Category Archives for "BRANDING"

1 naming services from BNBranding advice on naming

Age-old advice on how to name a new business.

Let me guess… you want to hang up your own shingle. Or you have a great idea for a start-up, but you have no idea what to call it. This might be the closest thing you’re going to find to a DIY guide on how to name a new business.

Bend advertising agency blog post on Claude HopkinsEons ago, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins said “a good name should almost be an advertisement in its own right.” Now, 100 years later, recent studies in behavioral economics and psychology show that many of his theories were dead on.

There’s a proven correlation between a memorable name and market value of the company.

Fortune 500 companies have figured that out. They pay naming firms huge sums to concoct new words that eventually become iconic brands. Those firms employ teams of poets, neologists, writers, comedians, behavioral psychologists and linguistic experts to come up with names like “Acura” for Honda’s luxury car division. “Pentium” for an Intel Processor. “Viagra” for, well, you know what.

Small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and Marketing Directors of mid-sized firms don’ t have that luxury.  Often they try the do-it-yourself approach. (How hard can it be, right?) Or worse yet, they have a contest. They throw the fate of their business into the hands of a faceless crowd that knows nothing about their business model or brand personality.

Naming is one of the toughest creative disciplines you’ll ever find. Alex Frankel, in his book Word Craft, said “naming is like songwriting or Haiku, but it’s even more tightly constrained. You have to evoke shades of meaning in very small words.”

In other words, you really can’t teach the average business owner how to come up with a great business name. It’s even hard to teach a great writer to do naming projects.

Analytical people have a very hard time coming up with business names that have any nuance at all. Their brains simply aren’t wired for the lateral thinking it takes to concoct a name from nothing. So they usually end up borrowed names using terms with very literal, unimaginative meaning that wouldn’t pass muster for old Claude Hopkins, much less a skeptical, modern consumer.

The most common trap is the local, “tell ’em where we’re at” business name…  Just borrow a geographic location, and tack on what you do.

In my town it’s “Central Oregon” blank or “High Desert” anything: Central Auto Repair. High Desert Heating. Central Oregon Dry Cleaning. High Desert Distributing. And almost every brand identity involves mountains.

In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate Heating or Bay Area Brake Service. In Seattle it’s Puget Sound this and Puget Sound that.

Unless there’s absolutely no competition in your local area, there’s no differentiation built in to those names. Might as well be “Acme.”(A lot of companies have names that begin with the letter A, due to the old yellow pages listing criteria. I’m glad that’s no longer relevant)

bend oregon branding firm blog post about naming your new business

How to name a new business – Law firm no-nos.

Another naming trap is the business owner’s last name. If it’s Smith, Jones, Johnson or any other common name, forget about it.

If there are a bunch of owners or partners involved, forget that too. You don’t want to start sounding like the law firm of Ginerra Zifferberg Fritche Whitten Landborg Smith-Locke Stiffleman.

If every partner has his name on the door it’s virtually impossible for the human brain to recall the brand. And it’s just not practical in everyday use… Inevitably, people will start abbreviating names like that, until you end up with alphabet soup. Can you imagine answering the phone at that place. “Hello, GZFWLSLS. How can I help you.”

However, there are times when the last name of the partners can work.  Here’s the criteria:

1. The last names themselves must have some relevance, credibility and value in the marketplace. 2. The two names must sound good together. 3. The two names put together don’t add up to more than four syllables. 4. They can be connected into one, memorable name.

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

My firm has a client we named MorrisHayden. Both those names are highly recognizable and trusted in their local real estate industry. Literally weeks after they hung up their sign, they had people calling, saying “yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.”

The Morris and Hayden last names together fit every criteria, but those cases are very rare.

Traditionally, the goal of a good  name was to capture the essence of your positioning and deliver a unique selling proposition, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. Precisely what Claude Hopkins had in mind.

Examples: Mr. Clean, A1 Steak Sauce, ZipLoc, Taster’s Choice, Spic & Span.

But literal names are getting harder and harder to come by. The playing field is getting more crowded, forcing us to move away from what the words literally mean to what the words remind you of.

As Seth Godin said, it’s “The structure of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Now the goal is to coin a defensible word that can acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages.”

Examples:  Apple, Yahoo, Jet Blue, Google, BlackBerry, Travelocity.

Frankel says, “the name must be a vessel capable of carrying a message… whether the vessel has some meaning already poured into it or if it stands ready to be filled with meaning that will support and idea, an identity, a personality.”

