ARE YOU PUTTING UP STUMBLING BLOCKS BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR CUSTOMER?
Imagine that you have a fabulous business.
It has survived the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and continues going strong.
You compete in a brick & mortar retail niche that is being crushed by the big-box stores.
You are actually, physically as big as a big-box store.
But you are even bigger in that you blow them away with product mix, personal attention, customer service, after-sale follow-up, and overall friendliness.
You have sales people who have been with you for decades.
You have customers who've been with you since day one.
Sounds like a branding juggernaut, right?
Thirty years ago, a shopper would have been drawn into this store via a simple message.
They would have decided whether they liked the feeling of the store after walking through the door.
Today, doors have been replaced by windows. Small ones.
Ours is an age where shoppers do their research on handheld computers. They look at the store through a window the size of a deck of cards.
Or maybe they're using a bigger computer, one with a window the size of a small TV.
Through those little windows, they go shopping.
Instead of walking through the store, looking at the product, talking to the salespeople, and immersing themselves in the ambience, they stand outside. They look at the store through a window.
AND THAT WINDOW IS ONLY AS GOOD AS WHAT'S BEEN PUT IN IT
That website visit, peeking through that window, has to substitute for walking into the store and getting a feeling for the place.
In the case of our long-lived, family-owned superstore, here's what we're seeing through the window: A dated logo. A row of buttons. A column of product photos. A slideshow of products and national brand logos. An offer for email savings. A 90-day price guarantee. A suggestion to shop for package deals. A link to a 7-year-old magazine article. Information on corporate accounts. The news that they take credit cards. A scrolling row of national brand logos.
What does the shopper see through the window?
JUST ANOTHER BIG-BOX STORE
It's busy, it's full of product, it has lots of buttons...
And it feels nothing like the friendly, affable place where longtime consultants have made a home for the shopper who, instead of just a box, wants a relationship.
This website is the product of a template provided by a service that specializes in websites for independent retailers.
And this website is immense. It is robust. It is a feat of website development. You cannot argue the technical expertise that delivered this towering behemoth of web commerce.
Unfortunately, it looks a little dated.
And it is devoid of brand.
WHAT IS BRAND?
Once again, since you pay attention in class, you know the Slow Burn Marketing mantra for brand: it is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
Why ONE? Because focus is essential. Nobody can focus on two things. Multi-tasking is a myth.
Why CORE CUSTOMER? Because when you define a single person to whom your speaking, it lets you have a coherent and meaningful voice.
Why FEEL? Because emotions are key in making decisions. Without emotions, decisions are virtually impossible. Study your neuroscience and you'll find it's true.
So, this store's brand is almost nowhere to be seen or felt on this website. There's an "about" page that begins to hint at how it feels.
As an ironic aside, the company that built this website seems to have a really good brand. Visit their own website, and you immediately get a sense of what they're about and why you should like them.
SO, WHAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING HERE?
That's a complicated question with a complex answer.
But you don't come here for that. You come here for simple solutions!
So, very simply: as soon as I land on that website, I should feel a compelling reason to stay there and learn more about this retailer.
Why should I get off the sofa and drive down there?
Pique my interest!
Make me feel wanted!
Ask me a leading question!
Right now, this website is the online equivalent of walking into retail warehouse store that has bulk-stacked boxes everywhere.
And that is completely the opposite of what this store's brand really is.
THE WEBSITE IS AN OBSTACLE TO FEELING THE RIGHT THING ABOUT THE BRAND
This is not unique.
It happens all the time.
In some ways, it's a product of looking down the wrong end of the telescope. It often starts with a simple question.
"What media should we be using?"
"We need to have a big retail website!"
"No, we need to be in social media!"
"Social media doesn't produce! We need online videos!"
"We need to move back to traditional media! That's where our demographic is!"
The medium is perceived as the message.
The tail wags the dog.
THE REAL QUESTION REQUIRES TURNING THE TELESCOPE AROUND
It requires asking, "Who is our customer, and what should she feel about us?"
EVERYTHING related to branding and marketing boils down to that one question.
