11 posts categorized "Branding"

Is Your Company's Brand a DogCatCow?

Is Your Company's Brand a DogCatCow

The good old metaphor of the blind men and the elephant works in a pinch, but I think it's played out. With the advent of social media, we're sharing enough information about crappy brand experiences that you can see the whole elephant, and you know what? It's not an elephant. Elephants are big, hungry, fast-roaming, vegetarian, and kind of cute. It's more likely a DogCatCow. Today's poorly maintained brands are made of expressive mishmashes of competing behaviors that hide the true wonkiness within confused corporations. If your company barks like a dog, eats like a cow, and scratches at you mercilessly like a cat... then you know something is really wrong.

How to Escape Brandcuffs

Your Idea

Brandcuffs: Working within a style guide that's so tightly defined, the grid of every brochure must not deviate one millimeter from the provided templates and if you even consider a photo or illustration that doesn't exactly match the provided disc of examples, their branding group will effectively fire you. (I didn't come up with the term... I stumbled across it on Chris Korbey's portfolio site.)

I'm a very big believer in brand guidelines, and spend a lot of time working with clients that have extraordinarily articulate brands that have been around in some form for 20 years or longer. The amusing thing about working with such brands is that client groups within those companies are always asking in meetings for work that skirts along the bounds of the brand in some way they can't articulate with mere words. "Show me something I haven't seen before," is usually the rallying cry.

The trick, in such situations, isn't to throw the brand style guide away and just start dreaming of crazy-cool ideas. You've got to inhale the brand book and the words describing the real brand essence, consume it voraciously, look through examples of what other designers have done with the brand (if any exist). Then, throw it all away and meditate on the real core or spirit of what the client wants to tease out of the brand essence. This is concerted, thoughtful effort. It prepares you for the creative journey.

Continue reading "How to Escape Brandcuffs" »

Don't Worry: We Have a Trillion Dollars Now

This ad broke today from WaMu regarding the merger. I think it speaks for itself.

WaMu Merger Ad

The text reads: WaMu has a bright new future, thanks to the stability of JPMorgan Chase (and their nearly trillion dollars in customer deposits). But Chase brings more than money to the party: together we have 14,300 ATMs and 5,400 branches nationwide, a quarter of a million employees, and the confidence of banking with over 100 million other customers. (etc.)

Well, I guess I didn't have to worry about the brand going away... and perhaps with this newfound trillion dollars, they can afford to come up with some other exciting reasons why we should continue to bank with them.

Save the Brands! First Up: WaMu


[EDIT, 12/1/08: They announced today that the WaMu brand will be retired and replaced with Chase, so this post is pretty moot.]

There are many sad things about the distress that's currently working its way through our financial system: the loss of jobs for many of our fellow Americans, the threat of implosion of our securities market, the billions of dollars in mortgage (and shareholder) value evaporating like so much smoke from an unfiltered cigarette.

In the aftermath of this threat of financial armageddon in the United States, where none of us know where to go and whom to trust, the question -- painful as it is -- must be asked: who will save the brands?

That's right. With the seizure of my hometown's Washington Mutual, I'm seeing a dark period for some of our nation's top brands.

WaMu had invested countless billions of dollars to paint a perky, friendly face on money. The WaMu marketing machine had been laser-focused on less-sophisticated, higher-risk consumers, putting forth a friendly facade that was dubbed by their former CEO, Kerry Killinger, as the “Wal-Mart of Banking."

If we've learned anything from Wal-Mart, it's that it isn't what your name is, but the following: 1) what you sell, 2) how you sell it, and 3) how you get what you sell to the place where you sell it. Banks are always good at #1 and #3. They take your money, they lend you money, and they give you your money when you need it. #2 is where the magic happens.