Starting out, the name Dyson was an empty vessel. Now it’s forever linked with the idea of revolutionary product design in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and who knows what else. The brand message behind that company is very clear. This is not your mother’s vacuum cleaner!

So here’s the deal… The first rule of thumb for how to name a new business… Before you start thinking of names, think about the core brand concept.

If you haven’t already pinned down the underlying premise of your brand — the value proposition,  the passion, the values,  the promise — it’s going to be very hard to come up with a great name that works on several levels.

So get your story straight first. Hire someone to help you spell out the brand platform. That’s the place to start. Then, whoever’s doing the name will have something more tangible and enlightening to go on.

naming services from BNBranding advice on naming When you nail it, the naming process really is magical.  Throw enough images, sounds, thoughts and concepts around, and you come out with that one word that just sticks.

Look what BlackBerry did for Research In Motion. That distinctly low-tech name helped create an entire high-tech category. I’m sure there were plenty of engineers there who didn’t initially agree with the name choice. But those dissenting voices were silenced when BlackBerry became a household word, and their stock options paid off.

 

Click here for more on how to name a new business from the Brand Insight Blog.

If you want a memorable name for your new business, one that can become an iconic brand, give me a call at BNBranding.

2 Marketing Resolutions (3 easy paths to better branding)

new years resolutions for better branding2017 promises to be a great year for business owners and marketers who are willing to follow a few simple resolutions. I could have written a dozen or so, but that would go against the number one resolution for better branding:

• Resolve to be short and sweet. (Whenever you can)

There’s a proven paradox in marketing communications that says:  The less you say, the more they hear.  So stop with the generalities and the corporate double speak. Instead, try plain English. Hone in one specific idea and pound it home with powerful mental images and just a few, relevant details.

Behavioral scientists have shown, time and time again, that our brains are hard-wired to discard information. Malcom Gladwell touches on this “unconscious intelligence” in his book “Blink.” And Bill Schley spells it out nicely in his book on micro-scripts.

The human brain has a very active built-in editor, so if it sounds complicated or confusing, we just discard it.

The brain automatically defaults to the simplest, fastest, most understandable messages. So sharpen your pencils, discard all the superfluous nonsense and get the heart of the matter. That’s the key to better branding… Use fewer elements. Simple words. And images that can be “read” at a glance. Because the message with a narrow focus is the message that’s widely received.

Don’t get me wrong… there are times when long copy is absolutely the best answer. But even when it’s long, it needs to be direct and to the point. Not a roundabout of facts, figures and corporate nonsense.

tips for better branding on the brand insight blogResolve to stop boring people.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to convince you that boring stuff doesn’t sink in. Usually, if you follow resolution Number One, you’ll avoid this problem pretty easily.

The new year is a great time to refresh and rethink your marketing materials. That old Powerpoint deck you’ve been using… toss it out and start from scratch. Those tired stock photos… commission a pro to replace them. Those little pay per click ads you’ve been milking along… gone. That website that hasn’t been updated in years… don’t shed any tears over that.

Sure, you’re creating more work for yourself, or for a qualified marketer, but the process of re-inventing is well worth it. Without even thinking about it you’ll integrate what you’ve learned this past year and improve things dramatically.

Remember, you can only get their attention and hold their interest by using unusual, distinctive, and unpredictable stimuli. Just the opposite of boring stuff.

Resolve to tell stories.  

bend ad agency portfolioHere’s another way you can avoid boring ’em to death: Tell good stories. Stop reciting data and repeating industry cliches and start using original narratives and colorful metaphors to get your point across.

Stories trigger emotions. Emotions demand attention.

Telling a good story is not that hard. Think about it…You’ve been telling stories your whole life, just probably not in a business context. Everywhere you turn you’re entertained and engaged by stories. Every game you watch is a story. Every YouTube Video and every comic you read has a story. Even email exchanges can become convincing stories.

Storytelling is a wildly undervalued in the corporate world. But if you look at the brands that have been most successful in any given market, they’re all good at telling stories. As are the leaders of those companies.

Think about the role your company plays in stories of your best customers, your key suppliers and even your biggest competitors. Are you the Ruler or the Reformer? The Maverick or the Mentor? The Guardian or the Gambler?

Those archetypes show up in every story ever told.

