• Pixar, Forky and Creating Buyer Personas to Sell Your Brand

    Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar

    The new episode of Toy Story introduces us to Forky, a seemingly worthless kid’s toy made from materials most of us would regard as trash. However, for marketers, Forky’s story and the development of his character is an object lesson in creating buyer personas. 

    Let’s start with the obvious. If you haven’t watched Toy Story 4 yet, stop reading and go see it. 

    It’s a tough sell to get people to watch sequels, especially the fourth installment in a series made for kids. However, TS4 is quite possibly the funniest animated movie to come out in quite some time thanks to the pitiful and incredibly relatable Forky. 

    Who is Forky? 

    The main human child in the movie, Bonnie, struggles with anxiety, nervousness and loneliness during kindergarten orientation. Using a hodge-podge mix of craft materials, she creates a figurine, named Forky, to keep her company using a spork, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks. 

    The concept of Forky is all too familiar with parents whose kids come home everyday from school with a wide variety of junky objects. The intent of these “toys” is temporary. Keep the kids entertained during the day doing something fun within the limits of their motor skills and creative capabilities. 

    By becoming a toy, Forky is animated for a higher purpose: make the child happy. 

    The audience is treated to a character that is instantly endearing. He’s cute. He’s imperfect. He struggles with the existential crisis of being crafted from single-use materials. He carries the burden of having to be a toy without the luxury of being manufactured to perform like one. Forky’s sole desire is to go where he belongs: in the dumpster. 

    In what is quite possibly the funniest line of the movie, Woody introduces him by his name Forky, to which Forky replies, “I’M TRASH”. 

    Aren’t we all, Forky? 

    How Forky Extends the Pixar Brand

    The story of how Forky was developed is simple enough. The Pixar team was talking about toys and the frustration all parents experience when your kids ignore the toys you buy for them in favor of the box they came in. The Pixar team fully invested themselves in the story of this fragile character once they settled on him being a spork – which in its own right is the laughing stock of the plastic utensil world. 

    Pixar doesn’t take chances with the Toy Story franchise. It was their first feature film, and it is one of the most critically-acclaimed animated movies in history. To put it simply, if there was no Toy Story, there most likely would be no Pixar as we know it today. Tarnishing the Toy Story brand in turn sullies the value of Pixar. 

    They never set out just to tell a cute story. The subplots in their movies are metaphors for our own lives, and each character must be relatable to the extent that the viewer passionately identifies with them. In many ways they face the same challenges we do every day. Their achievements inspire us. When they win, we win. 

    Forky is unique. He takes us where no other animated character has been. He’s neurotic. He’s anxious. He has a complex. He’s imperfect. He struggles to perform. He falls apart. He’s innocent and gullible. He asks the philosophical questions we all ask ourselves. “Why am I alive?”

    In short, Forky is all of us. 

    How Does Forky Relate to Marketing?

    As stated above, Pixar takes their brand very seriously. They also understand their audience really well. It’s not enough to say their movies appeal to “kids”. It goes well beyond that. 

    Who makes the ultimate decision to take kids to the movies and buy them merchandise? Parents. And in that regard, Pixar focuses on an experience that adults can also appreciate. 

    Every Pixar movie is unique, and it could be argued that every movie has its own audience. While Toy Story tells a story that resonates with a wide variety of viewers, other titles like Brave, Coco, and WALL-E do not. Nevertheless, Pixar strives to explore themes and develop creative details that will connect with the emotions and motivations of each viewer hooked by the original storylines of the characters. 

    This product segmentation allows Pixar to broaden their brand to more viewers, thereby expanding market share. By differentiating their movies along unique interests for different target audiences, they end up bringing more viewers to their flagship products with universal appeal, like Toy Story, and the characters that represent all of us, like Forky. 

    In marketing terms, knowing your audience and making products that speak directly to them increases the odds they’ll buy other products from you that are meant for the general population. In order to do that, you must understand the specific features and benefits of your products that meet the needs for each of these sub-audiences. That knowledge comes from creating buyer personas. 

    Knowing Your Audience Means Knowing What Moves Them

    Buyer Personas, otherwise known as Customer Personas, are semi-fictional representations of the buyers for which each product is developed. It encompasses all of the personal motivations that inspires them to buy.