It's all about your customer and what you're saying to her.
How do you want her to feel?
How do you be evocative?
How do you not only be authentic, but convey it in a way that's magnetic?
Once you've done all that, then comes the executions and the media.
PEOPLE HATE IT WHEN I BRING UP THIS BRAND
I do it because it's insanely simple, everyone knows it, and the branding as we know it has been going strong for over 30 years.
Motel 6: "We'll leave the light on for you."
This is the sensible, budget motel chain that cares for you as mom would. They leave the light on for you!
That feeling is basic. It's a fundamental dynamic.
But their USP is something else entirely: the lowest price of any national chain.
That's not so squishy. It could be depressing. But the brand makes you feel better about getting a cheap room.
30-plus years of Tom Bodett's folksy voice coming to you out of the radio, telling you they leave the light on for you, that's what launched the brand juggernaut.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!
Radio made Motel 6 huge. It's a $2 billion company now.
But they're also on Facebook. Look at their posts.
"Top 6 Ways to Travel More in 2017." Hashtag: #ThrillsNotFrills. (Which was also the subject of a radio commercial, which is also available on YouTube, another form of social media.)
There's a link to the best hot chocolate in the country. "Nothing like hot cocoa to warm your soul and your stomach."
Ten winter driving tips. "Keep calm and drive safely."
In an appeal to a new generation: share your sing-along-in-the-car video for a chance to win a free night at Studio 6.
THEIR TWITTER FEED?
Feels exactly the same.
"Rates that aren't a gamble" for a Vegas escape.
AARP and Military discounts right up front.
The site is simple and clean and friendly--just like a Motel 6.
This brand is rock solid.
It is not fancy.
It will not appeal to the die-hard HiltonHonors platinum member.
But I know a hugely successful internet marketer who's also a penny pincher. He brags about how little he pays for a room.
Guess what he likes.
ARE YOU PUTTING UP OBSTACLES TO YOUR BRAND?
Or is it front and center, allowing your customer to feel the right thing and self-select?
Your brand matters.
Especially in an age of peeking through little windows and making snap judgments, your brand matters more than ever.
If you don't make the customer feel the same, right thing across all your touch points--in every place you have your marketing--you run a high risk of losing business to those who do practice that.
Know your brand.
And share it freely, widely, and consistently.
Emerson wanted us to know that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
But a strategic consistency?
That is the hallmark of a great brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
SON OF THE ATTACK OF THE BIG, BURNING, ROMANIAN BRANDING QUESTION...
In our last episode, we left Petru, our Romanian in Atlanta, hanging by a thread.
We'd answered part of his question about how to brand a small business.
We'd also answered two questions he didn't ask--keys to solving the puzzle.
Petru responded from the Peachtree State, saying, "IT IS AWESOME! I finally start to get it... Why does it have to be so confusing? I guess that the marketing GURUS must have confused me. :-)"
Never once did Petru bemoan our bastardized use of his mother tongue.
For that we thank him. More will follow.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THAT, WE REALLY WILL PROVIDE THE REST OF THE ANSWER
To recap for those among us who weren't here, weren't paying attention, or who've indulged in the recreational destruction of too many brain cells, our Romanian Man In Atlanta said he was confused about how to help a business brand itself.
He noted that many experts say small businesses should do only direct-response marketing and no branding at all.
And he wanted to know if there's a system that would help him figure out how to brand a small business?
SO, WHAT DID WE TELL HIM?
First, since aspires to have his own agency, we said it's important to be picky about who you work with.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we take a client only if we'd look forward to having dinner with that person.
Then, we answered the always burning, implicit question, "What is brand?"
And as you know, since you pay attention in class...
Brand is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
ONE because focus is essential.
CORE CUSTOMER because defining the person you're speaking to informs your brand voice.
And FEEL because emotions are inseparable from decisions. (Thank you, Neuroscience, for proving this.)
THEN WE WENT ABOUT BLOWING HOLES IN EXPERT DOGMA
Some marketing experts decree that branding is a waste of time and money, and small businesses should not do branding, only direct marketing.
