A hap-hap-happy place?
Or is it someone else's place, and you're just an interloper?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I continue to span the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we've been spending some time in the Fun-Size State.
That would be, of course, Rhode Island. It's cool. It's hot. (As the infamously short-lived, multi-million-dollar tourism branding campaign tried to tell us a couple of years ago.)
We've been enjoying off-the-beaten-path Rhode Island, which is cool and hot and truly fun-size and most people do not know about it.
While everyone's over in Newport, whooping it up at the Jazz Festival in the shadow of billion-dollar Russian oligarch mega-yachts, we are flying below the radar in a sleepy little hamlet that tourism almost forgot.
AND WE LIKE IT THAT WAY
So does the town, apparently.
And in that town, there's a small restaurant that we frequent, which has some excellent seafood, some simple and elegant dishes, a good wine list, and an array of small-batch microbrews on tap.
Finding refuge there late in the afternoon, we will sit at that bar and imbibe effervescent, frosty-cold malt beverages while indulging local bivalves on the half-shell at special mid-day prices.
The restaurant is not cheap, but it is reasonable. It is foodie enough for those so inclined. It is an honest effort by a determined entrepreneur with a distinct vision who has put her stamp on it. (She also likes us, and will occasionally buy us a round when we come in and say hi.)
One afternoon while we were there, a man of a particular style came in. He was youngish, tall, dressed in a expensive jeans and a cheap white T-shirt. Except for his face, all of his exposed skin was covered in tattoos of questionable quality (quantity seemed more the point). He wore a heavy tweed driving cap (yes, in August), and his earlobes had been augmented with big, black rubber grommets.
We'd been joking with the bartender when this man approached, asking, "Do you have any good bourbon?"
The bartender said, "We have those," pointing to the top shelf behind the bar, "And we have Maker's Mark."
WE CONTINUED HAVING FUN WITH THE BARTENDER
Meanwhile, the gentleman perused the shelf, regarding it as if it might be a bad smell.
We were joking to the bartender, "Good bourbon, indeed. There is no bad bourbon."
The tattooed gentleman snorted. He said with disdain, "Well, that's debatable."
He returned to his table without ordering bourbon.
Honey and I looked at each other.
Each of us immediately flashed back to an episode in another bar.
THE SNAKE PIT IS A DIVE-BAR LOVER'S SIREN SONG
When we lived in Los Angeles at Fairfax and Melrose, the Snake Pit was our local joint.
We were there at least once a week.
It was a dump with friendly bartenders, excellent beers and liquors, and a solid kitchen that turned out some surprisingly good fare.
Details Magazine once named it one of the city's top-ten dive bars.
It looked rough.
But if you scratched the surface, you realized it was a diamond.
Some years ago, there was a fire there. Stunned regulars from around Los Angeles got out of bed and were standing on the sidewalk in front of their bar at 5am as the fire crews battled the blaze. It had that kind of following.
HONEY AND I BECAME FRIENDS WITH THE STAFF
We performed a wedding for one of the bartenders.
The manager has become a dear friend, whom we periodically see in Utah.
She's originally from the genteel South, and moved to LA seeking fame & fortune on the screen. She found she preferred the relative anonymity of running a good, simple bar owned by a blessed-out, post-hippie, surfer-dude with a home in the Pacific Palisades.
Her T-shirts and boisterous demeanor belie a first-class education and a background in game hunting and equestrian pursuits. Her personal brand is one of interesting contradictions.
One night, we were sitting at the bar, talking to her when a customer walks in.
SHE TURNS TO THE CUSTOMER AND SAYS, "WHAT CAN I GET YOU?"
The young woman replies, "I'd like a frozen margarita!"
Our friend looks her square in the eye and says, "It's not that kind of bar."
The woman looks around a bit more, orders a beer and takes a seat.
We've always enjoyed that simple, direct moment of unapologetic brand honesty.
"This is where you are, and your choices are limited. We are focused, and you are welcome to join us. Otherwise, there are plenty of other bars with sugary, frozen drinks just down the street.
"We do not try to be all things to all people."
Everyone was welcome. Nobody was turned away unless they were disagreeable or over-served.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Back in the heady days of her Big New York Ad Agency Career, Honey was once sent to Mississippi to work on an agricultural product related to cotton farming.
She and her team were in the middle-of-nowhere rural south, surrounded by farmland, and had gone into a rustic, redneck roadhouse for drinks.
You know the kind of place. "Oh, honey, we have both kinds of music: country and western."
Richie, one of the New York guys on Honey's team, saunters up to the bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you have?" Richie says, "I'll have a Toasted Almond."
The bartender says, "What's that?"
Richie explains the cocktail.
"We don't do that."
Richie orders a beer.
IT'S NOT THAT KIND OF BAR
Moreover, it doesn't apologize.
It knows its brand.
It know its core customer, and how that core customer should feel about the place.
The place back in Rhode Island is fancier than either the Snake Pit or the Mississippi roadhouse.
But it still knows its brand, too.
It knows it's off the beaten path. It knows who its customers are: sensible New Englanders who like shellfish, catch of the day, and other unfussy food and don't really give a damn about small-batch bourbons.
