Branding is a balancing act

All to often companies find themselves with a brilliant strategy – on paper at least. When they try to implement the strategy, they run into obstacles such as channels, partners, technology, infrastructure, competition, or lack of resources. The reverse is also true. Companies can spend so much time executing that they lose sight of the business objective. They might end up with an awesome website, but no real results.

Effective brands, that is, brands that deliver on their promise and help companies sell more stuff, are those that find the right balance between strategy and tactics, between images and words, between effect and affect. Every brand is made up of several different components: visuals, messages, voice, and personality, for example. Each of these is integrated into specific deliverables like a company logo or tagline or photographic style. The trick is to find the right combination and then apply them consistently throughout everything you do.

It starts with strategy – how will you achieve your objectives? Depending on your brand promise some strategies are going to be more effective than others. For example, you probably won’t see Nascar investing in “environmentally-friendly” campaigns; you would expect it from Starbucks. There are lots of different ways to achieve your objectives. Make sure that your strategies align with your brand promise and that you can actually implement them. This is what I call the “duh” test. Run the strategies by a colleague, friend or spouse and see what they think. If they ask you a question and your reaction is “duh”…you might want to rethink the strategy.

Next come the tactics – what exactly will you do to implement the strategy? If your strategy was to grow your market share by expanding into new markets, a tactic might be to partner with a complementary brand in the new market to jump start your brand recognition. This might require a joint email campaign, billboards and local ads on radio and TV. The key is to align the tactics with the strategy so that everything is in support of the brand. Otherwise, you end with a lot of random activities – all of them are probably pretty cool on their own – but together they don’t deliver.

To be valuable, strategy must be practical, and tactics must be integrated. With the right balance of strategy and tactics, your brand will grow and so will your business.

Case Study: Brandon Mendelson – Mediocrity? I don’t think so!

mediocreBrandon Mendelson is a social media success story and guru.  Not what anyone expected from him…not at all.  As Brandon puts it, “I was functionally retarded until college.”  What Brandon did have was a lot of energy, great ideas and passion.  Plus, he saw something that others didn’t.

What he saw was a new way to communicate.  While he was a student at SUNY Potsdam, he started with what he calls “socail publishing”.  During his time there he created TV, radio and other online media.  He is also the architect of the High Five Tour. While piloting the High Five Tour concept, Brandon and his wife traveled America to promote the early detection and prevention of cancer, using social media to communicate and gather a following to promote their cause.  The result got Brandon listed as on Twitter’s Suggested User List (February 2009 to August 2009).  He was the first non-celebrity to gain over 1/2 million followers.

This is the point when Brandon realized his brand was worth something and that he could use it to do good.  “When we crossed 500,000 people following me on Twitter, I realized at that point that there was no going back and that, while I’m sure there’s a lot of spam and junk accounts in there, people were following us because we were helpful and trustworthy.”

Wow – being helpful and trustworthy?  What a terrific concept – novel, clever and so…unexpected.

“For our company, Earth’s Temporary Solution, it’s trust and usefulness. Our goal is to empower others to help those in need. In the not-for-profit world there’s a lot of mistrust and people looking to make a quick buck on willing, happy people, so as a for-profit, we want people to trust us and know we are providing them with the right tools to do the greatest good.”

With the success of A Million High Fives, Brandon expanded his focus and is now a columnist for The Huffington Post, the Albany Times Union, and  Not exactly what I call mediocre.

Case Study: Grasshopper – Rebranding done right

grasshopperWhen most people think of virtual phone systems (if they think of them at all) they probably don’t think of them in turns of grasshoppers.  They do now – thanks to David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos, co-founders of Grasshopper.  These guys have been making it easier to start and grow your small business since 2003. Back then, they started out with a mission to empower entrepreneurs with their first product, the virtual phone system, and they did just that – serving nearly 100,000 entrepreneurs and still growing.

Back then they were called “GotVMail”.  They had an idea “Empower Entrepreneurs to Succeed”…and virtual phone systems for small businesses were the first step.  GotVMail was descriptive, but limiting.  They needed a brand that would connect with their core purpose – to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.  Hence the transition to Grasshopper, an insect which can oddly leap nearly 20 times its size and is always on the move.  The Grasshopper brand would allow the company to be THE brand for entrepreneurs.  Future plans have Grasshopper creating 3 to 4 new products a year which simply solve everyday problems for entrepreneurs.  They are not creating something new, rather helping fix a recognized problem. Now’s there an idea?!?!

What really impressed me about Grasshopper, besides their really cool products, was the way they re-branded themselves.  As someone who has branded and re-branded some pretty well-known brands, I know that this is not an insignificant task.  What these guys did was clever, effective and fun.  A great combination for any marketing campaign.  Basically, they identified 5000 influencers and FedEx’d them all 5 chocolate-covered grasshoppers.  No cover letter.  No explanation.  Just a link to a website with a must-see video.