    Creating buyer personas quite literally means writing up an archetype of that buyer. Who are they? What is their place in life? What do they do? What do they want? More importantly, what do they need, and what benefits will your product provide for them? 

     Creating buyer personas allows you, the marketer, to learn how to tell your brand story in a way that resonates with them on an emotional level. By understanding your buyer, you master the ability to position your product or service in a way that introduces it with the most impact. Additionally, you discover how to align your entire organization so that it brings that buyer (and many others) to invest in more products or services within your brand. 

    While it’s unknown by us if Pixar goes to through the prerequisite of creating buyer personas, they certainly invest the time and energy to carefully explore how their movies and characters appeal to different viewers. Every detail must be authentic. Every running gag must connect with the comedic and cultural sensibilities of the viewer. Every setting has to conform within the premise of the storyline. 

    This deep creative process also gives them the insight they need to develop characters that represent all of us, like Forky. 

    Forky Is a Marketer’s Dream

    Forky’s struggles are similar to all of ours in this modern world. Anxious? Check. Confused? You bet. Struggling to find our true calling? Absolutely. Pixar skillfully took the irony of the “trash as toy” concept and applied it to what they know about their viewers across every target segment. 

    Like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc, the three flagships of the Pixar brand, Forky’s story connects all of us together through the emotion of feeling lost in this world, thrust into it against our will, compelled by a higher calling we didn’t really ask for…. And seeming not quite sure we’re designed to succeed. 

    Forky is such a sensation that an entirely new line of merchandise has emerged from our neurotic little friend. Let’s not forget, Forky is a spork with popsicle legs and wire cleaner arms. He’s a toy made by a 5-year-old using the scraps of the craft bin. And yet, most ironically, you can buy your very own Forky toy online for about $20. 

    How’s that for powerful marketing?

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    Need a team to help define your buyer personas? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

  • Stop Shooting From the Hip: In Praise Of the Marketing Process

    Successful businesses understand the value of a solid marketing process. They’re living proof. Without sound planning and a steady routine, businesses crash and burn. You can’t wing it forever without making irreparable mistakes.

    Years of hard work and brand value are quickly erased when a company decides to eschew the fundamentals of sound marketing. What follows is a steady decline in website traffic, stagnating sales, and the abyss of negative cash flow.

    An army would never rush into battle without a strategy. So why do so many businesses skip proper planning?

    It’s Not So Simple

    Companies are doomed to repeat mistakes when they’ve benefitted from a lucky streak. Enamored with their success, they fail to objectively analyze the true reasons for their achievement. They repeat the same steps over and over in the fruitless pursuit of the fleeting victory they once enjoyed. Lightning never strikes twice.

    In other cases, business owners use “busy-ness” as an excuse to skip the hard work of marketing. It’s understandable. Everyone is busy. Especially business owners. But if you’re too busy to plan for success, you will eventually be too busy shutting down your company. There’s no justification for doing things wrong.

    Businesses without a process engage in “reactive” management practices. Every decision is a last minute fire drill responding to crisis. It demoralizes your employees. It exhausts your partners. And believe it or not, your customers know.

    The strongest brands are proactive. They create a strategy. They stick to a plan.

    Successful Marketing Starts With A Plan

    You are far more likely to succeed when you have a plan for success. This is made possible by using a marketing process. Failure to use a process equals failure to plan. Failure to plan means shooting from the hip.

    The steps to the Marketing Process are:

    1. Define Your Mission
    2. Analysis & Research
    3. Define Your Strategy
    4. Set Your Marketing Mix
    5. Execute Your Campaigns
    6. Analyze & Optimize

    Define Your Mission

    Simply put, this step answers the questions of “What is your company’s purpose?” and “What do you need to do?”. While these seem like straightforward and enduring objectives, your mission will always be determined by a variety of factors:

    • What is our brand?
    • What are our values?
    • What is our culture?
    • What value do we offer?
    • What is happening in the market?
    • How stable is our company?

    Analysis & Research

    This tends to be the phase that companies rush or ignore.

    Many business owners think they have a solid handle on their place in the market, but the fact of the matter is there is constant pressure being applied to your operation from internal and external forces. If you do not routinely assess your position and your weaknesses, you will overlook opportunities and threats that could change your standing.