And the place doesn't apologize.
BUT IT DOESN'T EXCUSE THE BAD ATTITUDE OF THE TATTOOED FUSSBUDGET
Especially when you're walking around inked up with mediocre artwork and have earlobes outfitted with hardware big enough to run a hawser through, and you're in the land of pragmatic people, a sailing town to boot, wearing a heavy wool hat on a sunny, 89-degree day with 97 percent humidity, your brand says, "Fish out of water."
Your brand says, "I make choices you don't."
Your brand says, "I don't care what you think."
Your brand says, "Look at me. What are you going to do about it?"
There are all kinds of aggressive, in-your-face things his brand package is saying to the world.
And interestingly, everyone we've ever known who has such a distinctive personal brand like this is usually pretty low-key and gregarious.
They're usually happy to have a conversation and be friendly.
We certainly knew plenty of them during our time in the Snake Pit.
THAT'S LOS ANGELES FOR YOU
You're going to meet all types and draw no conclusions about them until you have enough information.
But here, in this small, New England seaside town, in a nice little joint with a good feeling, with a brand that obviously cares about its customer, this man violated one of the cardinal rules, to wit: "Don't be a dick."
In seconds, he branded himself as a problem customer.
Because it's not that kind of bar.
Let's face it, if you know anything about bourbon, you know there is very little in the way of bad bourbon.
IN SOME WAYS, BOURBON IS LIKE CHAMPAGNE
To be of the bourbon brand, it must come from a specific region of Kentucky. To be a true Champagne brand, the wine must come from a specific region of France. Producing anything but good Champagne is financially ruinous.
In other ways, bourbon is a very American, egalitarian tipple. Even the people who make it have no pretenses about it.
By all kinds of measures, most bourbon is at least good.
Better bourbons are really good.
The best bourbons are stunning, both in taste and brand power.
If you have disdain for Maker's Mark (the Ford F-150 of bourbons) or small-batch whiskeys that aren't your favorite, and you are willing to express it openly to people you don't know, you have a problem.
You are an overt snob about something that doesn't matter.
And you are going to miss out.
You don't know who you've alienated. You have no idea who might buy you a drink. You have no clue what might be squirreled away somewhere in that bar that a sympathetic bartender might be willing to share with you but not the gen pop.
BUT THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE A LECTURE ABOUT BEHAVIOR
It's a reminder to be true to your brand.
You're never going to please all of the people all of the time.
We've had clients get complaints about the craziest of things.
One didn't like a radio commercial that championed mom as her family's primary care provider.
Of course, the client didn't do anything about it, other than say, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
If you've approached your brand in a way that's honest and makes sense, and you can live up to, have at it.
Once you've committed to your brand, be that brand.
Be committed and unapologetic.
And let the uninformed customer know it's not that kind of bar.
Even if someone else's personal brand requires that they pee on it, your honest, authentic brand is much easier to make live, and to live with.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Do you doubt the Slow Burn Marketing Mantra--the one that says your brand is the one way you core customer should feel about your business?
Because certainly, there are the doubters out there.
There are those who argue that it's really all about having a better product, and making an intellectual argument for it.
Well then, just to prove a point (and have some fun at the expense of others), we are now going to look at a market where emotion rules.
This is a market where intellect flies out the window. The products are often ascribed evocative qualities they do not possess in any way. This is a market where the product name is all about imaginary sizzle and there is zero about product superiority in the initial effort to reach the customer.
WE ARE NOW SELLING YOU A FIBERGLASS BOX
A big, fiberglass box.
And it has wheels.
What's it for?
You tell me.
What on earth would you do with a gigantic fiberglass box called, "Raptor"?
Hmm. Raptor. A bird of prey. It has a talons designed for grabbing and clutching, and a beak designed for ripping and tearing. It has extraordinary eyesight and hunt with dead-accurate precision to survive.
THE RAPTOR IS A FEARSOME CREATURE
Members of its group are admired by Native American tribes who have made it a significant feature in their mythology. Various raptor names are used to honor their people.
The word comes from the French, "rapere," to seize or take by force.
Nothing says "Raptor" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
But then, there's another fiberglass box called, "Bighorn."
Another nod to the animal kingdom, the bighorn is a sheep.
This wild animal is revered among game hunters, and is another creature that figures prominently in the mythology of certain Native American tribes.
The animal is strong, and fearsome like the raptor, though for different reasons.
And nothing says, "Here's your fiberglass box with wheels" like a bighorn.
IN A DEPARTURE FROM FEARSOME CREATURES, MEET "PINNACLE"
We all know the pinnacle.
Fundamentally, a pinnacle is an architectural feature. It is long and pointy, like a small spire.
In nature, the rock pinnacle is a small spire of stone, often difficult to reach.
Metaphorically, the pinnacle has become something to which one aspires. The ultimate pinnacle is the success and greatness for which one was destined.
It's about aspirations and accomplishments.
One who has reached the pinnacle has arrived.
Nothing says "Pinnacle" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
Except, maybe, this next one.
PINNACLE, MEET "VENGEANCE"
It's root word is "Revenge," a form of justice usually taken outside the law. It is a form of payback, often made into a mission.