What’s your story this year, and how are you going to tell it? Do you have a David & Goliath story you could be telling? Or maybe a coming-of-age story. Imagine how well that would play, relative to another, boring Powerpoint presentation.

Resolve to stop throwing money at the latest, greatest deal of the day.

This is for retailers who are constantly barraged by offers to run more and more offers. Stop the madness!

Constant discounting is not going to help build your brand for the long haul, unless your brand happens to be WalMart, Kmart, or Dave’s Discount Deal of the Day Store.

tips on how to get better branding on the brand insight blogOtherwise, it’s just another way of screaming Sale! Sale! Sale! All the time. It undervalues your product, attracts the wrong kind of customers and sabotages your brand narrative. It’s like the cocaine of marketing. Is that the story you really want to be telling?

If you’re going to do Groupon-style discounting, look at it this way: It’s a short-term cash flow band aid. Nothing more. If your business is very seasonal it can help get you through the slow months, but it’s not a long-term marketing strategy, much less good branding.

Most business owners are beginning to see that. According to Fast Company Magazine, the daily deal industry is in a “healthy period of reassessment right now.”  In other words, there’s a big shake-out going on and even the big guys, Groupon and Living Social, are re-thinking their value propositions because their clients are not seeing sustainable results.

Most success stories in that business come from retailers who use daily deals as a loss-leader tactic… get them in the door with a discount coupon, then up-sell them into a much larger, more valuable product or service. But remember, the people who regularly use Groupon are bargain hunters, so that upselling idea may or may not work. For most companies, it’s a profit killer, not a growth strategy.

Obviously, there are hundreds of ways you can do better branding. But these three are a good start. Resolved to do at least one this year, and you will see results.

For more on how to do better branding, try THIS post. 

6 Jimmy Johns owns the idea of fast sandwich delivery

Want to build a brand? First, own an idea.

I think all entrepreneurs should study advertising. Entrepreneurs are full of ideas, and advertising is an industry of ideas…

Ideas on how to build a brand. How to build credibility and authenticity for existing brands. How to engage an audience and convert leads into sales. It’s those big ideas — paired with exceptional execution — that produce growth for clients and vault agencies into the national spotlight.

The same can be said for start-ups. Businesses that start with a big idea, and then stick to it, are the ones that become iconic brands.

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

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

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

For only about one dollar.

how to build a brand - own an idea like volvo owns safetyVolvo owns the idea of safety. That’s their clearly perceived position in the automotive market.

Even though driving an automobile is inherently risky, people believe they are safe in a Volvo. And that belief feeds the folklore that sustains that idea and brand image. Even though Volvo models have all the glamorous features of a luxury brand, they’ll never be seen as luxury cars.

Just safe cars.

Funny story about Volvo shopping… Some years ago I seriously considered buying a Volvo SUV for my family. I did the research and went to the local lot for a test drive. But the salesman blew it. He was so adamant about the brand’s safety record, he tried to convince me that Volvo actually used Swedish convicts as live test dummies.

True story, he claimed.  That’s how Volvo developed such a safe car… by crashing them with convicts at the wheel. Needless to say, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s luxurious ride couldn’t trump the salesman’s idiocy. I bought an Audi.

When Subway started they owned the idea of healthy fast food. It was healthier than McDonalds, and Jerod lost like a thousand pounds just by eating Subway Sandwiches.

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

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

It’s a core brand concept that’s easily demonstrable in advertising.
And that’s particularly important when it’s a category of parity.  The sandwiches at Quiznos, Tomo’s, Jimmy John’s and Subway are all pretty much the same.

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

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

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

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

Guess who owns the idea of sparkling white teeth?  It’s not Colgate. Not Crest. Not a toothpaste, at all.  It’s Orbit chewing gum, a fairly new brand from the master marketers at Wrigleys. The Orbit girl “cleaning up dirty mouths” campaign helped them capture the #1 spot in the chewing gum market.

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

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

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

Many big brands don’t own an idea at all.  JCPenny, or JCP as they’d like us to say, doesn’t own an idea. They’re trying desperately to be younger, cooler and more hip than they used to be, but the name change and the slick new execution of  of their print advertising doesn’t make up for the lack of idea ownership.

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

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

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

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

6 Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s post on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

truth in advertising on the brand insight blog top branding blogIn politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll just sling it back. Or the populace will simply look the other way.

In business, it doesn’t work that way.

Consumers are quick to call you out, via social media, if your advertising is BS.  And if you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass. Continue reading

3 Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBranding

Keen Footwear is a great branding case study. If the shoe fits.

