Category Archives for "Management"

2 Disruption as a branding discipline.

The word for the day is Disruption, with a capital D.

In our society there’s a stigma against all things deemed disruptive. When you’re in elementary school you learn to not be disruptive in class. Sit still in church and don’t disrupt the service. By the 6th grade it’s “don’t cause a scene or call attention to yourself. Don’t be different. Be the same.”

Write like everyone else. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else and you’ll get along just fine.

That’s the message we got, and it’s the message our kids are getting. Loud and clear.

Maybe that’s why so many business owners and executives flee from the idea of disruption like a fox from a forest fire.

Jean Marie Dru, Chairman of the advertising conglomerate TBWA, has written two outstanding books about Disruption, but it’s still a hard sell. To most executives distruption is bad. Convention is good. And the results of this mentality are everywhere.

As Tom Peters says, “we live in a sea of similarity.” Social convention and human nature lead us into a trap of conformity where all websites have the same basic layout. All sedans look the same. All airlines feel the same. All travel ads sound the same.

And it works to some degree, because there’s comfort in conformity. (Vanilla still outsells all other flavors of ice cream.) But in the long run, conformity is the kiss of death for a brand.

Great brands do things that are disruptive. Rather than shying away from the word, the executives embrace the idea of disruption and they make it a part of their everyday operation. They consider it productive change.

But even when they succeed with disruptive products, disruptive technology and disruptive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to sustain.

When Chrysler first launched the Plymouth Voyager the Minivan was a groundbreaking idea that threw the auto industry into total disruption. It was a whole new category, and everyone scrambled to copy the market leader. Within five years, minivans were — you guessed it — all the same.

There used to be a Television network that was radically disruptive. MTV launched hundreds of music careers and shaped an entire generation, and now where is it? Lost in a sea of mediocre sameness.

When they first burst onto the scene in the 80’s, the idea of a micro brewery was very disruptive. Now, in Oregon, there’s one in every neighborhood and they’re all the same. Good, but the same.

Successfully disruptive ideas don’t last because its human nature to copy what works. This process of imitation homogenizes the disruptive idea to the point where it’s no longer different. No longer disruptive.

So if you want to sustain a competitive advantage, you have to keep coming up with disruptive ideas. Not just incremental improvement on what’s always worked, but honest-to-goodness newness all the time.

Avatar is a disruptive movie that will surely spawn numerous knock-offs.

The name “Fuzzy Yellow Balls” is brilliantly disruptive in the on-line tennis market.

The American Family Life Assurance Company was utterly forgettable until they changed their name to AFLAC and launched a campaign featuring a quacking duck. In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!

According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review, AFLAC’s CEO Daniel Amos risked a million dollars on that silly duck campaign. Amos could have gone with an idea that tested incrementally better than the average insurance commercial, but he didn’t. He took a chance and went with the duck. He chose disruption over convention, and everyone said he was nuts.

But it turned out to be radically successful.

The first day the duck aired AFLAC had more visits to their website than they had in the entire previous year. Name recognition improved 67% the first year. And most importantly, sales jumped 29%. After three years, sales had doubled.

AFLAC’s success was based on disruption in advertising and naming. But for many companies, there’s also an opportunity to stand out with disruptive strategy. In fact, Dru contends that breakthrough executions are not enough, and that the strategic stage demands imagination.

Here’s an example… When Apple introduced the iPod, the strategy wasn’t just about the superior product design. It was about disrupting the conventions of the music business. It was about introducing the Apple brand to a whole new category of non-users and establishing Apple as the preferred platform for all your personal electronic needs. The release of the iPhone was the perfect extension of that strategy. And now, the Apple Tablet.

That’s good, disruptive strategy. And the beauty of it is, no other company is in the position to copy Apple’s strategy.

Of course Apple also has brilliant advertising, but you can get away with mediocre execution if your strategy is disruptive enough. And vice-versa… if your execution is disruptive, you can get by with a me-too strategy.