One wreaks vengeance upon one's enemies with great lust and zeal.
There is often tremendous blood spatter amidst a swinging of great blades.
Vengeance is raw and savage.
Vengeance feels good.
Or so we might imagine, for who among us has ever actually sought vengeance? But we can imagine!
Nothing says, "Vengeance" like a fiberglass box on wheels!
DO YOU WANT A FIBERGLASS BOX ON WHEELS NOW?
If so, which one?
And really, what are they?
A little backstory.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I are on the road in the Mobile Branding Response Unit. (It is built on a precision German chassis and is small and fast.)
We've just driven from Utah on I-80, where we are finally preparing to leave this historic Interstate Highway to peel off into New Jersey.
But during the last several days, driving along flat, seemingly limitless expanses of great American farmland, we've seen a lot of these fiberglass boxes.
Watching their approach on the Westbound side of the highway, and looking at their names emblazoned on their gelcoat skins, it's a marvel how much they are a testimony to the irrational side of decision making.
BIGHORN AND BROOKSTONE, MEET MONTANA AND EXCEL
Names that all evoke a particular kind of machismo, but each one different and ranging from grandiose to absurd.
We are speaking, of course, of the fifth-wheel travel trailer.
The fifth-wheel trailer is usually quite large. People can live in them comfortably for months at a time.
They are typically towed using a full-size pickup truck with a fifth-wheel coupling in the bed, hence the name. The coupling is similar in design to the coupling you see on a tractor trailer.
They can cost from the mid-five figures into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And the trailer names are all a product of an effort to evoke an emotional response in the prospect.
HOW ELSE DO YOU EXPLAIN NAMES RANGING FROM RAPTOR TO EXCEL?
Fundamentally, these boxes are all the same.
They are fiberglass boxes on wheels.
They contain furniture, kitchens and bathrooms.
And nothing that differentiates them from one another, from the range of conveniences to the quality of the appliances, speaks to anything like bighorn sheep or getting revenge upon an enemy.
How would one even enact revenge using a travel trailer? "Look at me! Living well is the best revenge! Ha! I smite thee!"
Especially if you want a deeply passionate outdoorsman to look at your trailer, you're probably going with Bighorn.
If you're attracting a motorsports enthusiast who takes the trailer to racing events, you might go with Vengeance.
If you're not really thinking about your customer's mindset too much and just want to pretend you're better than everyone else, maybe you go with Excel.
I WAS NOT IN THE ROOM WHEN THEY HAD THESE MEETINGS
One can only imagine the conversations.
"Our customer is more of a raptor in his characteristics."
It's like they have a special Chinese calendar of customer types. But nobody has named their trailer the Rat or the Pig.
How much fun would that be?
Anyway, the point being, if you've ever doubted the emotional component to branding, here is a great, big, shining example of emotional appeal run amok. There is zero effort to appeal to the prospect's rational side.
The products might as well be breakfast cereal. They are big boxes with wildly different names, but all are essentially the same inside.
If you want success in branding, marketing, sales and advertising, all but abandon the rational.
Yes, you need the rational parts to help justify the emotional satisfaction that comes from a silly name like Vengeance.
But in the end, if you don't get emotional and look for the evocative, you're going to be pulling your trailer uphill.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
If you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you're sick of hearing us say it.
Your brand is the one way your Core Customer should feel about your business.
One way, because focus is essential.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later.
Core Customer because, when you understand the one person to whom you're speaking, you understand how to be resonant and relevant.
With that in mind, allow us to look at that simple, ground-corn product, the humble tortilla chip.
Specifically, let's look at a small, regional brand here in the west that goes by the name, Juanita's.
JUANITA'S IS A TORTILLA CHIP OF DISTINCTION
This is a chip that one might refer to as "restaurant-style."
It's a rustic product made of stone-ground yellow corn, a trace of lime, vegetable oil, salt and water.
Juanita's is a classic American success story.
An immigrant Mexican family moves to Hood River, Oregon.
In the 1970s, they rent a room and start making mom's authentic, Mexican-style corn tortillas to sell in local markets.
One by one, the family members leave their other jobs and work in the tortilla factory.
Today, they're huge in a regional kind of way.
If you want to read the story, it's on their website.
On the bag, there is a topline version of the story:
"To make a great tasting tortilla chip,
you first need to know how to make
a great tortilla. For over 50 years our
mother has prepared fine, authentic
Mexican meals insisting on only the
finest ingredients. And for over 26
years our family has brought to the
public the same dedication to quality
with the brand named after
her .... Juanita's."
WHEN THE FABULOUS HONEY PARKER AND I THROW A PARTY, THIS IS OUR GO-TO CHIP
We serve it with a homemade salsa cruda, which is basically a mix of chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, salt and lime juice all stirred up in a bowl.
Our guests scarf it down. And someone always asks, "What kind of chips are these? They're great."
We show them the simple bag with its red and green logo that looks like the signage off an old Los Angeles taco joint. They nod and crunch.
Last week, when I went to buy Juanita's for our traditional July 4th barbecue at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress...
The supermarket was out.
