonalds has Burger King. Apple has Microsoft. Don’t shy away from that just because you’re afraid of offending someone. Better to offend some, than be invisible to everyone.

That said, you can’t have a marketing campaign that’s completely negative, all the time. Especially in small town. It’ll probably come off as snarky.

Male vs. female

A comedian once said that women make 80% of all the decisions — and they have veto power over the other 20%.

Keep that in mind when you’re working on tactics, planning your strategy and building a brand. Women remember things! And they’ll attach very strong emotions to those memories, so you better not piss them off.

On the other hand, if you show genuine empathy, and make them feel good, they’ll be great brand ambassadors for you. And don’t forget… Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram skew heavily toward women.

Yin Yang is not static. Neither is your marketing.

The nature of Yin Yang flows and changes with time. So does your marketing. Sometimes it’s stop and go.

Some initiatives are purely tactical, while others are more strategic. Factors outside your control can change your strategy completely or rob you of tactics that you once counted on.

The seasonal nature of most businesses means that tactics may be bunched heavily into one time of year, while planning takes place another. Not only that, goals can change dramatically from one year to another. So you can’t just upload the same marketing plan year after year and expect it to work. You can’t keep running the same ads on the same shows or websites.

The balance point is always shifting. Hot & cold. In and out. Yin and yang. Enlightenment is achieved only when marketing strategy and tactics come together.

If you’re wondering about your own balance point, give us a call. Let’s start a conversation about your brand. 541-815-0075.

Read more on marketing strategy and tactics.

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BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

TMI – How information is killing your advertising

brand credibility from branding expertsContrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. In fact, too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.

Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.

Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep with blog posts and white papers. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

too much information in advertising and marketing

Lead them gently down that primrose path to conversion.

Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.

Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the factoids.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively.

Terrible execution though.

The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.

Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.

If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.

Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will.  Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.

A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information:  unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

“Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”

The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.

And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.

“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.

“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”

I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”

The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.

So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!

For more on this subject, check out THIS post

Under Armour marketing — Sailing into a big, blue ocean of opportunity.

BNBranding logoKevin Plank, founder and former CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…

“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said.  “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing.  I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”

Under Armour marketing strateg on the Brand Insight BlogThe Under Armour marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on.

It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own.

Under Armour marketing strategy on the brand insight blog

And Plank kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to introduce new products and expan

d the Under Armour marketing strategy. It wasn’t until years later that they entered the footwear business and the golf business and the fashion business.

That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That was Under Armour marketing in a nutshell… Stretchy Ts for football players. 

 

 

Plank didn’t have to explain the Under Armour value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.

Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.

It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” 

Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…

“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.”  “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” 

Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely…

“Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”

Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy.

The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players in tough tee shirts. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.

When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.

Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses.

They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer.

The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.

Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.

Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”  Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.

Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.

Uner Armour marketing on the brand insight blogSo the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that…  Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?

Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. Go where the enemy isn’t. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks. 

For more on effective marketing strategy, Try This Post.

 To put this idea to work for your company, give us a call. Our branding process starts with a simple, affordable brand assessment test drive.  541-815-0075

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2 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website Design & Development – How to make websites work on many levels.

BNBranding logoIt’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.

These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.

The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.”  In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.

So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…

The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.

The same can be said for your local, “Google My Business”  listing. It’s very important to cover the basics on there, in addition to your website. I can’t stress that enough for those of you who run retail businesses… More and more, people just do a quick, local Google search and skip the click-through altogether.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. Your website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.

Here’s an example:  Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

website design on the brand insight blog

 

But here’s a completely different buying scenario:  Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there,  so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a dramatically different set of needs and expectations.

Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior.

So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.

 

Website design for the first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high.  They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website design for the conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinctive” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography.  It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for?  What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

BNBranding - too many marketing opportunitiesThe deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization.  This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.

Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.

The conversion level.

Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product.

So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.

Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.

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2 What marketers can learn from the Olympics — Branding and the Olympic Rings.

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. I’ve even watched some of the curling and ice dancing (yikes).

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists.

But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.

 

There have been plenty of 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. In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a with a fatal crash in during luge training. And now, for the first time, a complete postponement thanks to COVID 19.

The Summer Games will be back next year, and

But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. 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.

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.

The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating the brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

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.

Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. 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. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

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. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are 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. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.

And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.

Corporate America could learn a thing or two.

• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, 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 paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

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.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregonThe competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to 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 element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.

• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.

The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent:  Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.

With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.

