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posted by Teresa Coles Dec 01,2016 @ 03:10PM

Gain the secret weapon to building successful brands

Now that I have your attention, here’s a pop quiz. Pick one:
The most successful organizations — and their subsequent brands — are those that:

  • Have a multi-million dollar marketing budget
  • Have a culture that is synonymous with their brand promise
  • Have a diversified portfolio of products and services.

If you picked #1 or #3, let me know how that works out for you. While #1 is reserved for the Cokes and Targets of the world, many business leaders are disciples of #3 and are convinced that their success is dependent on diversification (also known as “we specialize in everything”).

If you picked #2, you’re a step ahead. Whether you’re an international retailer, a regional manufacturing operation, or a professional services firm down the street, your brand will only achieve its potential when everyone in your organization is part of a culture that is fully aligned with your external brand promise. That’s the mark of a healthy, leaderly and responsible brand.

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Back in the day, this was referred to as “building brands from the inside out.” While this concept still rings true, its executional requirements have evolved significantly. In the past, it was good enough for business leaders to talk about the fact that the company needed to deliver a customer experience that was “on brand.” In some cases, they went so far as to provide customer service training to teach employees specific service standards.

Fast forward to a day in which consumers’ knowledge, expectations and control are growing by the moment. This begets an environment in which the internal flaws and service shortcomings of an organization can pop to the surface at any time, exposing a gap between inner organizational reality and the external brand promise.

Moreover, we know for a fact today that employees are more and more discerning in their choice of employers and in their expectations surrounding that experience. They need to know what the company stands for. What it is setting out to do in the world. And what their place in that mission looks like. This is culture building, which is the direct route to operational excellence and a brand that is truly believable.

Look around, and you can see the direct connection between well-defined cultures and their highly distinctive brands: Apple vs. Dell. Southwest Airlines vs. United. BMW vs. Cadillac. These are organizations that understand the power of aligning culture, business strategy, and external brand marketing. They are not three linear business tactics. They are one collective strategy.

The good news is that entrepreneurs get this and are building businesses from the ground up based on this trifecta. But how do leaders in established organizations harness this imperative when there are so many competing initiatives going on in the organization?

Start with a vision.

This is not the benign statement at the top of a document in a matted frame. This is real vision, as defined by leadership and reinforced every day in language, tone and demeanor. It’s the Northern Star of the organization, and the CEO is the flag bearer.

Establish brand values.

These are not words like “integrity” or “commitment” or “quality” that sit right underneath the vision and mission statements on the aforementioned document. These are actionable, teachable and distinctive behavioral standards that let employees know what their brand stands for and what it’s striving to become. Employees need to understand how this journey benefits them and what their direct responsibility is in contributing to the organization’s vision.

Connect brand values to the business strategy.

Successful companies use these shared brand values to power its business operations, enhance innovation and set the business apart from competitors. It stands to reason that if everyone in the organization is united by and held accountable to actionable brand values, operational effectiveness is sure to follow.

Execute brand marketing that demonstrates all of the above.

When a company’s organizational health and business strategy are in complete alignment, a resounding brand promise can ensue. This promise can be easily internalized by staffers, because they understand it’s a reflection of them, the culture they’re part of, and the business strategy they help to execute every day.

*This post was originally published on Columbia Regional Business Report

posted by Cathy Monetti Nov 28,2016 @ 03:30PM

Humanitarian. Oh, yes.

Like so many, I awoke on Friday to the sad news the great South Carolina humanitarian Judy Davis had died. It was a shock that hit me hard, and I spent the day with Judy and her family on my mind and my own heart in rather a state of disbelief. The question is ages-old, and yet I wrestled: How could this happen to someone so vital? So generous? So good? How could our city sustain such a devastating loss?

Davis, Judith (web).jpgShe was one of the great ones, is the thing. For years, Judy was a calming voice of reason in important conversations all around our city. From boardrooms to lunch tables, she was an eternal optimist and a tireless advocate in efforts to improve whatever needed improving. She fought hard, but she did it with such grace and elegance you hardly noticed. She was a motivator, too, serving as a mentor to so many and sharing her gifts as a keynote speaker at one time or another at nearly every event in our community.

But there was something else about Judy Davis--a quiet quality that endeared her to me and countless others. She always made me feel like I was the special one. She'd smile that bright smile, and her eyes would sparkle, and for that moment she gave the immeasurable gift of validation, so beautifully articulated by Oprah Winfrey as the greatest gift one human can give to another:

I see you.
I hear you.
What you say matters.

 Oh, Judy. You were one in a million, and I'm so thankful to have spent time in your orbit. 

 

It was my honor to serve with Judy on the Central Carolina Community Foundation board and I thank them for use of their photo. 

Read more about Judy Davis here. 

posted by Julie Turner Nov 10,2016 @ 02:05PM

Brands and Viral Dreams

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It’s interesting how something becomes a viral sensation. From the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which raised more than $115 million to #pantsuitnation a Facebook group of Clinton supporters that mushroomed from one to 3.2 million members in the days before the election, the Internet is an undeniable flashpoint in modern marketing.

While it’s every brand’s dream to ride the million-viewer wave, it’s a luxury few will ever enjoy. Those that crack the code know what makes people want to share their content: emotion. The emotional arc can be anything from laugh out loud hilarity or empowering self-awareness. It’s the secret viral ingredient.