On the shelf, there was an enormous void where our beloved Juanita's usually live.
Holiday locusts had descended ahead of me.
I began perusing the alternatives. There were a couple of brands that seemed equally rustic and unsophisticated in their branding.
But I looked at one that seemed especially relevant.
LA COCINA DE JOSEFINA
I already knew the story of Juanita's Horatio Algero roots.
I looked at the bag of chips from La Cocina De Josefina, and it seemed equally unsophisticated.
A simple drawing of a Mexican woman rolling out a tortilla by hand.
Turning the bag over, it was not dissimilar to Juanita's:
These tortilla chips are made
with the simple ingredients of
corn, oil, salt... and love, ---
because we believe that every
bag of La Cocina de Josefina chips
is an invitation. To share. To
connect. To come together with
people who are important to you.
Made right here in the Pacific
Northwest, we care greatly about
the product we create for you,
and make sure to only use quality
ingredients. The result is a flavorful
tortilla chip that we think you'll
find simply delicious. So grab
some friends, open a bag
With the dearth of Juanita's, two bags of Josefina's went into the cart.
The salsa was a hit. People scarfed down 97% of it using a bag and a half of chips.
The next evening, I was sitting with the leftover chips, considering how much they tasted like a Fritos corn chip. Could Josefina have displaced Juanita in my chip repertoire?
Looking at the bag, it seemed odd that there was no website listed in the labeling.
Wondering about Josefina's heritage, I googled her chips.
Dear God, what have I done!
This rustic tortilla chip, made with the simple ingredients of corn, oil, salt, and love...
Is a poseur!
Or, as they would say in Spanish, "Presumido!"
The chips from La Cocina De Josefina are made not with love at all, but with filthy corporate lucre!
JOSEFINA'S CHIPS AND HER SIMPLE DRAWING OF HER ROLLING OUT A TORTILLA...
...are a product of Frito-Lay, Inc.!
Be still my heart!
Nowhere on the packaging is there any indication of this relationship.
The closest they come to any admission is in the address:
Made in Vancouver, Washington
for La Cocina de Josefina by
Cocina Autentica, Inc.
4808 NW Fruit Valley Rd.
Vancouver, WA 98660
Google that address, and you get a map of Frito Lay's Vancouver production plant.
Why this lie by omission?
FOR EXACTLY THE REASON INDICATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SCREED
The Frito-Lay marketing department knows that a brand is the one way the Core Customer should feel about the business.
One way, because focus is essential. They have focused on creating what seems to be a family-owned brand of chips.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later. And any simple chip "made with love" is a viable substitute for the absent Juanita.
And Core Customer because they want to have a voice that is resonant and relevant. They understand they are speaking to someone who appreciates the rustic family nature of Juanita's brand. Understanding how this person feels about Juanita's helps them matter in this person's quest for chips over, say, Tostitos.
But why have they done this?
Why has this big dog perpetrated this big lie by omission?
THIS IS A CORPORATE STRATEGY
Publicly, they say that they don't mention Frito-Lay because it is a regional product only. Frito-Lay is a national brand.
But dig a little deeper, and you find that Frito-Lay has a new strategy of going after strong regional brands.
And wisely, they look at someone like me, who's a fan of my regional brand. They know that in no way would I, in looking for a substitute for my Juanita's, buy a product from a subsidiary of a $75 billion company.
But the small-brand BS stamped on the back of their bag, along with the homespun look of the package, is exactly what they know I will respond to.
I have been played!
And this proves exactly why Slow Burn Marketing insists that as a small business in the 21st century, being competitive in one's marketplace requires understanding what it means to have an evocative brand.
THIS BIG DOG HAS DONE NOTHING ILLEGAL
But they have concocted an implicit lie of a brand in an effort to squeeze out a little guy.
Is it fair?
Do I have anything against Frito-Lay?
Am I glad to have been duped like this?
Because not only does it make me a smarter consumer.
IT ALSO GIVES ME GRIST FOR THE SCREED MILL
Like so much yellow corn being stoneground for tortilla chip slurry, we have a salty object lesson for the small-business marketer.
If you brand well, and you build your business, you can become a threat to the big dogs.
If you were around a few weeks ago when we talked about Dollar Shave Club and their acquisition by Unilever last year for a billion dollars cash, that's another example of threat management.
Wisdom on the street is that Unilever paid far more than the brand was worth just to prevent someone else from buying it.
Most of us will never be big enough to inspire fear and big-money attacks or acquisitions.
Some will. There are a few followers of the screed who will make it happen.
But by understanding why branding works and knowing how to throw an emotional dart at the heart of your customer, no matter how small you are, you can win big in your marketplace.
Mere component parts like corn, oil and salt are beaten into the ground by the idea of love.
Even if it's all a lie.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
When we were doing a lot of live presentations, this is a refrain that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I would repeat from the stage.
The reason that we would say it is because, for the small-business owner, it was true.
We also used examples of people who had changed their businesses by rebranding, and had changed their lives.
We even had videos of them, saying things like the new branding "taught us how to be out in the world."
That might seem like a strange thing for a grown adult to be saying--until you realize that the person who said it is also a professional actor.
