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Category: Brand Strategy

Back to basics

We have a newbie in our family – which is why it’s been quiet on the blog. Now that life has settled in a bit, I think it’s time to go back to basics.
Branding is not only relevant to businesses, personal brands have been expanded and monetised for a long time – think Jamie Oliver, the Beckhams or in a crude way, politicians vying for votes.
Brands help categorise not only products, but also personalities, and as a combination of both they make us belong to our own little (or large) tribe. We all naturally brand ourselves not just by the clothes we pick, the phone we buy and the car we drive, there are also professional differentiators, such as job titles – and which company we work for.
With business social media sites the likes of LinkedIn, personal and professional branding has become more and more connected to our status in the market place.
Previous jobs, references, titles and responsibilities shape an image for those researching ‘human resources’ or useful connections for their own venture. Taking care of your image online is now high on the agenda – and it’s not down to make-up and work wear.
We have become official representatives of the businesses we are connected with, be it employers or our own. And they in turn need us to complete their own brand image. It is one big branding soup served as the market dish of the day.
Have a go and google yourself! It’s quite insightful to see what the world sees when your name comes up.
There are lots of little helpers to create a personal brand image for yourself. Depending on how you value your privacy and perhaps how ‘delicate’ you everyday life is, Facebook is one of the most known platforms. But, for a more business related approach, here are some thoughts on what to look out for:
Personal profile websites
Flavours.me
Flavours
About.me
About.me
Pixelhub.me
Pixelhub
Other useful sites to build – or check – your online brand reputation
Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking service. Founded in December 2002 and launched on May 5, 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking.
Klout is a website and mobile app that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the “Klout Score”, which is a numerical value between 1 and 100.
Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”.
Many more are available and it depends on your location, your situation and your intention.
There are however boundaries to even the best attempts to brand yourself professionally – at least when it comes to insurance quotes! We work so hard on differentiating ourselves with job titles and descriptions, yet the IT systems behind the insurance broker websites don’t recognise half of them.
I have specialised in brand consultancy for many years now, combining the analysis and development of a brand strategy and visual brand identity / implementation, being, if anything, more of an art/creative director – yet I will always end up being a ‘graphic designer’ in the field of ‘marketing’. 🙂 I don’t mind, because at the end of the day I work with people and not form fields.
Personal branding is not about pigeon holing and it’s not about being crazy (unless there is a strategy for that) – but at the end of the day we are all professionals and the titles will only matter if someone actually has a tick box for them in their system.

Proud to be broken

Lego is coming to a cinema near you.
Lego is coming to a cinema near you.

With two boys under 6 there is no way you can escape Legomania! We have been bricked up ever since my oldest could hold a shovel – it’s a brilliant toy for training fine motor skills and as a mum, I personally prefer playing Lego with them than endless car chases or the usual boisterous fighting games.
I played Lego as a child (the East German version with limited colours :-)) and remember the magic of unpacking a set of the Western counterpart that was more than just a heap of bricks ready to be transformed into something. There were little men and bits that made a motorbike or a fire engine. I don’t think I had many Lego man but we did find my husband’s childhood collection in the loft and there were quite a few space men with helmets and rocket packs, awesome. Sadly, quite a few of the helmets were broken at the chin strap, promptly rejected by perfectionist dear son.
So, when walking through town centre and seeing the large version of the cinema poster for the Lego movie, I was double impressed by the brand and its attitude to super heroes, not shying away from self-deprecation and mixing grown up humour with childlike excitement and naivety…
Whats that tear in the helmet? Tradition! A  convincingly human brand attribute...
Whats that tear in the helmet? Tradition! A convincingly human brand attribute…

The rocket man in the post has the renowned broken helmet! Well done Lego! It’s a display of confidence as much as known brand loyalty when a product brand can actually celebrate its flaws from the past – a true translation of human traits and values.
Just clever. The magic continues…
 
 

How Times Have Changed…

Helping family to move house a couple of weekends ago – yes, this is one more reason why I am so inactive on my little blog at the moment – I came across a couple of brand items that struck me as amazing.
Player’s Navy Cut (a cigarette brand part of Imperial Tobacco) has had a very different marketing approach than cigarette brands of today.
Image
“The sales of Player’s Navy Cut Cigarettes for the past twelve months show a substantial increase over the preceding twelve months. Here is definite proof that “It’s the Tobacco that Counts,” and that “Quality will Tell.”
You don’t read that in the papers these days! Nor do you read “very gratified to have given so much more pleasure” on a cigarette advert – in fact, you don’t see cigarette ads any more… which also means that Swan had to change their brand strategy:
Image
“The smoker’s match” seems dated for more than one reason. I spotted this Swan ad on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7gWAdy7Jwg
Swan Vesta, now part of Swedish Match, has a bit of a hard to believe vision, considering the industry they are in, but it shows that even the most unlikely products can adapt to a changing market:

Swedish Match brand vision and strategy

It’s perhaps a bit of a crass example illustrating the importance of keeping your brand current and relevant to trends in the market, changes in technology and in perception.
A brand health check is just as important as keeping track of your finances, your insurance, policies and business strategy. And as in most areas, working on your strategy a little bit frequently avoids having to consider a drastic shift in positioning because the brand and its vision have lost their ways.

advertising, brand management, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, marketing

The Day My Hands-Free Device Came to my Rescue

This is a weird one. I don’t drive a fancy car and in order to take a phone call whilst I am out driving, dear husband researched and gifted me with a hands-free box that clips onto my sun shield and connects to my iPhone via bluetooth.
Sadly, after months of working blissfully, I started losing connection about a week ago and despite best efforts of restarting, disconnecting and finally forgetting the device actions I didn’t manage to get my iPhone and Jabra to talk to each other again. This morning, about to head off to a client meeting and expecting a phone call on the way, I once again tried and tried, with no luck. Finally, and almost in jest, I held the hands-free box in my hands and pressed the function key for what is I guess a SIRI equivalent asking me to say a command and voiced in a rather desperate tone ‘pair with my iPhone’ – only to receive a simple step-by step guide to pairing the devices and within seconds I had a connection again!

Brand experience with a voice
Answering my desperate calls… unlike SIRI, this technology created a brilliant brand experience.

What a positively surprising outcome to a frustrating process! I want that Jabra computer everywhere! Where SIRI clearly wasn’t ready for the market, this simple version did just the job. And the brand’s tagline ‘You’re on’ is translated brilliantly into a rewarding brand experience.
I think I will always remember the day when a computer became a little bit more human (and a whole lot more helpful) without being gimmicky and trying too hard.  Thank you, Jabra! You are officially my personal brand of the week!

brand experience, SIRI

When Being NOT on Display is Actually a Compliment for Your Brand

We often talk about the brand as an asset and sometimes I wonder if it perhaps sounds a little bit fictitious or like typical marketing buzz word talk, so I am always on the lookout for examples of perceived brand value to see how it affects a product or service and how we interact with it.

Perceived-brand-value
A no-show as a sure sign of success

Once again using that local jewellers shop window as an example – it strikes me that some brands are clearly perceived to be worth more than others. Rolex? No need to advertise the watch itself and definitely not worth the risk of staying in the shop display during the mall’s closing time. MONTBLANC? Another product with just the bare bones of the watch holders kept on show and the actual goods nowhere to be seen.
Maurice Lacroix on the other hand seem to be in need of a better brand strategy (and perhaps they should really reconsider their choice of brand ambassador). Their products remain on display no matter what the risk.
Even if there is some simple insurance reason behind the empty shelves, it does differentiate Rolex and MONTBLANC as superior brands worth protecting with the extra effort of taking all the goods off the display when the shop shuts.
Ernest Jones are by no means a market stall, so it tells a funny little story about brand value. I wonder if the brand that are kept in sight of potential thieves and thus potentially deemed less tempting are aware of the perhaps unintentional brand differentiation.
For Rolex and MONTBLANC it’s surely another win – win situation in the luxury watch market and also shows how their logos alone are deemed brand communicators enough to warrant taking the products away despite plenty of out-of-hours foot traffic passing by.

We Fuel Progress – Just Not at This Petrol Station…

I mused about this strap line from petrol brand Esso not long ago in this post and when I filled up at the very same station where I first came across the slogan, I had to smile when I saw this new info sheet hung on each petrol pump, advising that advanced fuels are not sold at this station. It’s just one confused brand message in my mind. What do they sell now? Normal fuels? Advanced fuels? And what does the strap line have to do with it all if not the obvious?

Esso-Brand-Advertising
All that progress, just don’t expect to see any of it where you fill up…

I wonder who made them clarify – and I wonder how long they will stick with this in my mind saying a lot without saying anything really tag line of Esso.
Perhaps the tiger will be back in our tanks sooner or later – or perhaps these days animal rights campaigners will have to say a thing or two about this as well…

advertising, brand management, brand message

Learn to Look the Other Way – With Birmingham City University

BCU-Brand-Advert
Become the best – and look the other way

Of course this is another very subjective matter, but it struck me as odd to see this advert promoting Birmingham City University courses. In my mind, teaching is about communication, facing each other, learning from each other – and in this poster, they seem to be saying that you become the best when you don’t look at each other. It may be that the visual won’t work as well because the lines of the cogs and conveyor belt would go across the eye area of the heads, but then perhaps they should have thought of a different way to show this message.
This graphic doesn’t work for me and if anything, the visual makes me doubt that they have the right courses on offer that will be stimulating, engaging and empowering – it just feels wrong, whichever way I look at it.

advertising, attitude, brand advertising, Branding, graphic design

When Thinking Backwards is a Step in the Right Direction

fitflops-covering-beach-with-logo
What are they saying?

Imagine a vast landscape covered with your logo, visible at every step. Would be nice? Meet fitflop, the brand who had the chance to do just that, but decided not to.
fitflops-beach-branding
Turns out, they are saying nothing at all! What a pity, ’cause they could have had their logo plastered all over the sandy beaches of the world…

Their fashionable take on flip flops with a ‘special’ sole has been present on the UK high street for a while now and has become another summer shoe brand alongside Crocs .
On the bottom of their shoes emblazoned in large letters is their logo in a distinct type. It seems that nobody in the product design department saw the potential of the beach shoes spelling out the brand message on Britain’s sandy shores and overseas. Instead, they leave a rather uninspiring ‘golftit’ or just a jumble of what could be letters.
It seems such an apt carrier  for their brand message (beach, sand, sandals, big letter logo…) I can’t believe no-one jumped at this opportunity!

Brand Strategy, Branding, graphic design, typography

Follow Your Convictions – And Sack the Stylist!

There have been a number of blog posts about Bob Geldof’s campaign with Maurice Lacroix and how those two brands go together. They even made a video clip – though in my mind it doesn’t really help change the perception that Bob has perhaps gone for the bucks rather than the ethos.
This blog post by merrick describes the moral dilemma rather nicely.
There is however another issue in this – one where I question the watch brand’s choice to use Bob Geldof as their ambassador – and the main question why they could not manage to create a better image of him representing their high quality products! Greasy hair, bags under the eyes, unhealthy looking skin, a rather cynical look – the whole poster shouts everything other than individualism, integrity and high quality.
Perhaps they are appealing to an audience I do not understand but it would put me off considering their watches as desirable no matter what the price tag.