    There are a variety of analytical exercises to help with this phase:

    SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)

    5C Analysis

    PEST Analysis

    There are many others, including some that are specific to your industry. Whether you frequently perform these tasks or not, an extensive amount of research should be conducted during each marketing cycle.

    The market is moving. Consumer interests change. Sales volume is fluid. If you’re not looking at historical data and reviewing the world around you, you won’t be able to make smart decisions on how to proceed.

    Define Your Strategy

    Imaging a scene from an old war movie. Generals and admirals are standing around a map. They know their mission. They’ve assessed their ranks and their competition. Looking intently at the enemy’s position on the table, they run through hypothetical strategies and discuss each scenario objectively.

    Much like the military, every business is subject to a wide range of benefits and consequences for every step they take. Defining your strategy allows you to identify your position, set marketing goals, determine your target audience and establish KPIs.

    You may have used the same strategy since your company’s formation. If it still works, then so be it. However, we recommend running through the scenarios every time you reach this stage in the process. It’s quite likely the landscape will change one day, and you’ll be too far along to change course when it happens.

    Set Your Marketing Mix

    For business owners who are merely winging it, this is the step where they normally start their “process”. When there is no plan and no proper process, this step usually takes the form of a last minute email blast or hastily structured social media campaign with jumbled messaging and a poorly executed strategy.

    The marketing mix consists of the 4 P’s:

    Product – the product or service to be sold.

    Price – how much the product or service costs

    Place – the means with which to deliver the product or service

    Promotion – the effort to promote the sale of the product or service

    It’s during this stage that decisions are made on what tactics will be used to convey the value of the product or service. Is it an ad campaign? Is it a social media strategy? Is it supported with email? Does traditional media factor into the equation?

    Many business owners understand this part of the process. They’ve probably even executed campaigns on their own. But as the fourth step in the marketing process, if they haven’t thoroughly performed the first three steps, their odds for success are limited.

    Execute Your Campaigns

    This phase takes up a significant amount of the time defined as “marketing”. Assets are created. Designs are produced. Messaging is written. Campaigns are structured. All of the busy work of marketing happens here.

    Controlling and managing your marketing plan occurs during this phase, and it consists of multiple sub-processes that involve back and forth communication between the business owner, the marketing team, and vendors and contractors.

    At Divining Point we frequently see companies who launch seemingly effective campaigns. Peaking into analytics, however, we discover there are no methods of tracking conversions. In some cases, the term “conversion” is a poorly defined conclusion. We caution companies to ensure that ROI can be tracked all the way from the bottom of the funnel up to the source that feeds it at the top.

    Analyze & Optimize

    For some agencies, this phase of the marketing process is a subset of the Execution phase. Divining Point breaks this out into its own step. Monitoring performance during and after a campaign is a crucial and time-consuming step that impacts the short-term success of a campaign and the overall long-term success of a company.

    As stated above, if conversions and tracking are set up appropriately, a company can let the data be their guide towards optimization. Much like the scientific method, testing and analyzing is an iterative cycle that pushes a campaign towards greater success. You can efficiently change course if you know where to direct your attention.

    The logical conclusion of this phase ends with reporting and further analysis. End of the Month (or End of the Quarter) meetings typically revolve around the metrics collected at the end of promotional efforts. The marketing process now starts over.

    NEWS FLASH: The Plan Is Always Evolving

    Using a disciplined routine to the marketing process allows your business to stay focused and ahead of the competition. At the end of each cycle, a new plan is developed based on the findings from the steps above.

    Sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be.

    Once you’ve developed the marketing process and documented your work, a company can deftly roll from campaign to campaign while staying fully aware of market conditions and threats to their business. This is especially true for companies with a firm understanding of their brand, their buyers, and their value in the world.

    Need to a team to build your marketing process? Give us a call. We’re here to help.

  • In Defense of Power Naps: How A Pause In Activity Can Boost Marketing Performance

    Every day Americans attempt to cram more productivity into fewer hours. It usually occurs at the expense of efficiency. What appears to be “business” on the surface is usually nothing more than “busy-ness” at its core. Neither are alike in any way.

    Rather than taking a break for a much needed rest, or even getting up to stretch, most people keep pushing themselves and everyone around them to do more, more, more. We recommend taking a nap rather than overextending yourself. And while it may seem like a stretch to apply the benefits of napping to marketing performance, much can be gained from a short pause in activity.