One brand that’s masterful at viral sharing is Budweiser. We’ve all likely shared or watched their heartwarming Clydesdale commercials but two of their commercials stick out in my mind as favorites.

Harry’s Last Call
Budweiser paid homage to the Cubs’ World Series win earlier this month in a heartwarming way. The brand re-ran a decades-old commercial featuring the team’s patron saint Harry Caray. Then, seemingly just hours later, they released another two-minute video of Caray “calling” the final out of Game 7 over footage of Cubs fans in the moments before, during and after the historic win.

The brand’s marketing team came up with the idea 10 days before the game and secured permission from Caray’s estate and from the WGN network, the rights holder of the Cubs audio. After splicing together audio from previous games, the fan footage was captured during Game 7 near Wrigley Field. The commercial was approved at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning and tweeted by the brand a few hours later.

It’s natural for Budweiser to be a part of huge events like the World Series, but my personal favorite viral sensation from the brand happened late one cold snowy night in Canada in 2012.

Flash Fans
Budweiser Canada contacted two rec hockey leagues asking them to participate in a documentary they were filming. During the spot you see the players preparing themselves and their equipment for the game, heading to the rink, donning their gear. And then something surprising begins to unfold.

The brand knows how passionate hockey fans are and that’s what they wanted to show the world in this spot designed to give a Canadian beer league hockey team an extraordinary hockey experience complete with 600 fanatical fans, spotlights, play-by-play announcers and a confetti cannon. The brand also released a great behind the scenes video.

Brands dream of creating viral content that puts their brand in a spotlight but they will fail to catch fire. Their focus is off. It’s not about the brand here; it’s about tipping your hat to the enduring spirit of a Cubs fan or the unglorified recreational league hockey player.

Most brands would never dream of footing the bill to dress a skating rink for a hockey game, and hire hundreds of extras, a production team, two skating mascots, foam fingers, puck hats and who knows what else to set the stage. Even more, to be second fiddle. And, honestly, you don’t need a million-dollar production team to create something meaningful.

Brands need to see beyond themselves and beyond the risks of their ideas. That’s where the glory is.

posted by Michael Powelson Oct 26,2016 @ 08:18AM

A political ad you can learn from (believe it or not)

Everyone hates election season. But I’m not sure anyone hates it more than advertising creatives. In addition to the usual indignities that put most all of us off our respective lunches, political campaigns subject the ad professional to a host of more specific crimes. They inflate the price of media. They stoke public cynicism to a point that it can carry over onto even the most ideologically neutral brands. And then there’s the simple fact that political ads are, as a rule, terrible.

Grating, unimaginative, and insulting to nearly everyone’s intelligence, most campaign commercials defy all principles of creativity. They shout. They pander. They lie. They take shortcuts no self-respecting brand would dream of because, unlike brands, they have only short-term objectives and media war chests large enough to bludgeon audiences rather than doing the conceptual work of winning them over honestly. And we all get dumber in the process.

That’s why my vote for Biggest October Surprise goes to the fact that a senate candidate in Missouri has made one of the best spots, political or otherwise, I’ve seen all year.

Take thirty seconds:

 

 

Yes, this may be the last post I’m permitted to write in this space. Not only did I just encourage you to view a political ad, I just encouraged you to view a political ad about guns.

Easy now. Rest assured, I have no interest in your opinions on gun control. Nor does this piece have any intention of advocating for either side of that complex issue. As proof, I need only confess my own convoluted stance — one that I’m sure both camps would find equally contemptible. On the one hand, I own a handful of rifles and shotguns for sporting use and a handgun for home defense. On the other, I’d sooner join the Church of Scientology than the NRA and see no reason why a civilian such as myself should be able to possess the type of militaristic weapon that Kander poses with in his ad.

None of that is particularly relevant. But hopefully it ushered the ideological elephants out of the room so that we can get to the real point. What Kander’s ad can teach us has nothing to do with its content and everything to do with its execution.

Kander felt that an opponent had mischaracterized his relationship to firearms simply because he supports background checks. But rather than counter with the usual hallmarks of the category (blood-and-thunder voiceover, overwrought imagery), Kander fights back in a calm, confident voice. He speaks straight to the camera, albeit with one unique twist: He faces the lens through a blindfold while expertly assembling the AR-15 he carried as a lieutenant in Afghanistan.

The performance is at once understated and unforgettable. His words are simple, finely sharpened nails. His action, a hammer that echoes long after the thirty second mark.

The takeaway for marketers illustrates what good creative directors have preached for decades. Kander didn’t tell viewers who he was and where he stood. He showed them.

Ad Yoda Luke Sullivan likens this distinction to the advice of Miss Manners who famously noted, "It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help."

Where Kander’s good qualities begin and end is not for me to say. I don’t know anything about Missouri politics. I don’t know if he should be in the Senate. I don’t know if he’s a good guy or just a good actor. But I do know I’ll be thinking about the standard his commercial set for every project our creative department works on in the near future.

Next time a communication opportunity arises for your business, (be it on TV, the web or social media feed), remember Kander. Push yourself and your team beyond the single dimension of telling and into the impactful territory of showing.

After all, customers vote with their dollars. And no business can afford to leave them undecided.

 

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posted by Teresa Coles Oct 19,2016 @ 05:14PM

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Riggs on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

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What a little vision and a lot of believin' looks like

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are.

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are.

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy.

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I'm grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

 

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