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Archive for the ‘brand elevation’ Category

Time for your weekly BrandBuilder reality check.

There are only two types of businesses: The ones you know are the best in their category, and… everyone else.

Advertising and marketing are nice, but too many “also in” businesses waste money on marketing and advertising when they should instead revamp one or two elements of their business that would help them actually gain market share. (The most pleasant and efficient customer service experience in your industry, a perfectly designed user interface, a 100% uptime guarantee, stunning design, impeccable ergonomics, remarkable flavor, etc.)

Advertising is basically a load of bulls**t unless you have something worth advertising to begin with. (Otherwise, what are you advertising: Hey, come buy from us! We’re the thirteenth best shoe store in the 29601!) You’re either the best at something, or you’re just another voice in the crowd getting fleeced by just another run-of-the-mill ad agency or “marketing firm.”

Before you start spending money on advertising, ask yourself what your super-special value to your users/customers/clients truly is. Maybe you have the best prices. Maybe you have the most comfortable meeting rooms. Maybe you have the most square footage of any gym in your area, or the freshest produce, or the most knowledgeable staff, or the fastest check-out. It doesn’t matter what that something is as long as it is something concrete (as opposed to another lame marketing spinfest). Is that one thing truly hitting the mark? Are you really delivering on it as well as you could? As well as you should?

Whatever your value differentiator is, whatever your brand’s value advantage is (or should be), this is what you need to invest in FIRST. Once you have that aspect of your business nailed down, THEN and only then should you even bother with advertising.

About a year ago, Seth Godin posted some great advice to college grads on his blog: Only borrow money to pay for things that increase in value. A pair of shoes or cool clothes never increase in value. An education or professional experience, however do. Great advice, especially in the crux of our current economic/credit crunch. The same applies to businesses, which is why Seth’s advice is so damn relevant to the discussion today.

Perhaps more relevant to today’s topic is a slightly tweaked version of Seth’s advice: “only invest in things that increase in value.”

Like shoes and clothes, advertising never increases in value. With advertising, you are at best buying a small percentage of the public’s attention across a very narrow sliver of space and time (and paying a premium price for it.) Before you know it, your advertising budget is gone, and so is that very expensive bubble of attention.

Investing in better products/services, better people and better processes, however, makes a whole lot more sense as these things never lose value. Great employees, great products, great customer experiences and fostering a unique relationship with your fan base are the types of things worth investing in. These are the true foundations of a great brand. These are the types of things that will help strengthen your brand equity.

Advertising rarely translates into brand equity unless these foundations exist to support it. Even so, the more solid the brand’s foundation, the less relevant advertising becomes.

Starbucks doesn’t advertise much and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Whole Foods ad anywhere, yet millions of people drop solid stacks of greenbacks there every year. I don’t shop at Target, wear Rudy Project sunglasses, drive a VW or crave a BMW because of advertising. Other than creating awareness for a product that hasn’t managed to capture anyone’s attention yet (red flag), advertising does little to impact most companies’ growth. Do they create spikes in interest, eyeballs and sales? Sure. When executed well. But growth? Over time? Nope. Growth is a completely different animal, and advertising alone, boys and girls, won’t get you there.

Building a strong reputation by developing great products, buzz-worthy experiences and generally delighting customers/users is a much stronger strategy than paying loads of cash for advertising.

Something to think about as you prioritize items on your budget for H2.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 🙂

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BRAND DOOM GAME

Design For Users‘ Kristi Colvin (@kriscolvin on Twitter) had some pretty powerful brand management advice recently that is well worth sharing here. Check this out:

The heart of a brand, like that of an individual, is vulnerable. It must be both soft enough to prove genuine caring, and strong enough to withstand scrutiny and adversity. But it is your core offering – not your products and services – and if you aren’t in touch with and know what’s in the heart, establishing lasting relationships with customers will be difficult or hit and miss. Do you want a shallow relationship with the people that interact with your brand, or a sympathetic bond that can withstand conflicts?