The campaign went viral – the holy grail for a marketing campaign.  YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter were all humming with Grasshoppers.    During the campaign, the team at Grasshopper began receiving hundreds of unsolicited videos and images of people eating the grasshoppers, or trying to convince others to do so.  This user-generated content provided the impetus for the final leg of the campaign: using the “buzz” to pitch to news outlets across the country.  By providing examples of what other people had done with their shipment of grasshoppers, the folks at Grasshopper were able to entice four news anchors to eat the grasshoppers live, on air – don’t you just love that!

Grasshopper executed a flawless campaign.  They got tons of coverage and visibility.  But here’s the thing – they connected the brand to their core purpose – empowering entrepreneurs to succeed.  If you want to build a brand for your business, this is how to do it.

Case Study: Rob Frankel – Personal branding or career suicide?

RobHeaderRob Frankel has been called “the best branding expert on the planet”.   He’s the author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else” and founder of  Rob and I have similar “big business” backgrounds.  We have similar perspectives on the art of branding and the role it plays in building a business – be it a big one or a small one.  Here’s what Rob had to say when we talked about “personal branding” as it relates to building your business.

Laura: What is your definition of a brand?

Rob: A brand is how you get your prospects to perceive your solution as the only solution to their problem.

Laura: What do you think of personal branding and the role it plays when building a business.

Rob: The idea of personal branding is a corruption and co-opting of a legitimate process – branding.  In terms of small businesses, on entrepreneurs, people have a tendency to think that because they are the business, they are the brand.  Nothing is further from the truth.  No matter how small your business is, customers are buying the business, product or service…not you.  Customers don’t hire me because I’m a nice guy, good dad, and soccer coach.  They hire me because they have a branding issue and I can solve it.

Laura: How do you differentiate your personal characteristics from a business brand?

Rob: Your brand is your business…not your person.  Its about business…not about being a good dad.  There are core brand attributes that make brands successful.  For example, credibility, authenticity, and honesty.   Just because you have these personal attributes doesn’t mean you have to embark on a personal branding crusade.  Use the attributes to build an image and meaning for the company brand.

Laura: What are the implications of “personal branding” on employees and companies?

Rob: The purveyors of “personal branding” get into some serious ethical issues.  If you’re working for a company, then why promote the company brand when should be promoting yours?  There are legal issues as well as the company hires you to further their interest, not your own.  Younger, entry level people are really buying into the idea of building a personal brand.  I predict that we’re going to see examples of career suicide resulting in the conflict of interest between personal and business brands.

10 Things to Know About Your Brand

top10Branding – the idea of creating an image, sound, word, that conveys an instantaneous message – is both and art and a science.  The art is in the creativity, finding just the right image and word and sound combination to trigger an emotional response in your customers.  The science is understanding what triggers certain behaviors, tracking your progress, measuring your success.

As an entrepreneur, consultant or what I call an “independent professional” there is so much to learn about branding that it is sometimes hard to know where to start.  When embarking on any branding activity ask yourself these 10 questions.

  1. Who is your target audience? You can solve a customer problem if you don’t know who the customers are.  Focus on them and they will help you answer the rest of these questions.
  2. What is your brand promise? What does the company stands for?  What is the single most important thing that the organization promises to deliver to its customers? What do you want customers, employees, and partners to expect from EVERY interaction with you.
  3. What is your unique value proposition? What do you offer that no one else does?  How do you want customers to FEEL about your organization after interacting with you?
  4. What are your key messages? Customer messages are divided into core ideas which are made relevant by including supporting statements that reinforce the idea (data, benefits, features, etc.)  These are the ideas that your customers think are important – not the one you think they think are important.
  5. What is your brand personality? Illustrate what the organization wants its brand to be known for. Think about specific personality traits you want prospects, clients, employees, and partners to use to describe your organization. You should have 4-6 traits (5 is ideal), each being a single term (usually an adjective).
  6. What is the tone of your brand communications? Think of the voice, tone and language used to communicate your brand?  Does it relate to your customers?  Does it relate to your personality?  does it support your promise?
  7. What is the ONE thing that you want people to take away from your brand? If you can only communicate one thing to you customers what would it be? What is the single most important thing to them (not to you).
  8. How do you describe your brand? Your description should include Aa brief explanation of how you solve their problem using important details of the offering that reinforce the key messages and differentiation.
  9. Do you have a tagline? A tagline is a brief statement that captures the essence of your brand in a few words.
  10. How do you personally feel about the answers to these questions? If your gut tells you that this isn’t authentic, or that this is the same stuff you’ve been saying for years, then you should listen.