But if you want to hit a real home run like Apple has, start with a brilliantly disruptive strategy and build on it with disruptive product and disruptive marketing execution.

It’s kind of ironic… In business, no one wants to cause a disruption, and yet they’re clamoring for good ideas. And good ideas ARE disruptive. They disrupt the way the synapses in the brain work. They break down our stereotypes and disrupt the business-as-usual mentality. That’s why we remember them.

Richard Branson said, “Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.”

Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.”

Ask yourself this: What are you protecting yourself from? What are the conventions of your industry? Why are are you maintaining the stats quo? What are the habits that are holding you back? Are you copying what’s good, or doing what’s new?

What are you doing to be disruptive? Class dismissed.

8 The difference between a new product launch and the birth of a brand.

The Mt. Bachelor ski report for December 20th was delightfully promising: Ten inches of new snow, 18 degrees, calm winds. Not only that, the storm was clearing. Blue skies beckoned.

It was the kind of day ski bums live for. The kind where they’re queued up before the first lift and you hear a lot of hollering from the forest, the glades and the cone, where the hard-core hike for fresh tracks.

But for intermediate skiers accustomed to the forgiving comfort of corduroy, it posed a bit of a problem. See, all 10 inches fell in the early morning hours — after the grooming machines had manicured the mountain.

There would be no “groomers” that morning.

A lot of people struggle in unpacked snow. So once the hounds had tracked up the fresh powder and moved on, into the trees, the masses were left to flail around in cut-up powder on top of an icy base.

There were a lot of yard sales that day — tumbling falls where skis, poles and goggles were strewn all over the run. One guy I know broke a rib. Some snowboarders had broken wrists. And there were plenty of knee injuries.

Always are. Any ski patrolman will tell you it’s knees and wrists.

Modern binding technology has almost eliminated the broken leg from skiing. Helmets have reduced the number of head injuries, but knee injuries are common. Scary common. In the U.S. 70,000 people blow out their ACL skiing every year. On the World Cup circuit, you rarely find a racer who hasn’t had some damage to an ACL.

The KneeBindingBut now there’s a new binding brand that aims to put the knee surgeons and physical therapists out of business.

KneeBinding is the brain child of John Springer-Miller of Stowe Vermont. While all modern bindings release up and down at the heel, KneeBinding also releases laterally. The product’s patented “PureLateral Heel Release” is a huge technological leap in binding technology. In fact, it’s the first substantial change in 30 years and it promises a dramatic decrease in the number of knee injuries on the slopes. They really can save your ACL in the most common, twisting, rearward falls. And they don’t release prematurely.

KneeBinding has the potential to blow the ski socks off the entire industry. But will it?

If the company’s early advertising is any indication, they don’t have a very good handle on their brand strategy.

Springer-Miller has been quoted saying, “This is a serious company with a serious solution to a very serious problem” And it’s true: It now costs an average of $18,000 for the initial repair of a torn ACL. That makes ACL injuries in skiing a $1 billion-a-year medical problem. Plus, it takes eight months, usually with intensive physical therapy, for an ACL to heal well enough for the victim to get back on the slopes. One-out-of-five never skis again.

So why, pray tell, would you launch KneeBinding with goofy ads featuring a pair of 3-glasses? “Just tear them out, put ‘em on, and see the world’s first 3-D binding.”

I get it. The idea of 3-D Bindings might have merit, but 3-D glasses? C’mon. It’s a gimmicky idea that will, unfortunately, rub off on the product. And the last thing you want is people thinking KneeBinding is just another ski industry gimmick.

It was an unfortunate move for a potentially great brand.

The tagline/elevator pitch is also problematic: “The only binding in the world that can mitigate knee injuries.”

First, it’s absolutely untrue: All modern bindings mitigate knee injuries to some degree. If we couldn’t blow out of our bindings there’d be a hundred times the number of ACL injuries. Plus a lot of broken bones.

Granted, the KneeBinding mitigates a specific type of knee injury that the competitors don’t, but the line just doesn’t ring true. It sets off my internal BS meter and puts the credibility of the entire brand in question.

