Use Your Words

Like most mothers, my wife tirelessly taught our kids to “use their words” when angry or frustrated. Makes sense, right? Better to talk it out than fight it out.

OK, but what does this have to do with branding? Well, a whole lot today.

Societal behavior has changed. I’m not sure if it’s an evolution or transition or what, but in today’s highly judgmental and litigiously sensitive world, words are loaded and often weaponized.

On the world stage, one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter.’ Any questioning or equivocation here can immediately drop you in the middle of an active ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ group.

It’s heady stuff, for sure. Come talk to us if we can help you better understand where and how your brand can thrive in even as confusing a market as we have now.

Closer to home, most people are decidedly either a Democrat or a Republican. The gap between us has never been wider. One errant comment about guns, open borders, and inflation makes you an ‘extreme MAGA Republican.’

Any comments of inhumane treatment of people, animals, or the environment will label you an ‘extreme liberal Democrat’ with ‘woke’ blood surging through your veins. And now, we all need to be trained to understand gender and sexual labels – ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘trans,’ ‘cis,’ ‘binary,’ ‘LGBQT+,’ and so on. Indeed, everyone must be respected for who they are and their individuality. No judgment here, but any use of the wrong word can be deemed deeply offensive to someone and met with swift and angry reactions.

What happened to mutual respect and ‘using our words’ to freely express views without being cut off and summarily dumped into an extreme bucket?

Is common sense under fire? Has ‘hype’ media taken over? Extreme views and warring factions make for great headlines and ratings. Where is objectivity and impartiality? Are we moving to a culture where inclusion outranks achievement, ‘optics’ rule, and mislabeling cannot possibly be accepted as an innocent mistake? Perhaps it is better not to say anything!

So much for ‘using your words’.

OK, what about branding?

Well, ask Bud Light. We all know the story. A promotion that partnered with a trans influencer lost the brand’s substantial share and a leadership position that they may never regain. Adidas, Target, and others who innocently tried to cater to similar new audiences were immediately labeled as ‘woke’ and publicly attacked accordingly.

So, what is the solution for a brand message in today’s market? 

Should a brand stay mainstream, entirely out of social discord, and devoid of social labels? After all, who cares what a banana grower or widget maker thinks? Possibly, but what happens to those new or current employees who demand to work for companies and brands that are ‘purpose-driven’ in terms of the betterment of humanity? Does staying quiet and agnostic create a relevance issue?

Like in most sectors of our life today, it’s complicated. 

But then again, does it have to be?

I have a simple solution.

When the world is in turmoil and the immediate future is uncertain, two factors will always win. Authenticity and Leadership. When times are wild, your brand’s consumers and customers are hungry for the truth and someone to give them hope for the future. This is the absolute opposite of ‘virtue signaling.’

You must understand your company and your brand’s SOBs (your Source of Business targets). If you know what your crucial growth users think and what they desire from your brand, focus all your efforts on providing the best product or service you can. And importantly, pay special attention to this … offer an authentic, relevant brand ‘home.’ 

The greats… Apple, Nike, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Amazon, and even Taylor Swift provide an emotional venue where their SOBs want to be. Yes, a particular tagline or ad campaign might have drawn you to a brand. Still, mostly, it’s about being real and allowing your users the room to experience, adopt, and advocate your brand as a reflection of themselves without false assertions.

Advocate for your consumers and customers, your SOBs, and your people. Have the courage to lead them and do what’s right for them. No one can blame AB for wanting to expand Bud Light to a growing user group. Do not do it if it makes your core customer (your primary SOB) uncomfortable or alienated. If the beer they hold betrays their image of themselves, they will vacate your ‘brand room’ in droves. Greed is no excuse.

And here is an obvious tip. If you advocate for something socially beyond how wonderful your brand is, pick something everyone can agree on … not profoundly polarizing. I just noticed that Purina is advocating against domestic pet abuse… something that everyone, including their SOB, can agree on and would add to their brand room, I would think. 

Can You Hear the Rainbow?

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 4.41.25 PMKaty asked this innocent question as she tugged at my sleeve and stretched her little eight year-old, bubbly self to show me the pretty rainbow outside the plane’s window.

Her mother hovered in the seat behind. I offered to change places but no, she said it was good that Katy (with a ‘y’) could spend some time with strangers.

OK I guess. But this stranger was hard at work drafting a three-year brand strategy for a client – the result of a two-day work session.

Katy persisted and for a lovable time this little person and I tried to work out what sound does orange make? Is blue a bubbling water sound or the gurgle when Katy finishes that last gulp of lemonade, (which is yellow of course) and what sound does red make … no clue! And what sound does the whole rainbow make?

She finally fell asleep and I went back to banging away on my laptop.

But an idea popped into my head. Little Katy, that sweet little mind, may well have just nailed why some growth strategies succeed and others fail.

Most companies build long-term growth strategies at one time or another. So why do some get traction and drive the company and others just sit on a shelf collecting dust?

We know that without properly defining the future growth goal, it is unlikely that there will be a powerful focus to the plan. At best it will be uninspiring and at worst miss a huge opportunity to set the company up with a lucrative competitive advantage for years to come.

But is this enough?

Katy would have us do one more thing. Have the courage to ask big, simple maybe even nonsensical questions.

