Category Archives for "Marketing"

3 The Olympics — The world’s most powerful brand?

I love the Winter Olympics.

I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous gold medal run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I have to admit, I even watch some of the ice skating. (But no Ice Dancing.)

The summer games are fun too, and it’ll be fun to watch the London Games, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. A diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as compelling as a guy on skis doing a triple with five twists.

Gotta land on your feet and ski away when doing a “Hurricane”.

Olympics branding Vancouver Winter GamesThe Vancouver Games delivered everything I expected from the Olympics, and a little bit more. The event started on a very sad note, with the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luge competitor from Georgia. Only one other luge driver has ever died in Olympic competition.

But there have been other unfortunate mishaps over the years. Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996.

Every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002. As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

In the last 10 years the pricetag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $5.7 Billion for television rights through 2012. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

No other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth.

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

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands.

If you’re trying to build a brand of any kind, keep these things in mind, every day:

• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the million-dollar endorsement deals but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.)

The authenticity is obvious in the post-run interviews… The athletes are articulate, less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sport, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NFL.

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

Toyota could learn a thing or two.

Winter olympics in Vancouver Whistler Canada• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.

There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. You’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing, it’s not about them. It’s about The Games.

The competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand.

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

The characters change, individual events evolve, but at The Olympics, the themes remain consistent.

There’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — uphill — then stop and shoot, without missing.

For people who never ski, it’s hard to relate to ski racing of any kind. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute program. It looks too easy.

And even though most people can’t relate, they still watch. The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. This year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by Shawn White and Apollo Anton Ohno.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

But the Olympic brand is much richer and more meaningful than that.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. When you watch the Olympics, and get sucked into the storylines, you can see what they mean.

7 Verbal Branding & Brewpub Beer Snobs.

I had an experience in a brewpub recently that was inspiring and insulting at the same time. It proved the point that what you say, and how your front-line employees speak, can have a major impact on your branding efforts. 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 this new brewpub for a burger and beer, après golf. We were parched. The beer 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 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.”

“ A deep chestnut hue with undertones of chocolate and toffee.”

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 simple recommendation… a layman’s answer.

“Oh. Well, the Monkey Fire Red Amber Ale has FRESH Willamette Valley hops,” he said in a knowing, somewhat snobbish tone. As if that’s all we’d need to know.

Wow. Awkward silence. 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? What am I supposed to do with that information?” We had no idea and he had nothing to offer.

My friend and I looked at each other, pondered that one, and looked at the waiter with a blank stare. The grungy, beer-snob just stood there, looking at us like we were from another planet. He just assumed we knew the benefits of fresh hops. Everybody knows that, right?

craft beer brands and branding tips

These hops look pretty fresh to me.

Boy, did we feel stupid.

Rule number one of Branding 101: Don’t make your customers or prospects feel stupid. Nobody likes that. It makes them feel like they’re being excluded somehow, and it’s pretty much impossible to build brand loyalty when people feel excluded.

Attorneys and doctors are the most common offenders. It’s easy to make people feel stupid when you’re an expert in a field filled with jargon. But a waiter in a brewpub???

There are plenty of professionals who are good at making people feel dumb: Management consultants, financial advisors, IT guys, golf pros and now, apparently, brew pub waiters all obscure their work in a veil of jargon in order to increase the perceived value of their service. It’s understandable, but contrary to the laws of good branding.

With great brands, people 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. Did you see Steve Job’s speech from last week?

Unfortunately, a lot of business people feel compelled to overload their presentations, websites, sales pitches and ad copy with esoteric nonsense that excludes everyone except the people within their own company. And they justify it by saying “yeah, but 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 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.

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? What’s the alternative… frozen hops? 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.

4 Back to Basics — A working definition of Brands and Branding.

Welcome to the new-and-improved Brand Insight Blog. I’m moving forward this week by going back… back to fundamentals and to the most frequently asked questions of all:

  1. What exactly IS branding, anyway?
  2. And why should the average business owner care?

No doubt, the semantics of marketing and branding can be very confusing. Every firm, consultant, author and marketing professor has a slightly different spin on the subject of branding, and it’s easy to fall into that classic, insider’s trap…

So I’m attempting to aggregate the best of them, and boil it all down to something you can actually use in your day-to-day business.

First, let’s distinguish between “brand” as a corporate mark or logo, and “brand” as an overriding business concept.

When business executives talk about “the Nike Brand” or “the Pepsi Brand” with a capital B, they’re not referring to the new logo. They’re referring to something more wholistic. More conceptual. And far bigger than just design.

This, from Wikipedia: “A brand is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.”