For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.

The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including  a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

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 it goes much deeper than that.

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.

What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.

When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.

 

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

 

 

3

When Branding outpaces the brand. And vice versa.

First of all, let me address the common confusion around the two “B” words in this article’s headline: Brand and branding.

The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with logo design. You’ll hear someone say, “Oh, we’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. A graphic design exercise.

Branding is much more than that.

Branding refers to everything that’s done inside the company — and outside — that influences the perception of the brand.

All marketing tactics fall under the banner of branding. (Just because it’s “salesy” doesn’t mean it’s not branding.

If you redesign the product, that’s branding.

If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding.

Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your brand.

So branding is not the exclusive domain of the marketing department. It’s not even the domain of  your employees… consumers, vendors and partners often do the branding for you, in the form of tweets, posts and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

For this post I’d like to focus one small but crucial aspect of branding:  Design. (Yes, art does have a place in the business world!)

nest-thermostat-11There’s no denying that design can make or break a company. Just look at what NEST has done… Started in 2010 with simple, brilliant designs of everyday products and sold for $3.2 billion producing a 20x return for its investors.

And yet the simple brilliance of a great product designer, the flair of a graphic artists, the effect of an illustrator, and the poetic power of  a great copywriter is often overlooked in favor of finance guys and programmers.

The work of these commercial artists is ridiculously undervalued in the corporate world.

Probably because it’s part of  a completely irrational, subjective realm that many data-driven executives are not comfortable with.  There’s too much intuition and blind trust involved. (You can’t show ’em charts and graphs that prove the new design will work. And let’s face it, evaluating art is not exactly in the wheelhouse of  most business owners or C-level execs.)

So what happens, most of the time, is the design lags behind the brand.

 

 

While the business is moving quickly forward, the brand identity, packaging and advertising get stuck in the past. Then the managers, in an after-thought, say jee, maybe we should re-do our logo.  (Whereas with NEST, design was an integral part of the brand from the very beginning. It’s no accident that the founders of NEST worked at Apple.)

Tazo brand design and branding on the Brand Insight BlogOccasionally, when there’s a really great design firm or ad agency at work, you’ll find design that outpaces the brand.

Here’s an example:

When Steve Smith first started  Tazo Tea he approached designer Steve Sandstrom and copywriter Steve Sandoz to do some “branding.”  (i.e. the usual name, logo and package design exercise for a new product line.)

But when that creative team was done, Smith realized something… “Wow, this is really nice work. I think I need to start making better tea.”

The tea guru could envision the success of the new packaging, but not with the product as it existed at the time. The branding had outraced his product.

brand and branding of Tazo Tea on the Brand Insight Blog So the owner of Tazo did what all enlightened business owners do… he followed the lead of his design team and started making a better product. He m

ade sure his tea was in line with his brand identity.

That identity was a brave departure from anything else in the tea market at the time. It was outlandish. And yes, it was completely fictional. And yet, it helped make TAZO the #1 selling brand of tea in the country. They nailed it on several fronts:

Differentiation: The Tazo packaging resembled nothing else.

Mystery: The tone of the brand was mysterious and intriguing.

Creativity: When you’re creating a brand from scratch, it helps to employ a little creative license. Without it, you’d have a boring, fact-based brand that wouldn’t stand out.

Alignment: The product was tweaked to align with the design of the brand.

02_19_13_Tazo_7Smith eventually sold TAZO to Starbucks, and look what’s happened to the packaging.

Will it move off the grocery store shelves and maintain market share? Probably. Does it fit into the Starbucks brand design guidelines? Sure.

But the mystery is gone.

Here are some samples of our brand identity work.

For another article about outstanding branding, try THIS post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

Zappos holistic branding

Where branding begins — A holistic approach to branding and business.

A lot of business owners seem to think Branding begins with graphic design. As if the logo or the sign above the building is the be-all, end-all of branding.

Of course, that’s not the case. Branding begins much earlier and continues, unabated, as long as the company is in business.

Branding begins with or without your concerted effort.

For start-ups Branding begins with the first conceptualization of the business… With that ah-ha moment of clarity that drives an entrepreneur to devise a new solution to a problem or to strike out on her own.

Even if all you have is the germ of an idea for a company, you’ve already started the branding process.

Even if you’re operating completely “under the radar” or in super-secret, can’t-tell-you-or-I’d-have-to kill-you mode.

Even if you’re purposely not doing any “marketing,” there’s still some branding going on.