Keen brand strategy on the brand insight blog BNBrandingApparently, I have peasant feet.  At least that’s what the nice sales person at REI told me… Back in medieval Europe, peasant’s feet were short and stubby, with toes that were close to the same length. The nobility, on the other hand, had narrow, pointy feet, with toes that tapered off like an Egyptian profile.

Keen shoes seem to be tailor-made for peasants. But I don’t think that’s part of the brand strategy at Keen.

I’ve purchased two pairs of Keens for work, one pair of sandals, and two pairs of light hikers because they fit my feet perfectly. I’ve never heard anything from Keen about fit. ( Or about catering to peasants, for that matter.) Instead, the Keen brand strategy revolves around the theme of the “hybrid life.” Continue reading

2

Branding Success (3 logical reasons why brands need more emotional thinking)

In the battle between right-brained marketing people, and left-brained finance people, the left brainers usually win. Our entire culture is driven by the left-brained rationalists. They have data, spreadsheets, and the graphs to support their decisions.

We have gut instinct, intuition, experience, taste, style and emotion on our side. But we also have some good, empirical evidence that suggests that branding success hinges on emotional thinking, not logic. In fact, in the three-step process, Gut – Heart – Head, the rational element comes in last.

Dodge Viper brand marketings Chrysler

The Dodge Viper was not an analytical decision.

Bob Lutz, former CEO of Chrysler and Vice Chairman of GM, said he vetoed the finance guys and made a gut decision to develop the Dodge Viper.

In a Harvard Business Review column, Lutz said “There were those at Chrysler who thought the budget could be spent more prudently, but those of us who looked at it from a right-brained, emotional perspective saw what the car could do for the company.”

“The best companies balance the perspectives from both sides of the brain when making decisions. The problems occur when the left brainers wield too much power in senior management.”

So here are some good, logical reasons to embrace emotional, right brain thinking in your business.

1. There is no such thing as a completely rational decision. 

Don’t kid yourself. Even when CEOs methodically assess every detail of raw data and attempt to be completely rational there’s still an element of gut instinct at work.

Spock-like analysis is tainted by knowledge of who did the spread sheets, where the data came from, what other, similar data they’ve used in the past, and a dozen other factors.

Humans make decisions in the blink of an eye, and every one is influenced by a hundred factors, beyond the facts.

We like to think we’re rational and fair in our decision making, but we’re not. The human brain reaches conclusions before we even know it has happened.

Before any conscious thought or choice occurs, we FEEL something. Something emotional and completely irrational. It might be curiosity. Amusement. Desire. Arousal, Or, quite possibly, repulsion. But whatever it is, it’s not rational.

So before anyone has a chance to analyze any of the facts, the adaptive unconscious has already sent a gut reaction coursing through their veins. The conscious, analytical brain doesn’t have a chance. Therefore, branding success hinges on powerful, immediate, emotional connections.

In Harry Beckwith’s book You, Inc. he says, “People don’t think, they stereotype. They don’t conclude, they categorize. They don’t calculate, they assume.”  And they do it quickly.

Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller Blink is all about that.

2. Simple is better.

An analytical approach to marketing communications is inherently more complex than an emotional approach. And in the battle between complexity and simplicity, simplicity wins every time.

When the guys in the white lab coats start wagging the marketing dog, you get fact-filled ads and mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations devoid of any emotion at all. There’s no heart in it.

In the absence of emotional context, listeners/viewers/users simply check out and move on to something that does resonate subconsciously.

Say you’re pitching a new idea to your bosses, or to a group of investors. You’ve analyzed the problem from every angle. You’ve devised a brilliant solution and written a compelling argument for it, backed with tons of data. But you never get past the snap judgment. By the time you get to slide #5 of 75, they’ve already made up their minds.

People don’t wait around for their analytical brain to kick in and say, hey, this is worth my time. That train has already left the station. The gut feeling of irrelevance has already won out, and that gut feeling is far more powerful than any most people care to admit. So branding success hinges on the gut.

3. Sometimes the data is just plain wrong.

The market research industry has revealed many useful facts over the years. But when it comes to predicting how new ideas or new products will be received, market research data often misses the mark.

Market research could not predict the success of this chair

When the Herman Miller Company first designed the Aeron chair, all the pre-launch research pointed to a dismal failure. It didn’t look comfortable. It didn’t look prestigious. People didn’t even want to sit in it.