“Symbolic Construct” seems a bit academic to me. How about “gut feeling.”

Or this simplified definition, from the book, BrandSimple: “A brand is what your product or service stands for in people’s minds. Brands live in your head… Mental associations that get stirred up when you think of a particular car or camera or watch or pair of jeans.”

Scott Bedbury, of Nike and Starbucks fame, concurs: “Brands become living, psychological concepts we hold in our minds for years.”

In Brand Warfare, David F. D’Alessandro, CEO of John Hancock said, “A brand is whatever the consumer thinks of when he hears your company’s name. Branding is everything…”

And everything is branding…

The words you choose. The way you behave. The conversations you have. The card you hand out. The promises you make. The people you hire. The values you hold dear. The values you could care less about. The vendors you choose. The money you make, or don’t make. And, of course, the experience people have with the product or service you provide.

Like it or not. it all matters. Because it’s the culmination of all those little things that makes “the brand.”

Which leads to another worthwhile distinction: The difference between the noun “brand,” and the verb “branding.”

“Some companies equate branding with marketing,” says Jasper Kunde, author of Corporate Religion. “Design a sparkling new logo, run an exciting new campaign, and voila, you’re back on course. They are wrong. Branding is bigger. Much bigger.”

If a brand is a set of mental associations about a company, then BrandING is the process of helping people formulate those associations. If advertising is “getting your name out there,” Branding is attaching something to your name.

It’s a never-ending effort to conduct business in a way that will result in a better “brand”. It goes way beyond advertising or marketing communications. Because what you SAY does not carry as much weight as what you DO.

Branding is really about doing the right thing.

In The Best Of Branding, James Gregory said: “A corporate brand is the product of millions of experiences, with vendors, employees, customers, media, etc.”

If you’re doing right by all those people, your “branding” efforts will pay off in spades. On the other hand, if your company has no heart — and stands for nothing more than making money — then your branding efforts will flounder in a sea of unkept promises and unbelievable marketing hype.

Starbucks stands for something.

Howard Shultz said, “we built the Starbucks brand first with our people, because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. Their passion and commitment made our retail partners the best ambassadors of the brand.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation that suggest the only people involved in branding are the graphic designers and the ad agency dudes. At Entrepreneur.com they say “ The foundation of your brand is your logo.”

Nonsense. The logo is a reflection of your brand. The foundation of your brand is your operation. And at Starbucks, the operation revolved around two things… the people and the product.

Another prominent website missed it completely when they defined branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”

Branding is not, exclusively, a marketing practice. It’s also a customer service practice. A management practice. An HR practice. An R&D practice. Even a manufacturing practice.

The Saturn Brand was never about the cars. It was about the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant right here in the USA, the no-haggle sales process and the dealer business model. In other words, it was about the whole operation, which really was a fresh new approach to the automotive industry.

Unfortunately, the brand behind the brand was GM.

Tom Peters says, “Branding is ultimately about nothing more and nothing less than heart. It’s about passion… what you care about. It’s about what’s inside you, your team, your division, your company.

The trick is figuring that out. Defining your passion. Naming your values. Being true to yourself. And then aligning your operation accordingly. So everything you do comes from the heart.

That’s why every business owner and executive should care about branding.

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

4 The 4 P's of Internet Marketing. Plus one B.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of businesses are started with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat. But a few will rise to meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)

What’s the difference? Why do some e-biz start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?

Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail: They ignore the most basic tenets of internet marketing and brand management.

Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything you learned in Marketing 101. Apparently, the rules no longer apply.

Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because there’s a new kind of superhighway. You just have to take a little different route.

Take, for example, the 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place & Promotion. It’s an old- school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should seriously consider.

The original 4 Ps

But first, let’s look at the originals that make up the marketing mix:

1. Product
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.” In 2012, it’ll happen in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer generated reviews will quickly doom products that don’t deliver as promised. So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.

Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product.

Not anymore. These days your product or service has to be among the best in class Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built right in to your core product or service.

Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”

Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!

Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important aspect of marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, the Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.

Price.

I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:

First, there’s the economy. Consumers are being forced to pinch pennies and embrace the new frugality.

2. The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged.

3. In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies can’t charge anything.

4. It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Wal Mart, forget about it! There’s always someone waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.

So you have to go back to the first P. You have to devise a product or service that’s worth more than your competitor’s.

Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand. And no economic downturn should ever change that.

Place.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product.
This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan. Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.

That’s a big idea. A purple cow.

Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still an important consideration. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…

Will you sell on Amazon? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell directly to consumers? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Promotion.
Historically, the fourth P hinged mostly on mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales, telemarketing, PR and sales promotions, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.