Bob-Geldof-branding
The right kind of image for a luxury watch brand? It might have looked good as an idea on paper, but the result looks more like a badly printed student project.

advertising, brand management, Brand Vision, Branding, personal branding

SME Branding Lesson #22 – Turning a Negative into a Positive

I’ve just had a weekend in York and had lunch at a restaurant / bar with a Latin theme. It was spacious in itself but there was no toilet on the ground floor. You had to climb five flights of stairs and there was no lift – lots of accessibility issues spring to mind, even ignoring wheelchairs (try carrying a child up all those stairs…).
I could have left the place with a dampened feeling and not just tired legs, but they did something clever with their unfortunate toilet situation – they made it a feature!
All it took was some entertainment on the way up. Instead of emphasising the somewhat arduous trip, it made me walk up twice (second time iPhone in hand to capture the trail).
No business is perfect – and I feel that this is a really simple and nice example for how to deal with situations that have to be managed before they can eventually be altered.
I for one will be remembering this bar for the positive brand experience their innovative dealing with a negative situation has created.
clever-brand-management-02
















brand loyalty, brand management, brand message, Brand Strategy, Branding, Funny

A Logo is a Logo is a Logo…

They famously sparked the usual rebranding debate in 2010 when Waterstones changed their logo from the traditional serif W to a rounded sans serif. It was linked to a campaign ‘feel every word’ – and the typography that ensued always struck me as uncomfortably familiar to Unilever, rebranded by Wolff Olins.

Waterstones rebrand 2010
Feel every word… I feel the world ‘familiarity’

Waterstones Logo 2010
Familiar concept? Compare it to the Unilever brand…

Unilever branding
Plagiarism is a form of flattery…

Early this year they have undergone a backward revolution, I suppose, by abandoning the sans serif FS Alberta Pro back to Baskerville and by dropping the apostrophe. Perhaps it got a bit crowded in the logo marketplace when even Tesco adopted that visual type style.
Tesco welcome typography
Another Unilever inspired brand visual…

It’s an interesting decision by the brand owners, and a somewhat brave step to go ‘back to the roots’.
Waterstones brand evolution
From brand evolution to brand revolution – and back again…

They did however still keep that very Unilever style, now on the new old type.
VentureThree rebrand of Waterstones
VentureThree sticks to the Unilever branding approach…

With all this happening, one can excuse the shop owner of the bookstore chain for struggling to keep up with the latest brand guidelines! This Birmingham outlet seems to believe that if in doubt, stick them all on the shop front – something for everyone…
Waterstones-brand-confusion
Brand confusion? If in doubt, stick them all on!

Perhaps the brand guidelines never made it up to Birmingham, or perhaps there is a hidden message here – but it makes me smile in disbelief that such an established brand can allow a clash of identities…

brand guidelines, brand management, Brand Managment, brand message, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, typography

Form over Function – Is Being Fashionable Really Enough to Innovate a Brand?

It has taken me a few days to digest a press release I received relating to Filofax, a brand I have been following for a while now. Here is the bit that that is almost too bad to be true when relating it to those brand followers that have been loyal and dedicated to the brand throughout its turbulent history.

Filofax press mention
Working the media… enough to reposition the brand?

The Filofax personal organiser is an iconic product with a strong heritage but as a brand they’ve found it challenging to stay relevant in the current digital age. We were challenged to re-position the brand to make it culturally relevant again and re-capture the imagination of ‘lapsed users’ who once used a Filofax but now rely on their smartphones to keep their diaries.
Following a usage and attitudes study, we identified that lapsed users and current Filofax users share the same common ground – they like to write notes and are very interested in fashion / stylish accessories. With this in mind we needed to make Filofax fashionable again to recapture this audience’s attention, so we set up a fashion-focused press office targeting key fashion and style journalists in aspirational and mainstream media, as well as influential bloggers with style focused tactics to change their perception of the brand.
From creating monthly trend reports that tied Filofax designs into leading catwalk looks, celebrity seeding, to implementing a series of style led blogger challenges, over the course of six months Filofax was starting to become recognised as a style accessory. This was all supported with a design partnership with iconic British fashion designer Alice Temperley who created a limited edition collection designed to showcase Filofax’s design capabilities but ultimately raise their profile amongst a high fashion crowd.
Helena Bloomer, MD of SLAM PR

Especially the ‘usage and attitudes study’ must have felt like a slap in the face of those users who are more keen on what’s in it than who made its cover. Some vented their frustration and published an open letter addressing the issue.
Dave Popely wrote a lovely reply to the PRs strange conclusion based on focus groups or other research which, if anything besides missing the point of the brand and its followers, puts our industry in a bad light. It made me cringe reading the buzzword loaded marketing speech and I am going to try doubly hard not to jump to marketing conclusions that are short sighted and biased.
Even though I am not a Filofax user, having just had a few encounters with those passionate about the product on sites like Philofaxy (hello Steve), I believe the very core of the ongoing success of the brand lies in the provision of a tool helping people organise their lives. Those people don’t want to rely on fancy gadgets, they appreciate the versatility, flexibility and reliability of paper and Filofax’s different systems for keeping notes is at the heart of their social and business organisation – day in, day out. To be pigeonholed as “people who like to write notes and are very interested in fashion/stylish accessories” is not only patronising, but alienates exactly the core of brand followers that seem to be keeping the company alive amidst the mass of digital alternatives.

Winchester and Malden
Kindly provided by Steve Morton from Philofaxy, throughout the decades Filofax has excelled as a brand of quality and function

I had a read of a PDF published on Philofaxy in which Kevin Hall lists the chronology of the company since the 1920s and if anything it highlights once again the lack of understanding that the true magic of the personal organiser lies in its functionality rather than its form.
There are so many possibilities of rejuvenating a brand without attempting to use the glittery but fickle and  shallow fashion direction. The best brand ambassadors are those who believe in the product and I just can’t understand why they are not being included in the development of the brand be it for a social campaign or at least for an in-depth forum or brainstorm. They meet up regularly as a group of enthusiasts sharing ideas, ways to file information, laughs no doubt. Why can the Filofax marketing department not see and capture some of that social magic and break through this strange notion that style will rescue them all.
Cat137_page9
An old system based on functionality

Just like Apple used to create extra special hardware and software for the design community, there is an opportunity to develop an extra special functional paper organiser that looks good as well – and if, as it has been with Apple (excluding SIRI and Maps to date) the design is just as amazing as the product itself, people will happily pay a premium.
Scotsman article about the filofax brand on sale again
Up for grabs – will the French know how to take the brand in the 21st Century?

It remains to be seen what’s next on the cards – with a new edition of the Alice Temperley range announced for the 2013 London fashion week and all those “style led blogger challenges and celebrity seedings” – or perhaps with the possibility of a takeover by French firm Exacompta Clairefontaine. Possibly the future ‘Le Filofax’ will be naturally confident of their French style such that the focus of the brand managers will shift towards the deeper appeal of the product for those using it as an integral part of their life.

brand loyalty, brand management, Brand Managment, brand message, Brand Strategy, Brand Vision

SME Branding Lesson #21 – Strap Lines, Brand Promises and Does it All Matter?

It took me a while to realise what was bothering me about the new campaign for Esso. Something just didn’t feel right – which I guess is what branding is all about. The chemistry seems wrong between me and their new slogan ‘We fuel progress.’
But what’s not to like? Straplines and slogans have been with us forever, they are a great, simple way to get the brand essence across and gives the company the opportunity to show some attitude, its own language, its mentality and gives a glimpse of what the brand stands for.
Nike’s ‘Just do it.’ inspired a whole nation of fitness lovers without olympic ambition. Apple’s ‘Think different’ struck a cord not only with creatives, but more and more with consumers of home entertainment and technology. Even Esso’s ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ seems more exciting and personable than the extension of last year’s ‘We fuel creativity’ with Lego promotion. It seems the line lacks meaning for the consumer. In a time where fuel prices are ever increasing and profits soaring, there is something patronising about this statement. ‘We fuel progress’, don’t you know? Aren’t we clever! You just keep paying us and we keep paying our marketing department to come up with yet another clever line that tells you how well we are doing because naturally this is all you are interested in!
Oh, they mean the long term benefit of their fuel and are ‘making fuel work harder for you’. It just does not engage me.
There are plenty of great slogans that have stood the test of criticism and time.

Andrex Toilet Paper

Around since the 70s, the Andrex® Puppy is one of the UK’s most recognisable brand icons.

Andrex brand slogan
It’s the little things… and that little bit of consistency that adds to the success of this brand.

Tommee Tippee

This household baby brand is probably far more known for their sub brand ‘closer to nature’ than its slogan ‘simply intuitive’… but it’s a nice line nonetheless.
Tommee Tippee Logo and Slogan

Closer to nature sub brand
The power of a sub brand. Often used interchangeable among mothers, the sub brand has become a brand name and slogan in itself.

BT – British Telecom

BT slogan
I had to look it up – when BT dropped its “It’s good to talk” slogan, it didn’t quite capture the imagination with ‘bringing it all together’…

Dulux

It’s another household name and the slogan ‘let’s colour’ sums it up just nicely.

Dulux brand slogan
Another famous dog – dulux has made a brand name for itself and I wonder if the dulux dog is now part of the dog breeders index…

BBC
A brilliant brand and institution (in my mind anyway) and one with such an amazing history. I can’t imagine they will ever change their old motto “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation” – but who knows!
BBC motto
What they all have in common (and there are many more) is a story, a sense of something relating to the product or service, and not just words without much human interest.
Where Esso fails to convince, other brands have managed to capture the imagination of their stakeholders and are good to bear in mind when developing slogans or straplines for less well-known businesses. Not everyone will make it into a household name cited on wikipedia, but having a memorable and imaginative strapline can lighten up marketing banter and provide a step in the direction of brand advertising without having to explain in many words.
Once a slogan becomes synonymous with the meaning and essence a company tries to communicate, it becomes part of a brand and will be a useful tool for marketing and communications.
How to come up with a good strapline? Here are just some thoughts:

  1. KISS – Keep it simple stupid – as mentioned before, it’s a great rule for straplines. Anything complicated, long winded or hard to pronounce will be forgettable.
  2. Be real – don’t make promises you can’t keep. Emphasising strengths is one thing. Blatantly boasting or exaggerating usually won’t work long-term.
  3. Be human – use words we understand. Add some empathy, some feeling. It will go a long way.
  4. Be creative – don’t shy away from trying something new. Just avoid emblazoning it in the brickwork of your building until you are sure it is working for your brand!
  5. Be consistent – don’t have a new strapline every couple of months. Develop one and stick with it at least for the duration of a campaign or something you can measure the success of. There is no point keep changing a strapline if the issue is lying elsewhere.
  6. Be proud – don’t go for cheap laughs. Have a slogan you are happy to share and shout about. If it works, it will work wonders…

 

brand management, brand message, brand slogans, Brand Strategy, Branding

Odd Things to Stick Your Brand On Olympics Special

The Paralympics have arrived and we are once again bathing in the excitement of a global sporting event hosted in our capital. I had been on the lookout for cool and crazy merchandise featuring the much debated and much protected London 2012 branding, and here are just two recent ones I came across…
It’s odd to think that this is the item of choice for promoting an event that excels in its dynamic nature, is full of vibe, confidence and energy, that is about breaking records and inspiring a generation. Was the underlying brand messaging strategy to engage with the nation every time they take their  Sunday roast out the oven or put the tea pot on the side table? Oven mittens and tea pot warmers, ladles and other cooking equipment may be apt for MasterChef or Ready Steady Cook… but I am somewhat doubtful of the effect beyond the gimmick and ensuing giggle… Then again, we might inspire a generation of record breaking oven users and tea makers.
Anything is possible!

Olympics-Branding-potholder
Serving oven roast dinners in record time – the 2012 branded olympic oven glove. Torchbearers accessory perhaps?

Olympic-branding-tea-pot-warmer
Polly put the kettle on! We have an Olympic tea pot warmer to watch the 100m!