It became the best selling chair in the history of the company and the inspiration for countless knock-offs and imitators. The branding success of the Aeron chair stemmed from the gut reaction of sitting in it. Their butts and backs were talking, which led to a love affair of customers who weren’t shy about sharing their passion.

And what about the famous marketing debacle called New Coke…

“Coke’s problem was that the guys in the white lab coats took over,” Malcom Gladwell  said.

First, Pepsi launched something called The Pepsi Challenge, and proved that people preferred the taste of Pepsi over the taste of Coke.  It was a brilliant move in the Cola Wars, and it provoked a bit of panic from Coke.

For the first time in history, the folks at Coke started messing around with their famous, patented formula.  They tweaked it and tested new versions until they had something that beat the flavor of old coke in every taste test.

The executives were absolutely sure they should change the formula to make it sweeter, like Pepsi.  The market research showed people would buy it. But as Gladwell says, in the most important decisions, there is no certainty.

It’s not the flavor that sells so much Coke. It’s the unconscious associations people have with it, including the advertising, the shape of the bottle, the brand’s heritage, the childhood memories associated with it… It’s THE BRAND!

The guys in the white lab coats at Coke-a-Cola didn’t take the brand into account, and they could not possibly imagine the fallout.

No one knew how much Coke-a-Cola was truly loved until it was taken off the shelves and replaced with “better tasting” New Coke.

This was 1985 — way before Twitter, Facebook and blogs — and still, the company was deluged with immediate customer rants.  “How dare you!” was the overwhelming sentiment.

Sergio Zyman, CMO at Coke-a-Cola at the time, called it “an enormous mess.” It took the company only 77 days to reverse their decision, and go back to the original, “Coke Classic.”

New Coke marketing failure

One of the all-time biggest branding failures

The fact is, if the leadership at Coke had listened to their instincts, instead of just the data, they never would have done it.

Which brings me back to Bob Lutz who said the all-powerful voice of finance is a familiar enemy to innovation.

“It’s a classic example left-brained thinking shooting its pencil-sharp arrows straight into the heart of right-brained creativity.”

For more on the emotional side of branding success, try THIS post. 

6 Small brands, big attitudes. How to create an XXL brand personality

What does it take to turn a typical small business into a powerful brand? Why do some businesses — with relatively mundane products and services — take off, while others stagnate?

Ben & Jerry on the Brand Insight BlogOften it comes down to brand personality. Or lack thereof.

When Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, it was personality and a little extra attitude that helped get the business off the ground.

Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Ben said “Every company has a responsibility to give back to the community.”  Those two simple ideas became the driving philosophy of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.

Over the years they’ve had a lot of fun with their crazy flavors: First it was Cherry Garcia, named for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.Currently, it’s Karmel Sutra. Imagine Whirled Peace. What A Cluster.  Magic Brownie.  Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack. And Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls, named after a Saturday Night Live character.

There’s authentic brand personality in every lick.

Needless to say, some people (including a few franchisees) were offended by the idea of Schweddy Balls on a waffle cone. But the company’s not shy. In fact, you could say that bravery is part of the brand personality.

Bend Oregon branding firm blog post on Ben & Jerry's

Controversial flavor of the month at Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry have never been afraid of a little controversy. They decided from the get-go that the company needed to stand for something beyond just making money. So they built their passion for social and environmental issues into the business model. That, by itself, differentiates their brand from the competition — and from 90% of the corporations out there.

You don’t see Baskin Robbins doing Free Cone Day for local charities. Or buying environmentally friendly freezers. Or supporting Fair Trade. Or railing against military spending. Or even occupying wall street. You won’t find Haagen Daz supporting a local school fundraiser.

In their book, “Double Dip,” Ben said “Modern marketing is a process whereby faceless, nameless, valueless corporations hire marketers to determine what the consumer would like their brand to be, and then fabricate an image that corresponds. But they still only get a sliver of the market, because their made-up story isn’t any more appealing than the next. With values-led marketing you just go out there and say who you are. You don’t have to fool people to sell them your product.”

That’s what you call an authentic brand personality.

Most business owners seem to think they should keep their personal views and beliefs out of business. But for Ben & Jerry, their personalities and personal moral code created a corporate culture that’s become a model for value-driven businesses everywhere.