The connection between brand loyalty and a healthy bottom-line being what it is, I can’t really think of a better question to ask a CEO or brand manager every time they come to a strategic crossroads.

In other words… This type of introspection isn’t just something company execs should go through once a year or at the start of every new business cycle, but rather every single time a decision needs to be made within the company.

(I am already hearing the question germinating in your brains: What if hundreds of decisions have to be made every day? My answer to you is simple: Once a day or a thousand times per day, there is no difference.)

If you’re looking to save time, feel free to distill the question down to its core: “What would our customers want us to do?”

You just can’t go wrong with that kind of mindset.

Look at it this way: There is absolutely no decision anyone can make within a company that this question cannot be applied to. None. Why? Because every decision you make impacts your relationship with your customers. The software you use. The way you answer the phone. The speed with which you respond to complaints. The way you design your website. The way your product is packaged. The way you treat your vendors and partners. The people you hire. The people you promote. How clean your bathrooms are.

Everything.

Every time you are considering a new hire, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are considering cutting cost out of your model, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are about to respond to a crisis, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

(Ideally, you want to be able to ask them directly, but that will have to be the topic of another post.)

Once you get into the habit of addressing every question, every problem, every crisis in this way, life gets a whole lot easier. Suddenly, you find yourself not needing to set up so many meetings. You find your reaction time greatly enhanced. You find that taking your ideas to market takes a whole lot less time.

You also find that you don’t have to work quite so hard to earn more business (new and repeat business).

Again, from Kristi:

“Engaging people from the heart of your brand, being vulnerable and forging true and lasting customer relationships are what will keep companies alive and thriving through good times and bad times.”

This isn’t touchy-feely rhetoric. This is as real as it gets. It’s how Starbucks used to do it. It’s how Zappos does it. It’s how the next generation of firebrands will do it.

And if you still aren’t convinced that what you read here today makes good business sense, here’s another question you might want to ponder: If you don’t do what’s best for your customers today, what will your customers do?

Everything you do either gives your customers a reason to do business with you or do business with someone else. There are no neutral-impact decisions.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to eat your lunch.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to earn a better reputation than you.

Don’t give the other a guy a chance to write your eulogy when you finally find yourself circling the drain in what used to be your market.

Even if you don’t buy the whole “higher calling” thing we’ve been talking about lately, understand that your customers are constantly judging you and THEY care. Being better, friendlier, easier to do business with is just good business. Treating your customers like cattle when so many other choices exist for them now will get you nowhere fast.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

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1235991697_e4f2b25ba1_o

Here’s a sobering little bit of reality:

“A study by Bain & Company found that 80 percent of companies surveyed believed that they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. But, when customers were asked to indicate their perceptions of the experiences they have in dealing with companies, they rated only 8 percent of companies as truly delivering a superior experience (James Allen, Frederick F. Reichheld and Barney Hamilton, The Three “Ds” of Customer Experience, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, accessed Nov. 7, 2005). Do you sense just a little bit of disconnect?”

(Thanks to John Winsor for catching this some time ago on Seth Godin’s blog, who himself had wisely nipped it from Jim Barnes.)

8% vs. 80%.

… Which is probably the same percentage of companies thinking their advertising, marketing, PR or Social Media “efforts” are solid vs. what the rest of the world thinks of them. (What some of us like to refer to as “reality.”)

Delusion to the nth degree.

By the way, statistically speaking, if you are reading this, you are 10 times more likely to be in the 80% group than the 8% group. Don’t blame me for the bad news. It’s just basic math.

A few pointers to help you figure out where you stand:

If you haven’t seen continuous double-digit growth for the last three years, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If you don’t know at least 10% of your repeat customers by name when you see them, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If you don’t know exactly how many people mentioned your company’s name on the web since the start of this month, your are probably NOT in the 8% category.

If you find it painstakingly difficult to get trade publications to write positive stories about you, you are probably NOT in the 8% category.

If your customer service people yell or complain more than theysmile or laugh when they get off the phone with customers, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If your executives are not being invited to speak at industry events on a regular basis, you are NOT in the 8% category.

