Part of brand positioning strategy is brand messaging strategy—or in other words, what to say about yourself in a way that stakes a clear and compelling claim in the minds of your target audience. And this is the part that gets tricky because what sounds great to insiders in a conference room seldom works for Joe-busy-guy-on-the-street. Here are three reasons for the breakdown:
1. You know too much. Chip and Dan Heath referred to it as “the curse of knowledge” in their book Made to Stick. What this means is that the good folk sitting around the conference table have been deeply infused with the organization, its offerings, its values, its culture, its history etc.—so deeply infused, in fact, that they cannot remember what it’s like to not know what they know. As a result, the types of brand messages that sound really interesting and valuable to them are usually the same message that sounded great to competitors sitting around their own conference tables. These are some of the suggested brand messages I hear at some point at nearly every project:
Every time I hear a comment like the above, it’s rendered with complete confidence that they alone have come to this insight and yet by the end of the week, I’m likely to hear it again at a different location. The tricky part is that in some cases, the community really is what sets the organization apart; some programs or product really are of high or higher quality—however, unless they find out what it is about that community, or that program, simply using the words “community” or “quality” will get lost in the noise of everyone else’s claims.
2. You haven’t translated your features. A lot of messaging focuses on features—this is what we have; this is what we offer. That’s a good place to start, but Joe-busy-guy doesn’t have time for his own interpretation. He needs you to do the work of translating the feature into benefits and outcomes that make sense to him. So you have that feature; so what? What good does that feature do Joe? What outcomes can he expect as a result? Translating features isn’t as easy to remember to do as it sounds because—see point above—insiders intuitively translate features into benefits on their own. A feature makes plenty of sense to them because they know enough to know the benefits. Joe-busy-guy needs you to save him the time. Take for example the commonly cited feature “Made in America:” What’s the benefit?
Should we all be expected to know why a product “Made in America” is a good thing? The actual benefits and outcomes of the feature are a complicated narrative requiring a good grasp of geopolitics, supply chain, and local and global employment dynamics. Still, we see that feature slapped with great pride on all kinds of products. Do you think more people would buy American if they knew why it should matter to them?
3. Your messages don’t set you apart. I’ve railed on this point in the past. For those who want to read my rant against vanilla messaging, see this previous post. For those who don’t. Here’s the problems that contributes to run-of-the-mill brand messages:
Time to share. What are your favorite brand messages? Why do they work for you?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
A few weeks ago, I sat in a marketing conference session for web marketing and I’m not going to say that people had to breathe into paper bags as digital acronyms were flung at them by the techie-types in the room, but it was close.
Thank God the conference provided free water and chocolate. It could have gotten ugly.
It’s an icky feeling to be “the marketing person” and know that you will be expected to know something about digital marketing when you went to college before the Al Gore invented the internet. But the age of the web is upon us and there’s just more and more about marketing that we have to know or at least pretend to know well enough to have an opinion.
I’m no digital expert myself, but here’s a handy lexicon so you can fake your way through the next meeting or at least know what to punch into Wikipedia.
SEO—Search Engine Optimization
What it means: This means that when someone uses a search engine like Google or Yahoo, your website comes up high in the list of results and not buried 15 pages back.
Why it matters: This is important because most people seldom venture past the first page of search results.
How it works: God knows…or actually Google knows. Actually it’s a complicated algorithm that changes all the time. However, there are a number of important things you can control to improve your SEO is to make sure that your web content has words in it that people are likely to use to search you; change up your content often, get lots of inbound links etc. Check out this useful blog post of SEO tips.
How much it costs: Technically, it’s free. Just watch your analytics and adjust often to make sure you’re still at the top of the list.
SEM—Search Engine Marketing
What it means: Search Engine Marketing might include SEO, but probably also includes a strategy of paying search engines to promote your website when certain keywords are typed into the search engine.
Why it matters: This is a way to make sure your website is getting out there and “seen” by likely customers.
How it works: Say for example, you have a chocolate business in Colorado Springs. You could pay Google for the words “chocolate recipes” to come back with your website at the top of the search results. Right now, those terms put Cool Whip competitor “Reddi-Whip” at the top of the list which means that Reddi-Whip has paid to make sure their site shows up whenever a chocolate lover wants a recipe. Sneaky Skittles has also clearly bought some words as they have a “Desserts Candy” search result that shows up.
How much it costs: It depends on how hotly contested your search words are—If you run a business in an uncontested market, you might get cheap words. If, however, you’re considering SEM precisely because you need to pull ahead of those mangy competitors, you’re going to have to pay.