And who knows better the need for cues about "How to be out in the world" than someone whose performance upon a stage requires an objective third party providing direction?
AND OF COURSE, "ALL WORLD'S A STAGE...
"And all the men and women merely players..."
We'll not be going far enough into that old chestnut to get to the less popular line about "mewling and puking."
Instead, we'll just point out that the Bard of Stratford Upon Avon himself gave us the metaphor about the world being a stage.
And an actor on a stage benefits from direction by a third party.
And last week we, as de facto directors of brand, had an in interesting experience out in the world.
We did something unusual.
We visited a client business, and personally presented the new brand to 45 employees.
Understand, we have no problem visiting a client's business and making such a presentation.
It's just that, for many small-business owners, the branding budget is micro-sized.
GETTING ON A PLANE FOR SUCH A VISIT IS A LUXURY
Especially if a client is in hard-to-reach rural New Hampshire or tropical-paradisiacal Cebu.
But when a client is as big as this one, and the plane flight is only 90 minutes, why the heck not?
Besides, this was a big deal.
After 38 years in business, this family retail superstore was changing its brand name.
The original name, if uninventive and unsurprising, was clear. Which is fine. Building an empire over 38 years is one heck of an achievement.
If you can do that by giving yourself a clear and obvious name, have at it.
BUT THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY
It was deemed time for this business to evolve its brand to meet the 21st century.
They need to compete in a way that brings retail customers in out of the internet and into a brick & mortar store--especially to a store that's family-owned and flies in the face of the institutionalized and mediocre experience at its big-box competitors.
This brick & mortar store is superb.
Theirs is a retail experience unlike any other in the category.
It's the kind of place that makes you glad family-owned retail stores still exist.
Populated by good people and excellent products, they make you feel welcome, they make you feel at home, and they make feel like you're doing something really good for yourself.
Those kinds of things are really important to this brand.
And they weren't being reflected in the branding.
SLOW BURN'S JOB WAS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT
Over the last few months, we'd been interviewing the management team, key staff members and select customers.
We'd been putting the information gathered through the Slow-Burn branding processor.
And the results that came out the other end?
They have made the management team giddy.
It was now time to unveil the brand to the people who make the business happen every day.
So we stood there, in the store, in front of about 45 people. This included the founder, the owners, management, sales staff, office staff, warehouse staff and truck drivers.
Everyone who impacts this brand, and is impacted by it, was sitting there, eating bagels and drinking coffee and waiting patiently.
I HAD A LITTLE TREPIDATION
Not about speaking to a crowd.
After all, Honey and I have stood on stages as far flung as Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur, speaking to audiences of thousands of small-business owners, explaining brand and how it can make their businesses stronger.
But this was the first time that we had ever stood in front of four dozen people whose lives were about to be impacted by a new mission statement, a new goal, their first-ever core customer definition, and a designation for the one way that core customer should feel about their business.
How were they going to take it?
Would they be glad to have new, de facto rules?
Or would they resist?
Would they say, "Who are these carpetbaggers and why should I heed their directives?"
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?
Cue the PowerPoint!
It took about 20 minutes.
Technically speaking, our performance went well.
But watching the audience--watching everyone from the founder to the truck drivers--it was clear that something was happening.
It was clear that a new brand name, new signage, new truck graphics, even new business cards--along with a new tagline--had flipped a switch.
You could see sales people nodding their heads.
You could see warehouse workers and truck drivers lighting up.
You could see the founder getting choked up.
As the manager said to me afterwards, "I really like the buzz in here this morning."
YES, THEY ALL APPLAUDED WITH ENTHUSIASM
But something more important happened in those moments.
Everyone on the staff became galvanized.
They were suddenly able to rally around a new name and a new brand and a new way of being in the world.
And they also had new business cards.
That might sound insignificant.
But this business card is sexy. It looks--and feels amazing. Grown men have been seen fondling it beyond what is considered a decent interval.
And when you drive a truck for a retail store, and you've never had a business card?
THIS IS A GAME CHANGER
Afterwards, one of the truck drivers came to the founder.
He said, "So, if I go on a delivery, and I give that woman my business card, and she feels happy enough that she gives it to someone who comes into the store to buy something, what do I get?"
All of a sudden, the truck driver was ready to up his game.
His participation in the circle of retail life had more impact.
He was ready to drive more than just a white box truck.
He was ready to drive business.
He was ready to make that customer feel one way about the store he works for.
It was gratifying that salespeople came up individually and thanked us for the work.
IT WAS UNEXPECTED THAT TRUCK DRIVERS WOULD EMBRACE IT EQUALLY
For years, we've had clients tell us how new branding galvanizes their teams.
One even spoke about how it was like flipping a switch.
When she presented the new brand and its new language to her staff, they immediately rose to it.
It changed the performance in her office that very day.
But this was the first time we had the privilege of watching the result with four dozen people in attendance.
And it changed everyone's demeanor that very day.
Management is now deciding how they're going to incentivize and reward truck drivers (and anyone else not in sales) for driving business to the store.
And the owners are feeling something they haven't felt in a while.
