Category Archives: branding

municipal branding comes home

In many posts in the early years of this blog, I was (and still am) an ardent opponent of the idea of municipal branding. Municipal branding is the crazed idea that is sold by branding consultants to government leaders that just slapping a logo and a tagline on a location somehow makes it different.

This phenomenon has now raised its ugly head in my backyard as an area of downtown Bowling Green is now supposedly known as the milquetoast brand of “City Center“.

(The name somehow reminds me of Delta City in Robocop.  I’m also fairly sure the City Center folks in Las Vegas may have some legal questions for the downtown BG folks.)

If I may be so bold to quote myself from Brand Zeitgeist

…While visual and tactile representations like logos and colors are important, the real significance of a brand is not something that can been seen or touched.

At its most basic, a brand is a relationship between something and an individual. A brand is a promise that past performance will be an indicator of future results. A brand is shaped by a customer’s positive and negative interactions with the brand. You might see a brand as something only related to a company or other structured organization. However, anything can be a brand: a product, a service, an experience, a person.

Your brand is your most powerful asset, but it’s also an asset that you don’t really own. Branding is not developed from the top down. It’s developed from the bottom up. The consumer, not the company, dictates what the brand image is for any product. The frustrating reality of branding is that while you can provide the tools and platforms of a brand strategy, the brand actually exists only in the minds of the public, the same as the zeitgeist….

I totally concur that visual representations of a brand like logos, taglines, etc are important. They provide visual shorthand for what the brand means. But the real key to building a memorable brand is to provide positive customer experiences and build on the brand equity that is already there (downtown Bowling Green has existed since 1798).

I stand my my mantra: “Marketing is best built-in, not slapped on

advertising lessons from coca-cola summer

It’s summertime. I know this for two reasons: It’s hot and I’m hearing more Coke commercials on the radio.

Whenever I hear Coca-Cola jingles on the radio, my mind goes back to the mid-1990s and the “Always Coca-Cola” campaign.

Those were my radio days and I distinctly remember the Coke commercial reel at the station. I was still doing production grunt work and I had to dub the Coke commercials we needed off the 7-inch reel (which I’m sure was half track stereo tails out at 15 ips) onto a cart for use on the air.

The reel had a lot on it. There was the standard jingle, but the reel also had about 20 different tracks in :30 and :60 versions. There were different cuts for different radio station formats. It was essentially the same jingle that had been remixed as a country version, an urban one, a rock mix, etc.

I found all those customized cuts remarkable at the time because it helped us keep the format of the station on track even during stop-sets. But looking back with branding and advertising strategy in mind, there’s a good lesson there for any business. Customize your message for your audience.

In the nineties, only companies like Coca-Cola could work on that level of customization with mass media. Today with targeted keywords, landing pages, social media channels, and much more; anyone can do it. It’s lazy not to customize your marketing.

Also looking back, I wish that I had lifted one of those reels out of the station. It would have been a unique piece of Coke memorabilia. I’m sure it stayed in the production filing cabinet until I probably threw it away when we moved the studios.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F17057140(side note for the observant reader: Why is this version only :48 instead of :60? It’s for the local station to drop a :12 tag at the end.)

the personal branding myth

Personal BrandingI’m tired of the personal branding shtick.

People are people. Brands are brands.

Are there people who are also simultaneously brands? Sure.
Madonna, Seth Godin, Lady Gaga, Warren Buffett, Oprah, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and many more.

If you can drop your name in that list and it not be a game of “one of these things is not like the other“, then I’ll agree that you are a personal brand.

For everyone else, you don’t need to work on your “personal branding”. You just need to maintain something called “personal integrity”.

Going all the way back to the original personal brand treatise by Tom Peters in the late 90s, most of the things that the personal branding movement tells you to do are the same basic social and communication skills you’ve been working on since kindergarten:

  • Be nice.
  • Treat people with respect.
  • Present yourself in a manner that causes others to respect you.
  • Do good work.

Do you have to adapt these basic IRL social skills for use in the business world or online? Sometimes.
Could you take tips from corporate marketing and brand strategies to shape the way you present yourself on paper and online? Absolutely.

But you can’t just sell the sizzle. People eventually want to eat the steak.

If you spend your time actually creating good content instead of worrying so much about the wrapper you put it in, I think you’d find that your “personal brand” would grow by itself.

long term brands work

Diet Coke has surpassed Pepsi for the first time to become the second-most popular soft drink in the country. Regular Coke is still in the top spot.

Pepsi underwent a massive rebrand for most of their product lines in 2008.