Besides, it sounds like something an M.D. would say. Not exactly the stuff of a memorable, iconic brand.

KneeBinding is a perfect example of a company that’s led by an engineer/inventor. Springer-Miller has developed a great product, and hats off to him for that. But the brand will never become a household name if the marketing is also driven by the engineers.

Even the name is a marketing nightmare. It’s so literal it excludes the most important segment of the market.

“Knee Binding” won’t appeal to fearless, indestructible 20-year olds who star in the ski films and drive the industry trends. It’s for the parents of those kids. The 40+ crowd who have been skiing long enough to see a lot of their friends on crutches.

That group — my peers — will buy the KneeBinding to avoid injury and maintain our misguided idea of youth. And we might buy them for our kids, as well. But that’s not the market Springer-Miller needs if he wants to build a lasting brand in the ski industry.

And guess what. KneeBinding won’t appeal to either audience with technical illustrations of the binding’s components, or with 3-D glasses, like they have in their current advertising.

It has to be way more emotional than that. Not just the advertising, the brand itself. It needs a hook that goes way beyond engineering and orthopedics.

I hope this product succeeds. I really do. I hope the KneeBinding technology becomes the industry standard. But I fear that the company and the current brand will not survive unless they get a handle on their brand strategy and their marketing program.

Launching a great product does not always equate to the birth of a lasting brand. KneeBinding needs to build a foundation for the brand that’s as good as the product itself. Right now, the quality of the marketing is not even close.

With the right marketing help and adequate capital, KneeBinding could give the major manufacturers a run for their money. They were first in the market, which is big. They’ve won some industry accolades. The product stands up to performance tests. And they’ve established some degree of national distribution.

But this is not the first time someone has tried lateral heel release, and the older target audience remembers those failed attempts. The younger crowd doesn’t think they need it. They’re the most expensive bindings on the market. Plus, bindings have been a commodity product for the last 20 years. They’re not even on the radar of most skiing consumers.

How the engineers address all those issues could mean the difference between a safe, successful run and a marketing face plant.

1 Better survey questions — Avoiding the common pitfalls of market research.

I’m a big proponent of market research.

I’ve seen, first hand, how it can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of a rapidly-growing start-up. (They tracked customer satisfaction every week, in every new store, and grew into a billion-dollar brand.)

I’ve seen how research insight leads some brands in profitable new directions, and others back to their roots. And I know that some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time were built on tidbits of information from surveys and focus groups. Can you say, “Got Milk?” Continue reading

3 Five things Iconic brands have in common.

Simon Edwards, Brand Manager at 3M, recently started a lively online discussion around this question: “What are the common attributes of iconic brands?

He opened it up on Brand 3.0 — a Linkedin Group that includes 4,363 branding consultants, practitioners, creative directors, gurus and wannabes. It was an intelligent, worthwhile discussion that hit all the hot buttons of the branding world.

But we were preaching to the choir.

So in an effort to reach a few business people who aren’t completely “inside the bottle,” I’d like to cover the high points of the discussion and add a few examples…

• “An iconic brand plays a valued role in a consumer’s life. It delivers a feeling that the consumer just can’t get from any other brand. That feeling may be security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence or many others.” – Andy Wright

Here’s an example: I’m a loyal Audi owner. Over the holiday weekend I had to drive the Q7 two and half hours on a narrow, icy, highway that’s sketchy even on a clear, summer night. I felt all those things… security, safety, familiarity, excitement, satisfaction, indulgence. The trip wasn’t exactly fun, but it reinforced all my beliefs about the brand. It played a vital role in that little part of my life.

I couldn’t have felt safer in any other vehicle, short of a semi truck.

“The 5 criteria of iconic brands are: relevancy, competitiveness, authenticity, clarity of promise, consistency of communication. The hard work is the proactive management of the brand (including product development) to ensure the five criteria are delivered.” – Ed Burghard

I particularly like Ed’s point here about proactive, ongoing brand management.