That's just dumb. It's like saying, "Football players should not do weight training, only the inside run."
The football metaphor brought joy to the football fans out there.
There came a landslide of cards and letters saying things like, "Brilliant!" And "Solid!" One fan wished he could remember his Romanian. I told him that Google Translate is his friend.
Or, as a Romanian might say if he were as linguistically stunted and prone to sounding like a Cold-War era cartoon character as your relentless scribe, Google Translate este prietenul tau.
SO, WE'VE WASTED ABOUT HALF OUR AIR TIME IN RECAPPING
Simple: we show you the meat.
How do you help a small business brand, and is there a system?
Funny you should ask.
We believe there is no hard and fast system, not in the purest sense of systems. Too many soft and squishy variables.
Some actual, genuine experts, like the very famous Sally Hogshead, might argue. But we're not going to even try to argue with her because she went to Duke University, and her name is much cooler than mine.
So, if a system is a fixed series of steps that lead to a calculated outcome (like counting cards at blackjack), we do not use a system. The process of branding doesn't happen by the numbers.
BUT YOU CAN BLAZE A TRAIL TO BRAND
This is going to sound insanely simple.
Want to brand someone's business?
Start asking a boatload of questions.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I joke that what we do is like therapy. We ask questions and listen to the patient talk.
We want to know everything there is to know about the business, ranging from, "Why do you do this?" to "What are some brands you love?" to "What's a really good day at work and how does it make you feel?"
LIKE I SAID: SOUNDS INSANELY SIMPLE
Again: It's not.
You have to listen to each answer-and then know what else to ask.
It's all about drilling way down and getting to the juice.
It's about figuring out what really makes a small-business owner love the work they do and feel a need to do it.
We want to hear the story of the business.
If they have any employees, talking to those employees is useful.
The employees get similar questions about why they love working there. (If they don't love working there, that's also worth knowing.)
We talk to a few of the client's best customers. We ask what feels so good about working with the client's business.
THEN, WE LEAVE
We go away. We start processing all the soft information, feelings, emotions, beliefs, the story of the business.
Here's an incredibly simplified example of how we work.
Once upon a time, we lived in Los Angeles and we needed a roofer.
We'd already called one roofer. It was a client of mine at the radio network where I was a Creative Director.
Honey called (without revealing my connection to the business) because the campaign we'd done for them was so good, so full of reasons to like them, I wanted to hire them.
Sadly, the visit from the guy who gave the estimate was unimpressive. The man inspired no confidence. And the price seemed really high.
So I asked a friend for a referral. He gave a glowing recommendation for his own roofer.
We called the guy.
IT'S A NICE, SUNNY, CALIFORNIA AFTERNOON
We're standing on the roof as the roofer looks around.
We explain the competitor's estimate.
He says, "That's really not necessary. It's a lot more than you need."
He gives us a quote that's 80% lower.
So we climb off the roof, sit down with him in the yard, have a beverage, and talk about roofing and marketing and advertising and shoes and ships and sealing wax.
(If you're from Romania and have never read Alice In Wonderland, "shoes and ships and sealing wax" comes from a poem within the book called "The Walrus And The Carpenter." It's nonsense. Or, as they'd say in your country, prostii.)
We also discuss integrity and performance and joy and doing good work.
We ask a lot of questions and listen to him talk. Which is fun for him. After all, we want him on our side.
And at one point, he suddenly says...
"WHEN IT RAINS, I SLEEP REALLY WELL."
The roofer suddenly rings the bell for a brand direction.
The roofer who sleeps well when it rains.
There would have been a whole lot more work to do on this brand.
But at its core, it's a really smart way to begin branding this roofer. It's a tough category. Horror stories abound. Homeowners never know who to trust.
The guy you want to hire is the guy who's happy and proud that his phone isn't going to be ringing on the days when LA turns into a mud river and everyone is swimming to and from their cars.
THIS IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
This story greatly oversimplifies what we do in branding a business.
But it is a nice little, illustrative gem about how it begins.
You listen to people talk.
You ask them questions.
You let them wax poetic about their lives.