So, how did WaMu sell it? WaMu's core offering, from the banking side, has always been about making basic services free, then hyping the quality of service that you'd receive in the branch and online. Underneath that promise of "Free Checking!" and "More Human Interest" and "Another Revolution in Banking" and "The WaMu Way" was a very deep portfolio of shaky mortgages. These products were serviced through their lending arm, which was very adept at hoovering up mortgages from other banks. The mortgage interest, as well as heavy service fees on low- or no-cost accounts, were two of the major sources of revenue for their banking services.

You can get that top-line summary from reading the press on WaMu and sampling some of their campaigns over the years, but I'd like to throw a different perspective in here.

I had serviced them as a creative for a few years while at a large marketing firm, and after eating and sleeping with them as a client full-time for a year -- I mean that figuratively, of course -- I can tell you that this whole "seized and sold by the government" thing may not destroy their brand.

A caveat, however. JPMorganChase may choose to swallow the brand up wholesale and remake them in their own image, but there's also a counter-argument as to why the WaMu name and ethos should stick around. But this would take real risk, and I assume JPMorganChase has already taken on plenty.

For the moment, indulge me in this little dialogue I've concocted:

WaMu. Sir. I'm assuming no one has called you sir until now, but I'm testing it out, so you can get used to it.

Instead of being that happy-go-lucky, a little quirky, PG-13-movie-loving knucklehead we so love and admire, we need you to, well, grow up. Just a little. We need you to acknowledge the reality of what's happened over the past few years between you and I. Yes, I can forgive you for the college years, the dark nights of the soul characterized by the barbaric yawp of "Whoo hoo!" that we could hear from your frat house, where the parties seemed to be endless and the promise of champagne was always buzzing through the thronging crowd.

The sad truth is, those days are over. You've failed out of school -- and at the ripe old age of 119, more or less. Now is the time to forge on, with a sense of optimism, but no longer with that boyish, devil-can-care attitude that carried me through many a night of balancing my checkbook. No, sir. I want to see the scars on your knuckles, as you run them through your sandy blonde hair. I want to hear you speak in a tone of voice that's two notches below sassy. I want you to say the following:

"We've been through some rough times, old friend, and now we can move on to a new phase in our relationship. One where we can whisper real secrets into our ears instead of sweet nothings."

"And the first thing I want to share with you, David, is that I made a big mistake. I didn't listen to you, way back when you closed your account with us because we held your $260 cash deposit for 7 days before crediting it to your account, causing you to bounce two checks, and waive the fees. I didn't try to stop you from closing that account, or stop sending you mail about starting a mortgage with us. I didn't treat your friends very well in their mortgages with us, and many of them refinanced with other providers because we kept losing their mortgage payments and threatening them with foreclosure."

"All of that is in the past now. I've learned my lesson now. No more commercials about day-old sushi and bald men that dream they've grown hair and banks that treat people like cogs in a gigantic machine. From now on, I will put your money where my mouth is. I will treat you with respect and dignity for banking with me, and only spent a small portion of my free time wallowing in base humor to gain people's attention about my Free Checking product. The rest of the time will be focused on your needs, citizen of Seattle. You have my word."

You may consider this a cheap shot. There are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake here. I have friends that work at WaMu whom I want to see happily employed. Our local economy hinges WaMu, which is a cornerstone bank of the Pacific Northwest.

But I've spent enough time with the WaMu brand, and seen the level of thought that goes into its expression through their marketing and advertising, to see that it has a reasonable facsimile of a human voice beneath all that posturing. It's just yearning to come out in a more mature expression, and in a way that can bring a human face to a ruined corporation. Sure, in the past few years, that WaMu brand personality has been trampled and stomped all over, and now the brand will likely be kicked to the curb. But at least let it have its last moment in the limelight, singing its sad song.

So I say, friends, that we allow WaMu its chance at redemption. Much like our Uncle Fred, who has seen his life destroyed by addiction and is now going through his 12-step recovery, WaMu has a chance to heal its wounds, and our own.

