Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Uncover Your Brand SuperPower-Step 1

Did you happen to watch that new show "Undercover Boss" after the Super Bowl? It's about a senior level executive going undercover at many different positions throughout his organization. The goal is to make sure his initiatives he's set are achievable and to see how the organization "really" operates. He is put into positions at the entry level to see what it is really like to work for the company. Plus, he gets fired for the first time in his life, which was pretty funny. What is amazing about this is that it brings to life many insights and realizations about operations, processes and staffing that a senior level executive would NEVER get just running the organization from the top floor.

The same level of insights and realizations need to be uncovered when trying to establish your brand and what it stands for. Like the show, you need to uncover everything you can about your audience. Because at the end of the day, they are ones who really define what your brand stands for. You need to find out what their needs are, what their level of expectation is, what the customer experience is like, and how they want to be communicated with. This understanding, and what I refer to as "branding from the other side of the fence", will lead to a brand that is true, real and will allow you to connect with your customers in a way you never thought was possible. When your branding efforts become that natural, and not forced, that's when you know you have created something truly unique. Just look at companies like Apple, Starbucks and Ikea. They know what the customers wants before they do. That's having insight.

So how do you uncover your own Brand SuperPower? Here are a few things you can do to begin.

1. Interviews - You need to be constantly listening to your audience to uncover what they think of your company and your brand. You need to develop a series of questions for both internal and external constituent groups - employees, vendors, partners, board members and clients. Include questions that address your organization, products and services, competitors, industry, marketing, audience… What's important about this is that you allow the interviewee to be as truthful and open as possible. Only then can you uncover real insights that will make a tremendous difference to your brand.

2. Customer Surveys - For every sale or specific time period, survey your customers about their experience. Offer incentives to provide this valuable insight.

3. Advisory Boards - create a customer and/or employee advisory board that can provide you with new ideas, insights and reccommendations.

4. Social Media - this is a given in today's environment. You must be online following and listening to your audience. Start with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and begin to see how your presence can make a huge difference to your customers. Just remember to be transparent. No selling going on here. Okay, you can on LinkedIn, but it's more effective when you approach it from a advisory position.

From all this you can then begin to formulate a brand strategy - one that will identify key attributes and your overall brand SuperPower to go to market with. Start with this and see how it goes.

Send me a note to ask any questions or to just fill me in on what new insights you were able to uncover. Thanks for listening. Look for Step 2 in the near future. We'll get into how to translate all of these findings and identify your Brand SuperPower.

The Brand Man.
Creating SuperPowered Brands That Drive Business

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I just found out one of my first mentors passed away. The sad thing is that it happened in November of 08. Life gets in the way and you lose touch with people you shouldn't. The world is definitely a lesser place today without her.

She was one that was always smiling, regardless of how late we had to work. She always had encouraging words to say. And she always wanted you to push the boundaries as a creative. She made it fun, but made sure you accomplished what you needed to. She also had a great naming system for her copy files, like "stupid stuff 1". It always cracked me up. 

As I reflect on this, it reminds me of why I've always taken mentoring so seriously throughout my career. It is a crucial part of what we do as creative thinkers and managers. We all know how a fragile a bunch us creatives are. We are in constant need of encouragement, gratitude and the feeling that we have the opportunity to push the boundaries.

She taught me many things that I have carried forward and used to mentor others when given the opportunity. I think too many people and businesses in the creative and marketing industry forget to do the simple things for their staff, employees and clients. I've come up with a list that I believe everyone should follow as they are put into a position of management and mentorship. I hope you find this helpful and you get to see just how important it is and the impact it makes on younger creatives. And, how simple it is to execute.

1. Encourage all to push the boundaries - because the farther you push, even though they (those clients of ours) always bring you back, you can usually get one step farther each time.

2. Offer opportunities for growth - seminars, expos, new projects… Because all creatives want more!

3. Say "Thank You" to someone that works for you or with you EVERY DAY! You'd be amazed at how far these two words go.

4. When critiquing, give guidance, but not answers. This allows them to think differently, to provide a new solution or approach if necessary. It also gives them the ownership and confidence when successful.

5. Leave the door open - ALWAYS. Communication is paramount. Anything and everything should be discussed. But set some guidelines so you can get your own work done.

6. Leave the politics to the politicians. Too many people in this industry, and any industry for that matter, want nothing more than to advance and will do anything they can to accomplish that. Everyone has to get up and go to work. It shouldn't be in an environment where we constantly have to look over our shoulders. Especially with the hours we put in.

7. Be honest. There's not much more that can be said about this.

8. Have fun. What other industry do you know that is as much fun and laid back as this?

9. Be nice. It makes working with/for you that much more enjoyable.

10. Sit back and watch. You'll be amazed at the change in attitude and the improvement of creative output this will create.