THEY FEEL THE STRUGGLE MELTING AWAY
An outdated name.
An outdated and incongruous look.
To hear them describe it, it was almost as if there were a millstone around their necks.
Rebranding is an act of courage, especially after 38 years.
And now, they have a brand new suit of clothes.
They have a new way of knowing how to be out in the world.
We feel a little like Stacy & Clinton from What Not To Wear.
Do not underestimate the value of what your brand does for your psyche.
The right focus on how to be out in the world is a powerful thing.
And it can make everyone in your business raise the bar and do better for themselves--and for you.
Change your business.
Change your life.
Change your brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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
Is it really all that crazy--or is it just one more way to compete when you're a David in a sea of Goliaths?
"IF EVERY WEEK WAS LIKE THIS ONE, I'D NEVER CLOSE THE DOORS."
So said the Fabulous Honey Parker last Friday after an especially productive and gratifying series of client presentations.
These presentations brought tears (for the right reasons), laughter, and lots of "Oooooooh, I like THAT."
There was a lot of fun, a lot of gratitude, and a lot of virtual high-fives. (Most of our work lately is done over the phone.)
No, this is not a typical week for Slow Burn Marketing.
But we do tend to have fewer problems than most people experience in a business like this.
And in part, the reason is simple.
NOW, OUR CLIENTS CONSIST ONLY OF PEOPLE WITH WHOM WE'D ENJOY HAVING DINNER
Yes, it's a rule you're probably not going to find at a joint the size of Grey Advertising.
One does not become the biggest ad agency in the world by being so discriminating.
Fortunately, we don't have any designs on being so big.
Early in our existence as Slow Burn, we realized that the only clients causing us trouble were the ones we really didn't enjoy to begin with.
They were the kind of people who thought they were smarter than everyone else, including us. They ended up creating problems that didn't need to happen. They looked to others for opinions and approvals rather than having the courage to make their own decisions.
SO WE DREW A LINE IN THE SAND
On this side of the line: people we'd enjoy having dinner with.
On the other side, people like the guy who said to us after a presentation, "I know that's the right way to do it, but I don't have time for that."
Since drawing that line, business has been a lot more fun.
Being more discriminating about who becomes a client has been really helpful.
But there's also another, more unusual reason why we end up with a week like last week.
It's about not being afraid of the Crazy Ivan.
YES, ROY WILLIAMS TALKS ABOUT THE CRAZY IVAN
In fact, it's one of the terms contained in the fabled Dictionary of the Cognoscenti of Wizard Academy.
The Dictionary defines Crazy Ivan thus: "a random element added to get attention."
I once heard Mr. Williams say he'd borrowed it from radio astronomy.
The term has been used to describe unusual, intermittent radio signals coming from a body under observation.
For instance, it could be a pulsar blob that "peeks" out from behind another celestial body and skews observation of that body.
Since the game of radio astronomy includes figuring out how to eliminate irrelevant background noise, a Crazy Ivan is just one challenge of the game.
A MORE COMMON USAGE COMES FROM NAVY SUBMARINERS
Once upon a time, Soviet submarines couldn't use sonar to "see" if a U.S. sub was following them in their baffle, which is the area immediately aft of the stern.
A kind of hydro shadow, that area is blind to hull-mounted sonar.
In order to find out whether they were being followed by an enemy sub, the Russians would perform a "crazy Ivan."
This is a maneuver in which a suspicious Russian captain would wheel the sub around in a kind of underwater power slide to "clear the baffle."
Frequently, the Russians would find themselves facing a surprised U.S. sub that was saying, "Oh, hey Ivan. Dude. Didn't see you there. Za zdaróvye!"
THAT'S HOW HOLLYWOOD DELIVERED THE CRAZY IVAN TO THE MASSES
It's a bit of business from the Alec Baldwin/Sean Connery thriller, The Hunt For Red October, based on the Tom Clancy blockbuster novel of the same name.
So, a pulsar blob, or a submarine maneuver. Or a problem in competitive paintball. (Not going there.)
All Crazy Ivan.
And none of them Slow Burn's Crazy Ivan.
But our Crazy Ivan is similar to both Mr. Williams' usage and the naval usage.
Because the former involves an element that's peeking out and taking your attention.
And the latter is about learning to pay attention to something that's following you around.
Both of those things are applicable in performing creative work.
THE TRICK IS IN FIGURING OUT HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
Most people will ignore the nagging sensation that there's a Crazy Ivan tapping them on the shoulder, trying to command their attention.
One thing we've learned to do is embrace that sensation and try to flush out the culprit.
The result is that, when we present new brand names to a client, we usually have one Crazy Ivan in the mix.
This is the brand name no one saw coming.
The name that hits you right between the eyes.
The name that says," Go ahead, try to ignore me now."
One of the most unusual of our Crazy Ivan names has probably been Salt.
NOT THE FIRST NAME YOU'D THINK OF FOR A DENTAL PRACTICE MANAGEMENT CONSULTANCY
But we threw that into the brand presentation as the Crazy Ivan (mainly at the behest of Honey, who recognized its power much more quickly than did I--ironic, as I had blurted it out as a joke).