Whether this will happen has yet to be seen... but I'm idealistic enough of an American to dream that we could try to afford a teaspoonful of grace to a failed banking institution with a legacy of funny ads.

That's more than we can say for those other banks out there that are, well, banks.

Make the Olympic Logo Bigger

2010 Olympic Logo on Whistler Peak, Canada, September 2008

While resting at the top of Whistler Peak a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but notice how good the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo looked as a 15 foot statue. Good enough to try to put in my pocket and take with me... although a two-ton pile of rock may be hard to strap on the car roof and drive down the Sea to Sky Highway to Seattle without dramatic consequences.

Back at home, staring at my photo of this gigantic logo -- especially after spending this week working with my designers on a bunch of fun logo concepts -- made me think about how the process of great logo development is often comparable to stone carving, though initially at a very small scale. You bring out the raw material from your sketchbook and pare away at a tiny rendering within the computer, chipping away at an idea until the unnecessary elements fall away to reveal something meaningful. In that organic, poetic process, even the cast-off shavings can be formed into compelling designs. Various half-ideas fuse into new wholes.

But after all of that work, you make the logo bigger. Much bigger. If you can't blow your logo up to fifteen feet scale, then stand back and feel like you want to grasp it in your hand, you probably haven't fulfilled your task to a level of great satisfaction.

The Pulse of Great Customer Experience

Download a one-page summary of this post, showing the charts in landscape format.

Great customer experience depends on a number of crucial variables: having products that foster emotional connection through positive interaction; having marketing, sales, and other support functions for purchasing the products be as effortless and useful as possible; and by ensuring that word-of-mouth communications aren’t held with too tight of a grip, i.e. left free to flourish on existing online and real-world communities.

Truly great companies understand how to “pulse” their experiences, so their customers experience above-average products, services, and marketing experiences across the board, punctuated by frequent bursts of high-quality brand interaction that help customers to overlook any hiccups in the relationship. They also understand that there is an ideal method to how they operate their businesses, and flex their control over various channels to make sure that any potential failures are immediately countered by exceptional customer contact.

Great Customer Experience: The Ideal Pulse

The following illustration shows a potential customer interaction over two months with a chain of clothing stores. The numbers below each customer touch correlate to metrics that can be measured regarding customer satisfaction through online, in-store, email, and word-of-mouth communications:

Ideal Customer Experience

The value of planning the best possible experience provides the strategic advantage of fostering long term repeat business instead of forcing marketers to always seek quick wins.

For each experence that your audience has with your products or services, you have an opportunity to further cement customer loyalty and increase the chance of a referral or a repeat sale. A fumble like the one shown above, handled with grace, can make a major impact on the lifetime value of your customer.

And seeing that single failure in the context of the above storyline highlights how rare it is to have uninterrupted quality of service with graceful recovery -- unless you're shopping at the highest-end retail establishments.

Common Customer Service: The Unsteady Pulse

Can you remember the last time you received an apology in the mail for a company mistake? (I got one last year, but it was only because someone stole a laptop with 4 million customer names, including mine...)

Customers take note of the consistency of a company’s actions, both consciously and subconsciously -- sometimes within microseconds of each interaction. If they feel that the company is not in control of their own actions in more than one channel, they’re more likely to find another company that satisfies their needs in a more stable manner. Things end up like this:

Real Customer Experience

Many companies falter in providing consistent customer experiences because their internal policies and bureaucracy inform the structure of a customer’s experience. Internal divisions built around maintaining channels, instead of fostering a blending of customer knowledge through all channels, can have a major toll on marketing quality. It takes extraordinary effort and a truly holistic attitude to mold all company behaviors and activities around customer desire.

We've all felt the instability inherent in our interactions with a company that has poor customer experience. What tools can we develop, as both creative thinkers and business strategists, to defibrillate the pulse of corporate brands?

Common Mistakes in Marketing Luxury Brands

Starbucks BMW

Don't associate your products with other brands unless they perfectly mirror a lifestyle.