Funny, Logos, merchandise, product development, product placement

SME Branding Lesson #19 – Brand Strategy and the Recession

branding in a recession
Saving in the wrong place – an easy mistake in the world of branding and marketing

It’s much talked-about in the media and favourite subject of a lot of marketing agencies – for good reason. An economic downturn inevitably means budget cuts, and marketing, design and advertising budgets are often conceived to be the outgoings which businesses can live without.
Of course everybody who knows even just a little bit about market positioning, purchasing cycles and consumer behaviour knows that this is a bit of a trap a lot of SMEs fall into. Because it is so hard to track the ROI (return on investment) of marketing elements, such as a new brochure design, an updated website or even a fully fledged re-brand, businesses find it hard to see why they have to keep the work up in order to reap the rewards.
I like to think of it as one of the vital habits of business. Just the way you can’t expect your teeth to stay clean if you stop brushing them because you are short of time (or toothpaste), you can’t expect your brand to flourish and grow if you don’t keep working on getting your brand message out there. So in that sense, all that marketing talk is very true. I do however think that the recession does give more than the challenge of continuing marketing activities to benefit from gaining market positions due to competitors bailing out or lying low.
When money is tight, creativity becomes extra valuable. Creativity allows to stretch a brand, to tweak out new methods of getting it out there, to household with budgets and still stand out with truly beneficial messages, information, services or products instead of  expensive gimmicks. Looking beyond the print and online marketing could yield inexpensive answers that retain existing customers and get your brand talked about.
Consider some of the following:

  • Have you clearly defined your target market or are you ‘carpet bombing’ and thus having increased spending without guaranteed response?
  • How can  you add value to your existing customers – can you share some expert knowledge that will help them and set you apart from competitors?
  • How do your target audiences engage with your brand? Is there a way to reach them that does not require expensive ad campaigns?
  • Do you have a single focus product or service that is the core of your brand and that convinces new and existing clients? Are you pushing this or are you in danger of diluting your brand by trying too many other things that may or may not increase business?
  • Do you excel through excellence in your field – and in the way you treat your customers? Are there ways you can improve the interaction between your brand and consumers with staff training, brand understanding and focusing on delivering an amazing experience?
  • Are you talking to the right people?
  • Could you use the press to gain some coverage through interesting stories?
  • Is your brand easy to recognise? Is your existing marketing material adding to your brand and are you proud to share it?
  • Do you spend your time and resources on perceived ‘free’ marketing, such as social, because it works for  you or just because everybody else does it?

Each business is individual and has individual challenges. The recession is not great for most of us (money lenders and crooks not counting). It is however a definite opportunity to drive a brand forward and gain momentum when the competition seems to stand still…

brand management, brand positioning, creativity, marketing, recession

The Mighty Power of Personal Brands and Twitter – and what the ASA has to say about it…

… In the case of Wayne Rooney, some may say that brand personality may be debatable compared to David Beckham or Stevie Gerrard, but he has undeniably an amazing followership on twitter and the brains behind him to make money from his brand.
Turns out, a lot of other celebrities have done the same and that kind of endorsement has been debated by the ASA and in the case of a tweet relating to the NIKE campaign, he has been asked to change/remove the sponsored tweet.
In an article the BBC writes:

“This is relatively new territory for us as a regulator,” ASA spokesman Matt Wilson told the BBC.
“People are experimenting and using Twitter to reach consumers, but the same advertising rules apply. It’s an ongoing process and this illustrates the care firms must take.”

Wayne Rooney Twitter Campaign for Nike
Not identifiable as marketing communications – Who’d have thought…

It is an interesting development and perhaps a sign of things to come as commerce exploits people brands as key influencers on social media. It also makes me wonder if such strategies will be a long-term success for both sides; the celebrity and the consumer brand. Either may be taken less serious or be seen in the wrong light when the true motivation behind brand endorsements is made obvious.
It does seem a logical way to use influencers to evoke desirability and connect a product or service with a certain status – but in my mind this works much better when it is not as obviously doctored or orchestrated as the Tag Heuer watches ad campaigns.
Tag heuer brand adverts
Pure paid brand endorsement by celebrities – always making me cringe slightly because of its contrived nature.

On the whole though I agree with Ed Aranda, cited in an article about the twitter endorsement issue, that people should be grown up and wise enough by now to understand those new emerging adverts and to take them for what they are – an invitation to pay to join the tribe of the endorser but by no means any more forcefully than all the other marketing surrounding us daily.

advertising, brand advertising, brand loyalty, personal branding

Filofax… A Fashion Brand on the Rise or an Endangered Species?

Alice Temperley for Brand Filofax
At £399, with little or no sales, is this really the future of Filofax?

Just as I heard on the grapevine from a reliable source that Filofax’s venturing into the fashion world trying to sell organisers for £375 and £399 (this is about 4 times the price of a conventional Filofax) may have been all but a disaster, in comes the press release that they will do it all again!

“I’m so pleased to be partnering with Filofax again to create a second collection, especially following the amazing response we received from the limited edition styles earlier on in the year. A Filofax is much more than just a diary, for me it’s a place to collect inspiration, write my endless lists and juggle my life. I wanted to turn it into an accessory which can accompany you anywhere; from day meetings to nights out with friends. It’s a busy world and still so important to write things down” says Alice Temperley, MBE

Whilst the current range, according to retailers, is actually bombing, it makes you wonder why they are doing another run – but then I saw the price range and it is significantly less than last time:

“Temperley for Filofax, consisting of the Violet and Ikat, will be available nationwide and online from September 2012 in pocket and personal sizes, priced £45 – £165.”

The feedback from their loyal, traditional customer base has been mixed – there seem to have been a lot of problems with the production and quality of the new range. It’s probably the single most important issue for a brand selling luxury brand experiences with high priced goods or services – you expect immaculate quality –so it’s a shame they got this so wrong.
Here is a link to anther blogger discussing quality issues.
I am sure Filofax will continue to work as a brand in some shape or form – and that belief is mainly due to the excitement and dedication I experienced talking to those that still see the value and place of a paper based diary in today’s age of smartphones and electronic gadgets.
Considering this dedicated customer base, such as the Philofaxy community, I still wonder if it really was a wise decision to stretch the brand into this new area  – and the notion that they are doing a fashion range at cut down prices now somehow defeats the whole purpose of it.
Perhaps they could look at working closer with their ‘fan base’ instead and do a collaboration with their actual customers  rather than investing all their efforts into an unknown market. I guess we just have to wait for the next press release after London Fashion Week and be surprised once again!

Alice Temperley, brand loyalty, brand management, Brand Strategy, Design, Fashion, Filofax

SME Branding Lesson #18 – Brands and Respect for Personal Space

It’s one of those things shoppers have to expect: You walk into a store and a shop assistant will ask you within seconds if they can help you. (When I first arrived in the UK, I was stumped but then quickly learned the phrase ‘no thanks, I am just browsing’.)

Street fund raisers
Chuggers or charity muggers and their effect on brands

Another regular occurrence of high street shopping is that a team of fundraisers will hustle you to appeal to your giving nature. This one is a particularly tough one because obviously the charities need to raise funds. However, there are different ways to go about it and I have come across groups of fund raisers who gathered at lunch time, swapped their branded vests and changed into another charity – it does border on insincerity and changes the image of philanthropy to hard core business.
More crazy though, every week, I get a letter from three household brands and, after more than five years of getting them now, it is definitely affecting the way I see their brand. Lloyds tries to give me a credit card, BT some phone line upgrade and Virgin anything that’s on their mind at the time. I subscribed to neither, and neither messages have ever hit me at a decision making point over a rather large ‘buying cycle’ period, which makes me question their effectiveness.
Yes, the old dogma of brand marketing used to be to ‘carpet bomb’ the consumer in the hope that a message would stick with a number of people which, despite being very small, would build the customer base that made the business worthwhile. We have moved on – and very select targeted advertising is possible now, but it seems it’s still too much effort or too scary for brands to throw away those huge direct mail data bases and find new, innovative means of brand communication.
It’s not just about shouting out messages at people, it feels like an invasion of personal space. Those brands, that have looked at other approaches to become embedded in the mind of their target market when it comes to the buying decision, will probably find the long-term benefit of not poking their nose into our every day life and let us come to them when we want something. It’s not just the power of the niché, it’s the power of the brand itself.

  • Educational approach – provide customers with practical, educational content, be it on your website, blog, via an app for smartphones, on social media platforms such as twitter or LinkedIn, appearances on seminars, exhibitions, in the press – you are the expert, so make sure other people can benefit from that. Yes, it’s a worry that the competition will ‘take inspiration’ from what you do, but you can’t run a business worrying about what they may or may not do; it’s much better to be the first one that wholeheartedly embraces the ‘sharing’ attitude and builds a name (brand) for themselves in their chosen field.
  • Subtle post sale marketing – Someone bought something from you, whehey! They get a receipt, and that’s probably it. Perhaps this is the point where they are open to find out a bit more about your magic product or service. Perhaps the receipt could be accompanied with a short message about related items of potential interest? Amazon’s ‘others also bought this’ system and derivatives are really effective and make sense if you consider the consumer being on a ‘shopping spree’ and open to suggestions.
  • Supporting causes, charities, events, fundraisers – it’s nothing new, but ‘giving back’ means free PR, great local exposure and a positive attitude towards your brand. It’s a win-win situation and doesn’t have to cost much.
  • Devising a strategy to reach the most relevant target market – this has a few advantages. Speaking from a designer’s heart, one obvious plus point is that the value of a very specifically targeted campaign item is much higher because of the better conversion rate. Thus, it is viable to invest proper time (and money) and the creation of a great piece of communication that will convince rather than grind down readers. Another one is the likelihood of recommendations and referrals. If I talk to those interested in my brand, chances are, they will appreciate the communication and remember to mention it with other like-minded people. Nobody really shouts about the local pizza menu thrown through the letterbox every week, but if you are a golfer and found a brand that provided you not only with great relevant products but also added value to your shopping experience by giving tips, insider tricks, offers, etc, you may very well tell your golfing friends about it.
To summarise, I believe personal space also applies to the way brands communicate with their clients and customers. Respect is key – as is relevancy and adding value.
I might just have to drag one of them charity workers to one side for a chat one day…

Brand Strategy, Branding, buying cycle, marketing effectiveness

Is it time to bring behaviourism back into strategies?

This is a really interesting subject. I guess it does go beyond loyalty card systems and referral schemes.
It brings to mind psychological phenomena such as the notion that people experience loss ten times more than they feel when gaining something. Or the idea that our brain is programmed to find patterns, and changes – we become blind to things that don’t change and we become superstitious when patterns in our interaction with the world are detected.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about the subject to some extend in Tipping Point when he describes the characteristics of those influencers who can tip the balance and achieve a result – be it hush puppies or Paul Revere‘s ride during the American Revolution.
It would be great to see some examples of current brands using behaviourism as a basis for their brand strategy – and perhaps that kind of case study would be just what they expected…

behaviourism

An Extremely Challenging Choice of Brand Name

Challenge-extreme brand name
Is it a sports brand? Equipment for mountain expeditions or marathon runners?
No! It’s a DIY tool… Puzzling.

Challenge-extreme-DIY-tools
A challenge too far?