What it means: It means doing advertising on-line. Unlike print, TV, or outdoor advertising which hopes your customer will tune in, digital advertising gets fancy because your ad can follow your customer around as they surf the web.
Why it matters: Digital ads are a way to get a traditional ad in front of your market while they’re on the web (and metrics show that they are on the web more and more). And, unlike a lot of traditional advertising, digital ads allow you to track the results so you can measure the impact.
How it works: Rich companies put their ads everywhere. I just saw one for a movie about bikes—like I care about bike movies; that was money wasted on the wrong audience. Other companies are more focused and make sure their ads show up in front of the right people. For example, I have a shoe problem; I love them. As a result of my problem, I now have shoe advertisements following me around the web. If I did a search on “Born shoes” (which I did), I will have ads for Born shoes following my online searching for a week. Even when I’m logged into Yahoo’s celebrity news looking up the recent Bristol Palin news (wish I had those two minutes back), there are shoe ads lurking off to the side of my screen. If I click on the shoe ad, it takes me to the sponsoring website. In fact, if I click on a specific shoe, it takes me directly to the shopping page for that specific shoe.
How much it costs: Here again, it depends. Cost depends largely on size and complexity of the ad, and where you place it, but plan on many thousands of dollars for just a couple of months. This is where you’ll need a media buyer. They know how to advise you on the best way to spend your digital ad budget, where to place it, and how to watch the results.
What are the digital marketing terms or questions dogging you?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
Last Sunday a story broke that a Papa John’s employee had typed “lady chinky eyes” on a receipt for an in-store order instead of the customer’s name. The customer cleverly scanned and Tweeted the receipt which went viral and earned the employee a quick dismissal and sincere apologies from Papa John’s.
Last night, we watched as Bronco’s fresh new quarterback Tim Tebow lead his team to a thorough spanking in a 10-45 loss to the Patriots in the AFC playoffs. In my—and perhaps Saturday Night Live’s heathen opinions, it would seem that reverential “Tebowing” isn’t enough. Victory might just come down to a decent offensive line.
It was a slow night at my house so shortly after the Bronco defeat, we watched the end of the Miss America pageant where Miss Wisconsin clinched the crown with her answer to the question: “Do you think Miss America should be allowed to declare her political affiliation?” Her answer surprised me slightly with the reminder that the contestants know their audience—the judges, not the public—when she said that “Miss America represents everyone,” (implying that Miss America should keep her political mouth shut). I found this surprising because as a member of the public, I sat there pandering to my mild curiosity, wondering yeah, which are you? Republican or Democrat? But as a pageant professional, she’s likely been trained to think: What does the Miss American organization want me to say?
And that’s where I started thinking about branding and customer service (as I often do and not just on slow Saturday nights). I was reminded of a book I read in the mid-nineties when the notion of customer service was becoming a “thing” in management literature. One of my favorite sociologists, UC Berkeley professor Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling. In the preface, Hochschild describes her experience as the child of diplomats:
“I found myself passing a dish of peanuts among many guests and looking up at their smiles; diplomatic smiles can look different when seen from below than when seen straight on. Afterwards I would listen to my mother and father interpret various gestures. The tight smile of the Bulgarian emissary, the averted glance of the Chinese consul . . . I learned, conveyed messages not simply from person to person but from Sofia to Washington, from Peking to Paris, and from Paris to Washington. Had I passed the peanuts to a person, I wondered, or to an actor? Where did the person end and the act begin? Just how is a person related to an act?”
In The Managed Heart, Hochschild proposed the notion of “emotional labor” which is not only the culturally conditioned response to feel the right thing (i.e., sad at a funeral, happy at a party), but “the effort to seem to feel and to try to actually feel the ‘right’ feeling for the job, and to try to induce the ‘right’ feeling in certain others.” In other words, employers expect their employees not just to sell their labor, but their feelings as well.
So let’s bring this back to brands. Mac has built a brand around hip creativity. Harley’s is built around rough-around-the-edges independence. Would you feel right buying a Mac from an Amish dude? A Harley from an accountant?
Let’s go back to Papa John’s, Tebow, and Miss America. Clearly, each of them represents a brand. If I were to plot them on a continuum, I would put the racist on one side—clearly undermining the tenets of the Papa John’s brand. Tebow might go in the middle because although we in Colorado Springs, Colorado don’t need the help of our state’s quarterback getting branded as evangelicals and I personally don’t think God cares as much about football as say, peace or malaria, Tebow seems to be a generally nice and generous kid. On the other end of the spectrum there’s shiny Miss America who has clearly drunk the organization’s Kool-Aid and is prepared, no “honored” to be their go-to girl for the upcoming year.