If your customers are increasingly pressuring you to lower your prices to match your competitors’, you are NOT in the 8% category.

Starting to get the picture?

Time to do something about it, perhaps? 😉

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Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

The topic of “what is a brand” or “what do we mean when we say brand” comes up pretty often, so I am always on the lookout for a clear explanation of the term… or at least an explanation that can help frame it for people who aren’t 100% clear what brand really is. (Is it a logo, symbol or mark? Is it a promise? Is it a marketing gimmick?)  Depending on whom you talk to, you might get a completely different answer.

This time around, let’s have Tom Asacker share a few insights on the subject:

A brand is not a logo, and branding is not a communication strategy. A strong brand is a strong bond, and branding is your business.”“To those with a dated, mass-market mentality, branding is still all about image and awareness. It’s about tag lines, logos, cute little animal mascots or clever jingles. It’s about spending megabucks on Super Bowl commercials, hiring celebrities to sing your corporate praises, and covering cars with advertising banners. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that awareness is unimportant. (…) But, does well-known equal strong? Not any longer. The rise of the global economy [and] the rapid adoption of the Internet have ignited commercial innovation, and put an end to those days forever. Today, like just about everything else, brand logic has been turned on its head.”

“And please, don’t get hung-up on the word brand. Today, the word brand is shorthand for the gut feeling people have about something, some group, or someone. It’s a kind of Platonic Ideal, which stands for the essence of a business, school, organization, person, or even place. If you add up the tangible and intangible qualities of something – the gestalt – and wish to represent the meaning and distinctive character this greater whole conveys to its audience, today we call it . . . brand.

“Think of your brand as a “file folder” in your audiences’ minds (not a perfect metaphor, since memory is malleable, but stick with me anyway.). When they’re exposed to you (e.g., through advertising, design, a salesperson, word-of-mouth, etc.), a feeling is immediately filed away in that “brand file folder.” As time passes, much of what your audience has filed away – the details – will become inaccessible. However, they will remember where they stored the folder: in the front (positive feelings) or pushed to the back (negative feelings). Given the sheer volume of brands trying to find a place in your audiences’ overloaded “brand file cabinets,” you must not only get their attention and be relevant (a file folder labeled with your brand name), but you must also get it placed in the front of their file cabinet (elicit strong, positive feelings of intense personal significance).

“(…) Despite what the Madison Avenue folks may tell you, the strength of your brand lies not in the fact that you own a folder with your name prominently displayed on it. Repetition does not create memories, relevance does. The strength lies in your folder’s position in your audience’s file cabinet (the emotions that linger in their memory). The strength lies in the bond! So make your brand about feeling, not just familiarity. Make it about shared values and trust. About honesty, vulnerability and presence. A brand is not simply a promise. How can it be, with everything changing at breakneck speed? A brand is a living, breathing relationship. Revel in the messy world of emotions and create a brand that’s about leadership and differentiation; about customer insight and radical innovation; and about clarity of purpose, passion and a sense of humor.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wow. Is it really Friday already?

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pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. 😉

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Seattle, by Olivier Blanchard - 2008

Check out these great bits of advice from Dave Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog:

“Deciding: ‘Familiarize yourself with common decision-making errors—such as going along with a group choice to maintain cohesion. Watch for tendencies within yourself to commit such errors.’

Leaders make bold decisions. They see them through, and if they aren’t working out, they make new decisions. The worst thing you can do for your career is make no choices or let your choices be made for you. Taking a passive approach to your goals is unlikely to result in success. Even if you make a bad decision, it’s better to mess up and learn from it than to remain stagnant. Failures are great opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world. Move ahead by choosing wisely and boldly.”

(If you’re asking yourself… yeah, cool career advice, but… what does this have to do with branding, hold on. I’m getting to it.)

“It takes someone who believes in herself and her ideas to challenge the status quo. These are the people who shake things up and change them for the better. You don’t have to be contentious to challenge. The best way to suggest changes is not to bash the old ways, but to offer new and positive ideas.