Hope you all have a great day.

- The Brand Man

Friday, January 15, 2010

Customer Connections

Indulge me for a moment while I set up my point here.

I started competing in triathlons a year ago and in doing so, I joined the Mid MD Tri Club. Which, if anyone is doing triathlons knows this is the best group in MD! The club has been a great group for support and training, not to mention learning about the right equipment. At our most recent meeting (at Princeton Sports - one of our great club sponsors), we were treated to a presentation by Mark Monnett, the region's Zipp wheels distributor. For those of you who don't know anything about Zipp wheels, they are the top of the line when it comes to wheels for bicyclists and triathletes. Not only are they the best wheels, but also the some of the most expensive. Those two usually go together - the old "you get what you pay for" rule. But that isn't a bad thing by any means.

After the presentation, when I finally stopped ooh'ing & ahh'ing over the wheels, I started thinking about it from a branding perspective. The presentation was exciting because of the product, the cool design, and how light-weight it is. But the talk was also very technical–talking about materials, shapes, dimples, watts… Are we triathletes interested in all that stuff? To a point, but what we really care about is posting faster times, and making sure we have the energy to do so. Now as someone who is in his target audience, he didn't fully have a customer connection with me until he started putting the technology in a perspective that any triathlete could understand - how much energy I would save (I think it was approximately 700 calories in a 1/2 Ironman distance) in the bike portion of the race by using these wheels. Since I started competing, I've learned how much energy it takes and how much nutrition you need to intake during a race in order to keep your energy level up. This type of information completely "wowed me" and the connection was made. Why? Because he "spoke to me". By that I mean, he put it in terms that are important to me, not ones that are important to the manufacturer or a different audience group.

As marketers, we all need to find that connection with our customers. The one bit of information that is more important than all others. The one bit of information that says "we completely understand your needs because we have the same needs".

So how do you do this - understand your target audience I mean? In Mark's case, he understands because he is the target audience. If you don't have that option, then what do you do? You research, interview, listen to social media, survey… anything and everything you can to find out what is important to your customers. Only then can you make that connection that will create new customers and keep your existing ones. Plus, (the big added bonus here) once that is done, this type of connection will begin to spread on it's own, creating the kind of marketing every company is looking for these days–customer driven and free.

What customer connection has your brand made lately? What was the outcome of such a connection. The Brand Man wants to hear your story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Branding Is All About The Customer Experience

I have been focusing a lot on the customer experience as of late and how it shapes a brand strategy. I have realized that their is probably no other area that has as great an impact on the success of the company as the customer experience. Now, to me, the customer experience is many things. It is far more than any marketing or advertising campaign. It includes the sales process, advertising, customer service, product design, packaging, POS, purchase, 1st use, hopefully 2nd purchase and more. It is every interaction a customer (or potential customer) has with your brand.

Well, how does that shape a brand? If you break down the customer experience into scenarios, what happens in each scenario, who is involved and what is currently happening, you will see from a customer's perspective what your brand stands for. This is so important to be able to look from your customers' point of view, because it is what they believe your brand is that's important, not what we as brand creators think. This relates to a quote I once read about personalities. It says a persons true personality is how one acts when no one is watching. The same holds true for your brand. How your customers think and talk about your brand when you are not communicating to them is what your brand is. No advertising campaign or innovative product alone can tell a customer what to think about a brand. It can begin the thought process, but without the positive customer experiences to back it up, all that advertising and innovation is going to waste.

I've had a couple of experiences with companies as of late that have made sure the customer experience at all phases of a purchase cycle were what they wanted it to be. I recently purchased furniture from West Elm (westelm.com) and Pad/Calligari's (www.calligarisshop.com/Pad - part of Su Casa in Baltimore). Both of these have a modern, upscale line of furniture for those hip and trendy creative types. Okay, that's my description but you get the idea of who they are. Now oddly enough, both of my shipments from both companies were delayed for different reasons. But, neither were discovered until I called inquiring. Now, they could have just said nothing and told me they would deliver as soon as possible. But, what both customer service reps did was find out what the problem was, call me back with an explanation and offer me a refund on shipping charges, not to mention expediting the shipments and following up after the shipments were delivered to make sure they were to satisfaction. Now, do you think I'm going to go somewhere else the next time I'm furniture shopping? They made sure a potentially negative experience turned positive and actually created a loyal customer. Now, isn't BRAND LOYALTY what we are all striving for?

I would love to hear how you have taken a customer experience scenario to make a dramatic change to your brand.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What is your brand's "Guinness Glass"?