Too often we get trapped into asking the same questions of a brand or a category, and yes, we end up with the same answers.

I remember being in a Coca Cola meeting where a research firm was presenting their annual report on drinking behavior. They were highlighting the remarkable growth in water consumption in the US population. The senior Coke representative scoffed at the idea of ever selling water in a can (They were predominantly a can company at that time). So the trend was disregarded. Katy might have asked. Why does it have to be in a can? It took Coke almost a decade after that to sell water in a bottle and, during that time, losing a huge chunk of business to others.

I also remember Bob Shapiro the head of The NutraSweet Company after reviewing proposed brand campaigns he commented on how small they seemed. Being a revolutionary new sweetener was fine but really so what? Yes the campaign would work for the packet sweetener business under the Equal brand, but what about the ingredient business with the NutraSweet brand? Do all the beverage brands that can use aspartame want to promote a new sweetener? Packets are a profitable $200 million+ business but the ingredient business that could be featured in the launch of the new diet soft drink category (Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi etc.) would be in the billions. A simple question that led to the idea of not introducing NutraSweet as a new sweetener but as new taste. Simple question that lead to a positioning campaign of ‘why some things taste better than others’ and a relevant message and logo for Coke and Pepsi, and some 3,000 other food and beverage brands throughout the world, to promote on their front labels.

So if you planning the next three to five years of solid growth don’t be afraid to sit back and ask the big, possibly silly, ‘Katy’ questions. And of course sometimes its good to have an outsider like us facilitate that. We are Rocket Branding and as always, honored to help.

Rocket Branding Believes the ‘Obama Brand’ Is Staged to Win

Rocket Branding is not judging who should win, but purely from a branding view it’s possible that President Obama may yet have the edge.

In many other democracies voters pick the party and the party picks the leader, but here we are most obsessed with picking the leader so the person becomes the choice.

Obama has done well personally but also because he actually performs more like a brand.

He is perfectly symbolic of a much larger set of beliefs based on some deep-set emotions among many American voters. And if you apply Rocket Branding thinking to the current race he is arguably in a great position to take off and win in the next 30 days.

“But wait” you say. “Romney just dominated the President in their first debate and clearly has the momentum”.

Despite that Obama can turn the momentum and win.

Here’s s why….

Rocket Branding is about creating emotional believes that cause the growth target to act on behalf of the brand – buy, vote, join etc.

Barack Obama appeared on the national scene four years ago with little if any credentials. But he did win in large part because he represented something that struck a deep emotional chord with many Americans. That was a pent up, dislike and frustration with the sense that America was ruled by those more dedicated to making money and wielding power… this, to the detriment of the average American and our neighbors throughout the world.

To this group Obama represented the chance to be ‘fair and friendly’ in a new “good” America where the greed, aggression and ‘crony-ism’ of the old “bad” America were no longer in play. In ‘good’ America everyone “joins hands, prospers and America is loved and admired all over the world”.

Now the strategist in me sees even deeper underlying emotions. In fact I wrote about it in my book. A lot of the followers of this new belief were women, mothers, younger generations and minorities. I believe they found a sense of more certainty and control in their lives with this new thinking. “If everyone can do well and everyone likes us, then we will be safe.” The traditional liberal media certainly fueled this thinking, Obama became our President and a new brand was born with ‘Hope and Change’ its banner.

Ok so fast forward to now some 4 years later.

Despite little progress with ‘Hope and Change’ nothing has really changed with the Obama brand. This group still loves the Obama brand and because it is based on these deeper emotions of certainty and control, he has been able to keep up the good fight even against the still visible enemy (congress etc.) and even despite the poor economy and a really dismal debate performance.

And here is where a brand will win.

President Obama is an emotional brand. Romney on the other hand is not. Obama’s followers like him emotionally. Romney’s followers do not really know him on any personal or emotional level. Romney certainly improved this and his ‘likeability’ in the debate but here’s the stunner, Obama’s likeability already ahead of Romney’s by a large margin actually went up after the debate.

A brand that people like and relate to will always do better and, especially, as in this case if the brand is the perceived underdog fighting the good cause.

Obama and his team have followed a focused and simple brand strategy (Rocket Branding principles). They have continually positioned Romney as another rich Republican same as the last, that only cares about the old, bad American principles of supporting the rich ‘1%’ and controlling the middle class. All Obama has to do is push the ‘rich’ button and all his followers line up ready to fight.

On top of this whether it was luck or brilliance is the fact that Obama stumbled and lost the first debate now gives him every opportunity to come back for the second debate and reestablish his ‘presidential’ perceptions. He can stand tall and forthrightly once again take on the mantle of fighting the rich and their leader Mitt Romney. The liberally biased media will create momentum for his strength and ‘underdog’ determination. Any logic regardless of how well presented by Romney will be drowned out and swept away by the hoards of hooping and hollering Obama lovers.

Again this is not about who should win but a classic look at how powerful the notion of branding is in the modern world and how useful the principles of Rocket Branding can be in accelerating a brand…even one as important as the leader of the free world.

So is there yet a ‘brand ‘ play for Mitt Romney that can turn the tide in his favor? Rocket Branding has a view on this? Tune into the next blog to find out.