Many people seem to think of branding as a one-time event. — do it and it’s done. But that’s not it at all. You won’t stay competitive long enough to become iconic if you’re not constantly minding your brand. It’s a never-ending effort that should be intertwined into your day-to-day business.

“One element that has not been discussed is success. No brand can reach iconic status without being successful in achieving it’s purpose. Part is creating these wonderful brand connections – authentically, emotionally, as an experience. Part is communicating with clarity and consistency. Part is delivering on the promise. But a vital component is to have delivered results and exceeded expectations… yes?’ – Ed Holme

Patagonia is a brand with a very clear sense of purpose and a compelling story to tell. When that story is told over time, it establishes that intangible, emotional connection that inspires people and fuels success. What is the purpose of your business, beyond making a profit?

• “I would like to add ‘Leadership’ to the list of attributes already mentioned. ?It’s not about market share, though; iconic brands play by their own rules. These brands tend to break the preconceived notion of function, service, style or culture, catching the competition off guard and finding unprecedented loyalty”… – Stephen Abbott

This was a contribution that really stood out. I believe leadership is a highly overlooked component of branding. If you don’t take a genuine leadership position in some aspect of your business, your brand will eventually flounder. (Can you say GM?)

You don’t have to be the market leader to have an iconic brand. Look at Apple. The iconic leader in the computing world only has 9.6% market share in computers. What’s more, an iconic brand does not guarantee business success. Farrells Ice Cream parlors were iconic in this part of the country, and they went belly up. Was Saturn iconic? Certainly for a few years in automotive circles. What about Oldsmobile and Plymoth? Many icons of industry have fallen in the past year.

To build on the ideas related to story telling… Iconic brands often align with an archetypal character and story which is instantly recognizable, psychologically stimulating and meaningful. Coke embodies the Innocent archetype as expressed through their advertising from polar bears to Santa Claus or the classic ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ campaign.” – Brenton Schmidt

Executives at Coke shattered that innocence when they changed the beloved formula to “New Coke.” Probably the single biggest branding screw up of the last 50 years. One woman, who hadn’t had a Coke in 25 years, called to complain that they were “messing with her childhood.” Now that’s brand loyalty!

“Some underlying attributes tend to be focus, clarity and authenticity. However, all iconic brands tend to connect customers with an overreaching philosophy that fosters emotional connection between the customer and the brand.

Examples of brands and the emotions they foster:

– Nike = Performance. “I feel like I can run faster or jump higher when I wear my Nikes.”

– Target = Affordable Design. “At Wal-Mart, I get the best price. At Target, I get style and price.”

– Apple = CounterCulture. “I want style, simplicity and usability. My Mac says to the world that I’m different and unique. In short, I hate Windows and everything it represents.”

– Jason Milicki

I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, and I’d add the word Contrarian. Proudly contrarian, even. (My kids helped make sushi for Thanksgiving, and my son dubbed it a “Contrarian Turkey Dinner.” I think I’m handing it down.)

Finally, here’s one parting thought on iconic brands, from yours truly:

You don’t have to be a multinational company, or even the biggest player in your niche, to become a successful icon in your own right. Gerry Lopez is an icon in the world of surfing, yet unknown to the general public and to Wall Street.

If you want to build an iconic brand — even a small one — start with passion, purpose and focus. Then work your ass off.

Follow the Brand Insight Blog on Twitter: Brandsight

1 If you got hit by a bus, what would happen to your brand?

Death and taxes. Death and taxes. The two are always lumped together as inevitable parts of life. So why, as business people, do we obsess over taxes and ignore the issue of death?

Nothing derails a small business faster, and more dramatically, than death. When a partner or key employee dies, or experiences a death in the family, the business suffers. No two ways about it. The question is, is your brand strong enough to survive a devastating personal loss?

My dentist lost his 3-year-old daughter in a drowning accident. How do you go back to drilling teeth after that?