Except for one infamous disaster, Coca-Cola has had relatively the same brand attributes including an antiquated script logo for over 100 years.

Discuss.

the uninspired white meat

The National Pork Board has announced that, starting today, they will abandon their 25 year old tagline for pork, “The Other White Meat”, for a new slogan: “Pork: Be Inspired.”

Their new website, PorkBeInspired.com, has more info on the new tagline as well as videos of Candace Cameron demonstrating different ways to cook pork. Between that and John Stamos being floated as a replacement for Charlie Sheen, we may be in the midst of a Full House renaissance.

But I digress.

In 2000, a study conducted by Northwestern University found “The Other White Meat” slogan to be the fifth most memorable promotional tagline in the history of contemporary advertising. The slogan has achieved the ultimate in brand success. It has established itself in the cultural zeitgeist. Anyone can make a reference to “the other white meat” in conversation or in the media with confidence that it will be understood.

Why just throw all that brand equity away for a shallow forgettable slogan that has no concrete connection to the product?

When the motivational speaker down at the Airport Marriott says “Be Inspired”, will you think about pork chops?

Pork has seen some hard times as of late. Pork sales are not great. The unfortunate intital moniker of the H1N1 virus in 2009 hurt pork consumption. While pork is the most popular meat globally, it comes in third behind beef and chicken in the U.S. So some strong marketing is needed, but why not build on the strengths?

The success of any agricultural commodity branding (Beef, it’s what’s for dinner … The incredible edible egg … Got Milk? … Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives) lies in long term exposure to the fundamental aspects of the commodity. (Subsidies and checkoff fees help too.)

And that’s true for any brand strategy. Build your marketing on the foundations that you’ve already established. Don’t tear everything down and start from scratch unless you want people to forget the old brand. (see BP, Phillip Morris, etc)

Apparently, the pork board does see the value in the “other white meat” slogan. They are regulating it to what they call a “heritage brand” and say will be used in some communications. This is obviously to keep a foot in the intellectual property door and keep the pig rustlers away from it.

So there’s hope. Maybe eventually they’ll be inspired to bring back their best asset.

how the brand extension cookie crumbles

There’s a great marketing lesson to be gleaned from recent news about Girl Scout cookies.

Samoa Girl Scout CookieThe Girl Scouts have announced they are downsizing the varieties of cookies they sell to just six flavors. They’ll now just offer Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Samoas, Lemon Chalet Cremes, and Tagalongs.

Why are they doing this? When they looked at the numbers, they saw that just five varieties made up a whopping 77% of total cookie sales.

Girl Scout cookies had been a victim of something that happens to alot of successful brands. They had become bloated with brand extensions. They had over 25 options which meant 20 flavors of cookies just sat there with minimal sales. They had ridden the trend of moment rather that focusing on the core brand by launching cookie flavors geared toward certain demographic groups or healthier options with sugar-free or trans-fat options.

They’re cookies. Cookies are not supposed to be healthy.

Companies can get lost by offering too many brand extensions. A decision to branch out to new products must be considered carefully. While new product offerings can help, it can also dilute the brand. Brands must know what their core brand is all about. When your brand is considering product extensions that don’t fit that mold of the core brand values, you must either make the (major) decision to change the core values of the brand or reject the new offering as something that doesn’t fit.

Had some brands made that simple decision, we would never have seen silly gimmick-of-the-moment flops like McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, Bic Pantyhose, Coors Spring Water, Taco Bell Burgers, Virgin Cola, and more.

It comes down to knowing what your brand represents — and using that perception to your advantage.

brand mutiny aboard the Pequod

The basic question is: Do you know this mermaid well enough for her to carry an entire global brand?

starbucks new logo

Even though you may have seen her everyday for the past 40 years, I don’t think anyone has really noticed her. The Starbucks logo is being revamped and she’s the siren(not mermaid) who has quietly sat in the middle of their logo since 1971. But she’s now front and center. And alone without the words “starbucks” or “coffee”.

It’s a fact that logos need to be updated (or you’d still be looking at the nipples on the original woodcut version of the Siren while sipping a Caramel Macchiato).

starbucks logo evolution

But logo evolution, like all forms of brand evolution, needs to be a very slow and incremental process. I can see dropping the “coffee” out of the logo; but not the “Starbucks”. After all, Starbucks customers don’t go there for the coffee. They go there for the CUP.