Yesterday, I had one of those moments where you see something, walk past, stop, walk back and smile in disbelief. No, it wasn’t yet another Banksy display – not here in sunny Sutton Coldfield! – it was the packaging displaying the brand name ‘Challenge Xtreme’ and the realisation of the content: a lawnmower.
Little did I know then that the brand also comprises more home grooming products, such as a grass trimmer and a screw driver. Is it just me or is there a disparity between the brand name and the product? Should trimming or mowing your lawn be associated with ‘challenge extreme’? What does it tell me about the brand? Is it an extreme challenge to operate? Will it always break or is it challenging to store? I just want a lawn mower that is  ‘extremely easy’ or ‘the quick and simple’.
There are of course other lawn mower brands and a quick search on Argos reveals the following list:

Black and Decker, Bosch and Flymo are brand names that connect with attributes such as quality, reliability and technology. Especially Flymo stands for ease and comfort when keeping that famous English lawn neat and tidy.  I am not much of a gardener, so the other brands are unknown to me and, apart from Qualcast reminding me of the “It’s a lot less bother than a hover” controversy against Flymo many moons ago, they don’t evoke much feeling or reaction. Challenge and Challenge Xtreme, however, stick out like sore thumbs and I don’t quite get the brand strategy surrounding the product name.
Are they targeting a nichè of ninja gardeners? Is there a secret society of cutting-edge DIY practitioners who will require the emotional backup of a Challenge Xtreme screwdrivers to conquer those plasterboard walls and hang up some pictures?
Perhaps I should hang out in garden centres a bit more and see who goes for the Challenge or Challenge Xtreme – it may be one surprising tribe to belong to in and outside the house…

brand names, brand personality, Brand Strategy

The Brand as an Asset – As Proven by Ford

Ford brand icon
The Ford Oval – more than just a logo

If someone is in doubt that a logo really is of monetary value to a business, and that a brand identity can be used to vouch for credit re-payments, here is a current news article that describes just that…
Ford pledged their Ford Blue Oval as part of a loan package and a representative commented on this: “When we pledged the Ford Blue Oval as part of the loan package, we were not just pledging an asset (…) We pledged our heritage. The Ford Blue Oval is one of the most recognized symbols in the world, and it is a source of great pride and passion, both inside and outside our company.”
Now, seven years after the bailout, Ford have their logo back in their possession – and comment further that this has an ‘enormous psychological impact on Ford and all of our employees’…
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT610oLXLjI&w=640&h=360]
It’s just great example to advocate the importance of a brand symbol and why companies work so hard on keeping their icon unique and memorable. It is, after all, one of the easiest visual identifiers of a business, if neither the product or service are visible.
Whether Ford will use this opportunity to once again evolve their logo and thus mark the beginning of a new era will have to be seen – and maybe there is a brand strategy meeting being planned as we speak…

brand icon, Brand Strategy, emotional brand

A Purely Pure Brand Ad – And Why It Works

20120509-204401.jpg

If you didn’t know this brand, you’d be none the wiser having read this advert. It is as such a lovely example for why this type of advertising can only work for established brands or those who can pre-empt or follow-up with a campaign that creates the connection and link to the brand and product.
It also showcases how it has become common practice for companies to utilise charities to make a statement, show that they care, support and ‘give back’ — the essence of corporate responsibility.
For this particular brand it works because it doesn’t try too hard, it doesn’t even attempt to obviously mix this fundraising initiative with messages about their product directly, and it visually speaks the language of the brand, adding to its story and its roots rather than trying to be controversial/contradicting for the sake of some short lived attention.
Even in their choice of charity, the brand positions itself among a certain demographic and engages without pushing the product directly.
That’s the magic adverts as good as this one come with in the long-run.
Something to aim for…

advertising, Branding

A Fashion Item to Chew On

It’s a far stretch in my mind, but it seems the creators of Kellogg’s are the next brand to enter the world of fashion. Their first special edition designer handbag by Australian fashion designer Kirrily Johnston was announced this week.
It does have a pocket for holding the Special K snack bar but I am somewhat bemused and curious if this will be a sell out or just a fad…

Kelloggs special k handbag
What if I put my Mars Bar in the pocket?!

The cost of the handbag, which is made from calf leather and has a handcrafted detachable tassel for a key ring, is around $750 and I will be really interested to see who will buy this. At this price point, is a cereal brand really attractive enough to make a woman who could spend that money on an established handbag or fashion brand to splash out on the Kellogg’s handbag?
Maybe they will and it’s genius. Maybe they won’t and it will move to the section of ‘brand extensions that didn’t work out’.

brand extension, Brand Strategy, Branding, product development

SME Branding Lesson #15 – Be Generous

20120426-220713.jpg
It’s been twice now in recent weeks that I have been surprised by the generosity of businesses who didn’t have to, but did go beyond expectations.
I was about to travel with my youngest son to see the great grandma quite a long way away and someone made me aware that my break lights stopped working. So I headed to the local garage since I never had the opportunity to do that type of car DIY myself and asked if they could change the bulbs for me. The mechanic booked me in and we got the pushchair put so I could take the kids home and leave the car there. (Hurray to truly local businesses).
What happened next was sweetly unexpected – he came back to me fumbling in his pockets and pulled out two pound coins. One for each son to put in their money box – for good luck.
My car was fixed for less than 10 Pounds within the hour and I was left happy and ready to send any car owner their way!
It wasn’t that they had some marketing theme, some ‘buy one, get one free’ offer or a prize draw for getting more customers – they were simply human and tried to make my life easy and put a smile on my face.
At the weekend we visited York and ventured into a board game shop to get an expansion for Dominion. My husband joked whether they would give a birthday discount (it was his 40th that day) and a few seconds later the shop manager came out of the wood works (ok, the window sill) and told his staff to give us 10% off. How nice was that!
Again, there was no email subscription offer, no referral scheme, just good old customer friendliness and unexpected generosity.
It’s something I think any brand can learn from. We spend all this time, effort and money to give brands a human face but sometimes the simplest human interaction is worth a hundred campaigns. It doesn’t have to involve money, and it’s not about just giving away things, it’s about relevancy and an appropriate response that allows people to feel connected to your business.
Think about how you can add value to a customer’s purchase. Can you train your staff to be able to take liberties and react to enhance a purchasing experience? Is there another way to engage with shoppers apart from the age old ‘can I help you with something’ question?
Put yourself in your client’s shoes and try to create an experience with your product or service that will keep your brand in their mind and on their tongues when recommending you to others.

Brand Strategy

Coca Cola – A Brand That Pulls Its Socks Up…

The Diet Coke brand s on the move. A few months ago it was London Fashion Week.

diet coke and lipstick
At Boots as a freebie, the lip gloss was one promotion linking diet coke to the world of fashion and beauty.

fashion week cans 2012
Wild inside... some funky designs for the diet coke cans

fashion shoot
Positioning the brand in the fashion scene.

Now it is the launch of the Jean Paul Gaultier bottles for diet coke that is in the news. The ‘Madonna’ inspired designs position the brand as a cool accessory, which reminds me once again of the FiloFax strategy to use a designer to create a special collection for the rather traditional brand.
jean paul 02
Gaultier 01
Diet-Coke-by-Jean-Paul-Gaultier3
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sq8OKMw6c7I&w=560&h=315]
When looking at the different bottle designs and musing over the undoubtedly super versatile history of the brand, I remembered a scene from Strictly Ballroom that may have been the brand’s first exploration of the fashion subject – check out the socks! Almost as eccentric as the  ‘The Cure’ Love Song where they have socks hanging up in a cave.
Coca-Cola-Strictly-Ballroom
Product placement with a touch of fashion... foreboding the brand's strategy of 2012?

Here is a video of the whole scene. Obviously unintentionally, in light of the news and fashion hype surrounding the brand this just makes me smile.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRx0b993Lj4&w=560&h=315]

advertising, Funny, packaging

Some very interesting thoughts on the news of the planned re-brands of Millets and Blacks. It sounds quite plausible in the Design Week article and it will need to be seen if a new strategy and ‘lick of paint’ will overcome the internal cultural and external high street behaviour issues that caused the brands to be in this situation in the first place.
Perhaps they will start the process on the ‘inside’ and it is not just a marketing fix, but the beginning of a new era for both brands.

brand, business

SME Business Lesson #10 – Be Patient and Grow Slowly

You are busy selling your products or service and business life couldn’t be better – or more exciting. It is at this point that it is tempting to expand your brand offering and to try and get more market share elsewhere.
Think twice before venturing into unknown territory. Your brand will be much stronger and probably more profitable if you concentrate on your core strength first. Make sure you achieve your branding goals, become the market leader or one of the major players in your sector and work hard on getting your unique selling point across.
Unless you like a risky gamble, only when your brand is well established and recognised by your target audience and has enough brand ambassadors to keep new and repeat business coming in, only then would I advise to look into diversifying.
There are bound to be implications for your core business –

  • Starting from the top, your business, brand and marketing strategy need re-thinking and adjusting
  • Not all your stakeholders will buy into your brand extension and may feel alienated
  • New infrastructure requirements will stretch your resources and challenge your existing and new brand
  • Your new brand will need some sort of investment – time or money – before it will be a revenue earner, so cashflow may be an issue
  • You will have less time to dedicate to a particular area of your business which may be detrimental to your existing client base
Brandingstrategyinsider.com has just published this article answering a question of an India based soap manufacturer and whilst it relates to large brands, but I think it is relevant for SMEs also.
“…one must first understand what brand associations are most closely tied to the brand in question. Any brand extension into a new product category must reinforce one of those primary associations without creating new negative, conflicting or confusing associations for the brand. If this rule is followed, the brand extension will actually reinforce what the brand stands for.” Brad VanAuken

You can read the article here: Can Brand Extensions Weaken A Brand?: Branding Strategy Insider. I had also posted an article back in 2010 about some of those weak or failed brand expansion attempts. And here are some more strange big brand extensions:

Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks
Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks

cosmopolitan brand flop
Cosmopolitan owned a yoghurt brand for all but 18 months

Stallone High Protein Pudding
Silvester Stallone gave his name to a high protein pudding. Yum.

barbie_golf_natalie Meyer
Barbie launched a clothing range (Image courtesy of Natalie Meyer)

In essence, businesses naturally need to expand or change to keep their brand and brand promise current, valid and fit for the future. But whilst it may be tempting to diversify early, time will be better spent establishing a strong brand identity and market position – and to truly understand how to apply your existing brand values to the new product or service.

brand extensions, SME

SME Branding Lesson #9 – Why Bother with Branding?

I keep writing about branding and how SMEs could approach the subject – but why should you in the first place? There are many business owners who are wondering why they should invest money into devising a brand strategy and building a brand when business is going well, they have a loyal client base who refer them onto new customers. Why bother changing anything?
1.    What remains of your business when you step out?
Not leaving your business vulnerable
Often, running a small business means you wear many hats, including that of the sales and marketing manager, the new business manager and the human resources manager. Your clients buy into you as much as your product or service. (Especially in the services industry). Imagine you are no longer there. Without a brand carrying your values, will they trust your replacement? Will they still perceive your business as a specialist?
Building a brand gives you the opportunity to transfer and establish your values and credentials into a larger organisation that can successfully represent you and strengthen your perception of being an expert professional.
2.    Differentiate yourself from your competition
Differentiate your brand
You may run a successful business without investing time and money on building your brand, but chances are, your competitor will be a step ahead of you if he does. If you appear as just ‘one of many ‘on the market, you may be seen as a commodity.
If your business has a brand which communicates a perceived value and a promise, it also offers an easy solution to a consumer’s problem without having to tediously find and analyse every other similar service. If they have to do that research, price will most likely be the deciding factor instead of quality, service and expertise and you are likely to lose out on business or on profit margin.
3.     Think ahead – and outsmart copy cats
Chase away the competition
If you have a great business idea, chances are someone will copy you to get a piece of the cake. Of course competition is healthy, but to be sure you stay on top, establishing your product or service as a brand will not only display its core strength, it will also mark your territory and your market position to businesses who have not yet built a brand reputation.
4.    Be consistent
Consistency in brand image
When it comes to building a brand identity, one of the main benefits is consistency. Consistency in how you visually present your company helps consumers and clients to recognise and remember your product or service when they come to make that crucial buying decision. It’s not just vanity, it’s an important part of marketing where you want to ensure that the right story gets told no matter where your clients get in contact with your business. Without a clear strategy and understanding about what that message should be and how it can be visually communicated, you run the risk of appearing undefined and forgettable.
5.    Be proud
Proud brand ambassadors
Building a brand is about ownership as much as about adding value to your business. If you and your team have a clear vision about what your company, product, service stands for, what you strife to do, who your ideal customers are, how you want to communicate with them, etc, chances are, you will all be a stronger team – in service, sales and marketing. When everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, you are well on the way to build a brand that has proud ambassadors among its staff – and businesses like Innocent, Apple, Google or The Co-Operative have shown the power of the people that are proud of their work place.
There are more reasons, some more business, some more design, some more marketing focused. I strongly believe though that whether you are a professional consultant, a small local business or a larger company, defining a brand strategy and getting a grasp of how you can create a lasting brand surrounding your product or service is an investment into your business’s long-term success.