My cousin lost his mom to liver cancer. He’s taking a 12-week leave from Amazon.com. (They won’t even notice)

My business partner lost her 14-year old son to a rare form of brain cancer. Promoting flea and tick products for big pharma just isn’t on her radar.

Children. Siblings. Parents. Clients. Close friends. When you lose them, you also lose hard-fought momentum, motivation and money if you’re in business for yourself. And chances are, you won’t even care.

All those niggling managerial details that seemed like a high priority will almost certainly fall by the wayside. Clients and vendors are usually very forgiving in times like that, but if you don’t have some kind of contingency plan, you’re liable to experience yet another loss… of your business.

Personal loss is particularly hard on professional service businesses. Imagine a key attorney in a small law firm. A star architect. A senior executive recruiter with a big, fat rolodex. These key players are often the lifeblood of a company. Or as CFOs like to call them, “irreplacable assets.” When those people go, the brand goes with them.

So what can you do?

Before you get too depressed to read on, here are some tips on how to build a brand that will withstand loss of all sorts.

  1. Make it about more than just money. Great brands stand for something beyond business. There are values built into the brand that transcend time and personnel. Patagonia for instance… if Yvonne Chounard were to die in a climbing accident, the brand would endure. Not just because it’s a big company, but because they have a large clan of customers and employees who share the company’s core values.
  2. Have a better hiring strategy. You want people who share your values and your vision, not your management style. Rather than hiring clones of yourself, find people smarter than yourself, with diverse backgrounds, experience and style. That way you’ll achieve some balance in the organization and it’ll be easier to fill a void, if something happens.
  3. Keep your story straight. Too many companies get fixated on their logo and forget about the brand story they have to tell. Logos change and evolve, but the core brand story should always stay consistent. Unfortunately, many C-level executives can’t articulate their brand story. Even Richard Branson has a hard time with the question, “what’s the Virgin brand about.” So before something bad happens, put it down on paper. Hire someone to help you craft the story, and then stick with it.
  4. Build strong alliances. Successful companies tend to have a large number of brand affiliations. They don’t operate in a vacuum. The more companies, people, brands and causes that you are affiliated with, the more support you’ll have in tough times. But don’t forget… all those affiliations need to be aligned with your brand. You don’t want just random alliances.
  5. Devise a succession plan before you need it. It’s kind of ironic… in order to get funding, start-ups have to include a slide about their exit strategy. And it’s usually pie in the sky stuff. But many established businesses that are actually good targets for acquisitions, never even think about succession. It’s one of those painful things that always gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do pile. But you need to make time for it. If you’re an owner, a manager, or just an employee, you need to know what would happen in the worst-case scenario.

2 A feel-good brand in a bummed-out world.

It’s being dubbed a “”depressed economy.” There are nightly reports on our current “ecomonic dulldrums,” and the “downturn” in consumer spending.

But if you sift through all the doom and gloom you’ll find that some brands are thriving in this “challenging economic environment.”

How do they do it? Here’s the secret:

Make people smile! It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

WWLogo - smallIf your product or service can elicit genuine smiles, you’ve got a winning brand. Because happiness is contagious. And when people are experiencing stress caused by circumstances beyond their control, that little dose of happiness becomes more valuable than ever.

Disney does it best. There’s also Great Wolf Lodge. Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Stuff-a-Bear Creations. These are brands that are built on smiles. Locally, the brand that wins the happy, happy, feel-good contest is Working Wonders Children’s Museum. Hands down.

No other business in town elicits more smiles, more Kodak moments, than Working Wonders. (On sunny winter days, Mt. Bachelor comes in a close second, but that’s more of a grown-up playground.) For kids under 11 nothing can match the hands-on play and make-believe worlds of Working Wonders.

IMG_2391

But I have to admit, I’m completely biased. My wife and I started the non-profit on a whim and a prayer seven years ago. Back when there was nothing, I mean nothing, in town for young kids to do.

First we raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits. Then we went around to every summer event and introduced kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play. It caught on. Before the days of Facebook or Twitter, it went viral. We launched in less than one-third the time, and for one-third the cost, of most children’s museums.

