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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 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 Will Weatherly May 11,2016 @ 04:28PM

A CliffsNotes on CX

In case you haven’t heard, it’s all the rage in the marketing world right now. In fact, just last night our local AMA Columbia chapter hosted an event dedicated to the topic. 

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Palmetto Health's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Todd Miller discussing experiential marketing at the AMA Columbia meeting on May 10.

CX = Customer Experience

I suppose the abbreviation originated to play off its fancier-sounding cousin slash mentor-discipline in the tech world, UX (user experience), while cleverly facilitating a natural extension of the company C-Suite… the CEO, the CMO, and now the CXO.

CX began building noticeable buzz around 2011, the same year the CXPA was founded and the same year the world lost a man who had become synonymous with customer-centricity. In fact, it’s the very mantra of Jobs himself, and variations by other big business mavens like Musk and Bezos, that seem to have fueled the movement.

“Start with the customer.”

Over the past few years, CX has manifested through the formalizing and operationalizing of that creed by thought leaders whose backgrounds are often in customer service or the aforementiond design field of user experience or human-computer interaction -- both of course dealing with the needs of humans. 

Now, what’s all this got to do with marketing? Well, everything obviously.

A Tale of Three Paradigms

Marketing has changed. It’s not what it once was. It used to be a rehearsed monologue brands delivered from a stage loudly and clearly to target audiences with attention to spare. 

#1 - Always On 

But today, the marketing conversation is multi-channel and multi-directional. Social media, customer reviews, online influencers -- these force brands to keep on their toes every minute of every day. 

#2 - Smartketing

Data mining, lead scoring, and automation have fused sales and marketing, making mass-personalization and "funnels-of-one" the growing expectation of consumers as their relationships with brands become increasingly digital.

#3 - Template-ification

With brands and media channels now crowding the marketplace, it's harder than ever to get audience attention, and it's easier than ever to look and sound like every other brand out there. 

All About Intentionality

In my 2014 post, I mentioned that every touchpoint is an opportunity. CX is rooted in this idea, recognizing that in a crowded market and media landscape, some of the best differentiation with the greatest ROI happens during and immediately after the sale. Great customer experiences do not only drive loyalty, they also drive the kind of marketing long-known for being the most trusted in the marketplace -- word of mouth.

Using data, collaboration, and communication, the CX field is unifying traditionally siloed business sectors like sales, marketing, customer service, and operations to hone all possible consumer interactions into effortless, delightful, branded experiences. 

Baby Stepping Your Way To Great CX 

Baby Step #1 - Read The Effortless Experience or Outside In

Baby Step #2 - Consider whether your company is really, truly standing on a strong enough brand promise or distinctive point of difference.

Baby Step #3 - Get to know your customers' perceptions of and interactions with you -- persona interviews, surveys, and journey maps are the appropriate tools here.

Baby Step #4 - Identify the most critical touchpoints you have with your consumer.

Baby Step #5 - Carefully, conscientiously craft these touchpoints into memorable moments that accentuate your brand.  

posted by Julie Turner Apr 18,2016 @ 02:04PM

NEW WORK: Crafting a Digital Toolbox For a Construction Leader

Who knew construction and creative strategy had so much in common?

In the building trades, surprises are often expensive and time consuming for clients. When you’re sweating bullets over a multi-million dollar project on a tight deadline neither variable is particularly welcome.

Our client McCrory Construction is one of the most respected builders in the Southeast. One reason more than 90 percent of clients choose to work with them again is the ability to prevent those unexpected surprises and hurdles. Quite simply, the work they do before the build has built them an uncommon reputation. Fortunately, we can relate.

As communicators, we’re big believers in the value of the "before-you-build" focus. The magic of the creative process isn’t just the ideas generated by it, but what’s used to power creative engines, too. Discovery isn’t just a line item on an invoice; it’s the necessary investment in making a relevant, sales generating impact on your target audience.