And eventually, suddenly, you find yourself with a bright and shiny jewel that becomes your lodestar.
(Petru, back home, lodestar would be Steaua polară.)
WE HAVE NO SYSTEM AS MUCH AS WE HAVE AN ORDERED APPROACH
You can have one, too.
Because a few years ago, we wrote a book about our approach to brand. The book explains the thinking and orders the approach we take, and illustrates everything with real-life examples, many of which you know.
Written by Blaine Parker (that's me) and The Fabulous Honey Parker, the book comes to the world via publishing giant Morgan James.
It's called, Billion-Dollar Branding. Subtitle, Brand Your Small Business Like a Big Business and Make Great Things Happen.
It looks like this:
Each chapter provides action items so the brand-curious reader can take steps to uncovering a brand.
If you'd like to know more about it, click here to visit the book's page on Amazon.
And bear in mind that there's work involved. This not some silver bullet. A brand does not miraculously pop into your head. It's real. It's understandable. It will make sense. As far as we know, this is the closest thing there is to a process for branding a business.
And know, too, that selling you a single copy of that book is going to make us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. So you can feel good about that, too. Click that link today, and tomorrow we are on our way to retirement in Bermuda.
Go forth. Brand big.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
THE BIG, BURNING QUESTION ABOUT BRAND FROM OUR ROMANIAN CONNECTION...
Yes, the weekly screed has a reader from Romania.
It would be more remarkable if he were actually in Romania.
But he lives in Atlanta.
His name is Petru.
We could call him Peter, the anglicized version of his name, but staying faithful to his mother tongue is more fun.
And more on-brand.
Petru, in asking the Big Burning Question, indirectly points out that even if you are a faithful reader to the screed, you may not have been immersed in the ways of Slow-Burn branding think.
His question is also a reminder of a perennial problem...
WHEN IT COMES TO BRANDING, MANY "EXPERTS" HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT
So, we're going to circle back to a brand basic.
If you're a long-timer who's been here for the 12 years we've been doing this, it's a refresher.
If you're a newbie who's never been indoctrinated, this'll be new stuff.
Really important stuff.
You're going to learn something so insanely simple yet so deeply complex that almost nobody really gets it.
People working at big advertising agencies, working on some of the biggest brands in the world, don't even get it.
IT'S CERTAINLY GOING TO BE NEW STUFF FOR DOMNULE PETRU
("Domnule" is Romanian for "Mister." You've just witnessed almost the extent of my Romanian.)
Anyway, Petru says:
I am still confused on what
I need to do when helping a
business to "brand" itself.
Many people say that small
businesses should only do
direct response marketing
and no branding at all.
Is there any process/system
that would help me figure
out how to brand a
This is Petru's zi norocoasa. (That means "lucky day." That's about the rest of my Romanian.)
And based on how he cues up that question, he needs a three-part answer.
But first, I'm going to start by answering two, unasked questions.
THE FIRST UNASKED QUESTION
Since Petru at one time had his own agency, this one is worth knowing. When you have an agency, people always ask it.
"What kind of businesses do you work with?"
At Slow Burn, our answer is simple: We work for people with whom we'd look forward to having dinner.
Yes, there are a lot of specific kinds of businesses we like to work with. Lawyers are one of our favorites.
But we realized early on that we really have to work with people we like and respect and enjoy.
Life is too short to be shackled to someone who's difficult or who doesn't get it.
It's also much easier to do good work for someone who really enjoys and appreciates your expertise.
Be picky about the people for whom you'll work.
That's the answer to the first unasked question.
YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW THE SECOND UNASKED QUESTION
"What is brand?"
Just to make sure we're all on the same page here, we need to get that out on the table.
Brand is the ONE way your CORE CUSTOMER should FEEL about your business.
Breaking that down: ONE because focus is essential. Nobody focuses on two things at once.
CORE CUSTOMER because once you define the individual to whom you're speaking, you then know how to speak to that person. You can give your brand a voice.
FEEL because emotions are central to the process of decision making.
All righty. Now, to answer Petru's three-part, explicit question.