High-end brands are being extended across categories -- and faltering.

Brands that offer services and brands that contribute to lifestyles (such as Starbucks) can't cross over into luxury goods, and vice-versa, without thinning their brand. Can you imagine a Starbucks BMW? A Godiva Porsche? No way. There's no parity between them. But I believe in the Eddie Bauer edition of the Ford Explorer... barely.

Everyone has their own internal weights and measures when it comes to rationalizing a purchase, but I think it's fair to say this: A jacket is a jacket and is not a car. Don't overreach your category, your brand space, and what your customers will believe. It's better to cross-promote your products to another brand's audience than to badge your products incorrectly or mash your products up to try to be unique.

Don't price based on cost of goods. Price on aspirations.

People are more likely to rocket due to perceived value, not real value.

The luxury category has fragmented by budget. Audiences are asked to pay closer and closer attention to nuanced categories, with the idea that they'll always aspire to a product out of their budget.

This is known as "rocketing" in a product category, see the fantastic book Trading Up for an in-depth treatise about New Luxury or "masstige" marketing and how it differs from the old mindset about luxury goods and how the market is evolving luxury into new forms.

Don't tell a completely new story about your brand when you've already staked your ground.

If you didn't start close to the luxury space, you'll never create cachet around your product without expending a vast quantity of capital to change perception. Start a new brand if you really want to get in the game.

Don't make more! Limited quantity equals controlled demand.

Easy to understand in theory, but very hard to pull off when people start beating down your door waving fat wads of cash. Companies often cave and produce more when they should just have a plan in place as to how they can extend that demand into a new (similar) offering.

And last, but certainly not least:

Don't horse it up.

"Less is more," more or less. With clean design and smart production tactics it's relatively easy to convey an aura of luxury and exclusivity.

This is the expected first route for a designer to take with a luxury product, so don't think you have to beat a path through the weeds to engage your audience and emerge with something too novel from a branding perspective. Does it really convey the right feeling if the design is incredibly busy? Unless you're conveying some level of sophistication, your audience will have trouble understanding why they should pay 2 to 10 times the price of the competition.

Channel Marketing + Sales = Branding

Not Worthy

I love it when marketing managers talk about how it's their job to help funnel leads to salespeople, and that they can't control anything after that magical transference of responsibility.

I also enjoy it when salespeople talk about how they spend too much time sifting through weak leads from those same marketing managers to close a sale.

Or when I enter a store after being enticed by a compelling marketing promotion and hot price on some product I can't wait to purchase (phone, climbing gear, and chocolate all come to mind), only to be ignored by the salespeople.

The truth is, we're all in this together: designers, marketing managers, and salespeople. And we have to work together to create compelling communications that support our brands, drive through sales, and ensure that our customers keep coming back.

You'd think the big dogs in the consumer marketing space would have wised up to this new truism of the Information Age: you can't assume that people will like your brand if they get stoked by great marketing and let down by poor service in any channel. There was a great post on Ideas on Ideas about this recently, related to blogs and their influence on purchasing decisions, but I think there's a broader point to be made than just bad service = big word of mouth = bad branding. Often bad service can cascade into a larger problem because of poor continuity between sales channels.

I remember being stunned as I walked through Best Buy last month, to be greeted by every single salesperson I passed. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven after so many years of terrible service there. We had dropped in to purchase a microwave for my wife's office, and they were able to direct us to options right off the bat, without having to sit there and decode the boxes to figure out which one would be the wisest purchase. We'd researched the purchase on the Internet, made sure to call ahead and ensure the products were in stock, and then were helped by a real person right on the spot to make a no-pressure purchase.

What made the experience so great?

Every single point, from Internet to phone to in-store, was high-touch. Swift. Too the point. Propelling us to the purchase, no matter where we chose to make it, and with us feeling like we were in control of the situation. In every channel.