    Wait. What?

    That’s right. Napping.

    Marketing performance is a difficult pursuit where the ground rules change and the goal posts move every day. To coin a phrase from Mr. Dooley, marketing ain’t bean-bag. It requires creativity, analysis, technical skills, constant maintenance, and even a fair bit of damage control.

    In the end, the credit for success usually lands in someone else’s lap – for example: the party animals in the Sales Department. However, blame for failure almost always comes back to marketing.

    In that regard, the fresh ideas you need to get ahead only come from fresh minds, which brings us back to napping.

    It’s no secret that Divining Point employs a unique model that gives us an edge. While we’re not a certified Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), we embrace many of its standards. To us, and for your benefit, we only focus on what matters most: marketing performance. What matters least is where we are, when we do it, how we do it, or why we do it the way we do. Ultimately, your goals are met. You succeed. We succeed.

    At Divining Point, we take naps. You should, too.

    The Benefits of Rest

    Much has been written about the relationship between sleep and achievement. It’s directly analogous to marketing performance in more ways than one.

    The National Sleep Foundation offers this key benefit of napping:

    “Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.”

    You’re probably thinking: “Isn’t that just sleeping on the job?”

    No. It’s being ready for the job.

    If you consider that tiredness is a response to over activity and burnout is a complete crash, as an organism your business requires periods of quiet where you can refocus your efforts and avoid the negative effects of oversaturation.

    Putting this in marketing terms:

    Your marketing efforts not only deplete your company’s resources, they also strain your customers. Constantly shouting about your brand eventually turns people away. Pushing, pushing, PUSHING your buyers with the same message and the same methods forces them to run away and land in some other company’s arms.

    Think of It Like Flighting

    Flighting is a cyclical technique to advertise your brand. It involves running your ads, then turning them off, and then turning them back on with new value propositions.

    Recent theory suggests that flighting is bad for business, but we beg to differ. For seasonal businesses (like travel or apparel brands), flighting makes complete sense. It shifts the focus to those times when sales are more likely to occur. But for other industries, flighting – or a hiatus – can be just as beneficial.

    Take into consideration the negative effects of oversaturation, which is no doubt the result of continuous promotions and advertising. If you spread your marketing efforts too thinly over a longer period of time, you lose the ability to make an impact on the buyers you desire most.

    If you continue to bang the drum everywhere all the time your audience will tune you out and opt out of your ads. This is the equivalent of strapping a muzzle to your face.

    Similarly, if you don’t focus your efforts to target your specific buyers, and if you don’t tailor your message specifically for them, you waste money and resources on activities that will never yield an ROI.

    Do You Seriously Take Naps?

    Yes, we do. Our team works long hours when it makes sense. We also take naps when it makes sense. It all contributes to marketing performance.

    When looking at your marketing strategy, you can’t effectively be “ON” all the time without incurring some cost – literal or otherwise.

    New platforms, new techniques, new campaigns, new products, new seasons, new trends, new staff… these are the ever-shifting sands in the terrain. Staying engaged in the push is paramount. But strategic pauses are a restorative force that moves you faster and further than your worn out competition.

    Don’t deceive yourself into thinking this is a wholesale termination of marketing. That’s not good. Instead this is the agile refocusing, redirecting, and restructuring of your marketing campaigns in a way that provides relief for you and for your customer.

    The end result is a higher level of marketing performance.

    Need a full-service team to chart your marketing strategy? Contact us today. We’re here to help.

  • Picking The Perfect Brand Name

    You may remember in May and June we wrote about the 6 Steps To An Effective Brand and Simple Tips For Brand Messaging. In those posts we covered the topics that most people identify as “branding” or brand identity and messaging. That leaves us with one more topic: brand name.

    A couple of common questions arise when naming a brand:

    How does a new company choose a name that will resonate with buyers and give them a leg up over their competition?

    How does a company solve the problem of a company name that hinders their success? 

    Let’s start with the obvious: Naming isn’t easy, nor should it be taken lightly.

    Your company’s name is the first impression your brand makes on a buyer. Failure to select the right name can alienate your clients and limit your company’s opportunities. Even worse, the wrong name could result in legal headaches. As such, the naming process should be a serious endeavor that involves discovery and a significant amount of research.

