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The creation of fast acting, upwardly accelerating, new world finding brands. The brand strategy that forces every ounce of growth out of the brand and then some more and right away. This is Rocket Branding.

Huge Mistake Branding Agencies Make

Mistake image

You need to grow revenues. Your brand works hard for you, but it needs some help. It’s tired and just not as competitive as it should be.

Time for a branding agency to step in.

You talk to your peers and search away. A short list of worthy contenders dukes it out, and you make your pick. Harry & Mary & Mo climb on board and like all good agency teams, immediately set about to learn what is going on with your brand and your customers, consumers, partners and all those stakeholders that touch it.

They review your historical data; conduct interviews, surveys and keyword searches. It is stimulating and revealing.

Well, maybe not all that revealing. Much you already know. In fact, you and colleagues probably told them most of what they played back to you regarding the brand picture today.

Yes, they did present an interesting insight from their learning, and by golly, some of the brand work from that insight is really cool.

Stop there. From this point on you are wasting your time and money.

Here’s why.

Almost all interview and discovery work is based on today. What people think of the brand today – strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and opportunities versus others and so on.

That is all very well but if the context for the exploration is not in the future and what the role of the brand will be in that future then it’s just an exercise in design with little chance of being relevant in a year or three and with slim chance of competing for growth.

 One way or another I have seen thousands of brand development proposals and results/recommendation presentations. Many are indeed creative. But most give little credence to where your business needs or wants to go and how the brand will help make that happen.

You cannot possibly build a successful brand strategy unless you understand how the company will grow, what brand target will make that happen and what role the brand will need to have in driving that target to achieve the growth.

 A trendy watchmaker was shown how to make their brand even trendier, but the work forgot to understand how the brand was going to survive the impending onslaught of like competitors. A cursory look at their growth path revealed it wasn’t so much the cool design factor that would grow their business but their foothold in a female gift-giving market that could propel them through the next five years no matter what the competition did. This strategic shift dictated the entire brand approach. Still trendy but focused on gift giving wonderment.

A major wholesaler in the food business was continuing to move their tenured brand along the expected path of selection, reliability, and supply when a planning session revealed the enormous opportunity to service the food safety part of their business. So much so that the entire company decided to focus all sales and marketing efforts there over the next five years. As such, the brand would morph into a bold leader in food safety. Big, deliberate move that they would not have taken with their brand unless they looked down the road.

A world-class snack maker had allowed their brand to assume a rather quiet role in a wide portfolio of products and distribution channels. All fine and dandy and a brand refresh was well fresh. However again a squint along the growth path revealed a huge reward in sales and profits if the brand aggressively focused on one channel only, not all. The focus informed the new brand work and is helping push sales and EBITDA to record levels.

The world famous motorbike brand entered the digital world with much chaos. Some thirty-two ‘official’ websites emerged with differing tones, messages, audiences, and offers. Strong brands can survive this chaos but over time competitors with fewer distractions take advantage. Not one person responsible for the brand at any of their agencies bothered to sit with the company leaders and ask the difficult but critically important question of where the company needed to be in sales or profit in the next three to five years. As a consequence brand work continued but confusion reigned, and two major competitors began stealing share through direct digital relationships. A new agency did ask the right questions. They found a way to reduce the number of sites to one and greatly strengthen the brand’s focus and customer outreach.

The list goes on, and the story is typically the same.

Building brands for today is an exercise in competitive disadvantage. Building a brand for rocket growth is courageous certainly, but as oft said, if you don’t know where you are going you will never get there.

We live and die in rocket growth and helping brands focus on their trajectory not on their logo. Font gazing saps your future. Call us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Branding In The New Norm

New NormSociety is changing. In some cases at tectonic levels. Brand marketers beware.

Tradition is no longer the norm, and the ‘new norm’ is still working itself out.

 Just a cursory squint at the world shows this.

 Look at two historical ‘normal predictors -human relationships and business.