 

 

 

 

The minute you start thinking about Branding, you start taking a more holistic approach to your business.

There aren’t very many entrepreneurs who worry about where branding begins. They don’t think about building a brand based on concrete brand values and a well thought out brand personality. They just want to solve a pressing problem, build a better mouse trap, or change the world somehow. (And, of course, make a cool billion.)

The branding thing happens along the way. Often by default.

Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, admits that he knew nothing about branding for his first 20 years in business. It wasn’t until the late 80’s, after a few significant missteps, that they began to think holistically about what the Nike brand was all about.

“Just Do It” summed it up quite nicely.

 

Where does branding begin? Zappos holistic brandingNick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos, didn’t set out to build one of the greatest customer service brands of all time. He just wanted to ride the ecommerce wave and sell a shit-ton of shoes.

Four years into it, under Tony Hsieh’s leadership, it was decided that the Zappos brand should be 100% focused on customer service.

“Do we want to be about shoes, or do we want to be about something bigger?” Hsieh posited.

“We just wanted Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service. So culture became our #1 priority. We thought if we could get the culture right, then building our brand to be about the very best customer service would happen naturally on its own.”

“We ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really two sides of the same coin.”

 

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.” – CEO Tony Hsieh.

Once they agreed to make customer service the sole purpose of Zappos, and embraced a holistic approach to branding, the hardest managerial decisions got a lot easier.

There’s an old saying, “Values mean nothing till they cost you some money.” The Zappos leadership team was willing to sacrifice easy money in the short-term in exchange for something much more valuable in the long run; an authentic brand.

“In 2003 25% of our overall sales were from our drop ship business. It was easy money, but it created a lot of unhappy customers,”  Hsieh said in his book, Delivering Happiness.

“We all knew, deep down, that we would have to give up the drop shipping business if we were serious about building the Zappos brand around customer service.”

They were taking a holistic, values-driven approach to building the business. And  initially, it cost them. 25% of their revenue, to be exact.

The relentless focus on customer service differentiated Zappos from every other ecommerce operation.

It guided how Zappos treated their vendors, how they hired new employees, and how they spent their marketing budget.  Even the location of the corporate headquarters was moved in order to support the idea of customer service.

“We needed to make sure the entire company was customer service, not just one department,” Hsieh said. “So we moved our entire headquarters from San Fran to Vegas,”

In fact, nothing in the Zappos operation was UNtouched by the decision to build their brand around one, unifying principle.

naming your company BN Branding

 

Here’s an important branding side-bar to the Zappos story:

It was Nick Swinmurn’s idea to sell shoes online. He approached Hsieh for funding when Hsieh had Venture Frog VC fund. At that point, it was called “ShoeSite.com.

Seriously.  Classic 1990’s era naming convention… just let the URL be the brand name!

Luckily, it also was Swinmurn’s idea to rename the company “Zapos,” based on the Spanish word Zapatos. According to the account in his book, Hsieh suggested they add a p for pronunciation purposes. That’s how Zappos was named.

I seriously doubt it would have grown into the iconic brand it has become with a name like ShoeSite.com.

 

Tony Hsieh has been called a lot of things…. “visionary,” “eccentric,” “obsessed,” “The king of customer service,” “guirky”  enigmatic.”

Fortune Magazine said Hsieh’s management style was so “whackadoodle” they couldn’t believe Amazon would tolerate it.

At one point, Hsieh’s board of directors almost ousted him because of his so-called “social experiments.” He told Inc. Magazine that “the board wanted me to spend less time worrying about employee happiness and more time selling shoes.”

His holistic approach to building a brand might not appeal to some old-school VC guys, but it sure worked. The fact is, Hsieh’s relentless pursuit of happiness is precisely what propelled the company’s sales.

To him, it was a simple equation: Sales growth hinged on customer service, and service hinged on happy people. So for Zappos, that’s where branding begins… with a culture that fosters happiness inside, so they can deliver unequaled customer service, and thus happiness, outside.

With it’s core purpose clearly in the lead, Zappos became the digital-age benchmark for customer service. It’s the Nordstrom of the 21st century.

They deliver WOW every day and their model is now emulated by thousands of companies around the globe. Every day there’s a new ecommerce start-up pitching the idea in their own, niche market…

“We’re going to be the Zappos of pet supplies.”

“We’re going to be the Zappos of sporting goods.”

Go get ’em. Just remember… Branding starts right here, right now.

a new approach to website design BNBranding