    Here are some critical things to consider when naming (or renaming) your company or product.

    The Why, What, How, Who and When?

    As with everything in the branding of your company, start with the 5 most important questions:

    Why do you do what you do?

    How do you do it?

    What do you do?

    For Whom do you do it?

    When do you do it?

    The purpose of this questioning is to identify keywords or phrases that define the values and unique benefits your company or product offers to the client. Think of the obvious and less obvious words that characterize your company. We recommend using a Thesaurus for this exercise.

    Make a list of all the keywords that are associated with your business and select those that appeal to you most. These keywords are the initial “seeds” to begin the naming process.

    Know Your Audience

    In the above line of questioning, the “who” is incredibly important.

    Your company must speak the buyer’s language. Similarly, your company’s name should immediately resonate with potential clients and begin the process of differentiation even before you’ve made the first sales pitch.

    Filter your list of names by determining what works and won’t work in the industry or market your company exists. Afterwards, look at the competitive landscape and continue to narrow your list of choices.

    For B2B companies, names seem to mean less on the surface. Ordinarily, the values of price, service, and past performance help to establish a company within any industry. However, in an “apples to apples” comparison between two companies with the same strengths, the one with the stronger name and fully developed brand is in a better position to win. [nbsp_tc]Likewise, the company with the weaker brand is destined to fail. Psychologically, the brand makes a meaningful impact on the buyer. It further legitimizes your company and supports your value proposition.

    For B2C companies, naming is a critical part of the marketing process that allows a product or service to distinguish itself. An obvious example is Coke versus a generic cola. In some parts of the U.S., the word “coke” is so familiar it has replaced the words “soda” or “pop” as an all-encompassing term for any kind of carbonated soft drink. Clearly, the name matters.

    Trademarking Your Name

    A trademark is a unique word, symbol, name, or logo used to differentiate a seller or business from another. You can conduct a search on the US Patent And Trademark Office database to determine if the names you’re considering will infringe on the rights of another company. Finding a name that can be trademarked is an essential component to creating a business that is truly unique.

    This can be a fairly difficult part of the process, especially if your new name appears to be trademarked by other companies who are in the same business as you. If your name is too similar to a competitor’s and could cause confusion in the minds of a consumer, choose another name. There’s no point is using a name that cannot be trademarked or potentially infringes on the rights of another company.

    Once you’ve made a final selection for your name, you should return to this part of the process and follow through with registering your company name.

    Is A .Com Really Necessary?

    Perhaps one of the more contentious parts of the naming process is determining which website extension to secure. There are a couple schools of thought on this matter. In full transparency, we even debate the issue ourselves here at Divining Point.

    One argument suggests that a “.com” URL extension is absolutely critical. It is the most familiar website extension that the vast majority of people naturally enter into their browser. .com is the obvious choice for most people when they attempt to directly visit your site. In this line of thinking, using anything other than “.com” will be confusing to the public and could result in lost opportunities. Even though “squatters” have taken most of the good URLs, it’s a small price to pay a couple thousand dollars in order to get these people to release the “.com”.

    On the other side of this argument is the belief that your brand name is far more important than the URL extension you use. Your brand also lives in the “real world” offline, therefore, the brand has to exist independent of what happens with your website. Additionally, more people are familiar with the other available URL extensions. Sites with “.net”, “.us”, “.org”, etc, are far more prevalent today. Since most traffic occurs either through an organic search of your company or via a direct or referral method, you can develop a strategy to bypass the “.com”.

    Google rewards companies that build strong authoritative brands. Typically, this involves a site with a .com extension. However, the Google algorithm is constantly changing to meet the demands of the fast-paced cyber world. There are startups and brands who’ve experienced great success using different domains like “.io” and “.co”.

    Test The Names

    Once you’ve narrowed the field of potential names you’ll want to run some simple experiments. Test the name against a handful of other names. Present them to your colleagues. Survey a random group of potential buyers. Show the names to some trusted advisors or family members. Gauge the visceral responses the names generate with people. Narrow the list of names and stick with one that conjures up positive feelings with as many people as possible.

    Whether you take a scientific or casual approach to this “focus group” process, testing the names generates valuable feedback by bringing an extra set of eyes (and perspectives) to the process. You may even learn how NOT to name your company based on the feelings and opinions of the people you interview.