Brand Strategy, SME

SME Branding Lesson #6 – Be Incredibly Credible

Nanoblur brand advert
Buy this… because 45 people have said so.

We are all just too familiar with the tempting voice of adverts and the seductive messages of point of sale installations that convince us to part with our money and feel good about it. This is one of the finest artforms of brand advertising and marketing – but there is also the danger to turn an incredible statement into a incredibly laughable one that could have the opposite effect.
I am not saying that nanoblur is not working or not flying off the shelves at Boots, but their small print had the opposite effect of reassuring and supporting their sales pitch. 45 people tested it and therefore it must be true that it makes skin flawless in seconds? Would it really have cost them that much to at least do 100? Better more? (I have no idea about clinical studies so perhaps it is unachievable for brands to do that but it seems such a small number of people, I wonder if they were better off making their statement a bit less incredible but not having to spoil it with ASA ruling copy that makes it sound a touch ridiculous.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGD_pxuHhwM]
The Vauxhall Lifetime Warranty adverts sparked off complaints about being misleading and were subsequently forced to change their campaign following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Quite a different area of ‘business’, the church of Nottingham had to change a claim they were making in one of their flyers.
Nottingham Church Leaflet
Claiming the un-claimable.

Dennis Penaluna from the Nottingham Secular Society said he was shocked by the leaflet.
“I couldn’t believe the overarching, ridiculous, unfounded claims they were making. They can’t be substantiated,” he said. “It’s a dangerous nonsense. People who are ill or vulnerable can be easily persuaded. They will grasp at anything.”
Read an article about this on the bbc news website.
Another brand that promised more than it could keep is Baby Einstein, a Disney product extension targeting babies and toddlers giving parents the idea that the DVDs are educational. “There is evidence to show that screen based activity is bad for the brain.” says Pippa Smith, founder of lobby group Mediamarch. The company decided to offer parents a re-fund for DVDs purchased in the last 5 years – certainly not a great indicator for success.
babyeinstein logo
Disputed educational tool

Nurture brand
Unsubstantiated claims of health benefits in formula

Similarly, Heinz was reprimanded following ‘ridiculous claims’ in their infant formula ads. They said that its product could support the growth of infant brains, bodies and immune systems. The ad voiced that each child needs a “special combination of nutrients to sustain the incredible growth in its brain, body and immune system.” It added that Heinz had produced Nurture specifically in order to “provide for those three essential aspects of growth.” The commercial concluded by saying that Nurture would help “nourish, protect and develop your baby.”
The ASA rejected Heinz’s claims and ruled that the advert falsely implied specific health benefits instead of general nutritional content. The ASA said: “We concluded, therefore, that the claim was unsubstantiated and the ad was unacceptable.”
So, it seems that whilst it is understandably tempting to use provocative and attention-grabbing headlines in brand advertising, there are a few things to bear in mind.

  • Be realistic about what you are promising and what you can deliver
  • Don’t rely on great statements without backing them up with great evidence
  • Don’t patronise your customers – respect their knowledge and experience even if you are the expert in your field
  • Use marketing methods, such as money back guarantees, as a way to instill confidence in a purchase
  • Be clear, simple and concise in your brand messages and offerings (KISS your Brand)
  • Be creative in your copy. In fact, be amazing. Use engaging details to tell your brand story and shine a spotlight on how your brand is different – but be honest

I may be on my own feeling like I am being taken for a fool with the ‘nanoblur 10 years younger claim’, but if I part with £20 for a small tub of face cream, I would prefer to be reassured by more than a busload of people. As it is, the product has settled as nanoblurb in my mind and makes me smile, but not buy it.

attitude, brand management, Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

A Brand Extension from the 50s?

Sometimes it feels like the world is going backwards. Just when we think that women are gaining more influence and power, are getting higher salaries and more opportunities in areas not open to them in the past, there comes a brand that turn back to stereotypical patronising sales methods that is slightly bemusing, if not a bit infuriating.
Lego seems to finally have realised a brand extension proposal conceived in the 1950s where housekeeping and raising a family were considered the ideal roles for females and where products and advertising were geared towards this social attitude.

Lego Friends Packaging
A girlie stereotype coming from a Heartlake city near you

In December last year, Lego Friends hit the UK as a new range targeting young girls, featuring five Bratz-like ‘mini-dolls’. They have their own characters, hobbies, likes and dislikes, such as arts, invention and pets. Their home is ‘Heartlake City’ and sets represent the outdoors and urban areas.
There is more information about the brand, the new line and its past in this article from Bloomsberg Businessweek.
Just why Lego believes it has to change their long standing, successful range of construction toys and play sets into doll houses and domestic bliss scenes, I can not get my head around – I grew up with lego and never did it bother me that I did not have sauce pans or kitchens to build, but instead police vans, fire engines and helicopters. I spent many hours creating my own models and letting fantasy take flight without pre-conceived story lines aimed at my gender.
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego, argues that it would “breathe fresh air into a toy category filled mostly with pre-fabricated play experiences for girls”.
I can’t quite see how Lego Friends will be any different to Barbie, Bratz or Disney Princess – and I am curious if mothers will be keen to get their 5 year olds these rather too polished looking play sets with seemingly unchallenging assembly options and little room for creative diversion.
Quite happy I have two boys! Of course I may be completely wrong and this will be a huge hit, but it seems to be an unnecessary gamble with Lego’s current brand positioning and I wonder if they really could not think of any non-gender innovations to gain more market share.
It would be great to hear what you think about this new brand or similar developments in other areas of the toy/games market.

brand extension, Funny

SME Branding Lesson #5 – Define a Brand Promise You Can Keep

Trip Advisor brand logo
The slogan is promising:  “reviews that you can trust”. But following a host of media attention in recent months, it seems Trip Advisor has to re-think its brand promise following a ruling of the Advertising Standards Authority that they should not “major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”. More information can be found in this BBC news article:
TripAdvisor rebuked over ‘trust’ claims on review site.
A brand promise is the brand’s essence – a single minded statement that sums up the brand. Phillips is ‘sense and simplicity’; Apple ‘Think Different’; Starbucks ‘the third place’; Volvo stands for safety and Coca Cola for ‘refreshment and happiness’. So if a company like Trip Advisor positions itself as the source of ‘over 50 million honest reviews’, it better live up to its promise or risks damaging both reputation and trust. It will have to be seen how the brand will react to the ASA ruling and if it can maintain its top position in future.
It takes a long time to instill a brand’s essence in the minds and hearts of consumers. It takes just one incidence to break it. Remember Gerald Ratner who in 1991 wiped out a 500 mio fortune with one speech?

Ratners
Ratner said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.” And he added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ was a challenging promise at the best of times but really came to haunt the oil giant when disaster struck.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/MTdKa9eWNFw?]
During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where 11 rig workers lost their lives,  an unfortunate remark made by CEO Tony Hayward (‘I want my life back’) added fuel to the fire of the actual accident and led to the company dropping out of the top 100 brands index because the difference between their strategy and reality became emphasised and highlighted the fact that it could not keep its promises.
So, when you define your brand essence, make sure you don’t make promises you can not fulfil. It’s easier to improve on an offering and to add value to customers than to disappoint and backtrack.
I guess a key factor is to truly understand where your value lies for your customers today and in future and to identify where you are different to your direct and indirect competitors to create a memorable brand promise that will live up to its meaning.

Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, SME

After Kodak, Can Old Brands Survive by Re-inventing Themselves?

Kodak logo
Kodak is the latest brand struggling for cash and has filed for bankruptcy protection. The photographic pioneer has over 130 years history – and they seemed to have made a successful transition from old school film and cameras to digital when digital cameras started to go mainstream – with the Kodak gallery as just one example of building brand relations with consumers and offering new products and services online. The problem there is a crowded market – newer and more modern looking versions of online digital photo printing companies have emerged and even the rather dull looking Picassa seems to have much more appeal. There are the obvious competitors including snapfish, photobox, digitalab and bonusprint and of course the almighty iPhoto.
It seems that their aspiration to become the new digital printing specialist, and their strategy to sell printers, even without making any money on them, to later gain profits on the sale and servicing of inks and parts, seems to have over stretched them somewhat and they are now trying to shed assets they can spare.

Loosing that Kodak moment

It may now cost them dearly that they did not focus more on increasing their brand value – more than 10 years ago, branding specialist Interbrand ranked Kodak number 16 of the most valuable brands in the world, estimated to be worth around $14.8 billion. Since then, the Kodak brand has fallen in both rank and value. 4 years ago it no longer appeared in the top 300 list with an estimated value of only $3.3 billion.
I am also not convinced by their strategy to become a digital printing specialist – is this really a future-proof market? With the emerging tablet market, reading news, books, etc and viewing photos has become so much simpler and more accessible already, with progress in the digital market how much of a need to print will there be?
Would it not be wiser to use the brand value they still possess and team up with another company to create something innovative and different, still capturing ‘that Kodak moment’?
We will have to see what they do about it now and if this latest move will help them to re-invent themselves with a good enough market share to thrive once again.

An innovation race – can Filofax still compete?

Filofax
Filofax still occupies shelf space at WHSmith – but will it last?

I came across Filofax a couple of months ago when browsing through WHSmiths and I thought ‘must research what their brand strategy is as they have become largely irrelevant with the rise of smartphones and tablets as digital organisers and diaries…’ And just as I sit down now to look into it, I am finding press releases regarding their new strategy. It all sounds very clever and positive… but it does make me wonder if it is a short term fix without a long term vision for the brand.
Jon Morse at Filofax says in an interview:
“With so many working days spent at a computer, we have seen many customers crave the tactile feel of pen to paper. Filofax offers the user a quiet, private moment and a solid hard copy of personal information.
Our strategy is not to compete with technological advances, but rather, to position ourselves as a fashionable, luxury paper-based product for those moments away from the screen. We find many customers using both a smartphone and an organiser.”
Gordon Presly, CEO of the Filofax Group, comments, “Our collaboration with Temperley London for Filofax was a natural development given Alice has a real passion for Filofax and importantly shares many of the qualities of our customers, as a creative individual, successful business woman and mother with a busy and fulfilled personal and work life. We were intrigued to give Alice full rein to create a bespoke collection that would give birth to her vision of the perfect Filofax for others to use when juggling busy lives, yet with a desire to look stylish. We take a long term view to our partnership with Temperley London as part of a wider fashion focused strategy, positioning Filofax as the ultimate lifestyle accessory for creative and self-fulfilled individuals.”
It seems an interesting repositioning strategy to aim at the luxury market – and collaborating with fashion designers such as Alice Temperley is an interesting interpretation of that strategy and allows to set a higher price point to the diaries, creating desire and establishing it as a sort of fashionista insider must have accessory. If this catches on with the young generation, and if their business can be profitable within the luxury sector (perhaps they could where they may sell less but for a much higher price and more margin), it may all be just lovely.
But I am a bit doubtful about the longevity of this strategy. Smartphones won’t go away any time soon. They come accompanied by an army of accessories – some luxury, some tat, so the ‘bespoke’ need in smartphone users is easily satisfied among a lot of different market segments.