What right do we as brand practitioners to expect or demand certain behaviors from employees? I mean, this is America dammit; we the people are allowed to have and express our opinions freely and bless the people who have fought for that right. And. This is America dammit; arguably the leader in consumer culture; we’ve got brand reputations to build and we need good people to help us build those brands.
So what do you think? What’s the line? What’s the line between authentic personal behavior and responsible representation of a collective? What’s the line between a racist employee being rude and awful to a customer while wearing your branded hat, and the young woman who’s not allowed to say if she’s a Republican or a Democrat while wearing the tiara? What if Tim Tebow insisted on including a cross next to the Bronco logo on his helmet? How do you feel when someone who’s ostensibly supposed to represent you does a really crappy job of upholding the values you hold dear?
I have opinions, they are candidly, a little conflicted and I want to hear from you. Bring it folks, let the conversation begin.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
Over the last six weeks, I was on the road traveling to one place or another for business. During that time, I’ve met a lot of great people, seen a lot of cool things, and stayed in some very ordinary hotels. There was nothing wrong with any of the hotels, just nothing interesting either. They were fine. They were also all somewhere in the range of $100-$200 a night, which—for the respective cities in which I was staying (e.g. Hopkinsville Kentucky, versus Brooklyn New York)—was unexceptional.
For some time now though, I’ve been a fan of the Kimpton chain of hotels. My first exposure to a Kimpton hotel was in Washington D.C. I was there to do a consulting project for the Australian Embassy and the Rouge was right across the street. After traveling all day, I checked in and was offered a glass of wine; my arrival had happily coincided with their nightly wine hour. And the place was cool! There weren’t muted shades of beige and nutmeg, oh no. This place was a deep, naughty red, floor to ceiling. A seven foot mirror was propped against the wall and the room came with my very own animal print bathrobe. I joined the guest membership program they call Kimpton InTouch. I’m a member of other hotel loyalty programs but they seldom get me anything of real use. At the Rouge, I got free internet.
After the Rouge, I began searching out and discovering additional Kimpton properties and I began to keep track (informally of course) of the way the Kimpton positions itself and delivers upon its brand. In the months that followed, my InTouch membership yielded the typical e-newsletters, but these were different. Instead of simply promoting themselves, the Kimpton regularly offers fun, themed getaway packages; things like “The Autumn getaway” with fall-themed cocktails at check-in, kid-friendly packages, pet-friendly packages and LGBT couple getaway packages.
I discovered that my own hometown of Denver had a Kimpton—the Hotel Monacowhich, true to its theme was boldly decorated and lavishly appointed. My husband and I decided to get away for a night and checked into the Hotel Monaco where we were told we’d been upgraded to a suite—a sumptuous, gigantic affair with twenty-foot ceilings, a Jacuzzi tub and a living room. After dinner, we returned to our room and found a bottle of champagne icing in a bucket. I was secretly concerned we’d been given the wrong room and some bridegroom was wondering why he got the little bathroom and upset that his champagne hadn’t arrived. But no; it was no mistake, it’s just how Kimpton rolls.
I love them as a customer, but also as a brand marketer. Kimpton’s integrated marketing practices are conceived and executed with perfection.
What’s not to love about a temporary pet that inspires a fun reason to call home and tell my kid about my adventures on the road? I posted a photo of Gold Silverwings on my own Facebook page and when I returned to the room later, I found a bottle of Washington red wine, a bag of Seattle chocolates, and a handwritten note from the concierge thanking me for the nice things I’d said on Facebook.
This is brand execution at its finest; they communicate well, they deliver spendidly. In the early 1990s, Ken Blanchard wrote a customer service book called “Raving Fans.” I’ve gone from being a Kimpton Raving Fan to a Maniacal Kimpton Loyalist.
Does it make business sense? Has treating me nicely made a business difference to Kimpton? Oh yeah. By identifying the elements that it will take to make someone’s stay “true,” they have not only won me over; I’ve recommended the Kimpton to my colleagues, and all my friends, netting the Seattle Kimptons eight additional hotel stays in the past two months alone.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
I had the idea for this post as I prepared to go to a hot yoga class this afternoon. “Hot yoga” for those who haven’t heard is basically regular, crazy, stretchy yoga enhanced by humid heat piped into the studio by those sadistic yoga teachers (just kidding, they’re lovely). The theory is that the heat helps loosen the joints and enhances the stretch.