We're going to start with Part #2 first, as it's relevant to every small-business owner
SMALL BUSINESSES SHOULD DO NO BRANDING AT ALL--ONLY DIRECT RESPONSE
What I'm about to say, I say as a lover of good direct marketing. Both the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have worked on killer direct marketing campaigns with huge ROI.
The directive to not do branding, only direct marketing...
Makes us crazy.
It's like saying, "In football, you should do no training at all, you should only do the inside run."
A football player trains to be stronger and faster on the field.
The inside run is a play, an execution, a tactical decision made in the moment.
THEY ARE TWO, COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THINGS
One has zero bearing on the other--except that a stronger player is more likely to execute a better inside run.
Training is a kind of preparation.
The inside run is execution that benefits from that preparation.
Branding is preparation.
Direct marketing is an execution that benefits from that preparation.
LET'S SAY YOU HAVE TWO EQUAL BUSINESSES
They are the same in all ways.
Except...Business One understands its brand and infuses all of their marketing with a customer-focused brand attitude.
Business Two just sends out, "Yeah, me too, we do that" marketing materials.
A great example from our own client roster is a guy in a very commoditized business.
Matt was an unbranded house painter.
He was tired of the struggle and decided he needed to brand.
So he came to us.
WE HELPED HIM DEFINE HIS CORE CUSTOMER
She's an upscale, status-conscious housewife who drives a Range Rover.
He renames his business for her. Instead of just being Matt Wolf the house painter, he becomes Wolf Custom Finishes.
Matt, who'd never had a logo before, gets a new, arty, sexy, upscale logo. It's in the same league as the logo for a luxury car dealer or an art gallery.
Matt's tagline is, "It's not just paint. It's how you look."
And if you call him to get an estimate, he looks good, too.
He shows up wearing a sport coat, and brings fresh bagels and coffee.
Matt has the exclusive, elevated brand of an artist--which he is.
So, speaking to an upscale, status-conscious housewife who drives a Range Rover, speaking to her with a name that says, "custom," showing her a very arty, sexy, upscale logo, telling her this job, "It's not just paint, it's how you look," showing up wearing a sport coat, and carrying fresh bagels and coffee...
DO YOU THINK SHE KNOWS HE CARES ABOUT HER HOME?
You think that all resonates with that affluent woman who cares what people think about her?
What chance does the unbranded guy have?
The guy has a logo featuring a clip-art painter rushing along with a bucket and a ladder.
His tagline says, "For all your painting needs."
He shows up for the estimate in a paint-spattered outfit stinking of BO from the job he just left.
This guy treats his craft as a commodity.
Matt treats his craft as an art form.
AND IT MATTERS TO THE CORE CUSTOMER
In the first year after he rebranded, Matt doubled his revenue.
He changed his brand and changed his life.
He's in a better mood all the time.
He has better clients who treat him well.
Who in their right mind would tell this man that he should ignore branding and just do direct marketing?
But you can be sure if he does do direct marketing, it's consistent with his brand.
He doesn't offer to paint three rooms for the price of two.
He offers to upgrade her lifestyle with the emotional power of color and style.
His marketing stays right in line with the idea that painting your house is about your status.
IT'S ALL ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
And how you look is related to your brand and how you make other people feel.
That affluent housewife's house is part of her brand.
It represents her and influences how people feel about her.
Matt Wolf's brand is also about her house, and how people feel about her.
And this is all about feelings.
The decision process is inextricably linked to emotions.
Neuroscience has proven it.
Damage the emotional center of your brain, and you cannot make even simple decisions. Your life goes off the rails.
Branding is about feelings. It helps people like you and decide to buy you.
A small business is better off with brand than without it.
THUS ENDETH THE ANSWER TO THE SECOND PART OF THE QUESTION
Next week, we will look at answering the easier, more functional part of the question posed by our Romanian friend in Hotlanta.
We'll talk about how to brand a business.
And while there isn't exactly a system for it, we'll talk about some super-secret resources to help you do it.
Happy New Year.
Glad you're finally back in the saddle after the holidays and working on a kickass 2017.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ATOMIC ELECTRON TRANSITION IN 2017!