Finding a point of difference

What does a Filofax do that a smartphone or tablet app won’t (other than the feel of the paper that you will curse when you have left it at your favourite hangout or in a taxi after a champagne reception at an exclusive art gallery…)?
With applications such as Evernote, where you can collect voice memos, notes, photos, videos, anything really and it is synced to your computer, with those invited to share the documents, and backed up, I can’t shake the suspicion that Filofax is going to be a victim of technology just like so many other brands that have vanished from our high street.
It is amazing how the brand has managed (and keeps doing so) to cling on to the executive and gift market – one can hardly describe this with ‘by re-inventing themselves’. It is more of a sense of familiarity, tradition and safe choice for the ‘more mature’ generation, but if they are sufficiently enthused brand ambassadors to pass on that passion for a paper diary to the next generation is to be seen. This Filofax site gives some great insight into the passion of the brand followers.

Hesitation – for and against the brand

I can’t see myself carrying one around a Filofax as well as my smart phone. It used to be quicker to just leaf through a paper diary and jot a note down but the latest models of smartphones are so interactive and easy to use, it takes longer to find a pen that writes than it takes to instruct SIRI.
As for the ‘creative individual’ – I do not leave the house without one paper based product which I use for gathering thoughts and observations; my sketchbook. But it would be hopeless as a diary and I would not see the point in spending a premium on it as a fashion item. When it comes to a sketchbook, for me personally, it is content over form.
However, there is the element of social and business etiquette where it may be frowned upon to pull out your iPhone or Blackberry during a consultancy meeting or a presentation to a client, but it would be acceptable to scribble notes in a branded, leather-bound diary. This is where I still see relevance for the product, and certainly for the brand, given that they offer well-designed, bespokable inserts to the leather cases.

So, what could a long-term strategy be?

Could they bring back production to the UK and make it a true luxury brand that becomes an executive status symbol? Perhaps they should also re-visit their website design to create a more luxury feel and to better translate their current brand strategy.
Certainly the luxury brands have many advantages of premium and budget brands. They are less likely to be hit by economic fluctuations. They play with the human basic instinct – which include ‘envy’ in some shape or form. They become status symbols we use to align ourselves with a certain group of people we want to belong to – they are tribal and due to the price factor this can be a very exclusive tribe that is a great aspiration for those not part of it.
Linking to the fashion industry – and making it more about the ‘outside’ and working on the ‘inside’ to be extremely customisable and clever could be a good strategy after all.

Another thought for long-term innovation

BlackBerry-Porsche
The BlackBerry Porsche is just one example of a collaboration of brands

Whilst I would not invest in Filofax even with their new strategy, here is a thought that I find much more exciting (and challenging of course). Mr Letts develops a product with an Android tablet that is created to service future Filofax lovers – with bespoke diary keeping software.
That way, the leather bound, high quality, board room suitable tablet cases would be the link to the old. The bespoke software – it will need to be excellent – would be the link to the new. Bespoke collaborations are nothing new – remember SMART when Mercedes-Benz has not yet pulled out and the Blackberry Porsche is just a recent example.
It will be interesting to see where the brand is in a year’s time – and if they want to hire me, I am available from March onwards 😉

Brand Strategy, differentiation

SME Branding Lesson #3 – Differentiate, Differentiate, Differentiate

This subject really deserves a much more detailed post, but sharing just one example of how a strategy can translate in the most unexpected areas of a business and aid a brand to stand out, here is a snapshot of a busy display at TK Maxx ‘showcasing’ a selection of kitchen utensils.

Circulon brand differentiation
Standing out amongst the crowd

Circulon, known for their non-stick cooking ware, are using aluminium labels embossed with their logo type instead of the typical card or paper versions from competitors. The result: Instant visual differentiation and recognition. But there is more to it – this little detail also strengthens the consumer’s attitude towards the brand and adds to their brand experience.
(Clearly, the guys from Circulon are all about quality and design if they pay that much attention to even just the label of their product. It must be trustworthy and reliable.)
Circulon Label
It's all in the detail. An unusual label design creates a feel of quality and reliability.

It will have added some costs to the production, no doubt about that, and in the volumes a company of that size this will be insignificant, so is this a good example for branding for SMEs? I believe so because the details don’t have to cost the world – but they can make all the difference. Whether you are paying particular attention to which paper you use for your stationery, what colour envelopes you send your invoices in or if the blinds in your meeting room reflect your brand identity – there are lots of ways to bring your brand to life and to share your values and beliefs.

Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

Would you vote for this man?

20120114-112629.jpg

Much has been written about personal branding and how important it is to grow and maintain a professional image especially when one is closely observed by the media and public.
So you’d think that a party leader would be extremely careful to show his brand as reputable and reliable. It seems as though Ed Miliband had a little snooze during the labour party’s brand management training and just woke up with a messy tie and weary eyes amidst a press conference with youngsters looking far more alive and professional than him!
It’s not like this was an unfortunate snapshot of an awkward moment caught on camera – it was an orchestrated photo shoot! It just beggars belief how he could ever have the stature of a leader.
Personal brands, just like consumer brands, evoke a gut feeling about a person, service or goods – sadly, looking at this little boy lost in the big world, mine is ‘not in a million years!’.

brand management, Funny, personal branding

SME Branding Lesson #2 – Know Who You Are

No matter how small or large your business and no matter how small or large your marketing budget is, one of the most important issues to resolve is finding out who you are – your brand essence.
One good technique to obtain an insight and a concise representation of your brand essence is by listing the product or service benefits and then ‘working up the ladder’ to arrive at a very concise word or statement that sums up the brand.

Innocent Smoothies
A brand that knows who it is

Innocent have been a great case study of a small business expanding into a multi million pound turnover venture without losing their identity, but rather building a strong set of brand values including:

  • Sustainability
  • Purity
  • Staff culture and support
  • Giving back to the community
  • Creativity

For Innocent Smoothies, the differentiating product benefit could be:

  • Pure, natural ingredients, from sustainable sources, without any additives or colourings, with recycled packaging – and targeted at children as well as adults
    –> for the consumer the benefits are
  • Worry-free consumption, guilt-free purchase, feel-good factor for health and environment – and the kids love it, too
    –> or in other words
  • Innocence

YMCA Rebrand
The Forest YMCA had lost its way a bit over the years and the brand needed to be re-defined.

I worked with a client on the re-brand of the YMCA in East London and remember during a workshop to scope the project, one member of staff answered the question ‘What does the YMCA mean to you’ with ‘What it is, is the red triangle staring at us from outside the window.’
It was a curious comment because that was not at all what most other people saw the YMCA stood for. In fact, they all felt something very different depending on which department they were from. And this was exactly the underlying issue leading to the need for a re-brand. Who are they really? What do they really stand for and how can they communicate this in a way that is understood by each and every member of staff and other stakeholders.
Together with the management team we interrogated their vision, mission and values and created a new brand identity designed to connect all the different aspects of the brand and to present it as a strong organisation that knows what its brand essence is.
Without quoting large brands and their brand essence, has anyone got examples of SMEs that have a strong set of values that makes them ‘the ones to watch’? It would be great to hear from someone with some thoughts.

Brand Identity, Brand Vision, SME

SME Branding Lesson #1 – Show the Right Attitude

You’ve spent months fine-tuning and testing your brochure copy. Thousands of pounds were spent on a new website with a new logo and brand identity. You have a new set of exhibition stands with the latest business information and how you differentiate yourself from competitors. Your brand strategy is clear and your marketing material is translating the strategy into a powerful and engaging message. Life should be good!
That is if it’s not just you that understands and believes in your brand promise, but all the people representing your business. No matter how hard you try and how much money you pay a professional to get your image right, if you have someone show the kind of attitude as captured below, you don’t stand a fighting chance against competitors eager to deliver a great brand experience.
At the end of the day, it is the customer that makes your brand and they will form their opinion not just based on slick marketing, but predominantly on how your staff represent your products and services.

Branding is more than a logo
What does a man reading a book slumped on a chair tell you about the brand he represents? Quite a lot – just perhaps not what the brand manager intended...

If you have any samples of a disparity in brand strategy and the realisation of it in some kind of visual format, please drop me a line, I’d love to include it here.

attitude, Brand Strategy, SME

Brand Management Trends for 2012

If I could read a crystal ball that had the future of brand management embedded in it, I wonder what it would say for 2012.
Without making too wild a guess, and perhaps this year will prove me completely wrong, I have the feeling (or perhaps this is wishful thinking) that whilst a lot of things will stay the same, there will be some aspects of branding and marketing, businesses will wake up to in the next few months.

1. The Message is Key

The economy is not great. We may see another recession here or in Europe. China is starting to struggle and with the global market still coming to terms with the downturn of recent years, brands are ever more challenged to expand and dominate their sector.
And whilst traditional advice on marketing budgets and spend may have been good for the marketing industry, I hope marketing professionals do not forget one thing – it is not just about budgets and increasing marketing or advertising spend in this economic climate will not guarantee success. The message is key.
A business may not need to do the latest and greatest of everything – but instead it could re-focus its core abilities, re-evaluate its brand strategy, mission, vision and values and make sure that all those thousands of pounds spent on brochures, websites, SEO and social media actually tell the right story, differentiate the brand from competitors in the most memorable way and that it’s not just about producing something with the company logo on it but to infuse it with passion, dedication and expertise that will make the brand grow in reputation and likeability.

2. Using Local Knowledge

China mene
Global brand with local knowledge

HSBC have done it. McDonald’s are famous for it. Brands that show their understanding and respect for local culture are usually onto a winner. It may have to do with a tribal instinct, but ‘when in Rome’… does work in most circumstances. I don’t know how and who but it would be great to see some more brands using a localisation strategy to stand out from global competitors – perhaps even on a much smaller scale (Wales vs Scotland…)
If anyone knows of some more samples, please let me know, I’d love to learn more about this subject.

3. Identifying Influencers

Stephen Fry
Influencers as brand ambassadors. Image from geekosystem.com

This is not so much a prediction but an anticipation of which brands will rise this year and which ones will fall out of favour: Sometimes a brand suddenly reaches a boiling point without anyone really knowing what happened. Malcolm Gladwell describes different scenarios in his book ‘Tipping Point’ – and one aspect of it is that of ‘Influencers’.
It will be interesting to see which brand manages to find such influencers, not just it in the celebrity, sports, the arts and fashion industry, and to convert them into brand ambassadors that humanise and create empathy with large corporations.

4. Designing Brand Engagement

The world has woken up to mobile marketing and 2011 has seen more than ever before the rise of brand building via games, videos and other apps on smartphones and tablets.
And more often than not, brand narrative and storytelling will drive engagement with a company in traditional, social and mobile marketing. We love it when a brand shows its personality and makes us one of theirs, part of the ‘in’ crowd, and what better way to draw people in than by telling a good old tale that evokes emotions and invites to be passed on.
Maternity underwear designer HotMilk has created a series of adverts that are using humour and storytelling to spread their brand message in a fresh and entertaining manner.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WAQFpxVYaM]
Shangri-La used it with their campaign ‘To embrace a stranger as one of our own. It’s in our nature’.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF6ASWjMQY8]

5. Personalisation

I don’t mean custom printed envelopes and direct mail campaigns. I am more thinking of businesses understanding their customers and other stakeholders well enough to send different messages to different people – but creating the same ‘gut feeling’ about the brand by providing a very bespoke brand experience. Businesses could implement a strategy that talks not to different segments of their target audience, but to different individuals. OB Tampons did a great viral campaign following a bit of a disaster in their production line.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33449844]
Not a campaign but something that shows what’s possible has been the portable northpole – www.portablenorthpole.tv – which has been surprising for both grown-ups and those still believing in Santa.
It’s an opportunity to truly talk one-to-one to stakeholders and to react to trends such as twitter being used more and more for customer service enquiries instead of traditional methods of telephone or email.
I’ll be especially excited to see what will happen in the world of viral and personalised brand messaging. It’s a creative and technological challenge.
The year may prove me wrong – but if anything I will be very excited following the world of marketing and brand management to see what will come up on the horizon.

brand management

Clever Dove Flies with the X-Factor

There’s been a bit of clever brand management last week following the press articles about Little Mix’s Jesy from the X Factor having been bullied about her weight. Dove posted a response on their FaceBook page and probably got a lot of brownie points for their brand strategy – campaigning for real beauty.