I only wish this was meIt might have been during an inversion pose when the thought of brand extensions came back to me. The thought had actually started the night before when my husband noted that our pretty new salt and pepper grinders were made by Peugeot—yep, you got it; the French brand of cars. We’d laughed about it.
Can you imagine the boardroom scene when that little nugget of an idea was proposed? “Okay, mes amis, we need to leverage the Peugeot brand into new areas. Ideas? What makes the most sense? Let’s see, we French do love to eat, how about salt and pepper grinders!? Magnifique!”
Unlike Honda which has successfully taken its core brand attribute of reliably engineered engines into other product areas, Peugeot’s grinders can’t be a good brand move. What’s the message they’re sending? That their core strength is in gears that grind? machinery that crushes bigger things into dust? No, no; pas bon.
On the other hand, I love Kaiser Permanente’s branding decisions. They’ve successfully warmed up the notion of managed care which, as a concept, typically makes me chafe so this is a real accomplishment. Their “live well and thrive” concept has successfully taken the focus off of the cost-control/disease-management angle of modern medicine and presents Kaiser Permanente as being primarily concerned with helping people achieve overall well-being. And here’s the brand-extending brilliance; they’ve taken the “thrive” concept well beyond the walls of a doctor’s office or lab and extended it into sweet bits of advice about how to live the good life, how to be happy. Their e-store sells branded merchandise like reusable shopping bags for the health of the planet and measuring spoons with advice on how to eat well. Their ads talk about the health benefits of kindness. It’s a stretch that makes sense to the tenets of their brand.
In order to ascertain the types of stretches that make sense and those that don’t you a really good sense of your brand position. I suspect that Kaiser Permanente wanted to reframe the negative image appropriately given to managed care companies as uncaring, corporate and cold. Their “thrive” position does this for them. Their brand marketing decisions to offer advice on overall wellness takes that position and extends it, gives it additional reach, flexibility, and strength.
Assessing the good stretch starts here:
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
Quick. What are your favorite brands?
One of my favorite brand strategy books is The Culting of Brands: When Customers Become True Believers by Douglas Atkin (2004). In it, Atkin compares the dynamics that draw people to cults with the dynamics that make “true believers” out of ordinary consumers. It’s fascinating psychosocial stuff and if you haven’t read it, run out and pick up a copy post haste. Or, in the meantime, check out my summary here.
Atkin begins by saying that “the sacred and profane are bound by the essential desires of human nature.” As evidence of this, he shares that the people who participated as his research shared the same kinds of reasons for joining either a religious cult or a consumer oriented cult-like following. Their reasons included “profound urges to belong, to make meaning, feel secure, have order within chaos, and create identity.” “This is the stuff,” he says, “of the human condition.” Atkin’s research also found that unlike popular conceptions of cult-members as flawed and gullible people, the majority are, demographically speaking, “from stable and financially comfortable homes and are, above average in intelligence and education.”
So how do they, and we of the brand-believing sect, get drawn in? Atkin identified these dynamics:
Belonging to the group of believers paradoxically makes individuals feel self-actualized and more free to be and express themselves.
Harley Davidson provides a bad-boy outlet for people who occasionally need to stick it to “the man” by revving their throaty engines in suburban cul de sacs.
The group is a “beacon of difference” that operates in a distinct and sometimes fringe element of the otherwise unwashed masses.
The group takes on its own culture, terminology, and customs that all signal to its members “You’re different, but we’re different too.” Strategically, this means organizations have to be willing to exclude people who don’t fit in order to be clearly differentiated enough to attract the right fit. This takes courage and focus. Apple provides creative people a community of creative, hip, arty types where they and others who feel disconnected from an uncreative world can come together and celebrate their quirkiness. Remember the iconic Mac ad of drones and the anvil throwing liberator? Now envision a bunch of quirky, anvil-toting, Mac-lovers.
People buy people before they buy things.
Or in other words, people buy into the feeling they get from a cult or company. In retrospect, they might rationalize their decision by pointing to the ideology or the product-features, but it’s the “staff not the stuff” that really drives results. Build relationships.
The Norman Rockwell vision of small town communities might be going away or gone; the primal need for community has not.
People desperately need to belong. Atkin illustrates that belonging in a community provides for us a filter with which to determine what’s real, what’s meaningful, and gives us a sense of identity. And while people may no longer find those community benefits in their geographical locations, they can find them in membership with consumer sects of other likeminded people. And the good news about consumer communities is that unlike family or neighbors, we get to pick them and/or opt out at any time.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Sure there are those whack-a-do consumers out there who get all into their stuff, but not me. I have a life.”