And every day we’re open, we see a lot of smiling kids and eternally grateful parents. Here’s an unsolicited comment that demonstrates how happy customers help tell the story of a brand:

“I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter. What we value most is the way Working Wonders grows along with her – there is always an activity that’s just right for her latest developmental stage and current interests. She draws confidence and comfort from the stations that remain the same (the grocery store being her favorite) and extends the ways she interacts with them each visit. The new additions (the creations in the science lab!) keep her curious and provide her with exciting new learning.

I love that Working Wonders is set up to encourage parents to explore alongside their child, rather than “having a break” while their children play independently. Activities are interesting to learners of all ages, and you can watch the bonding that happens during play.

I love how Working Wonders models ways to be a better community, such as recycled art, and gentle reminders to leave each place just as you found it in consideration for the next person. Working Wonders also gives a tremendous amount to the community – I teach parenting classes, and they have donated 10-punch cards to each of my families. How wonderful for me to be able to help parents with their parent-child interactions, and then give them free passes to the best play to try out their new skills!”

You can see the smile on the daughter’s face just by reading her mom’s comments. Look how many times the word “love” appears. That’s brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability. For children’s museums, loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors. Because admissions aren’t enough to sustain the organization, and right now, those donors are harder to come by.

Over the last five years Working Wonders relied heavily on corporate sponsors to help meet its annual fundraising goals. But most of those companies were in the building industry — the most hard-hit by the recession.

So I’m doing something I’ve never done on the Brand Insight Blog… I’m asking directly for your financial support. Dig deep, and give big!

Working Wonders is an essential community asset, partnering with more than 20 social service agencies throughout Central Oregon. It’s the go-to resource for early childhood education, and it needs your help. Now, more than ever.

There are many ways to give…

Sponsor an exhibit in the museum. Commit to a corporate sponsorship. (It’s a great branding opportunity for any company that targets young families.) Pledge to an annual giving program. Leave an endowment. Provide financial backing for a Working Wonders event. Or give an in-kind donation.

If Working Wonders doesn’t generate enough support by October 1st, it may not survive to see an economic rebound. So give now. The smiles you’ll get back are priceless.

Visit www.Working Wonders.org to donate.

2 F15 Fighter vs. the 787 Dreamliner — Why corporate mergers are seldom good for brands.

In 1997 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas agreed on a merger. Like most corporate marriages, the deal looked great on paper: Boeing’s strength — commercial jetliners — was McDonald Douglas’ weakness. And vice-versa.

Boeing’s shortcomings on the military side would be bolstered dramatically by partnering with McDonald Douglas, maker of the F15 Fighter, the Apache helicopter, the Tomahawk missile, and many other successful weapons systems.

Two global brands, both looking to shore-up the weakest parts of their business. Two diametrically opposed corporate cultures.

The McDonald Douglas brand revolved around blowing things up. Inflicting damage. Killing the enemy. Commercial production of the DC10 and MD80 was not the priority. Their preferred customers were military men around the world, all cut from the same, heavily starched cloth. And when you sell to the same, homogeneous group for a long time, you begin to look, and act, a lot like your customers.

At Boeing the culture revolved around two words: Safety and efficiency. The imperative in Seatttle was just the opposite… kill no one. Get people safely and comfortably to their destination. Boeing’s customers were business people, not DOD officials or foreign generals.

The two cultures were sure to clash.

2-boeing-787f15_eagle_fighter_full

For some first-hand insight, I spoke with a recently retired Boeing executive who was involved with the integration of the two companies.

“There’s always going to be one executive who ends up taking the pivotal lead in the new, merged company. And that person came from McDonald. So he was naturally more inclined toward the military side of things. It’s like having two kids you don’t give equal attention to… Eventually they start fighting. Then if you take the allowance from one of them, you got some real problems. Eventually, both kids will suffer.”

There were the usual leadership problems, plus profound problems at lower levels where integration was supposed to occur.