These days, a lot of people seem to think SEO is synonymous with marketing.
But SEO is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of others you should consider.

Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four choices — TV, radio, print or outdoor — you now have blogging, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other online options to throw into the mix.

And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.

But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement.

So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of the marketing mix. Think you can afford to ignore any of them? What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. Too inwardly focused.

So here’s a new P for your consideration: Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.

Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1960’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people. Mom and Pop.
How do you do that?

It’s market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.

Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice. You can do it in person with your front-line employees. On the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter.

The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that’s what weaves all the other Ps together.

You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.

Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s and one capital B: Branding.
It’s all Branding.

Need help getting that new perspective you need for the new year? Call me. 541-815-0075. You can also follow the Brand Insight Blog on Twitter: Brandsight.

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

3 On-line shopping — The best thing ever for MANkind.

Twenty five years ago I couldn’t imagine getting all my Christmas shopping done from the comfort of the man den. The idea of a world without malls was pure fantasy, right up there with that scene from Flashdance where Jennifer Beals dances in place until she’s raining sweat.

But today, it’s reality. Men really do have an alternative to the drudgery of shopping. It’s called e-commerce.caveman

For men, shopping harkens back to cro-Magnon days when we’d hunt down the things we NEEDED to survive. Men shop alone, in order to be more stealthy and less visible to people who might recognize us. We know what we want and we go out and get it… Essentials like tools, sporting goods and electronic gadgets. It’s a focused, goal-oriented, testosterone-producing activity. But only after the prize is in the bag.

Women go out in groups and gather things they might need someday, during an unusually hard winter. Frivolous stuff like bed skirts and duvet covers. It’s part of their natural, nesting instincts. They can happily browse for hours without buying anything, because shopping fulfills a physical need for women. Recent brain research is conclusive on this… An afternoon at the mall with friends produces oxytocin — a chemical in the brain known as the cuddling hormone.

Googling “bargain jeans” just isn’t the same.

On-line shopping doesn’t offer the same psychological, sociological and even anthropological benefits that women get from traditional shopping trips. Let’s face it, websites are more logical than they are intuitive. The whole on-line thing is more geared to the male brain than the female brain. It’s the nature of the beast.

Few on-line retailers establish the emotional connection women really need. Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that online shopping is more a chore than an escape. “It’s not like you think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto Amazon.com and get transported.”

Koehn said that while traditional retailers have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, online stores have continued to give shoppers a blasé experience. Well guess what… Men don’t care! They’re not looking for an “experience,” they’re looking for a trophy on the wall.

The last thing men need is a true shopping “experience.” That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid all these years. That’s what we know as sitting outside the outlet mall waiting for the women to return after an hour and a half in the Dress Barn.

In better retail environments, lighting, store layout, background music, graphics and good customer service all work together to make shopping a pleasant, sensory experience that appeals to the emotional center of a women’s brain. It’s a real art.

Unfortunately, most on-line stores are slapped together about as well as a Mexican convenience store. If it weren’t for men, half of those sites would be out of business entirely.

According to Forrester Research, men spend more and take less time than women to make on-line purchases. And once a sale is made, men return only 10% of apparel purchases, while women return more than 20%. As to spending, another market research group found that men dropped an average of $2,400 online compared to women who spent closer to $1,500 in the same, three-month span.

Don’t quibble over price, just locate the target and make the kill. Get in get out.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with sites that present a thousand random choices, right off the bat. Too many choices slows the decision-making process and leads to frustration for men. It’s like standing in the beer isle in an Oregon grocery store … there are so many choices of micro-brews it’s almost ridiculous. Ales, IPAs, Hefes, Lagers, Pilsners, Stouts, Browns and Ambers in a crazy array of packages from all over the world. It’s too much information.

That’s one reason men love brand name products, brand name stores, brand name sites and brand-name beer: We trust the brand to narrow the choices for us and provide some degree of quality control. (Anything from Deschutes Brewery is good.)

When I shop at REI, online or offline, I know I don’t have to wade through a bunch of crap before I find the quality products. It’s all good, because it’s REI. In the brick & mortar world, the choices are limited by the physical floor space. An REI shoe buyer has room for only so many different styles and prices points, so that’s all you get to choose from. There’s no such limitations in the on-line world.

Zappos claims to have 1,095 brands, 165,722 styles, 906,874 UPCs and 2,957,471 products. That might work for women who make shoe shopping a pseudo-profession, but guys want those choices narrowed down.

Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of online consumers research their purchases on-line, then buy off-line. This so-called “clicks-and-bricks” hybrid model is classic male behavior. But it’s not really shopping, it’s research.