We now live in an increasingly global context. Thanks in part to the Internet. The traditional norm would have us protecting cultures, borders and wealth. The new norm wants us sharing and equalizing without discrimination or cultural preference.

Deep lines are drawn today between entrenched folks on either side of this bucket of issues. Whereas this is true on the surface and in the media, many homegrown views may be softening, especially as populations continue to become more ethnically and culturally mixed. Adherence to traditions and values temper with each mixed marriage, migrating family and every new political and religious chapter.

The new norm is happening.

Take me for example. I am an Australian with Viking and British colonial roots, married to a Greek-born American with a long, proud, Hellenic heritage. Our Amercian-born children have a healthy dose of all these cultures. They will carry mixed values forward to undoubtedly more rich mixtures. 100% anything is no longer the norm, and black and white issues are more in the realm of earth tones in this new racially, hyper-sensitive, earth-loving, everyone-shares world.

And speaking of changing population mix. The poorer classes are having children while the middle and upper socio-economic couples are more likely to be having pets or alternative life partners. With each new year, decade and generation these factors will dictate everything from the food we eat to the brands we buy, the people we see and the work we do. It already has. Did you know that Mahummed, in one form or another, is one of the most popular names for new baby boys in the UK today?

What actors or ‘actor persons’ do you portray in your mainstream TV commercials? Probably not all white? Or all black, or brown or yellow? Right?

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 3.14.17 PMTake the test. Watch 15 mainstream commercials tonight and tell me what the ethnicity of the main actors are? I see a lot of standard continental-like faces with semblances of African, Hispanic and Asian features. The universal being, so to speak.

Political leadership as well is now anything but traditional and may never be again (#twitter) and unfortunately, the ‘religion’ that is getting the most attention and new members all over the world, is hell bent on murdering innocents.

And lastly on the point of the new norm for human relationships. Look how we communicate today. It is evident the monumental changes digital is having on the universe, but even beyond that, it is quite amazing to me how limited traditional free speech has become. A mere slight inference or private utterance of any of the letter words (‘n,’ ‘H,’ ‘q’) can get you fired, threatened and publicly ridiculed beyond redemption. You now have to watch your ‘ps and ‘qs literally.

So to business. Several prominent CEO’s just pulled out of Trump’s business committees on the basis of his supposed, racially insensitive comments.

CEO’s now have to have a clear and public opinion about highly charged social issues. Most American Fortune ‘bigs’ derive business worldwide. They no longer compete purely on a US basis either for revenues or talent. And, if in the past, the C-level could hide behind Annual Reports and ‘corporate spokespeople’ they are now being called upon to ariculate their company’s global ‘purpose’ and ‘shared values.’

Business can no longer hide from the new norm.

It’s a slippery slope when a brand gets it wrong. Pepsi’s widely lambasted attempt at ‘unity and peace’ in its Kendal Kardashian commercial certainly exemplifies that.

Mainstream brands could once hide from serious social issues in their consumer marketing. Corporate philanthropic activities sufficed. Not anymore. If brands do not understand how to navigate through these far-reaching and rapidly evolving new norms, then they can quickly lose relevance to new generations.

Oh and here’s a clincher. Your company name is now a brand. Whether it is the name on what you sell or not, it will be a factor in purchase and buy decisions. And no, B2B companies are not exempt from this.

Claims like Made in America and Proud Sponsor of the US Olympics etc. are examples of company/brand messages that straddle product benefit and quarzi social comment. But are they enough in this highly charged environment?

So do branders pick a side on any of the big ‘ism’ issues (like racism, elitism, terrorism, materialism, populism and so on) or just stay the heck away from these and concentrate on selling the advantages of their products and services?

Or could they win hearts and minds by owning one of the softer ‘new norm’ issues like peace, unity, literacy and of course whales?

Indeed the company, product or service you brand can dictate this. Soap makers can proffer a safer, cleaner environment. And do. Coffee makers can support indigenous farm sharing, and environmental packaging and pet product producers have no end of abused puppies to love. And, well, of course, P&G’s Dawn sure cleans oil-spill, drenched ducks.