"Hanh?", you say.
Atomic electron transition.
Atoms: very, very small. Almost nothing smaller.
Electrons: tiny little bits of energy. Also very small. Sub-atomic.
Transition: also known as change. A move. A shift. An alteration.
All bundled together?
Atomic electron transition: tiny, energetic changes.
YAY, TINY ENERGETIC CHANGES!
You know what these tiny, energetic changes are often called?
But, everyone talks about the quantum leap as a huge, dramatic event.
An earth-shaking change.
It conjures up images.
Scott Bakula being hurled back in time to solve an earth-shaking problem in under an hour!
Yet, quantum leap is nothing like huge.
A QUANTUM LEAP IS SO SMALL, YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE IT
Well, you can see it if you have the right equipment.
You have to be a physicist and stand around in a dark laboratory dressed like Thomas Dolby wearing welding goggles as in the "Blinded By Science" video and hope you can escape from the Home For Deranged Scientists.
As a metaphor, "quantum leap" is overused and misunderstood.
As mistaken comparisons go, it's right up there with "steep learning curve."
Contrary to popular usage, a steep learning curve is a great thing. It means you're learning something quickly.
A gentle learning curve indicates very little progress.
But "steep" sounds difficult, so that's how it's used, with nobody besides you and me bothering to think about the ramifications of steepness.
All this to say, when it comes to brand, your business doesn't require dramatic shifts to make dramatic things happen.
Branding doesn't change the inside of your business.
Branding merely changes how the world perceives what happens inside your business.
A BRAND MAKEOVER IS LIKE AN EPISODE OF WHAT NOT TO WEAR
It's like having Clinton and Stacy give you a new wardrobe.
You're still the same person on the inside. You've changed very little of your actual character.
But you have changed the way you present yourself to the outside world.
Instead of wearing soup-stained sweatpants and grubby rubber sandals to the supermarket, you wear linen slacks and Bruno Magli knockoffs, one day you get picked up by a dental floss tycoon, and you spend the rest of your life living in unbridled, zircon-encrusted luxury in Montana as a living parody of a Frank Zappa song.
Wearing better pants and shoes changes your life!
SO CAN BRAND--WITHOUT ANY DRAMATIC, WHOLESALE EFFORT
Which really should be the way of any New Year's Resolution.
If you want to accomplish something huge, go for it.
But it should be done with simple, easy-to-implement changes.
If you have a popcorn store in Santa Fe, and you say, "For my New Year's resolution, I want to fly this popcorn store to Mars on January 3," you're going to have a hard time.
But what if you have a long-range, stepped-out plan for flying that popcorn store to Mars?
"On January 2, let's reach out to Elon Musk. He'll eventually want popcorn stores on Mars."
That's a chunked-down, more attainable goal.
Even more chunked-down and attainable?
January 2: start drinking Tang.
January 3: go on the dark web and buy Elon Musk's cell phone number
January 4: Call Elon and ask what flavor popcorn likes.
January 5: MapQuest a route to Mars that bypasses toll roads."
PUTTING OFF YOUR BRAND RESOLUTION FOR 2017?
Join us in an atomic electron transition for the New Year.
Start making small but useful changes with the goal of evolving the whole.
Think of it as the butterfly effect for business.
A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil?
It leads to you becoming a brand-wielding dental-floss tycoon wearing designer sweatpants stained with 14-karat gold donut glaze to the supermarket.
It could happen.
IN THE MEANTIME...
Don't forget to submit your burning branding questions for 2017.
We answer as many as possible in the coming weeks, giving you mind-rattling insight into implementing those attainable atomic electron transitions in the coming year.
What do you want to know about small-business branding that's going to rock your world in the Brave New Era?
Do you want to know how to avoid mistaking the hot new platform for actual communication?
Do you want to know how to light people up?
Do you want to know how to better extend your brand into your marketing media?
Do you want to know why Rogue One isn't really Star Wars episode 7?
If you received this missive in an email, just hit "reply."
If you're reading this online, send your query-on-fire to firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year!
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.