Facebook page for Dove
Posting an article to support Jesy, one of the contestants of the X Factor

It’s one of the examples where your brand strategy goes hand in hand with your brand’s actions and re-actions to what’s happening in the world. And this does not just apply to charities as Dove has beautifully shown. Simple – and clever.
Twitter

Brand Strategy

Steve Jobs – And what we can learn from the master of brand management and innovation?

I am astonished actually how much Steve Job’s untimely death has affected me. I could explain it being due to a recent personal loss and that is probably the real reason, but the feeling remains that the world is a poorer place without him for he had vision and, without any scandals, loudmouth behaviour and eccentricity, he has changed the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of theatre and drama. As a brand visionary, he’s been a master of creating the substance behind those weaving the Apple cult. Without his innovations, the brand would probably just be another ‘Evesham Computers’ or (whatever is happening to) Dell?
His products made the brand happen. Not overnight, but year after year until suddenly not just those funny designers who want their own PCs knew of the name.
He has been a true master of brand strategy and I can learn a lot from him.
Eight brand principles inspired by the man behind the Apple.

1. Be True

… to your brand values. They are at the core of a brand and create the link to the brand promise. Ensure you have a rounded view on your brand, including knowledge of what stakeholders think of your brand and what you want them to feel when they engage with it. Once established, communicate these brand values consistently and with believable passion that reflects your belief in the brand. That way, you can inspire others to see the brand’s true values.

Be true
Is everyone drawing the same brand image?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs

2) Be innovative

… and dare to take risks. One of the most talked about factors in the survival and thriving of big brands is innovation. Research and development has been vital for years and businesses like Apple have shown the real potential of innovation for the growth of a brand.

Be innovative
Focus groups may have called for a faster horse at the dawn of the automobile industry.

Be it via in-house teams or through ‘open innovation’ via collaborations, successful brands don’t rest on their laurels but keep pushing and changing their products/services. One aspect of R&D, the focus groups, have been debated for a while now. Especially in this economical climate, they seem to be the number one tool of marketers. People like Steve Jobs realised the foresight displayed by Henry Ford: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Don’t rely on focus groups. Dare to pursue your idea. See point 5 if it doesn’t work out.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs in Businessweek, 1998

3) Be creative

… but not just for the sake of it. In brand design, we don’t just want to be ‘painters and decorators’. The visual translation of the brand values and ultimately the brand promise goes deeper than a fancy font and some photographs from a cheap stock library (no offence meant, iStock!)

Be creative
Levis did something different...

If the brand itself is not creative in its approach to communicating with the public, there is only so much even a well-designed brand identity can do. Creativity goes beyond the marketing department and should, like innovation, be one of the foundations of a strong brand.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Steve Jobs Interview with Fortune Magazine, 2000

4) Be in love

… and share your passion. We all will have had an experience with a brand where we felt disappointed by the lack of engagement with the brand’s representative – a snotty reply from a sales person; a less than enthusiastic assistant; a form wielding ‘this is the protocol so there is nothing I can do’ manager… It sticks. But it will also be contagious to others within an organisation. A brand lives inside and outside – and those who represent the brand are the vessels that carry the life blood through the body. Make sure you infect them with your love and understanding for the business and that they understand your passion and can translate it in their own work.

Be in love
Innocent's brand message goes beyond the consumers.

Until a few glitches recently, Apple always had staff that were fans, they were happy and eager to represent the business and added their own personal passion to the brand we’ve all fallen in love with.
Finding and selecting the right people to work together within an organisation will always remain a challenge. But by injecting culture into the business, by ensuring the different levels of management and workers know what it’s all about, by caring about them as brand representatives, you can harness the power of word of mouth and add value to your brand’s reputation.

“When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else.” Steve Jobs

5) Be defiant

… and don’t give up. A brand does not ‘happen’ overnight. The big players have been around for decades and it does not mean they are safe from failure (remember the loss of high street brands such as Woolworths, Adams, Northern Rock during the credit crunch).

Be defiant
The e-car that finally hits the masses. It's not the first - but the first one to capture the people.

But then there are those like Apple who innovate and inspire. It’s hard to think of other examples that have changed the way we interact with technology to the extend apple has but there are those that had breakthroughs – Google, Skype, Groupon, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Nissan
They all took time, caused controversy and perhaps doubt, but ultimately they kept going and have proven their worth.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Steve Jobs

6) Be focused

… on your brand’s core strength. Brand extension may seem good in the books and a money saving exercise for marketers, but it can easily dilute a message and alienate consumers and the media.
Many have tried (and failed) to extend their brand – Jack Daniel’s mustard?Coca Cola’s water? Kellogg’s streetware?

Be focused
A brand extension that works. The good grip pen from OXO.

In the end, no-one knew quite any more what Woolworth stood for. And Dell is on a slippery path at the moment. It worked for Virgin, who have a whole host of extensions within their monolithic brand architecture. Oxo moved into the office supplies market with their good grips pens. It can work, but it’s not the easy way to get more ROI out of your brand.

“It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” Steve Jobs, The Seed of Apple’s Innovation

7) Be different

… and embrace the mavericks. When everyone zigs, zag. Especially in larger companies, where the original founder or owner has been replaced with a board of directors, shareholders or a management team with a very different decision making process, it is ever so important to have a team in place that embraces change, that will take risks and dares to try something new. Brands evolve naturally, and they gain or fall out of favour with the changing market – but sometimes it takes someone different to shake it all up.

Be Different
A graphic showing brand attributes including those of Steve Jobs (courtesy of brandinstinct)

When Burberry struggled with the loss in brand reputation due to the chav stereotype but Christopher Bailey has brought the brand from strength to strength. In fact, they are the first fashion designer label to release a single. That’s a bit different!

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

8) Be human

… cause that’s what branding is trying to achieve. The brand experience begins and ends with the people engaging with a company. Consider them in all aspects of your brand strategy and you won’t run the risk of alienating your clients because your actions are conflicting with your brand promise.

Be human
Being human and acting with responsibility should be part of the brand DNA.

Think about their culture, their acceptance of the product or service and the company’s capability. Tell a narrative people can relate to and follow. Invite them to become a ‘member’ of your tribe – but then be an honest like-mined partner for them. There is no point pretending to be something a brand is not because you will be found out – today’s consumers are experienced and not bedazzled by brand glitz. It’s easier to alienate them then to gain loyalty.
Of course there are exceptions to this, but in general, if you try your best to ensure brand stakeholders are king, they will keep your brand with them on the throne.

“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.” Steve Jobs

brand management, Brand Strategy, marketing

Dragon’s Den and the value of a brand

Catching up with the latest episode in the den, I was surprised just how much those dragons have become branding ambassadors. Not of a specific one, but of the value of an established and thought-through brand.

Brand-importance
The mexican brand was not strong enough for the investors

Monterrey-born Marcela Flores Newburn pitched her Mexican food range but whilst she was complemented on her achievements, getting her product into Waitrose one by one they all said the dreaded words  ‘I am out’.
Peter Jones summed it up just nicely – “I actually think you’ve gotta go back as a start-up again because you need that brand. So I would go back to the roots and find that name.”
Once again we are reminded of that big hurdle any blossoming SME has to jump at some point – to start to create a communication / brand strategy that will allow them to compete with the big boys and to evolve their brand identity and marketing material accordingly. Budget is usually the show stopper, which is such a shame because it means eventually they will have to invest much more than if they started perhaps with very basic brand collateral  – but with a plan behind it.
I admire what Marcela has done – and I am sure after this show there will be hundreds of brand strategists and brand identity designers knocking on her door so I’ll watch this space!

Secrets of the Superbrands

I watched Alex Riley’s second part of the BBC series ‘Secrets of the superbrands’ and it is a fascinating programme that spells out a lot of the findings of brand practitioners.
This episode was about fashion brands and whilst it all pretty much hit home as expected, I did wonder about one aspect of the research: They did a scan of the brain of a student that is into fashion and checked how her brain reacted to images of handbags by different brands.
It first shows the cheap brands and measures the response to the images in the brain scan.

Branding Test - Primark
Cheap but not too stimulating...

Branding Test - George-Handbag
The 'cheap' end of the handbag brands

After that, the girl is exposed to the luxury brands – and as expected the scans lit up brain areas connected to excitement.
Branding Test - Mulberry
Branding Test - Gucci
I am, however,  wondering is how much of this was actually the brand identity reflecting the brand’s reputation and values and how much the product.
Branding Effect - Raised Brain Activity

Would the girl have identified the brand by the product alone (exclude Burberry chequers)? Is the brand reputation as important as the product? If there was no logo but they would have said the name of the brand, would that have had the same impact? (I would imagine so because after all the brand identity is a reflection of the brand and visually translates the brand values, connecting the consumer and the product).
I obviously can’t ask Alex Riley to conduct this research for me so it is going to remain guess work, but it seemed that the visual representation of the company was very much part of the value of the brand.
So once again I can only stress to any businesses reading this that it is such an important part of brand building to spend time (and thus money) on developing a professional and long lasting brand identity that can grow with the product. A brand is not just a product – and not just a logo.
The scans will prove the success!

brand management, Brand Strategy

Building Brand Reputation

You are working hard on your products and services, management, quality, workflow, customer relations etc. Inevitably, this will build your brand’s reputation, but it will take time and news spreads slowly unless you use the technology at hand.
Here are just a few sites and thoughts about how you can use them to increase your brand reputation:
Why should you have to?
There was a time when the marketing department had the power to tell a brand’s story – and they alone had the majority of influence over what was communicated to the public via different media (advertising, print and DM etc.)
It all changed with the rise of social media and the readily available gadgets that support it (iPhones and other smartphones, free wi-fi in cafes and shops, tablets and laptops to name but a few.) Suddenly, ‘Word by mouth has become word my mouse’ (or touchscreen) as Lula Jones said so nicely. The new order is transparent. People can review, comment, share, debate, celebrate and ditch brands all from the palm of their hand.
So looking after a brand’s reputation is not just vital from the point of trying to increase its value but also to protect it from false statements or accusations of poor performance that can damage your brand.

Brand dialogue before and now with social media
Alina Wheeler's Brand Dialogue diagram shows the changes at a glance.

Useful sites to start your reputation building
LinkedIn
This professional networking site has a few bits of technology that let you shine… Firstly, you can set up a company profile and even add products or services in a portfolio. You have plenty of space to let people know about what your brand stands for.
Then there is your own personal profile, detailing your education and employment past and connecting you to other professionals you’ve crossed paths with. It is an online CV that supports your business brand as a professional, trustworthy organisation.
Better still, you can get recommendations from those you have worked for or with in the past.
This is a powerful tool as it is as close to the truth as you would imagine – a bit like product reviews for people.
Brand product reviews
We are used to comments and reviews of products, from sites such as Reevoo or Amazon, but the same applies to businesses and individual professionals.