The result of rebranding the consultancy as Salt Dental Practice Management was an almost immediate doubling of the client base.
Last week, we had two presentations in which we presented respectable, usable, evocative names--
And a Crazy Ivan.
In both cases, the client reaction was enjoyable.
In the first, there was a gasp, followed by an, "Ooh, I like that!"
In the second there was a moment of silence, followed by a minute or so of breathless laughter.
SADLY, I'M NOT AT LIBERTY TO TALK ABOUT THOSE BRAND NAMES YET
We cannot let the brand cat out of the bag.
These are nascent undertakings and revealing them is the clients' prerogative.
But we can tell you each Crazy Ivan is surprising and unexpected and a cause for delight in two business niches in which delight is unusual.
In fact, both of these businesses are about solving big problems.
One of the efforts is even life-altering, speaking to people who are in pain and under extreme duress.
And the names of both businesses are cause for at least some degree of happiness, joy and hope.
SO WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS BABBLE, ANYWAY?
The point is this: listen for the Crazy Ivan.
If you come up with a crazy idea, NEVER say, "Well, that's really good, but we can't use it."
Yes, sometimes that idea might be rough.
The idea might require some refinement.
And one must be smart enough to recognize where the power comes from and what must be done to harness that power while sloughing off the baggage or any other impediment.
And one must be able to recognize whether it's an appropriate Crazy Ivan.
CALLING A MORTUARY "FUNERAL FUN!" IS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA
So would be calling an investment advisory, "Fountains Of Filthy Lucre."
And compliance would never allow it.
But don't be afraid to act like an upstart--especially if you happen to be an upstart.
Which, by definition, describes most people reading this screed.
Watch and listen for Crazy Ivan.
Whether it's a business name, an idea for a promotion, the name of a product or service, or even a headline for an ad, don't fear the Crazy Ivan.
Handled properly, he might help you make crazy money.
THE BRAND RANT CONTINUES...
And by the way, a big thanks to everyone who pointed out the missing word last week.
The sentence should have read, "I drive a car to work, therefore mass transit doesn't work."
And if you missed the tee-up to that because instead of reading the screed, you were busy listening to important DR advertising on the radio, it was about the style of argument used by so many anti-branders: "I'm in direct marketing and I can prove the return on investment of each effort that I initiate. Therefore, branding doesn't work."
And yes, that rant continues this morning.
Along with your invitation to help us make the case against these nattering nabobs of brand negativism.
One argument was thus:
"YOU CAN'T TAKE BRAND AWARENESS TO THE BANK"
Of course not.
You also can't take your mother to the bank.
But your life would be impossible without her.
We were recently having a conversation with Dr. Sam of Dr. Sam's Eye Care.
As the faithful reader to the screed knows, Dr. Sam is one of Slow Burn Marketing's oldest clients.
We worked with him to rebrand United Eye Care Specialists.
Business had been flat for three years. And let's face it, there is nothing "United" about a one-doctor office in rural New Hampshire.
(In his defense, Dr. Sam did not name the business. It was saddled with that moniker when he bought it.)
NEW BRANDING AND RUNNING A BRANDED ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN DOUBLED HIS NEW PATIENT BASE
That took three months.
In 10 months, the business that was flat for three years was up 30%.
Beyond that, the branding helped turn Dr. Sam into a local celebrity.
He once handed some outgoing mail to a postman.
The postman looked at the envelopes, awestruck, and said, "Are YOU Dr. Sam?"
Patients come into the Dr. Sam's office and routinely repeat the brand tagline back to the people who work there: "Straight talk, better vision."
THE BRANDING ADVERTISING HAS CREATED BRAND AWARENESS
Dr. Sam is the top-of-mind eye doctor for his area in New Hampshire.
And he no longer runs as much advertising as he used to.
His brand is doing a lot of the work without it.
For instance, he sponsors a race car. He has the hood of a prominent local stock car driver, and it routinely brings him new patients.
(For all the pro-DR, anti-branding blather out there, tell me this: if branding doesn't work, explain how sports sponsorship is one of the single most effective uses of the advertising dollar in terms of ROI. There is no advertisement at all. There is a logo. Period. Yet the big brands who do it can prove the investment is worthwhile.)
HE ALSO SPONSORS LOCAL NON-PORIFTS
This is a surprisingly effective use of ad dollars.
He buys display ads in the printed programs for local events.
The Humane Society. The Girl Scouts. The non-profit arts organization.
The ads are simple and funny and NEVER talk about eye care except incidentally.
Instead, they create an emotional link to the event they're supporting.
One of the simplest was for the Humane Society.
It features a little yellow chick wearing an enormous pair of eyeglasses.
The headline says in huge letters, "SEE?"
And that's it.
THAT ADVERTISEMENT BROUGHT HIM NEW PATIENTS
All the ads supporting the non-profits do.
Slow Burn Marketing branded Dr. Sam's Eye Care.
Dr. Sam's Eye Care turned into a juggernaut.
There is no offer in any of the advertising beyond the implicit offer of a good eye doctor who is conscientious caring and gives it to you straight.
There is no hard call to action in the ads, just the phone number.