So where’s it all going?

Less than four percent of all retail sales are currently made on-line — a reassuring stat for traditional retail businesses. If you have an e-commerce company, look at it this way… you’ve hardly scratched the surface.

If your product line and/or brand appeals to women you have to work hard to establish an emotional connection and emulate the mall experience as close as possible. But realize, e-commerce will never replace the real thing.

If your on-line store is more male-oriented your job’s a little easier. Keep your product selection focused — don’t try to be all things to all men. Offer brand name products and establish your own brand as a name to trust.

And give guys a way to avoid the mall altogether… they’ll reward you for it in the end.

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.

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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.

6 Predicting consumer behavior… Brand loyalty vs. the whacky, random ways people often buy things.

Corporations spend billions every year trying to predict consumer behavior. Market research firms have sophisticated modeling protocols, ivy league PHDs and multivariate analysis to help them make sense of what is, inherently, nonsensical behavior.

Take, for example, the time my dad decided to replace his rusting Ford pick-up. He drove two hours to the Big City so he’d have plenty of truck dealers to choose from. He spent the weekend kicking tires, braving the onslaught of old-fashioned salesmen and test driving every make and model.

Then he came home in a Toyota Matrix.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

He was 70 at the time! God only knows what possessed him to switch from a pick-up truck to an urban pocket-rocket. The Matrix is more suited to base-thumping car stereo blast-a-thons than my dad’s easy-listening coastal lifestyle.

No one could have predicted it.

In hindsight, I suppose you could say it was consistent with his car-buying history, which is even more erratic than his golf game. I challenge anyone to find a pattern in this list:

1968 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

1970 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon

1973 AMC Hornet

1974 Chevy Vega

1976 Ford LTD 4-door sedan.

1984 Mazada 626

1991 Ford Taurus

1994 Ford F-150 Pickup

2002 Ford Taurus

2007 Toyota Matrix

Obviously, he has no brand loyalty. The only constant is a sedan of some kind for my mom. (I’ve decided he buys cars the same way he buys fruit… Whatever looks good, smells sweet and is on sale at that particular moment.)

You might think that’s a little weird, but research published by University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasio shows that most purchase decisions are almost as random as my dad’s car buying.

Damasio says marketing messages are processed outside the conscious mind. Emotions push us toward decisions we think are best for us, and we often bypass reason because experience endows us with what he calls “somatic markers in the brain.”

Somatic markers are the most likely biological basis for intuition. These pre-recorded behavior guides are based on inherited behavioral traits and formed by experience. When making decisions, somatic markers are triggered, often making reason irrelevant.

So it’s intuition and emotion that drives real life purchasing decisions. Not logic.

As Dr. Dean Shibata put it, “If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible for people to make decisions in everyday life.”

On the other hand, when people are asked hypothetical questions about purchases, as in a focus group, the brain works on a much different, analytical level.

“Instead of the real reason for buying, researchers get a rationalization based on the respondent’s idealized self-image. If they don’t account for this bias, researchers are left with a model based on how people think they ought to be motivated, rather than their actual motivations.”

So beware of market research that demands a rational explanation for irrational behavior.

And here’s another thing that makes consumer behavior hard to predict… Many times we aren’t “qualitatively conscious” of our motivation. “Consumers have limited knowledge of their own values, needs and motivations that affect purchase decisions,” says Neurologist Richard Restack.

So my Dad probably doesn’t even know why he made that decision to drive home in a Matrix.

The point is, all purchases are emotional purchases.

So the next time you’re throwing together a sales presentation, you might want to spend more time trying evoke an emotional response, and less time building charts and graphs.

Reason certainly does play a vital role in the early stages of many buying decisions. But in the end, the actual purchase is entirely emotional.

Here’s an example from my own, personal experience.

I recently bought a new golf club. I’ve read a lot about the new hybrids, and I decided it was time to replace my 5-wood that was never quite right.

So I did some on-line research, studied the reviews in Golf Digest and formulated a short list of clubs to try.

All very thorough and rational.

Then I went to a demo event at a local golf course to see, feel and try them for myself. I ruled out a few right away on a purely subjective basis… what they looked like or how they sounded.

After an hour or so I had it narrowed down to three top contenders. There was very little difference between the three, that I could see. All things being equal, the brand was the tipping point.

After I went through the whole meticulous process, the somatic markers in my brain kicked in, and said “go for it. Get the Nickent. This is the right fit and a good, safe purchase.”

I didn’t choose the biggest selling brand, but one I perceived as being the more specialized upstart. The underdog with an impressive presence on tour. And the company I most admired from a business perspective.