I wonder, however, if this is going to be enough for the new norm, particularly for big mainstream players. Focused new upstarts risk far less by taking on the hard issues. Yes, Ford and GM can attempt to cater to earth-friendly fuels but here is Tesla, by all accounts a new big player in the alternate fuel auto industry.

So what to do?

  1. Hire ahead. Not Behind. Take a leaf out of Clayton Christensen’s book, Innovator’s Dilemma. Just as he recommended not relying on your current people to innovate the next new products, don’t rely on your traditionalists to build your company’s role or at least position it in the ‘new norm’ world.
  2. Play Long Ball. There is no quick fix here. Plan for the long-term with the same amount of careful rigor as you would with financial and ops planning.
  3. Listen and Learn. Don’t rely on the media to inform on the new norm. They quite frankly do not have a clue what is going on today. Many have still not internalized that a new POTUS was voted in. This, mostly because they are looking at everything through traditional lenses. Big mistake. Go to the source … the people. And listen. They may not give you the answers, but they can certainly help you frame the questions.

No, this is not going away, and it isn’t finished. The new norm is here and evolving. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

What say you?

 

 

 

 

 

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Brand on Life Support

Congress blogThere is a brand, an important brand, that has approval ratings way down in the teens (even lower than cockroaches and traffic jams according to a US World study) … and maybe beyond hope.

Most Americans, sadly agree that the US Congress is floundering. And more so today. Dysfunctional, petty and seemingly incapable of achieving much of anything. There is a reason that ‘drain the swamp’ was a particularly popular campaign message in the recent Presidential election.

Even the victorious party that just swept into power cannot get a new health-care plan agreed … and after supposedly working on it for over seven years. Little hope for tax reform or the other so called campaign promises.

Certainly, ‘Congress’ is not a brand in the conventional sense. Tough to buy off the shelf or from a car dealership. But anytime you ask people for their support and more so their funds then you are judged no differently. Would you rather give your money to your senator or buy a new TV, or more to the point, pay your bills?

But what is most alarming is that young Americans who want careers where they ‘can make a difference in the world’ are not choosing politics. Even political science students, according to studies conducted by Rutgers and Harvard, favored ‘community service’ two-to-one over ‘politics’ as the means to achieve their goals. Similar sentiments were found among high school students also researched.

When smart, young folk are looking at career choices and see that what was once an honorable, admired profession is now more about finger-pointing than policy making, they look to other ways to help the world. Interestingly entrepreneurship, which would in the past be seen as the antithesis of political action, is to many seen as a better way to help.

Some polls do show favorability scores for one’s own elected Congress person, but even that is falling. Many see that when their successful candidate goes off to Washington they are caught up in a broken system where no one seems to be able to move the ball forward.

So what to do?

We all know that money is at play. The cost to compete and win as a Member of Congress is out of reach of many. ‘Influence’ money pops up all over Washington. Privacy is also a problem. Few want to face the brutal scrutiny of the Internet and media if all they end up with is a bad book deal.

Yes, you don’t have to be a Senator or Representative to play ‘inside the beltway’ game, but the smelly bad stuff trickles down hill. It has a way of collecting at all levels and gunking up everyone’s good intentions.

 So again what to do?

To be brutally honest I am not sure. It will obviously have to be a bipartisan coming together of some kind. Some incentive to work across the aisle. And it probably has a lot to do with finding and nurturing a new crop of capable leaders.

This is comprehensive ‘system’ reform, and we all know how long anything tied to the word ‘reform’ can take!

Is there something in our brand bag of tricks? Well, let’s see.

Thinking of Congress as a brand you could begin to offer up a new face, literally.

We will always give smart, young people a chance. Let’s identify and begin publicly rewarding and supporting the new faces of Congress who are making a positive and not just ‘politically driven’ difference. This is not and should not be partisan. This is all about strong, determined Senators, Congress men and women working for real change and not party or special interest favor.

So what about the money, I keep talking about?