If you are part of a team working on a project that you believe could be going more smoothly, step up and present your ideas. Most likely, everyone will be excited to approach the work from a new angle. And you will begin to earn a reputation for innovation.”

Still not catching on? Okay… Let’s try one more:

“In the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

What separates the dazzling winners from everyone else is that they are able to envision a grand future. What turns them into winners is that they are able to leap into that future and do the hard work necessary to make it great.

Particularly for die-hard realists and people who have been trained (by parents, friends, or spouse) to be ‘responsible’ and ‘stable’, indulging in imagination can be difficult. For every idea that’s even mildly revolutionary, a little voice chimes in, ‘Impossible. You can’t do that. That’s stupid. It’ll never work.’ Quiet that voice and spend some time ruminating on your wild, far-out, fanciful ideas. Great leader do things that no one before them has done.”

Still no? Tsssk… Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Substitute “brand” for “career”. Everything that Dave so brilliantly recommends is exactly the kind of advice that you can put to good use in building strong brands – from ‘brand you’ to the next retail darling, iconic consumer good or dazzling web application.

Brands aren’t built in a vacuum. They aren’t built by functionaries. They do not thrive in stagnant bureaucracies. Brands are built by empowered visionaries. Brands are built on enthusiasm, conviction, and courage… Or they are doomed from the start.

You are the heart and soul of the brand you represent and serve. If you want your brand to be a market leader, you must be a leader in your job as well. Your qualities are your brand’s attributes. Your weaknesses are its flaws. Everything you are, everything you do, affects its success and future.

So… don’t ever let anyone turn you into a tool. Challenge everything. Question every assumption. Wage war on routine and bureaucracy. Accept no compromise…

… and read Dave’s blog. It’s a good one.

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image by ilisu

I don’t always agree with Seth, but sometimes, he completely nails it:

“As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Chances are that you’ve forgotten what made your company or services or products so different. So unique. So good.

Chances are that your success has driven you away from those early days, when being different from everyone else, when being better was what it was all about.

Back when taking care of every new customer was like going out on a first date.

Chances are that you’re more focused on aligning your pricing to that of your competitors now than you ever were.

Chances are that you’ve started to copy their every move. You advertise where they advertise. You offer the same services they offer. The closer you get to beating them, the more like them you become.

Chances are that you are slowly becoming a clone of the very people you once thought sucked.

Here it is again, with just a slight little change:

As soon as you start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, you become indistinguishable from them. As soon as you decide that you can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Stop.

Take a breather.

Go back to the start.

Are your products still the best? Are they still unique? Is your company still unique? Are you who you promised yourself you would be when you started?

Are you still earning attention, or do you have to resort to buying it?

As Mike Wagner would say: “Own your brand.” Don’t give it away. Don’t hand it over to your competitors or your marketing partners. Don’t let it get beaten up by market pressures or other dark ‘mysterious’ forces beyond your control, whatever they may be. Choose to be great. Choose to be the best. Choose to be remarkable. Choose to make the right decisions, even if they tend to be the most difficult, and even sometimes the scariest.

Owning your brand is tough work. It’s passionate work. It’s nothing short of a damn life-affirming mission – but it is the only way it works. If you aren’t fully committed to it, if your people aren’t fully committed to it, then you’re already treading precariously along a very slippery slope. Stop. Find your footing. Turn around. Go back to the start. Learn to be great again.

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For a little while, the folks at BrandPerspectives.com had a great little blog on Branding. They haven’t posted to it in a very long time, but some of the stuff they did post there is still up and well worth a look, so go check it out.

One of their last topics dealt with Developing a Culture of Brand Performance Accountability (which… was actually the title of their post. Ahem.)

Here’s the meat of the post:


“Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (…)

Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
ongoing research.

For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
level.”

There you have it. Too few companies focus on assessing where their brands stand… And it’s obvious which companies do it, and which companies don’t. For the first batch, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Apple and Virgin, for starters. In the other batch… well… throw-in the companies you’ve never heard of.

There is, however, one thing that struck me about the post. In its original version, it mentions (customer) loyalty twice. Hmmm… Loyalty… That tricky little word.

