A couple of years ago, Boardwalk was competing for a large piece of business, a brand refresh for a well-known resort and entertainment destination. After a lot of work on what, for us, was a huge proposal document (and two in-person presentations), we made it to the finalist stage along with two other competitors. To my dismay, I learned the other two were large, global consulting firms with resources that Boardwalk could only dream about. Worse, I knew their bids were likely to be three to four times more than what we proposed. Regular readers of this blog know how much I preach that you never want to be the least expensive option. I was commiserating with a friend over this state of affairs when he corrected me, “No, Kevin. You’re not the cheap option. You’re the boutique option.” It seems silly but, once he said that, everything seemed better. He made me realize that, in this context, “inexpensive” didn’t necessarily signify a second-rate solution. Rather, it meant the other two bidders had bloated overheads and, worse, an inflated evaluation of the worth of their expertise. I was no longer afraid of the final round of competition. I even had a pithy line about the client shouldn’t have to pay for the consultant’s Johannesburg office. Or something like that. I was ready.
Every business has a brand. Good, bad or indifferent, every business has its market. And that market has opinions, perceptions and feelings about the business. That relationship is the brand. But it’s easy to forget sometimes because very few businesses actually work their brands to add value. Most small and middle-market businesses just stick to their knitting and let their brands “just happen”. They spend little or no time figuring out how to make their brand relationships better and more valuable. They feel they don’t have the resources to review their brands and make them stronger. They feel that is the domain of much larger companies. To an extent, that’s true. Larger companies do have more resources. But part of the reason they’re large companies now is because they devoted resources to brand-building when they were smaller. It’s no accident that market leaders in every sector have strong, well-managed brands. At this time of year, when businesses are planning their investments for the coming year, let 2019 be the year you finally leverage your brand for competitive advantage and economic gain.
It’s important for any business to share the values of its market. Oh sure, you can be a vegetarian and run a butcher shop at the same time. But you’re not likely to have much business success. The butcher who can provide customers with personal knowledge about various cuts of meat will win out. But even if you do share your market’s values, it’s not always easy to communicate that. How do you let your market know you stand with them and deserve to be a part of their lives? One answer is to take a public stand that your customers will admire. The classic example is Patagonia taking a leading role in ambitious conservation efforts. And, recently, Nike gave us a spectacular example with its ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernik. With it, Nike demonstrated an alignment with a younger, more diverse, more inclusive western world. A world that just happens to buy a lot of athletic shoes, by the way. Many people are calling the businesses that employ this tactic “purpose-driven” brands. I feel that by using this description we are injecting needless confusion into the larger discussion of what branding is – and what it is for.
At some point in your brand’s history you’ll have to determine what sort of visual identity to employ. Should it be all sweetness and light, with pastel colors, heart shapes and curlicues? Or should it display large, aggressive color blocks of red, black and white, with big, bold typography that demands attention? Should your brand be a peacock or an eagle, or some other bird altogether? It’s a serious discussion because decision makers will use these visual cues to determine whether or not to let your brand into their lives. You have to remember what purpose your customers or clients have for you. Your product or service is a tool that they use to achieve something. What is it? Whatever their purpose is for you, you have to look like you can fulfill that purpose.
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Best Branding Reads
Week of December 10, 2018
Why Brands Are Crucial To Innovation
A fascinating and compelling reversal of the adage: Innovation is crucial to brands
Brands once used elitism to market themselves. Now inclusion sells.
Exclusion still works for very high-end luxury experiences.
No more Mr. Nice Guy: why every brand needs an enemy
V-e-r-r-r-y interesting, Mr. Bond.
How B2B Brands Succeed With Thought Leadership
“But only when … others can benefit…”. That’s the key.
Queen logo: Who designed it and what does it mean?
Never knew they even had a logo. Guess I’m just a casual fan.
New Logo for Drinkworks
In the future, every household will have a robotic bartender that will have “the usual” waiting for you when you get home.
How this veteran’s company found profits in Trump-era patriotism and polarization
“Polarizing topics create brands.” says the entrepreneur. How I wish this wasn’t true.