Well, those rewarded should be funded by the growing class of wealthy private donors who pledge to give based on demonstrated honest, authentic change and not ideological mania.

Call it the Gabebufzuk Project (for Gates, Bezos, Buffet, and Zuckerberg). The wealthiest Americans will, by law set aside each year ten million dollars for the one person or team in Congress that makes the most difference for the American people and have it ratified by an online, national vote.

Overly simplistic. Pollyannaish maybe but at least it is a public attempt to right an arguably swamp-stuck ship. At this rate, if the perceptions and processes of Congress do not change it will become a brand of even older, more tired folk with less support and consequence. What then?

What say you?

 

 

 

 

 

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How Brands Survive Bricks to Clicks

bricks blog shotThere is nothing sadder, I think than seeing an empty space in a shopping center, once filled by a vibrant, bustling retailer.

E-commerce is no longer a new growth segment. It is now shaping the future of retailing. Aided and abetted of course by savvy consumers who shop the retail options they want, without moving more than their finger.

Yes, we get it. This is not news. And ‘brick’ retailers are already finding ways to marry ‘bricks with clicks’… personalized offers, store pick-up/return, etc.

But now Amazon is reported to be acquiring premier food retailer Whole Foods. Bricks and clicks galore!

 There are all sorts of predictions and scenarios on what this will mean to traditional brick retailers. Especially as it relates to the future of large format retailers? Do we really need to battle our way to and through the local Costco, Target or Wal-Mart? Why can’t we buy online and have them battle their way to us? Uber of everything?

And more to the point (as it always is) why do we, consumers, have to pay for that large space (as we always will). Give us what we want in an affordable, convenient way, and we’ll take it every time. And that probably means that we won’t be paying for the real estate taxes, utilities, and wages that the local, debt-ridden municipalities will seek from your ‘big box’ facilities.

 What does this all mean to traditional brand retailers?

 So you are a brand that has spent years, if not decades, building its reputation and support through the shopping experience.

You may be like a local hardware store that thrived for years near me with its jam-packed shelves and friendly staff. Customers walked in with some piece from a broken old faucet and walked out with the right part and emboldened with the knowledge of how to fix it. You survived a Home Depot opening near by and a move to a bigger space. But you couldn’t compete on price and still pay the costs to keep your doors open. You are now a large empty space in a strip mall.

What do you need to do to survive this rather miserable scenario?

Hey, brighten up. You own the one thing that no new brand or new online store can ever have. You have been successful in brick and mortar shopping for a long time. Chances are you have built a familiar and trusted brand relationship with your local community. There is absolutely no reason why your brand reputation will not transfer to the digital world and be even more successful.

It is really as simple as understanding your brand story.

 Take that hardware store above. I cannot get anywhere near the same help or solutions from Home Depot or any website as I once did from that store. Even if I had somehow I wouldn’t feel as confident or supported.

So set up a ‘knowledge’ site with video integration where I can connect, show you my broken faucet. You’ll help. If I need a part you’ll deliver it from a supply warehouse (maybe have a local charity deliver and be part of your Millennial’s ‘cause related, purpose-driven community’) or you’ll send a plumber with a new faucet, etc. Whatever. The idea is that you transfer your knowledge brand story to an online retail opportunity. Site costs are still a lot cheaper than the mounting store costs.

Knowledge is the new ‘secret sauce’ in digital retailing. It is also the great equalizer. With more and changing options for every shopping item in the world, knowledge is invaluable, profitable and competitively sustainable.

 Yes, I know there is a ‘depends’ comment here. How can you replicate the smell of fresh bakery online or new car leather or ogle a paper thin TV or try on the new fashion, etc.? All good issues but also creatively solvable with technology and understanding your brand message.

We believe that with rare exception ‘brick’ retail brands can survive and indeed thrive in the new digital age. It’s all about brand story, not bricks.

 We at Rocket Branding love this stuff. Call us, and we’ll help find your online brand story and profitable future.