I had the same thoughts when I snapped this picture of a Mac-nut camped in front of the Mac store. He was one of about thirty people waiting for HOURS to be the first to get some Mac product (was it the Mac Pro? A new iPod? Who knows? I’m a PC). I thanked him for posing for my photo and told him I hoped his wait would be worth it. He assured me it would be. I walked away tsk-tsking to myself and feeling both self-righteous and impressed by the machine that is Apple.
Of course, I’ve been known to tell my kids that I’m busy “working” while I surf online sales at Anthropologie so it’s a slippery slope.
Where’s your brand devotion?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
There have been a few recent events that have conspired to create a theme in my mind. One of these events was a Forbes article that came out in early January and essentially slammed the cheesy business terms and lingo so many of us hear, know, and use on a daily basis. Most of this knowledge-class business jargon is composed of visual metaphors whose creativity rating is fair to middling. Examples include phrases like “drilling down,” “grasping the low hanging fruit,” “circling the wagons,” and “wrapping one’s arms around the problem.” As I write this, the guy sitting next to me talking on his cell phone at the coffee shop is talking about finding “someone else to throw under the bus.” Charming, no?
I have less of a problem with visually-oriented terms than I do with the words that aren’t actual words. I’ve heard people’s behavior described as “integrous” and there are some who insists on “languaging” the wording of a document until they get it right (or the words just roll over and die). Seriously, just writing those two examples gave me the shivers and sent my spellchecker into a seizure.
How many of you can honestly say you’ve used phrases like this in meetings, in conversations or even in reports because it’s the language of the day and something you picked up from your peers? I ask because even though I am a linguistic snob, I am guilty of using office babble. It makes me wonder how much of what we say is really our own. How much of it is language that is true to our own linguistic styles and how much is just a borrowed business language template filled in with a few original thoughts.
And then the problem becomes one that isn’t limited to words, but to voice. And this brings me to the other event that conspired to produce this particular blog rant. I was sitting in a meeting, probably using words like “synergy,” and we were talking about prospective college students. We were talking specifically about some of the research results I had recently uncovered and how to translate those findings into “actionable” (hah!) marketing communication tactics. One of my insightful meeting-colleagues made the observation that although the research gave us a good sense of the way the students described their own style and voice, we would be deluding ourselves—and ultimately unsuccessful—if we tried to borrow that same voice and make it sound credibly like our own.
A wise caution indeed because grown-ups like myself manage to sound linguistically flabby enough when we use worked-over business lingo, but it gets much worse when grown-ups try to get down with the young folk. Suddenly, you have a wool-cap wearing, grunged out, 40-year old father of three who’s trying to be “dope” with his “sick” attire while shopping for life insurance and rocking to Phish or Rick Astley…or whatever it is the young people like these days.
So the question remains: How do we speak? Whose voice do we use? Hopefully, the lesson here—particularly in these marketing-cynical times in which we live—is always use your own voice. Research the hell out of your market segments by all means, learn the nuances of their sub-culture, and the stylings of their voice, but then let them use it.
Now let me hear your voice.
I recently worked with the type of client that makes it easy for a brand marketing consultant love her job. Their team was thoughtful, open, eager to learn, and perhaps best of all, willing to make decisions and move forward. Love you MNU.
Over the course of the project, we talked about the difference between advertising and marketing—or perhaps more specifically, where advertising fits into marketing. For those who don’t spend their waking hours thinking about brand and direct marketing strategy, it’s easy to mistake the most visible extension of marketing as the whole of marketing. It’s fall around here so I’ll provide a seasonally appropriate example.
Envision a beautiful maple tree.
Within the tree is its maple-specific cells are the little maple-flavored genetic coding bits necessary for growing maple roots that thrive in specific maple-friendly conditions and produce maple wood, bark, branches and leaves. You might look at the maple leaves in fall and say “Those are pretty. They make me happy.” Or, for those of you less inclined to sanguinity, you might see them and say “Oh crap. Gotta get out that old rake or hope there’s a stiff wind that blows those leaves into the neighbor’s yard and out of mine.” Either way, the tendency is to look at the most colorful, waving, outward extensions of the tree and forget about the structure beneath.
So it is with the role of advertising in marketing. Many of the preliminary activities of strategic marketing happen behind the scenes and within the vital, but plainly dressed, trunk of the marketing tree. There is a progression to strategic marketing that starts inward and proceeds up and outward and typically includes activities like these:
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Culture geek. Proud Colorado native.