Ecademy
Another online networking portal, a bit like BNI, but very web driven with different membership options and networking tools such as virtual boardrooms. It is encouraged to network offline, locally and online in combination with ‘giving back’ to the community via blogs and articles. Again, pretty good for marking out your territory in the SME business world.
It is, unlike LinkedIn, fee-based if you want to benefit from the more useful tools, so it does require some commitment to actually use it on a regular basis.
Obviously there are hundreds of other online networking platforms out there, such as XING, UK Business Labs, UK Business Forums or the American FastPitch – but with all of them it helps to have a strategy to push your brand as otherwise it can be a big time investment for not much in return.
Twitter, Facebook and Co.
Twitter is a great broadcasting tool for quick updates, links you want to share and be associated with, and it has become very much part of the social media landscape and can be used for brand building.  I personally find twitter easier to use for business than Facebook, which still has a far more social side to it, but some will disagree and swear by Facebook. It will very much depend on who you are trying to talk to and what your business is into. And then there are of course whole armies of social bookmarking sites, from delicious, Digg it, stumble upon and Technorati to sites like YouTube and MySpace.
Your social media strategy will reveal how to best utilise any of these platforms and sites so it is not just all a big time investment, but a vital part of your overall brand strategy.
Brand-Reputation-Recommendations
Reputation building and social media tools

Brand Image/Brand Identity
With all the chatter about online reputation building and networking, one thing that can easily be forgotten but should not be missed remains the actual brand image, derived from and supported by your brand strategy, mission, vision and brand values. They may seem idle terms, but if you try to note them down, it will make you realise how important they are – and if they are in fact communicated in your brand image/brand identity.

  • Is your message consistent throughout different brand touchpoints?
  • Is your message clear?
  • What is the ‘big idea’ that communicates your brand?
  • Is your marketing plan and design material in tune with the brand’s vision and values?
  • Is your brand understood internally and externally in the same manner?
  • Are you and your staff proud of your brand?

It may be a bit bamboozeling to take all these aspects in, but it’s by no means an ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ scenario. The public today is media savvy and they will pick up on the details – especially of anything to do with your brand identity. Remember the scandal a few months ago with the new The Gap logo and now the mixed reviews and opinions surrounding the Starbucks brand development?
Image is not everything, but a picture speaks a thousand words and how your brand is visually presenting itself plays a major part in how your brand’s reputation is perceived.
What else?
Brand building is of course not just about reputation. It is about trust, loyalty, professionalism and of course the fulfillment of the brand promise. Your reputation will only ever be as good as the products or services are that you provide. So that’s where it’s over to you as the expert!

brand guidelines, brand management, Brand Strategy, graphic design

What is a brand audit and why should you have one?

Whilst we are all familiar with the terms ‘financial audit’ or ‘tax audit’, there is some confusion and mystery surrounding a brand audit. It is quite a simple concept if you accept that your brand has a value that can and should be managed and increased over time – an asset of your business just like your production facilities, finance and human resources.
The trickier bit is the actual execution of a brand audit.
A typical cycle could be described as this:

Typical cycle of a brand audit
A typical cycle of a brand audit

It may seem a bit daunting how to start the process. I like the analogy my friend Maria Ana uses when she talks about how to start a brand audit, comparing it to planing a trip.
So here is a quick picture journey describing the first step. Once all this information is collected, a brand consultancy will be able to scope the project costs, tools and timelines and get the ball rolling.
A brand audit is a journey
Where do you want to go (tomorrow)?

What is the destination
Do you have a specific problem you wish to answer with this brand audit?

Who will join you
Who's involved in the brand audit? Are they able to take part in meetings and workshops to aid the research process?

What are the time scales?
Is this a quick turnaround or a more complex project which benefit for more time intensive research, such as university studies?

Economy, business or first class?
What budget can you assign to this project? This is the missing piece in the jigsaw of selecting the tools and methods of the brand audit.

What’s in your suitcase?
Depending on the objective of the audit, time scales and budgets, a brand consultancy can start putting together the tools and methodologies to complete the audit with the best possible brand insights and recommendations.

There are many components of the actual audit, which brandingstrategyinsider describes as the following:
COMMUNICATIONS REVIEW

  • Advertising and promotion materials
  • Other brand marketing elements: pricing, packaging, merchandising, distribution, direct marketing, sponsorships, flagship stores, etc.
  • Press kit
  • Press releases
  • Sales collateral materials
  • Internal communications
  • Business cards, letterheads, etc.
  • Website
  • Intranet site
  • Employee training programs
  • Employee orientation
  • Manager training
  • Sales force training

I would also add (this list is a few years old now) the whole subject of social media and how the brand is exposed via social marketing and even phone apps.
EXTERNAL INFORMATION SOURCE REVIEW

  • Competitors’ press releases, advertising and promotion
  • Industry analyst reports
  • Customer comments
  • Business partner comments
  • Marketing vendor interviews

HUMAN RESOURCE SYSTEMS REVIEW

  • Organisation charts
  • Department mission/vision statements
  • Department objectives
  • Common objectives
  • Recruiting criteria
  • Individual competency dictionary
  • Succession planning criteria
  • Planning and resource allocation systems/processes

STRATEGY REVIEW

  • Business plans
  • Marketing plans
  • Brand positioning statement
  • Brand plans
  • Creative (or agency) briefs
  • Media plans

MARKETING RESEARCH REVIEW

  • Brand positioning research
  • Brand asset studies
  • Brand equity measurement system (awareness, preference, usage, value, accessibility, relevance, differentiation, vitality, emotional connection, loyalty, associations, personality)
  • Brand extension research
  • Product/service concept testing
  • Logo recall & recognition testing

EMPLOYEE INTERVIEWS

  • Corporate officer interviews
  • Marketing employee interviews
  • Sales force interviews
  • Customer service employee interviews
  • Front line customer contact interviews
  • General employee interviews

PROPRIETARY BRAND RESEARCH

  • Brand asset research
  • Brand equity research
  • Brand positioning research (qualitative and quantitative)

PHEW, what a list! It is complex and it quickly shows that a brand audit is a process that will take time – but Rome – and those big brands we all know- were not built in a day and not by one single person either.
A brand consultancy will guide you through a program that is tailored specifically to your objectives and will give you the insights to define and deploy a strategy for change.
So why should you do it?
Typically, a brand audit will:
–      give an insight into your brand architecture/business structure and portfolio
–      help to connect your visual communication efforts with financial returns
–      discover and assess your market positioning
–      define your brand stakeholders and competition
–      improve brand management and marketing
–      assist in securing and enhancing the value of your brand
I think that these days the value of increasing brand equity is much more apparent and thankfully so is the need for keeping track of your brand performance as much as you keep track of all other important aspects of your business.

brand, brand audit, Brand Strategy, Branding

KISS your brand

A friend asked me to review their first draft of a new website launching their business. A difficult task (since it is a friend) by all means, but my professional opinion quickly dominated the eagerness to compliment – I’d rather blame some blunt criticism on my German heritage and hopefully raise some questions that help the business.
What struck me most was that the business was trying to be everything for everyone. Words like ‘whatever you want it to be’ or ‘could be anything’ made me feel like they perhaps didn’t know themselves. It made me understand why so many successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common – their brand proposition is simple, their product or service offering clearly defined and ‘what you see is what you get’.
It is fascinating how an unclear vision, be it in terms of business or brand strategy, reflects on the visual impact a brand makes when the strategy is implemented online or in print marketing material. So once again, the KISS comes in very eloquently and gives a good basis for future expansion.
It worked for Subway who keep sticking with what they are good at despite the temptation to sell people other goods whilst they are in the shops. It is also a good recipe for niche companies such as Hotel Chocolat, Bravissimo, Innocent and Ella’s Kitchen.
Starbucks struggled when they expanded the number of their shops in 2007 and added much more than just coffee to the once clear offering; thus watering down their brand (with some consumer reports concluding Mc Donalds coffee tasting better!).

Lost brand values
Woolworths alienated customers by trying to please everyone

Woolworths lost its brand identity pretty much completely prior to leaving the high streets of Britain. They tried to be everything for everyone and instead as a consumer you ended up being unsure what they were actually good at.
Their brand position was quickly snapped up by Wilkinsons who seem to successfully fill the gap selling budget household goods and so far not venturing into too many other product lines.
Coca Cola Water
Bad publicity or just a bad idea? The Coca Cola water.

It is always tempting to use your brand reputation to expand – but being successful with one target market does not necessarily mean any new product will be a success. When Coca Cola introduced water instead of coke, it went down like a lead balloon.
Consumers didn't like the healthy Pepsi drink

Similarly, PepsiCo experienced its own fall from grace when it launched Crystal Pepsi in 1992.
Jack Daniels Mustard. It didn't last.

Jack Daniels Mustard never quite made it onto supermarket shelves as a favourite.
Off the menu. The Arch Deluxe didn't have enough bite.

Equally important is to stay true to your core customers – as Mc Donalds found out when they tried to gain new customers by introducing the ‘Arch Deluxe’ as a sophisticated burger to set them apart from other burger bars. It’s no longer on the menu.
Whilst I am by no means promoting a ‘one trick pony’ approach to brand building, I believe that as a minimum, the brand proposition has to be consistent and clear. Companies such as Virgin, BMI, Apple, Tesco and even Ebay, Amazon or Google thrive despite their many products and service offerings.
Something worth a big kiss on the ego of the brand strategists behind their success!

Brand Strategy

Enter The Thinking Hotel

brand strategy in the making
A collaborative journey to define the thinking hotel

I’ve been to London on Saturday to take part in a prototype day for ‘The Thinking Hotel’, an initiative to develop a brand strategy business model run by Maria Ana Neves and her colleagues.
Hidden away in London’s busy West End is ‘the loft’, a friendly, trendy meeting space that hosted the event. We checked in midday and went through a series of mini workshops to define The Thinking Hotel’s brand personality, typical character of a customer, the actual customer journey and the influences of trends based on the current state of politics, the economy, social behaviour etc.
It was creative thinking and collaborating at its best. Sharing thoughts with other makes you realise how many different angles there are to even the most basic problem or task. How important in terms of branding it is to really dig deep and understand who you are talking to and what you are trying to say. How if there is no clear strategy behind a brand, there is no real substance and the whole identity becomes a house of cards ready to be blown over. Equally, how powerful a business can become by employing a design-led, creative strategy to engage with their customers/clients and thrive by having a holistic model of communication.
I was very much focused on the actual ‘container’ the name suggested, eg you arrive at a proper physical building, check in, go to your room and through a series of events pre-defined to take you on your journey.
What I learned very quickly is that as a model it can work a much more varied number of ways – a collaboration portal that you enter online? A mixture of online and offline meetings? Something from creative thinkers for creative thinkers? Or for corporations who are stuck in their ways? A spa for the mind? Or an adventure day out for the mind? Something you pay for? Something you pay for with ideas?
It will be great to see the outcome of the workshop, what the other participants made of it and how The Thinking Hotel will take shape as a business.
Congratulations to Maria Ana for once again pushing the conventional practices of brand strategy and developing new tools to help both creative thinkers and business owners keep up with the 21st Century.

Brand Strategy, Branding, creative collaborations

YMCA US – New Brand Lacks Decisiveness and Vision

… well, in my mind, anyway. Having just worked myself on a new brand vision and brand design for the Forest YMCA in East London, I had heard about the ongoing re-branding exercise of the US equivalent, and was eagerly awaiting their approach.

Now that it’s here, I am somewhat underwhelmed. Yes, it is more colourful, thus easier to work with in a brand management sense. Yes, the shape is more pleasing and gives a sense of direction rather than a warning sign.
The approach of treating the ‘Y’ as the main icon flew out of our concepts pretty much stage one lacking the spirit, drive and innovation the Forest YMCA in East London wanted to be associated with. That may not be relevant for the US branch, but typographically the new visual looks like  a compromise that is not quite working on the web when the logo is a small size. Why is the organisation not confident enough to do what it says in the press release and be ‘The Y’ without including the original initials YMCA on the side of the logo? They look out of proportion,  like an afterthought, and they shift the balance of the logo to be bottom heavy.

It seems an odd decision that may well be due to ‘death by committee’ – and may have caused the designers involved to tear their hair out in despair, or it may be a very different vision and understanding of the brand this side of the Atlantic.
Whatever the reasons, I personally think it is a shame that an organisation of such statue, history and positive drive has shied away from a truly innovative brand strategy and has decided to use a design that is pushing the identity merely into the 90s (of the last century that is…)

Brand Strategy

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