There seem to be two schools of thought in regards to customer loyalty, these days: The first believes in it. The second thinks it’s dead. Both sides have very smart and insightful things to say on the subject. But… who’s right?

Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. Think sports teams. Think Ford vs. Chevy. Think Playstation vs. X-Box. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.

Think dog people vs. cat people.

Think Republicans vs. Democrats.

Yeah, brand loyalty is alive and well. But unless you have two superbrands battling it out and inviting you to take sides, forget it. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.

Without the element of archetypal supercompetition, without a corporate nemesis, brand loyalty is simply irrelevant.

Here’s a simple example: Most people love Google… Most of the searches that lead people to this blog come from Google. But because Google doesn’t have an arch-nemesis, no one is driven to be loyal to it. People simply use it. Loyalty isn’t an issue.

What you might mistake for brand loyalty is a lot more likely to be about customers’ habits, penchant for convenience, and comfort.

Remember that customers are people. People like patterns.

Once customers find something they like, something they can incorporate in their routine, that’s exactly what they do. Even I, Mr. Agent Of Change, Mr. Try Something New, shop at the same stores regularly. I read the same blogs. Return to the same TV shows every week. Hang out with the same friends. I even like to get gas from the same places.

You get the drift.

We’re humans. Ergo, we are creatures of habit.

Here’s how it works: You have your routine. One day, your routine gets disturbed. You alter it and try something new. (The store was out of your usual brand of olive oil and this forces you to buy another brand. Your favorite airline doesn’t have any flights available, so you have to book with another one.)

Outcome A: You like the new brand better and adopt it.
Outcome B: You don’t like the new brand better and return to your usual one next time around.

In other words, it takes a significant event for us to CHANGE our habits.

It takes a catalyst.

That catalyst could be a glowing recommendation from someone we trust. It could be a really cool ad. It could be the result of an unexpected shortage in the original product. It could be an accidental discovery. It could be the influence of a cultural phenomenon.

Check out the wheel of brand interaction. What it shows is a complex but repetitive pattern of purchasing behavior. The slinky-like spiral is a brand exposure/interaction pattern we go through either daily or weekly. Some brands are closer to our comfort zone (and lifestyle) than others. (Some brands, we have only superficial contact with, while others we have regular contact with.)

Occasionally, a catalyst will force one of the tentacles of slinky-like spiral pattern to either shift, or reach out a little further than normal.

Marketers spend most of their time focusing on designing some of these catalysts: Think POP displays. Advertising. Package design. PR. Promotions. Coupons. “Branding”. “Co-branding”. Licensing. Sponsorships. Establishing a presence at trade shows and special events… or just across the street from your office. Sampling. Buzz marketing. Giveaways. Swag. New product features. New product styling. New technology. Special edition releases. You get the idea.

It’s kind of a three-tiered cycle:

Phase 1: Building the brand’s contextual foundation – The idea is that exposure to brands will make us more likely to incorporate them into our routine. Familiarity, after all, breeds trust and comfort. (As in “oh yeah, I’ve never tried it, but I know that brand.”)

Phase 2: Triggering the change in purchasing habits – Give people a reason to try your product, and make it easy to do so. (Note: Some companies purposely bypass Phase 1 and focus their energy on impulse buyers.)

Phase 3: Cross your fingers and hope the product is as good as you claim it is. You only get once chance to make a good impression. The best marketing in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Read ground zero brand-building to know what I mean.

People buy what they know, like and trust. They also tend to crave what they think will make their lives better. (That could be a red BMW convertible or a chrome-plated iPod or a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses.) More often than not, purchasing habits are based on perceptions, expectations and experience, not loyalty.

Put simply, we tend to buy what we know only until we find something we like better. Brand loyalty is really brand comfort.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: What are you doing to make your customers not want to consider switching over to other brands?

(Or if you’re trying to attract new customers, what are you doing to make your competitors’ customers want to consider switching to you?)

Does your brand evoke the same level of excitement and customer comfort as Target, Starbucks, Apple, Whole Foods and Virgin?

If not, why not?

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