“Integration starts at the bottom. It’s like zipping up a jacket… You can made progress to a point, but the higher you go, the harder it is to bring the two sides together,” the Boeing exec said. “Literally, we couldn’t find any common ground.”

So if you have two competing corporate cultures in one company, what does that mean for the brands?

In this case, the McDonell Douglas brand faded away. It’s now Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and Boeing Commercial Aircraft.

The Boeing brand certainly is stronger now, in the eyes of military customers, but they all know it’s really McDonnell people and McDonnell products with the Boeing logo.

On the commercial side, the Boeing brand has gained little from the merger. In fact, my source contends that the current delay on the 787 Dreamliner can be traced, at least in part, to the merger.

“In military aviation they can push the technology and take more risks. In commercial, you don’t use unproven technology because the risks are just too great. But with the new leadership, there was a lot of pressure to try new things. The 787 Dreamliner is a fantastic platform, but they chose an unproven design for the wing-to-body joints, and now they have to go back and fix it. It’s enormously expensive.”

According to the Seattle Times, Boeing CFO James Bell admitted the delays and problems “put pressure on the profitability of this (787) program. We’ve always been concerned with the cumulative impact of the schedule delays and the pressure it puts on cost,” Bell said. “We also have been concerned with the delays to our customers and how that converts to penalties or the settlements we have to work through with them.”

Even though Boeing reported strong profits for quarter from both commercial and military orders, it’s brand is suffering. The rash of bad publicity is tremendously painful for a brand that has, historically, stayed successfully under the radar. Because in the commercial airline business, front page news is almost always bad news.

The corporate world is littered with similarly conflicted mergers. For instance, the Chrysler/Dalmer Benz merger was doomed from the start. (At least they didn’t try to put the Mercedes nameplate on all the Chrysler minivans.) But in that case, at least both companies made passenger cars. The Boeing-McDonald Douglas deal was like Mercedes merging with the maker of the Abrams tank.

Not exactly compatible corporate missions.

But then, mergers and acquisitions rarely account for cultural synergy or shared brand values. Often it’s more about eliminating competition, covering up corporate inefficiencies or pleasing wall street. It’s a numbers game.

If brands were a consideration, a lot more merged companies would maintain two different brands — rather than trying to integrate under one corporate banner. McDonnell Douglas would still be the brand for military applications and Boeing would be the brand for all commercial operations.

Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos has the potential to be a more successful example. The two companies have similar, long-term visions. They both emphasize customer service and loyalty. And they’re both on-line retailers.

Not only that, I’ll bet Bezos is smart enough recognize the value of the Zappos brand.

If you’re seriously considering a merger or an acquisition, include a thorough brand evaluation in your due diligence. Study the corporate cultures and take extra time to devise a long-term brand strategy. If integration is the plan, it might be a lot harder than you think.

Just ask the engineers at Boeing.

1 Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to get effective advertising from your agency.

Took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising.

There are mountains of it, even in this age of informed metrics and marketing ROI.

As an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of direction.

After a few rounds of constructive criticism and outright rejection, we either had to come up with a strategic nugget of our own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick. Not a good arrangement, for either party.

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work efficiently with your ad agency. It’s not rocket science. If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

yorba_linda_landfillAvoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.

Jon Steele, Account Planner, account planner on “Got Milk,” says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In a nutshell, he says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

Perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the good stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people — the researchers, creatives, media planners, programmers and AEs — heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions. In the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free, in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms. Before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy. But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset. It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

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1 A lesson on the importance of logos – from summer camp.

Roll up the sleeping bag. Pack the bug spray and the spf 30. It’s time for camp… an annual summer ritual, for parents and kids alike.

Summer-Camps-HomeEvery year, when I part with my kids for two weeks, the memories come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song…

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

What’s that silly old song have to do with branding?

The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, eentsy part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let any graphic designer tell you differently.

I love great design work. I’ve been collaborating with designers and art directors my entire career, and it’s often fun and rewarding work. But a new mark does not constitute a “branding effort.”