This is the holy grail of retail. The ability to cultivate a positive experience that extends across every touch point in the sales process, from consideration to purchase to happy customer to long-term customer/company relationship.

And why is it so rare?

Because there's a weak link somewhere in the chain from product creation to marketing to sales. And most often, this is related to your channel marketing strategy not lining up.

Companies that grok this spend a lot of time refining their business process on a regular basis -- because they know it's the only way to ensure the customer experience is optimal. It doesn't always boil down to a bad marketing promotion or a bad in-store experience. Often the things that can hobble a corporation's branding efforts in the long term are all about how they do business.

Marketers like to segment out Internet, phone, in-store, email, etc. in their marketing plans and focus on increasing the effectiveness of each channel. They think about the synergy of how each channel works together to ensure a continuity of experience until a customer engages in a purchasing decision. Where necessary, they'll work around issues with legacy sales systems, weak infrastructure, wonky in-store policies, and other hurdles in the background to ensure that customers keep getting funneled into a sales decision. And this is where their brand truly suffers.

Usually one channel is less mature than another. Some companies are slam-bang great at Internet, but they are terrible in the store. Others have some of the best phone service around, but the online experience is weak. Some companies like to focus their marketing dollars on the channels that perform best, such as online, often to the detriment of hiring the killer staff that will make their in-store sales rise more swiftly.

But I digress. Let's focus on the places where channel marketing can break down, from the customer's perspective.

Customers don't expect much. But they do have real expectations when it comes to how they'll approach you -- and what kind of behavior they'll tolerate. Let me share some of these expectations with you:

  • If you're going to sell something online and in a store, sell it over the phone too. Even if your business model doesn't support it. Customers expect high-touch -- unless you're Fry's Electronics -- and the sale will probably cost you less than the in-store one.
  • Be ready to accommodate multiple forms of payment. In any combination.We take cash, Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. Oh, and gift cards too. But you can't use a gift card online and a credit card to cover the rest of the purchase. So you'll have to go to the store, because we can't take your purchase over the phone. Our computer system can't handle that. And the store isn't close to you. Sorry about the inconvenience.
  • If you don't have it in the store / online / on the phone, secure one for your customer promptly. If you have it on the floor as a sample and it isn't in stock, don't just say: "Sorry, sir, we don't have it." Go find it at another store or have me buy it online with you and then send it to me. Or, alternatively, you could go back to talking with the other salespeople behind the counter while the 4 other customers wander around the store and, like me, eventually leave without making a purchase.
  • If you say you'll call me or email me when the product comes in, actually contact me. Don't wait until I call back in a week or two, ask when said product will be in the store, and be told, "We got a big shipment in just a few days ago." This means you don't have a method for CRM within your store that carries into another channel. I wouldn't complain if you sent me an automated email that was triggered when my product was stocked.
  • Don't send me to a third party to purchase it, if you can. If you make a great product, why would force me to search around for it at the mall? Sell it to me directly and make more money, via phone or Web.
  • Don't think that since you carry that hot product everyone wants, you can treat me poorly in any channel. Yes, I would love that new smart phone that everyone seems to be coveting. No, I will not put up with waiting in line forever, being on hold on the phone, and/or returning over and over again to the Web site to see if it's back in stock. Take my money and send it to me when you get some in. Make it easy for me.

I think most of what I've listed here is fairly obvious and clear to most marketers. But the proof is in the performance: you need to invest in each channel appropriately, and continue analyzing the effectiveness of the customer experience in each channel, to ensure that customers aren't falling out because of inconsistent experience or overcoming your own internal struggles to improve.

In the end, what customers experience in the sales process for a consumer product will likely hold more weight than the quality of your advertising, your marketing, and sometimes even your product quality, if it's on parity with the competition.

Do you really want to risk dragging the equity of your brand down in the long-term? If you aren't retaining your current customers and helping to foster brand loyalty in the long term, then how much money are you really throwing away?