    Additional Tips

    Finally, here are some quick and dirty tips to use for naming:

    1. Be careful with made up words or unusual spellings. We don’t discourage this practice altogether, but the name must make sense and be easy to pronounce. If there’s any confusion, avoid it.

    2. Don’t choose a name that could limit your company’s success. Unless you have a narrow vision for your company, find a name that gives your company the ability to grow. Apple Computer Company became Apple for a reason.

    3. Use a name that has meaning. A common way to do that is to select a name that demonstrates the company’s unique value proposition. It’s possible to find synonyms or words from other languages that can be drawn upon to convey the brand’s value.

    4. Play with fonts and logos to see how the name looks printed and online. This visual experimentation helps explore how the name works in a design context, and it can conjure up new ways to develop the identity.

    5. Work with an expert. Business owners are so close to the company it’s near impossible for them to reflect objectively on their brand. Their bias affects the process with unintended consequences. It’s best to lean on the talents of a team to guide you through the process.

     

    Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.

  • Simple Tips For Brand Messaging

    In our last blog we explored the 6 steps to establishing an effective brand. The subject of branding is far too large to capture in one blog, so we reserved our last submission primarily for the process of designing a brand identity and developing a style guide.

    This time we dig deeper into the topic of brand development – specifically brand messaging. It’s our goal to further unpack the concept of brand messaging so you can formulate your own positioning statements and tagline.

    Getting Started

    As stated in our previous blog, brand messaging starts with a deep understanding of your Why, How, What and Who.

    Why does your company do what it does?

    How does it do it?

    What specifically is it you do, and What products or services do you provide?

    Who buys your product and services?

    If you patiently research the market and objectively analyze your company, your messaging framework should naturally emerge. There are three perspectives to explore as you attempt to answer those questions:

    1. The Customer Perspective

    2. Your Company’s Perspective

    3.The Marketplace Perspective

    To understand the Customer Perspective you should spend an extended amount of time getting to know your buyers. Research as much data about your customers as you can find. If data isn’t available, survey them yourself.

    Your goal is to learn as much as you can about their pain points, their defining characteristics as a group, and how your product or service solves their problems. Once you have information about your ideal customer, develop persona guides that allow you to quickly make marketing decisions in the future.

    The Company’s Perspective is often overlooked. If you’ve started with the Why, How, What, and Who, you’ve already developed the foundation for a Company Perspective. Go even further in this step. Ask your employees, your sales team, and your operations team how they view the company and what resonates with the customers they encounter. This is vital information. Your client-facing employees frequently have the greatest amount of real world intelligence about your company’s place in the market.

    Lastly, what does the competitive landscape look like? In our last blog we described the process of surveying the terrain before embarking too far on a branding journey. In this case, what is your company’s unique value proposition compared to the other businesses with whom you will be competing? This Marketplace Perspective gives you the insight to make your company fit in OR stand out in the overall business ecosystem.

    Create Your Messaging Building Blocks

    By now you should have discovered the important features, benefits, values, and strengths that define your business. These are the foundations of your messaging upon which you build your strategy.

    With this foundation in mind, how would you describe your company using 5 or 6 words (or short phrases)? If you are working with a team, everyone should write these key terms onto sticky notes. Compare all the descriptions and see what patterns emerge. Place them into columns or groups and then distill them into focused messages. These are your building blocks.

    For example: a company might describe themselves as…

    Analytical

    Curious

    Dependable

    Frank

    Candid

    Action

    From these specific key terms you could surmise their values. They are reliable, researchers, advisors, and performers. They are problem solvers.

    Constructing a Messaging Strategy

    In November we wrote about the lessons you could learn from political campaigns. Given that politics is a giant exercise in brand strategy and messaging, campaigns and political parties are the wizards of spin. They know their buyers (voters and contributors), they speak their language, and they touch a small handful of critical pain points for each type of voter.

    Campaigns (brands) create messaging statements for advertising, printed collateral, promotional products, and talking points in interviews. Once they’ve discovered a winning formula, they repeat, repeat, and repeat the messaging until it’s time to start over.

    Let’s look at this from your perspective and apply it to the messaging you need.