Many design firms and branding companies go to great lengths to deliver a new mark and type treatment. They’ll do research that proves you need a new logo, and they’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution. But that’s as far as it goes. All the other components of branding — the bigger issues — are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. So if you’re a designer designing logos, do your thing. By all means. Just don’t sell it as something more than it really is.

And if you’re a client, don’t kid yourself. That expensive new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

Actions speak louder than logos. It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this? Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

5 Brand differentiation. Is your message too generic?

Golf is one of those categories where brand differentiation is difficult. Clubheads are as big as they’re going to get, and every brand promises the same thing… Longer, straighter drives. High technology. And distance above all else.

This headline from a Cobra Driver ad sums it up: “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Sounds insanely generic to me. Why pay $50,000 to convey a message that applies to the entire category? You could literally insert the photo of any driver and no one would know the difference. Seems like a high price to pay for invisibility.

Apparently, even golf shoes can help us hit it farther these days. Get a load of these two he-man headlines from a recent Addidas campaign:

“Lock and load… 14 weapons in your bag. Two on your feet.”

“Not a shoe, a piece of artillery.”

The brand managers at Adidas are assuming that high tech features and a Rambo tone will sell shoes just as well as drivers. But as Spike Lee once said, “Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes? Is it the shoes?”

I think not.

Here’s what the copy says in one of those shoe ads: “Three distinct power geometry zones in the outsole for maximum energy transfer during the load phase, impact and finish.”

Here’s what consumers will say: “Yeah, but are they comfortable? Do they have them in my size? How much?” Those are things relevant to Joe sixpack.

This is a category that takes itself quite seriously, indeed. In that environment, humor can be a refreshing and effective way to differentiate your brand. Titlest did it with John Cleese for the NXT Tour golf ball. FootJoy pulled if off brilliantly with their Sign Boy campaign. It’s harder to do in print, however.

Mizuno pulled it off with a series of magazine ads poking fun at the almost obsessive loyalty of their customers. These are guys who love their clubs so much they buy an extra seat on the plane rather than checking their bags. They’re the fanatics who rehearse the golf swing while waiting in line, and consider their forged irons an unfair advantage that borders on sinful. The ads were purposely, humorously, exaggerated, but they captured the authentic passion for the brand that no competitor could claim.

mizunoMp57-extend-500x509-1Those ads would absolutely not work for any other club company. I don’t play Mizuno irons, but I aspire to. And those ads spoke to me. With a wink and a nod, Mizuno confirmed what I already thought… that their forged irons are for smart, accomplished players who know something the rest of the golf world doesn’t know.

see all of Mizuno’s ads here: http://www.mizunousa.com/news.nsf/golf?OpenForm

Sad to say, Mizuno recently dumped that campaign and started running ads that lack the market wisdom, the emotional connection and the brand personality of the old ads. In fact, the new ads are generic enough to speak for any forged iron on the market.

Successful branding involves a high degree of differentiation. It’s about having something different to say, and saying things differently. But the message also needs to be relevant. Otherwise, different doesn’t work so well.

Adidas has a unique new shoe line and an ad campaign that’s different. I’m just not sure their message is relevant for the category.

Mizuno-MX700-DriverMizuno has a unique story to tell and unprecedented brand loyalty, but they’re running a message that’s generic.

Before you ever approve a new ad campaign for your brand, try this: Take the ads and insert the name of your competitor. Then ask yourself, objectively, does the message still work? If it does, you should seriously consider starting over.

You may just need a new concept from your agency or a new creative brief. Or you might need to devise a strategic approach that deviates from the generic, industry spiel like “Scientifically engineered for insanely long, straight drives.”

Worst case, it’ll force you to look closely at the product itself. Mizuo and Adidas both have great products that are inherently different than the competition. It shouldn’t be that hard to come up with an ad campaign that communicates the product’s differences and the brand personality in a relevant manner.

If you want more branding insight, subscribe to my rss feed by clicking on the link at the top of this site. Or e-mail me directly: JohnF@BNBranding.com