Like on the opposite side of the country, at McMenamin’s in Portland, Oregon. If you’ve spent any time at all in Oregon you’ll know the name McMenamin’s… Brewpubs. Historic, landmark hotels. Great microbrews. Movie Theaters. Restaurants. Music venues. Hidden, hole-in-the-wall bars. And did I mention the beer?

brand personality of McMenaminsMcMenamin’s is a unique, regional brand that was started back in 1974 by two Portland brothers, Mike and Brian McMenamin. Like Ben & Jerry, they aren’t corporate marketing types or Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. They’re just normal, laid-back Oregon dudes with a shared vision and a taste for good beer.

brand personality from bend oregon advertising agency blog postFirst they had a small café in a run-down industrial area of Portland. Then, in 1985, they created the first post-prohibition brew pub in Oregon and ignited what is now a 22 billion dollar industry. Today they have more than 60 locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, many of which are undeniable destinations, in and of themselves.

One thing the McMenamin brothers have in common with Ben and Jerry is a quirky, earthy, anti-corporate attitude. In fact, there’s a conscious anti-branding ideology at McMenamin’s that, ironically, produces a distinctive brand experience.

Even though each property has its own unique identity, they all bear a striking family resemblance. Check into any of their hotels or just order a pint at any of their neighborhood taverns and you’ll know you’re at a McMenamin’s.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post on brand personalityThe vibe is distinct.  Appealing. Even irresistible.

Mike and Brian share a love of architecture, art, music, and good beer.  And they combine those elements in spectacular fashion at every location.

The brothers hate to see any cool old building go to waste.Their idea of fun is taking a dilapidated county poor farm in the unlikely town of Troutdale and transforming it into a 4 and a half star destination.

It’s not development, it’s historic reclamation.

At McMenamins, it’s not about the personality of the brothers, it’s about the personality of each property. The staff historian researches the story behind every property they purchase. Like the Kennedy School. The old Masonic Home in Forest Grove. The old Elks Temple in Tacoma, Washington. St. Francis School in Bend, Oregon. The history of the brand personality post from BNBranding, an oregon advertising agencybuilding and the neighborhood becomes part of the brand personality of every location.

The distinctive brand identity of every new property fits with the quirky look and feel of the overall brand. Not only that, when you walk into any one of their locations,  you’ll immediately notice the consistent identity and atmosphere in every little detail. The execution is amazing. Oregon is chock-full of brew pubs these days, but none can match the appealing atmosphere of a McMenamins.

You won’t find the McMenamin brothers doing publicity stunts or speaking engagements. They just stay under the radar and focus on doing what they do well… turning abandoned properties into thriving businesses. With good beer, exceptional experiences and a very loyal following.

brand personality post on the brand insight blogEveryday they get suggestions from fans across the country about properties that would be perfect for a new McMenamin’s.  And when one of their oldest taverns burned down, customers held a vigil in the parking lot. Brian McMenamin called the response “spine-tingling.”

brand personality

The artwork gives it away… obviously, a McMenamin’s project.

That’s brand loyalty!

And it doesn’t come from big, trumped up marketing efforts. It comes from doing things passionately. Consistently. And honestly.

As Ben & Jerry have said, “Only the quality of the product and the resonance a customer feels with the company can produce repeat business and brand loyalty.”

Big personalities resonate. But as the McMenamin brothers and Ben & Jerry prove, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to build a successful brand. You just have to be passionate about something. Because humans are naturally drawn to passionate people.

If you’re ever in Bend, Oregon, go to McMenamin’s Old St. Francis school and see if you can find the broom closet bar.

For more on how to build a brand with personality, check out THIS post.

18 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. 

2 Masterful Brand Management

It’s Masters Week —  the biggest week of the year in golf, and a tide-turning event for several brands. Most notably, this one:

tiger woods comeback logo brand video

The Tiger Woods logo for Nike

Over the last 9 months the Tiger Woods brand has, shall we say, strayed a bit. The “indiscreations” of Tiger’s personal life have cost his brand millions in endorsement deals, and even more in public goodwill. As one sports writer put it, “it’s the most dramatic fall from grace in the history of sport.”

For Tiger Woods and company, The Masters represents the perfect venue for a comeback, and an ideal brand affiliation.

See, Augusta National is considered hallowed ground. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of the golf world and its annual invitational tournament is like Easter Sunday with the Pope.  Every player and every “patron” out there considers himself blessed to be part of it.

Call it the halo effect… TW needs some of that sweet aroma of blossoming azaleas to rub the stink off of him.