I'm sitting here drinking from my one and only Guinness glass. And I'm not talking about the standard pint glass either. This glass is the one that is smaller at the bottom and then rounds outward halfway up - the Tulip glass. But, unfortunately today, there is no Guinness in it. But, as I look at this glass, I realize an amazing brand element that Guinness has created - the glass the beer is served in. Not the the bottle the product comes in. Not the packaging the bottle comes in. Not the product itself, but a glass that the product is served in. It is not a product that Guinness even makes (as far as I could research), although I'll bet they have a stake in it somehow. Creating a brand association from some other company's product – that is truly branding perfection.

Think about that. I look at a glass (that I can use for Cranberry juice if I so desire) and I am instantly reminded of Guinness, and how nice it would be to have one right now! How many companies can say their brand has that kind of emotional bond and brand association with something that they don't even own. It's like going in to any restaurant or fast food chain, ordering a Coke and getting a glass or container in the shape of the Coca-cola bottle. That is the kind of branding that elevates you from your competitors. Okay, having a product like Guinness doesn't hurt either, but hopefully you get what I mean.

It is about creating emotional and cultural capital through experiences and associations that connect your brand to your customer. It isn't about new creative or marketing, although that can usually get the ball rolling, it's about understanding and delivering a consistent promise through whatever means will achieve that connection with your customer over and over and over…

So, does your brand have a "Guinness Glass"? How did it come to be? I want to know. Tell me what your brands "Guinness Glass" is?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Branding As A Company-Wide Business Strategy

I've been doing a lot of reading about companies focusing on branding and how to use it to improve business. One such article was from www.brandweek.com dated January 28, titled "Nike Seeks To Undercut New Under Armour Line". The article is about the new athletic performance trainers that both companies are coming out with. Now, as I read this article, it occurred to me that Nike was being positioned as the under dog? How can that be? A giant like Nike, who has always been the leader in innovation and technology in sports apparel.

It appears that Under Armour is a company where the brand has been created, not by mistake or some new marketing campaign, but through a business strategy rooted in the understanding of who their customer is, what is important to them, and what experiences will make them believe in Under Armour's promise. Now, Nike is and has been the model in product innovation and performance since their beginning, but Under Armour has created a fanatical following who believe 100% in the brand. No competitor's marketing campaign is going to change that.

Let's look at how this is possible. A quote in the article by Under Armour's VP of Brand Marketing, Steve Battista, sums it up by saying "It's about reinventing and revolutionizing how athletes train for competition". This comes from an complete understanding of what their customers' functional needs are, what experiences they are looking for, and what will affect them emotionally and socially. Creating this "cultural capital" is where companies need to be. It makes the customers want to spend time with you. Because only then, does price become a non-issue (okay, price will always be a factor, but a much less important one). This is what creates brands, creates loyal customers and grows companies. Not a new marketing campaign, but an entire company delivering the same promise over and over.

- The Brand Man

Monday, March 3, 2008

Branding Experience from a musical point of view

Recently, I started taking guitar lessons. Being a music lover and having played the drums growing up, the guitar is something I always wanted to learn to play. This lead me to two different music stores - The Guitar Center and Music and Arts. How ironic that Music and Arts now owns The Guitar Center. 

I'm going to start with The Guitar Center. What a store! Talk about creating an emotional experience the second you walk through the door. It is rock 'n roll heaven. Guitars are everywhere. Of course, being The Guitar Center, they should be the first thing you see. But, what really creates the emotional experience that all brands should have is that you can pick up a guitar, plug into an amp and just jam. This is true for the rest of the store as well - there is an Acoustic Corral for those wanting to unplug, a full drum area as well as keyboard section where you can sit and play. Is there any better way to get to know a product or company than by being able to demo it first? I know this won't work for everyone, but all brands need to have an experience like this that connects with the customer on an intimate, emotional level. Because, only then will you begin to receive the social and economic benefits of such an emotional brand. 

As for the Music And Arts Center, this is tailored to a completely different musician. This is for the school band musician - it covers everything from classical instruments to guitars and drums. What's interesting about the store, is the bright, uncluttered, straight-forward feel to it. It is almost the opposite of The Guitar Center. And it probably should be, being that it is really catering to the parents of the musicians. They want to make it as easy and unimposing as possible for these parents to come in, purchase what they need for their kids and get out. There is no lingering area, no area to jam, just straight forward, high end musical instruments and accessories for school age musicians. 

Now, is this experience any less effective or emotional than the one The Guitar Center presents? I don't think so. It is all about understanding who your customer is, what is their need, what experience do they want to have, and delivering exactly that. 

The experience that a customer has with you is what will get them to come back. Obviously, you have to have a good product or service, but by creating an emotional experience you will get them to come back, tell others about your company and, eventually, become a lifelong customer. And isn't that a whole lot easier than having to get new cusotmers over and over?

-The Brand Man