Not exactly a rational decision, when all was said and done. It had nothing to do with the features they tout.

The point is, people are unpredictable. As marketers, the minute you start thinking you really know your audience’s hot buttons and can predict their behavior, forget about it. They throw you a curveball and go for the Matrix.

3 One tough mother, two marketing objectives.

It’s an old debate… can brand advertising actually move the needle on bottom-line business objectives? Ad agency execs say yes, but direct response guys don’t concur. Marketing Directors and C-level execs are often skeptical.

My humble opinion… absolutely. When it’s done well, an “image” ad campaign certainly can move product, and I have a case study that proves it.

Meet Gert Boyle, the iconic matriarch of Columbia Sportswear, and a face only a mother could love.

28_200705251701111Gert’s story is an inspiration and a testament to the power of well-executed advertising. The campaign by Borders, Perrin & Norrander bridged the great divide between image advertising and product-oriented response ads and helped the company become the number one outdoor apparel company in the country. No doubt about it.

Gert inherited the family business in 1970 after her husband’s untimely heart attack. At the time, Columbia was generating $650,000 a year in sales, but was teetering on the brink of insolvency. Although the company made a popular line of fishing and hunting apparel, profitability had been a problem for years. To make matters worse, Neal Boyle had offered three family-owned homes and his life insurance policy as collateral for an SBA loan.

The pressure was on, and after the first year Gert seriously considered selling. But when the deal fell apart she dug her heels in, made some tough decisions, and with help from her son Tim, turned the business around. By 1978 they reached $1million in sales. By 1983, they were up to $12 million.

The first ad campaign that Borders did for Columbia touted the technical aspects of their product and said, “We don’t just design it, we engineer it.”

Ooops. It was a message more suited for the biggest competitors, like Patagonia or North Face, than Columbia. Gert Boyle’s product wasn’t the most technical on the market, nor the most fashionable. It wasn’t a brand you’d see on an expedition up Everest, so the engineering angle missed the mark. It was brand advertising that didn’t capture the heart of the brand.

Columbia products represented functional practicality. Their jackets sold for half the price of their competitors, and were perfectly suitable for 95% of the population who are outside enthusiasts, but not extremists. The brand was more about braving the Oregon rain than assaulting the seven summits.

So in the fall of 1984, Bill Borders and his team came up with something completely different: They started featuring Gert herself in Columbia’s ads. They portrayed her as stubborn, finicky and overprotective. They showed the product and touted benefits in long copy ads, but always in context with Mother Boyle’s quality control efforts. Nothing gets by her!

As it turned out, Gert embodied everything the Columbia brand is about. She was the most obnoxious, bullheaded, effective pitchman ever, and people loved her.

In her book, Gert said “The impact of the ads was almost instantaneous. Sales quickly increased, and I was surprised when strangers came up to me on the streets and asked if I was the “Tough Mother.” Better yet, the image created in the ads took hold. Instead of seeing us as just another outerwear company, our customers thought of us as the company where the cranky, crotchety old broad made sure they were getting a good product at a fair price.”

Once Gert and Tim realized they had a big hit they turned up the heat, outspending their competitors by a wide margin. They started running TV spots where Gert used her hapless son as a product-testing guinea pig. She sent him through a car wash, dumped him, unconscious, on the summit of a mountain. Froze him in the ice and drove over him with a Zamboni. All with the tagline: Tested Tough.

Fun stuff. And spot-on from a branding standpoint. (See them at: www.columbia.com/tv_ads/tv_ads.aspx)

“Our ads set us apart from the corporate pack. People related to us because they believe there is a person at Columbia who really cares. And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I really do care.” – Gert Boyle.

Authenticity. Differentiation. Credibility. And increased sales. What more could you want in an ad campaign?

When the campaign launched in 1984, sales were $18 million. By 1990 Columbia hit the $100 million dollar mark. Today they’re the number one outerwear company in the world, with 2008 sales of $1.32 billion.

Unfortunately, there are signs that point to a backsward shift in Columbia’s advertising. Last year they left Borders and hired a bigger agency to “execute a global communications strategy.”

Borrrrrrring.

Borrrrrrring.

Makes me wonder what that strategy is. Their website and on-line marketing efforts don’t have any of the brand personality of the old Gert-Boyle ads. Now you have predictable, stock photography of pretty-looking models staged in picture-perfect outdoor settings.

Gert said it best: “The tall, thin, blonde models in our competitor’s ads may be easier on the eyes, but they don’t care about you like good old Mother Boyle.”

And I bet they don’t move product like her, either.