The Masters Tournament Augusta NationalSo Tiger started the week in Augusta with a press conference. Every question was personal. Pointed. Charged. Every reporter wanted to rehash the events of Tiger’s private life. To his credit, Tiger’s responses seemed genuine and heartfelt. Not overly scripted. But it was obvious that his answers were thought out in advance. As they should be.

From what I’ve read, the CEO of Toyota, with all his PR advisors, didn’t handle things as well. Put the billion-dollar TW brand in that context for a minute…  Toyota execs withheld information that put their customers at risk of death, and the press was easier on them than Tiger.

Different rules apply to our sports heroes.

In any case, Toyota has 50 years of dependable performance and customer loyalty to help pull it through this little bump in the road. And ultimately, when it comes to Tiger’s brand, performance will trump everything else.

As soon as he gets back to his dominant form and wins a few of these majors, like The Masters, people will begin to forgive and forget.

Keep in mind, his personal brand bordered on superhero status before all this crap came up.  But every superhero has his kryptonite, and now we know what Tiger’s is.

The events of the last year have had a polarizing effect on the TW brand. The people who weren’t Tiger fans before really hate him now. And he seems to be universally despised by women.

However, among the men over 45 who make up 75% of the golfing public, he’s still  more admired than despised. He still gets a standing ovation on the 12th tee at Augusta. Still inspires awe with his performance on the golf course. And that’s always good for business.

From a brand management standpoint, the other thing that TW and company did this week was launch a new commercial.

In classic, Nike fashion, the black and white spot features Tiger, just standing there looking stoic, while his father’s words hauntingly ask the questions that the entire world has been asking: “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are… did you learn anything?”

The mainstream media and general public won’t recognize the voice and might see it simply as PR BS. Some have called it crass and creepy. Others are saying it’s  “Exploiting his father’s memory.”

But the general public isn’t the target. Die-hard golf fans will know it’s the voice of Earl Woods, reaching out from the grave, and for them, it will have the desired effect.

It’s common knowledge that Woods and his father were very tight. One of the most poignant moments in golf history came shortly after Earl’s death… Tiger won the British Open and before he get off the 18th green he broke down completely in his caddy’s arms, grieving in front of the entire world.

So my hat’s off to the guys at Weiden & Kennedy. I think it’s fitting that it’s his father posing the tough questions. In fact, the whole concept hinges on it. Any other voice over and the spot’s not worth running.

Then there’s the look on Tiger’s face. They’re not making him look heroic. In fact, he looks like a guy in the doghouse, licking his wounds. Taking his medicine.

I believe the spot works from a damage control standpoint. And as far as brand personality is concerned, it fits. Tiger never was great at dealing with the fans. Not the most popular guy to get paired up with. Not the most forthcoming with an autograph or quick with a smile.

In other words, he was no Lee Trevino or Phil Michelson.

One thing’s for sure, the new commercial has a high buzz factor. And it makes you wonder, would all this have happened if Earl was still around, keeping an eye on his superstar son?

I was never really surprised by Tiger’s misbehavior. Dissapointed, sure, but not particularly surprised. He’s a rock star, after all. How many rock stars stay at the top of the game without a blemish for 15 years?

Just saying.

The Tiger Woods brand is definitely tarnished. But no matter what they think of his commercials or his off-course antics, no matter what they write about him, Tiger’s brand will recover and thrive because he’s so amazingly good at what he does.

His performance will dictate the script of his brands success. It may not come this week at Augusta, but it will come.

Tiger Woods promises to light up a golf course like no contemporary player can. He’ll always be intensely passionate. He’ll give everything he has to every golf shot he hits, and leave nothing on the course.

But I don’t think the TW brand promise ever went much further than that.

7 Brewpub Branding: Messaging and attitude from Brewpub Beer Snobs.

I had an experience in a brewpub recently that was inspiring and insulting at the same time.

It proved that what you say, and how your front-line employees speak, can have a major impact on your brewpub branding efforts. And it proves that branding isn’t just a function of the marketing department.

Because it only takes one bad experience…

craft beer brands and branding tipsKeep in mind, this Oregon, where there are more brewpubs per capita than anywhere on earth. So craft brewing brands are plentiful and the competition is stiff.

If you don’t like the food or the service or the beer in one brewpub, just walk around block and try another one.

So a buddy and I popped into a brewpub for a burger and beer, après golf. We were parched.