 

mc_before_after_web.gifClick to view the new mccroryconstruction.com 

developed with Mad Monkey

 

So rather than simply create a new, responsive web presence to refresh their longstanding brand, we took the deeper dive and strengthened their market position in the process. Enter McCrory Construction; Nobody's Better Before You Build.

 

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Click to visit @McCroryConst

 

 

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posted by Cathy Monetti Apr 13,2016 @ 04:08PM

The First Principle of Branding


IN 1974, THE PHYSICIST Richard Feynman gave a commencement address to graduating scientists at Caltech during which he said: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.

The speech, titled The Cargo Cult Science, is now a rather famous one in which the Nobel Prize winner makes the case for integrity over righteousness and sensationalism. As Maria Popova points out on her wonderful Brain Pickings blog, the message is “all the timlier today as the fear of being wrong has swelled into an epidemic and media sensationalism continues to peddle pseudoscience to laymen ill-equipped or unwilling to apply the necessary critical thinking.”

Pseudoscience, certainly, but I would suggest it is equally timely when applied to business or mass communications or brand building. Feynman went on to say, After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Whoa, as my daughter would say.

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THERE IS SUCH POIGNANCE to the language Feynman chose to use. I love his calling out of our head talk--the internal dialog that takes place between our true selves and that voice in our head that endlessly chatters, the one with which we debate and eliminate and calculate and conclude. This thought process is meant to lead to resolution, much in the way scientific experimentation is meant to lead to conclusion. But we should always be suspect: the voice in our head nearly always offering a limited view, an ulterior motive, a foregone conclusion with which it intends to shape outcome without our true selves ever noticing. And so it is that we come to create our own stories, our own version of the truth, based on our own limited, and admittedly biased, worldview.

You must not fool yourself, he warned students who would have the benefit of science to prove their conclusions. Let’s just imagine how easy it is to fall prey when you are talking about the nebulous business of branding.

 

WE ARE SO QUICK to move to communications without doing the hard work of “proving” what the thing is all about in the first place. This requires dissection, challenge, and alignment on questions that are not always easy to answer. It also requires brutal honesty, a “true self” assessment that is neither overinflated nor overindulged thanks to our own head story or the one perpetuated in the halls and social media feeds of our businesses.

These questions are a good place to start. (And keep in mind they must be answered time and time again over the life of a company.)

 

What is the problem we want our business to solve?

Who has this problem? Who cares about it?

How can we make a difference?

Is someone else already doing this?

Can we/are we doing it differently?

How do we prove it?

Do our employees/associates know this? Are they passionate about it?

 

This is not the kind of exercise a CEO or marketing director can typically sit down and knock out. Instead it takes the varied perspective and insights of people throughout an organization who come together for conversation and discovery, sometimes with a trained facilitator who can probe dark corners and encourage open discussion. Very often primary and/or secondary research is helpful, providing a more scientific, well-rounded and fact-based dimension to the process. This might include market evaluations, competitive analyses, and interviews with current and former customers, as well as conversations with prospects you haven’t successfully converted.

It’s hard work, needless to say, but healthy labor that leads to clear purpose and ultimately an honest, trustworthy brand.

 

AFTER YOU’VE NOT FOOLED YOURSELF, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. Perhaps this is the more powerful point, or at least the more comforting one. Because once you’ve done the hard work of building an honest brand your communications strategy will come more easily. Remember to develop and share content that reflects and demonstrates your brand’s values--particularly in digital mediums, where the ability to go direct results in a more personal interaction.

 

SEVERAL YEARS AGO we were working with a client whose large, established business was going through significant change. New competitors were eating into the established customer base, product lines were shifting to meet changing market demand, and leadership of the company was moving from one generation to the next. We sat through a couple of meetings during which the founder couldn’t seem to offer anything more than a list of random marketing tactics he’d like us to get right on.

We advised that given the significant change taking place, a reshape of the brand was in order. Item One would be the formation of a brand team to do the heavy lifting in answering questions simliar to those above.

“Why would I ever do that?” came the leader’s response. “I mean, what would I do if I didn’t like their answers?”

Yes, we could only say. Yes, exactly.

 

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