    You know your buyers. You’ve explored your competitors. You have a great understanding of your vision, mission, and the company culture you hope to create. You have the building blocks, or key terms, that define your company. From this knowledge you should develop the following:

    Tagline – The commitment or challenge you make to your customers, maybe even yourself. It’s an old rule in billboard advertising that your message must be no longer than 10 words or less. The same goes for your tagline.

    For example:

    “Think Different” (Apple)

    “Problems Solved” (Divining Point)

    Positioning Statement – In a crowded or competitive marketplace, a positioning statement defines how your company is unique compared to other companies. It may look like a tagline, but consider it more of a statement about the niche or space in the market served by your company.

    For example:

    “The Document Company” (Xerox)

    “The Uncola” (7-Up)

    Tone – Tone is a conscious decision about how your company communicates with the world. If your company had a personality, this would be the biggest way it’s conveyed. Is your company confident, bold, provocative, and innovative? Or is it defined by a humble service, calm, and sincere? Does your company use humor or passion?

    For example:

    “We drink all we can. The rest we sell.” (Utica Club)

    “Eat Mor Chikin” (Chick-fil-A)

    There are other messaging materials you can create, like an Elevator Pitch, Company Pillars, and the explanation of your company’s values and history – known online as your About page.

    Branching Out

    Once you’ve undertaken the hard work of messaging, all of your copywriting, ad copy, and written collateral should naturally flow. The tools above will allow you to infuse all written content and messaging with the key words and qualities that properly represent your company and speak to your customers. Given that content is still king in today’s crowded media landscape, you will have a leg up on your competition by having quality content that exudes your core values. Every ad, commercial, social media post, white paper, or blog will continue to positively drive your brand.

     

    Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.

  • 6 Steps To An Effective Brand

    Think of the most successful brands you know. Coca-Cola. Disney. FedEx. Shell.

    They make an impact on you. They survive cultural shifts and changes in the market. They consistently tell a story that resonates with customers. The time and work that went into developing these long-lasting brands cannot be underestimated.

    It’s well understood that customers embrace brands that connect with them on a deeper level. They also turn away from brands that appear flat, stagnant, or disorganized. In a competitive market, you can’t risk being overlooked by a customer who chooses your competitor’s brand instead of yours.

    Bottom line considerations and quick turnarounds are top of mind concerns for every client. We strongly advise you reconsider the urge to rush the branding process or (even worse) use any service that claims to give you “high quality logos” for a fraction of the cost. Even if your company engages in quick transactions of low price widgets, your company’s brand is not a commodity. So don’t cheapen it. The long-term risk of getting it wrong will always exceed the upfront investment of doing it right.

    The best process for branding involves a series of steps that fully defines your company. It is a discovery for a strategy to build brand equity. In subsequent blog posts we’ll dig deeper into the topics of messaging, positioning, and strategy. But with some exception, the process for designing a powerful brand follows these six steps.

    1. Why, How, What & Who

    In 2009 Simon Sinek challenged the business community to rethink the way they inspire their customers and companies to take action. His book Start With Why flipped the conventional approach to defining a company’s purpose. Instead of leading with the obvious exercise of what a company does, Sinek proposed that it’s more important to tell people why you do what you do.

    People don’t buy what you do or even how you do it. In a crowded marketplace where competitors quickly adopt all of your company’s unique features and benefits, your Why inspires greater loyalty from everyone that comes in contact with your brand. The process of building an effective brand begins with a discovery process that starts with Why.

    The team you enlist to help define your brand will continue to dig into questions about process (How), products and services (What), and the clients your serve (Who). Research into these critical components will give you a solid foundation to develop your positioning, messaging, brand identity, and business strategies.

    To use a straightforward analogy, your company won’t successfully attract others until it has a strong understanding of self.

    2. Survey the Terrain

    Every client is unique. Every brand is distinct. But the market in which you do business is a cohesive tapestry of competing brands, messages, and standards that cumulatively define your industry. Customers have expectations, and so do your vendors and suppliers. In this case, even your own employees have a voice in what passes as “acceptable”. [nbsp_tc]

    Whether or not your brand seeks to stand out as an incomparable innovator, it’s still important to understand the space in which it will perform. Your brand strategy team must get to know your company and how it relates to the rest of the market. They should take time to decipher where your company fits into the overall business ecosystem.