And they work, as The Fabulous Honey Parker would say, like a voodoo charm.
They make people like and trust a man who works in a business with a very long selling cycle.
ALL OF US HAVE STORIES ABOUT HOW BRANDS HAVE COME INTO OUR LIVES
We don't necessarily think of them as brands.
We often think of them as important people.
Often, we think of them as friends.
So, what's your story, either as a marketing professional or a customer?
How has a brand impacted your life?
Or do you walk around thinking, "Wow, that was a really good direct response ad. I'm glad I saw it."
Tell us about your brand story at email@example.com
DOCTORS ARE LICENSED TO PRACTICE
So are lawyers. And financial planners.
Massage therapists and nail technicians need a license.
Yet those of us who practice marketing?
Since we don't touch a person's body or money, we are free to do as we please.
We can just hang out a shingle that says, "Expert marketing advice, $50,000!"
And we can take the money and run in circles yelling, "La! La! La! La!" and batting at our hair like it's on fire, and nobody's going to do anything about it.
There's no board of ethics that's going to bring us up on charges.
SHOULD THAT CHANGE?
And what makes me ask such an impertinent question about such an oppressive and invasive process as licensing and oversight?
Just a bunch of Great Big Marketing Experts out there in the ether, asserting their expert opinions about the folly of branding.
Like, claiming you can't monetize it.
You can't take brand awareness to the bank.
Branding is a waste of time and money.
Nobody can prove a correlation between branding and ROI.
NOBODY CAN PROVE THAT A NUCLEAR WAR WOULD RESULT IN A NUCLEAR WINTER, EITHER
That doesn't mean that the experts doubt it would happen.
And who's really willing to find out if it's true?
Not me. I also don't have my finger on any of the red buttons around the world, so it seems moot.
But circling back, here's the problem with the anti-brand contingent.
They're almost always direct marketers.
AND THEY CAN "PROVE" THAT BRANDING DOESN'T WORK
Which is utter BS.
And we haven't even defined what the hell branding really is.
What they're saying is, "I'm in direct marketing and I can prove the return on investment of each effort that I initiate. Therefore, branding doesn't work."
This is not in any way a correlation.
That's a little like saying, "I drive a car to work, therefore mass transit work."
Except that it's easy to prove mass transit does work.
(Unless we're talking about Mumbai or Atlanta. Then, all bets are off)
THE LACK OF A CORRELATION BETWEEN BRANDING AND ROI IS NONSENSE
There are plenty of successful brands that prove it.
Want a case of a micro-brand that works?
It can be as small as Slow Burn's solopreneur client who re-branded his struggling business. In one year, he doubled his annual revenue--with no paid advertising.
Or it can be a case as big as Trader Joe's--a discount gourmet grocery chain that is growing like crazy. Trader Joe's presently generates annual revenue of more than $9 billion--with virtually no advertising. And certainly, there is no direct response advertising.
You think Trader Joe's can take its brand awareness to the bank?
Of course not.
THERE'S NO WAY TO PUT BRAND AWARENESS ON A BALANCE SHEET.
That doesn't mean you can't recognize a correlation between everything mandated by the brand direction--which is distinctive, resonant and inarguable.
One doesn't grow a single grocery store into a chain of almost 500 locations with over 10,000 employees without advertising unless there's something else at work.
And here's the irony.
Every King of Direct Marketing who pees all over the idea of brand is completely dismissing what is one of the most powerful weapons in the marketing arsenal.
GOOD DIRECT MARKETING IS EVEN MORE POTENT WHEN GOOD BRANDING IS INVOLVED
I am a direct marketer.
I know what it means to live or die by response to an advertisement.
Most proponents of smart branding embrace DR.
Conversely, no DR expert who's bashing brand can say they understand what it means to build a brand in any meaningful way.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have seen branding literally change the lives of small-business owners.
From the struggling solopreneur who doubled his annual revenue, to the local hair salon that has increased revenue 300% in five years, to the event contractor who re-branded and subsequently landed a quarter-million-dollar raise out of a single meeting--all of these are examples where the branding made a difference.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What's your experience with brand?
As a small-business owner, do you have a story about the potency of brand in your life?
As a small-business marketer, do you have a story about the power of brand in a client's marketing?
As a consumer, do you have a story about how good branding influenced you in a remarkable way?
If you have a noteworthy tale, I want to know.
All the unmitigated, non-scientific crap out there bashing brand has become tiresome. "My direct response advertising works so branding is a failure!"
You're invited to join me in an effort to lay waste to the BS.
If DR experts can make nonscientific, anecdotally-supported claims about how branding doesn't work, we can make nonscientific, anecdotally-supported claims about how branding does work.
AND YOU WILL BE FAMOUS!
Only if you want to, that is.
I will happily use your name and the name of your brand here in the screed.
Or, if anonymity is better for you and/or the brand, we can do it that way.
But send your anecdote.
Whether you're speaking as a marketer, as a business owner, or as a consumer--how has a strong brand made a difference?
Either reply to this email, or (if you're reading online) send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
How has brand mattered in your life?
Send your story today.
We'll make the the Anti-Brand DR BS hit the fan tomorrow.
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.