In any case, it’s a treacherous time to be messing with a logo. (just ask GAP).

the jolly old brand

I had been thinking about writing a Christmas post, but couldn’t come up with an idea. Then I realized I’d already written the post; it was just ensconced in a book. What follows is an excerpt (pages 53-56) from Chapter 7 (Brands are Driven by the Message) of my 2010 book, Brand Zeitgeist where I used Santa Claus as a “case study” on using media and marketing to maintain brand consistency over the (very) long term…

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Page 55 of Brand ZeitgeistBrands are a long-term proposition. Just a few ads or a couple of PR mentions won’t have much effect over the short term. When you step back to look at brands that have used media and advertising over the long term, the power of a brand zeitgeist can clearly been seen.

The modern day image that most people have of Santa Claus, with the plump belly, red coat, and white beard has largely been shaped by media and advertising. For centuries, Santa Claus was portrayed as everything from a gnarled elf to a tall gaunt woodsman.

One of the first major steps to creating a unified Santa brand in the mind of the zeitgeist occurred with Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s poem was published annually in numerous newspapers and periodicals and helped define the basic physical characteristics of Santa in the public’s mind:

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

In the latter part of the 19th century, cartoonist Thomas Nast built on the foundation of Moore’s poem. He depicted Santa Claus as a plump man in a red suit and further cemented other aspects of the Santa brand in the zeitgeist with things such as a North Pole residency in his drawings for Harper’s Weekly magazine.

The modern day image of Santa was firmly established starting in 1931 when Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblomto develop advertising images using Santa Claus. Sundblom further built on established canon by Moore and Nast and drew Santa as a warm and friendly human character. The Coca-Cola Santa was placed heavily in the company’s annual Christmas ads in national magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.

Santa Claus is a brand that reaches almost every section of the zeitgeist. Stop almost anyone on the street and they could recite a checklist of all of Santa’s characteristics that have been established in the zeitgeist. If Santa is portrayed in the “wrong way,” consumers will reject it — i.e. skinny in a blue suit. He’s the ultimate example of a successful brand zeitgeist because everyone is on the same page as to what the brand represents.

However, there’s no way you can replicate his success with your brand. For one thing, the media atmosphere is much different today. The entire populace isn’t focused on a few big magazines and three television networks. You don’t have Coca-Cola’s media budget. You don’t have two centuries to wait for your brand strategy to kick in. Finally, let’s face it, you’re not Santa Claus.

But you can learn branding lessons from Santa on how to use media and messaging to establish your brand in the zeitgeist. Firstly, Santa has stayed true to a set of core brand assets and never drastically rebranded to keep up with trends and fads. During his busy season, he is everywhere. He’s at the mall, in parades, on TV, in magazine ads, and in your house. The brand image is inescapable. The image is consistent, clear, and repeated to the point of that the brand image of Santa Claus has been seared into mind’s eye of the public.

The Santa Claus brand was spread in the zeitgeist over the long term by using traditional media and word-of-mouth. While it might be impossible to build a similar juggernaut brand using those same methods, there’s now a new variable in the brand messaging and media equation. Until recently, Santa didn’t have to deal with the Internet.

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And that was an oh-so-clever segue into the “messaging in the digital zeitgeist” section of the chapter. If you’re interesting in reading the rest of the book, you can find Brand Zeitgeist on Amazon. Or you can become a fan of Brand Zeitgeist on Facebook.

the part of marketing that marketing people forget

Starbucks hopped on the Foursquare marketing train early and came out with a great promotion. But Starbucks’ bold move flopped.

Why did they fail? The answer is simple. They forgot (or failed) to communicate their marketing plan with a very important group in the marketing experience — their employees. (It’s the same reason I get stiffed on free syrups when I use my Starbucks card.)

You can spend gobs of money, time, and attention on marketing to get people in the door — but the promises you’ve made with your marketing have to happen when those people come through the door.

Most of your brand is NOT built through advertising, PR, or any marketing message. The brand is mostly built through mundane daily customer experiences. It’s not sexy, but it’s true.

And the customer experience is almost totally controlled by the operational side of the business. If the marketers need/want to build a brand, they need to share their vision and brand strategy with the parts of the company who actually interact with customers.

This is true all the way from the master overall marketing strategy down to individual marketing initiatives. It’s important on all levels, but it becomes even more important when you’re using new and emerging marketing platforms like Foursquare or other forms of digital media. Innovators and Early Adopters are important groups. You want to make sure that employees are delivering superior customer experiences to people who will heavily influence WOM.

For example — The other day, a local sandwich shop tweeted that I could get 10% off if I mentioned Twitter when I ordered. I went there for lunch and mentioned it to the cashier who didn’t even know what Twitter was.

It comes down to the fact if you’re delivering messages to potential markets, you need to share the content of those messages with ALL the people in your organization. They are the ones who will make it work.