    On a more granular level, this part of the process questions the finer details. For example:

    How does our color palette and shapes affect our customers?

    If everyone is using blue, why are we using red?

    How does our mission statement inspire the employees of the company to deliver the service our customers deserve?

    If the branding process is analogous to a journey, this step is the Exploration Phase.

    3. Where Will The Brand Be On Display?

    As we dive further into the process of developing a brand, questions arise about how to consolidate the company vision across the various channels. Specifically, where will consumers witness the brand in action? As a logo on a shoe? On a can? On a piece of heavy machinery? Furthermore, how does it translate to your promotional products? Can it be easily embroidered?

    Your advertising and marketing collateral are also important considerations at this juncture. Since each industry – and even each business – operates differently across traditional and digital mediums, it is strategically important to have an understanding of these display opportunities. If your product requires packaging, will the brand perform as well on plastic wrappers as it does in online imagery?

    The design team takes into account not only static representation of the brand but also how the brand performs in motion. Whether it’s an animated trade show display or graphics in commercials, the team will consider the strategies for branding the company as they dig into the hard work of imagining your new mark and messaging.

    4. Take Time For Concepting

    In the show Mad Men the world witnessed a glamorized view of the creative process. We watched the protagonist, Don Draper, seek inspiration in the arms of women and countless bottles of booze while juggling the stresses of a dispiriting suburban existence. Was it an accurate representation of the design process? Not exactly. But it effectively conveyed the truth that “Creativity is an art form, not a science”.

    One memorable and heavily discussed quote from Draper states:

    “Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.”

    Clients have deadlines and demands. Companies are eager to make sales. Even the operations team wants to turn the wheels of production and push forward to meet demand. Everyone is excited to use the new brand to get back to work. Unfortunately, creativity doesn’t work like that. Big ideas are not simply created by mixing together all of the elements of the creative brief.[nbsp_tc] All too often it requires time to explore… and yes, sometimes that exploration doesn’t look like work.

    This is the point when everyone involved needs to calibrate their expectations. The time and effort that goes into developing a powerful brand cannot be underestimated.

    5. Present & Iterate

    Everyone loves it when they hit a homerun on the first bat, but games are won in innings. Your design team may prefer to skip the revision process and give you a final product (what we call “The One”). Other teams are more collaborative and prefer to iterate towards a final conclusion. Whatever the model, the presentation process is a serious affair.

    Everyone is busy, and synching up the schedules of multiple decision makers is difficult. However, we urge you to make time to meet (in person or via video) to review each presentation from your branding team. They are the storytellers that narrate the tale of your brand. Without the opportunity to share their perception of your brand, you may come away feeling disconnected and unsatisfied. Additionally, you will lose the opportunity to provide real time feedback.

    But wait; shouldn’t the mark be able to stand on its own? Absolutely. And it will. Your customers experience the brand differently than you do. No one is quite as critical and no one will overthink the final product quite like the people that oversee the company on a daily basis. You as the business owner are too close to the brand to witness it objectively. It’s best to work closely with your branding team at every step so that a concordant vision can be achieved.

    6. Deliverables

    We’ve added this component purely as a reminder of the things you should expect from this process. If you’ve invested in “just a logo”, then perhaps that’s all you’ll get. Brands are bigger than the icons that represent them. Mission statements, taglines, typeface, and colors are just a few of the other deliverables in which you should invest.

    A style guide is a worthwhile endeavor (and precious deliverable) to which you should devote money and time. It is a document that defines all the standards for communicating and displaying your brand. This file is easily transferred to anyone who seeks to use, share, or transmit your brand in any possible way. It also keeps everyone within your company in alignment. Anytime a question arises about how to properly market the brand, the style guide steps in to keep everyone focused.

    Shortcuts Are Not Always Easier

    The stages described above are only a snapshot of a potentially larger process. Some companies simply need a logo and a tagline. Others require a complete overhaul of their company’s direction, messaging, and identity. The more you define your brand the greater the likelihood it will be welcomed by your customers.

    Think big. There are very few rewards for cutting corners and taking shortcuts. To use backpacking parlance, bushwhacking across switchbacks in search of a shortcut is a guaranteed way to get scratched up, step on snakes, and fall backwards into the canyon. Don’t do it.

     

    Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.