The menu offered craft beers in all the usual colors and categories… a blonde, a red, an amber, a black, a pils, a pale ale, an IPA, etc. etc.  Each beer choice had its own whacky name and an elaborate advertising claims that left us scratching our heads…

“Two more pounds of hops per barrel!”

“ 20% rye malt plus five domestic malts and two Northwest hop varieties.”

Ooooookay. Time for a translation.

We flagged down the waiter and asked for his recommendation. We’re not new to the craft beer scene, but we were hoping for a a layman’s answer to a simple question: “What would you recommend for a hot summer day like today,” I asked.

fresh hops brew pub branding and marketing“Oh. Well, the Monkey Fire Red Amber Ale has FRESH Willamette Valley hops,” he said in a knowing, assertive, somewhat snobbish tone.

As if that’s all we’d need to know.

Awkward silence… Wow. I’m thinking, “Uhhhhhhhh. So What?

What does fresh hops mean to my thirsty tastebuds? How is that going to affect the flavor of the beer? Yeah, but which one’s more refreshing?

My friend and I looked at each other, pondered that one, and turned back to the waiter for elaboration. The grungy young man just stood there, looking at us like we were from another planet.

Give me a break. If I wanted this kind of treatment I’d drink fancy wine. It was like an episode of Portlandia. Everybody knows the benefits of fresh hops, right?

Wrong. Boy, did we feel stupid.

Rule number one of Branding 101: Don’t make your customers or prospects feel stupid. Nobody likes that. Even if they are dumb as a post.

It’s pretty much impossible to build brand loyalty when people feel excluded and stupid when they’re contemplating a purchase.

There are plenty of professionals who are good at making people feel dumb: Management consultants, financial advisors, IT guys, golf pros, and most commonly, attorneys and doctors.  It’s easy to make people feel stupid when you’re an expert in a field filled with jargon like medicine or law, but a waiter in a brewpub???

Why would a brewpub waiter obscure beer in a veil of jargon?

Maybe he thinks it increases the perceived value of their brewery. Or maybe, if he appears to be a complete beer nerd,  it’ll earn him a better tip.

It’s understandable, but contrary to the laws of good branding.

With great brands, customers feel included. Not excluded.

Companies like Apple openly invite everyone into the “club.” They don’t use high tech jargon that appeals only to early adapters and computer industry nerds, they use plain, everyday English that excludes no one. And once you’re in, you feel a genuine sense of belonging.

Unfortunately, a lot of business people feel compelled to overload their presentations, websites, sales pitches, ad copy and even waiter speak with esoteric nonsense that excludes everyone except the people within their own company.

And they justify it by saying “yeah, but we know our customers and we’re targeting a demographic niche that understands that stuff.”

Doesn’t matter. Even if the target audience is brilliant enough to understand reams of engineering data and technical specs, that doesn’t mean you should baffle them with your insider-ese.

Every industry has its own vernacular. For instance, many business owners have heard TV advertising salespeople spewing on about Neilsons and CUME and gross rating points and impact quotients.

Inevitably, most business owners are left thinking, “Huh? So what?” “What’s that mean to me? How’s that affect my budget? What’s it going to do for my business? What’s in it for me?”

Every time you leave someone with nagging questions like that, you’ve missed a great branding opportunity. You’ve overlooked the real benefit of your product or service. And you hurt the credibility of your brand.

In the end, we didn’t go with the waiter’s recommendation. The beer we chose was quite good, even without the fresh, Willamette Valley hops, but the flavor was tainted by the experience we had and the nagging question the waiter never did answer.

He was so far inside that barrel of beer, he couldn’t possibly understand the consumer’s perspective.

Think about that. Think about the last conversation you had with a prospective customer, partner or key employee.  What kind of language did you use?  Was it loaded with insider information and industry jargon that sounds foreign to anyone outside your inner circle?

If it was, maybe it’s time to shut up and listen for a change. Put your ego aside and get some outside perspective. Turn off the doubletalk and turn back to plain English.

You might be surprised how persuasive plain speak can be.

For more on clear, convincing brand messages, try this post.

 

P.S. If any of you can explain the benefits of fresh hops, please leave a comment. I know we grow good hops here in Oregon, but I still don’t know what the big deal is about being fresh?  Give me a break. And if you’re thinking of opening yet another brew pub around here, give BNBranding a call. You’re going to need help differentiating yourself.