 

 

 

 

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Hope or Fear. Where Brands Thrive or Die.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.45.22 PMWall Street believes ‘greed’ and ‘fear’ drive financial markets. These two emotional states have also driven brand growth for decades. But something is changing, and one could argue that ‘greed’ is now best stated as ‘hope’, at least for branding purposes. Disregard this change at your peril.

Let’s break it down.

‘Fear’ is easy to understand. Consider brands for insurance, medicine, and security. Not the kind of products we think of first thing in the morning, or at all, if we can help it. We buy them when we fear the consequences of not doing so.

Insurance brands like Geico, Progressive, and Aflac, try to break through this lethargy with entertaining characters – lizards, ducks (and of course the omnipresent Flo) with ‘no-fuss-less-money’ approaches. They try to overcome disinterest without the heavy hand of fear. Then there is Allstate’s Mayhem campaign that hits you over the head with it. Literally.

Drug and medical brands also depend on the ‘fear and consequence’ mindset. Let’s not delve into irritable bowel syndrome and such, but you see how playing on fear works to drive these brands.

‘Greed’ on the other hand is all about the things we want. A whole lot more engaging. Luxury, shiny, creamy, gooey, exotic travel, exquisite perfumes. The list goes on. Stuff that excites, pleasures and feeds our self-indulgences and social image.

Qantas Airlines enjoys one of the best safety records in the world but rarely promotes it. Comfort, service, and destination are all better selling points than the scary safety notions. Car brands are notorious purveyors of greed. Sleek, sexy, fast. Volvo played the family safety card. Even though successful over the years, it has been difficult for them to also sell the performance and image of that owners seek.

If you understand where your brand competes in the ‘greed and fear’ contexts, you will know how to position, message and market it.

But as mentioned at the beginning, for the first time in maybe five decades, this I believe is changing and quite profoundly so.

Fear is still fear but greed is in many ways is much less in vogue. At one time it was quite aspirational to be wealthy and successful. Big car, big home, big career. You were to be congratulated, envied and even admired.

No so much today. Perspectives have changed. The rich are still rich and even richer. But the poor populations, the environment, and nature are all at higher risks and the stigma of power mongering and corruption among ‘elites’ the world over is now at a flash point. New terms like ‘clean the swamp’, ‘populist view’ and ‘purpose-driven’ marketing are emblematic of this.

I remember at one time being on the team to sell the new American Express Green Card campaign, ‘Membership has its privileges globally. It was very successful in the North America but not so internationally. To many cultures, only the ruling classes enjoyed privileges. I believe that North America has caught up with this now and again the idea of greed or excess so to speak is no longer PC.

So what do we do? Clearly, consumers still want their luxuries and pleasures and will buy brands in this context. But be careful.

If your brand is supported by those over 50, I’d say be as hedonistic as you want. But if your consumer base is under 40 and Millennial then I would rethink your Greed platform.

Folks under 40 have a greater sensitivity to the notion of greed partly because of the basic inequality or injustice issues, but also importantly because of uncertainty of the future and more so their future. Clearly fear has crept into greed. Some of this is real of course in terms of the health and safety of the world, but some of it is also from the daily flood of negative news. Between the 24/7 broadcast news and social digital media, we not only get all the negative world headlines (bad news sells) but we get on the spot, real time videos with the more scandalous zooming around the Internet at warp speed. So we not only hear the official news but also the supposedly ‘real’ backstory often from someones’ cell phone.

We hear and see way too much of the bad stuff, and it plays major havoc with our sensitivities and sense of well-being.

So here is my simple answer.

Let’s rethink ‘greed’ as ‘hope’ and if our brand needs to live in the ‘I want more’ space (formerly known as ‘greed’) be very careful how we moderate our message and present our brand. It’s not just about being better but being human. It’s not about isolated individuals but social fun and engagement. More authenticity. Less BS.

Bottom line. If you are building a brand in a ‘fear’ context, go at it full blast but if you favor the ‘greed’ context then at least think long a hard about moving into a ‘hope’ context where humanity and authenticity thrive.

We love this stuff at Rocket Branding.

What say you?

 

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