Tag Archives: branding

Branding Gives Your Company the Benefit of the Doubt

People tend to assume the worst, especially about companies. So, when companies screw up, and they inevitably will, consumers (and partially as a result, the press) are ready to pounce on you and your vile type of corporate evil. Every company has this moment, and some companies are more prepared for it than others. Yes, being prepared does mean having a crisis PR strategy and all that tactical jazz, but what’s more important is to have a brand people know. I’ll explain a bit why.

The brand of a company tells the consumer what it stands for, what it promises, and what it can deliver. Most companies invest handsomely in their brand and for good reason. Brand building can increase loyalty and command higher prices. But a crucial piece of brand building is that since consumers know what you stand for, and many of them have already identified with that, they give you more leeway in how you do business and when you make mistakes. Another word for this is trust. In really great brand building examples, a consumer will say, “That can’t possibly be right. I want to hear what they have to say about it.” In absence of this work, a brand is just identified as the product experience, which means when the product has issues, the brand has issues. Companies should try to elevate their brands to mean something beyond the product experience, and bad things happen when they don’t.

Brand building also crystallizes what you stand for inside a company, making your company less likely to make a strategic mistake against what you stand for. In absence of a strong brand, different departments optimize for different things, typically creating both a Frankenstein experience for the consumer, but also distrust among departments. When a core engineering team sees a new signup flow that seems particularly aggressive, they might be inclined to curse the growth team instead of saying, “I know what that team is about. Let me go talk talk to them to see why things seem amiss here.”

You can absolutely be successful without building a strong brand outside of the core product experience, but it is harder, and you’ll have more bumps along the road. I’ll give one example that comes to mind. The first is Netflix. Netflix is undoubtedly one of the most well known brands in the U.S. It is also a brand that has grown entirely through its product experience and direct response advertising. All of its marketing is tied to signing up for Netflix. Its TV ads, display ads, pop unders, etc. eschew brand building to attract direct signups. This worked very well to grow Netflix into a powerhouse, but when they inevitably made some major and minor mistakes, consumers, the press, and the public markets went after them. In 2011, Netflix announced a price increase and then after that a split of their DVD and streaming business, including a new name. Netflix is an amazingly valuable service at an incredibly affordable prices, especially compared to cable. But, because they lacked a strong brand, consumers associated a lot of their brand with the price. Furthermore, separating the two businesses was clearly a case of not having a strong understanding of their brand internally. The result: 800,000 subscribers lost in one quarter and a 77% drop in stock price.

Now, Netflix recovered from this, but it took years and a pretty radical change in strategy toward original content. While this provides Netflix more of a brand than “cheap access to tons of movies and TV shows” and pushes that branding more so to “quality content that I sometimes can’t get anywhere else”, it still associates the brand entirely with the product experience. If they go a few seasons without a hit show, or need to raise prices again, they may be in the same situation in the future.

Currently listening to Panda Bear Vs. The Grim Reaper by Panda Bear.

The Power of Physical Evidence

Most people know the traditional four P’s of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. Some may even be aware of other P’s such as positioning and people. But far less may be aware that for service businesses, there is a seventh P: physical evidence. Physical evidence is any kind of physical manifestation of a service. Unlike products, services do not have something you can taste or touch or view, so physical evidence is a tool marketers use to re-create that in a non-physical service. It can be as little as a receipt or the uniform of a company representative or a building’s design. It is used to leave a lasting impression on the person experiencing the service as well as potentially showcase that the person used the service to others.

An over-emphasis on removing the evidence

As entrepreneurs have started to build service businesses using the web and mobile devices, much of their efforts have been to replace the physical evidence of the old ways of doing things. Receipts? Don’t need those anymore. Customer service reps? Well, hopefully, no one ever needs to work with one, but if they do, they certainly won’t see what s/he is wearing. Building? There’s no need for them when everything can be accomplished by an app or a website. We’ll serve customers nowhere near our office and let employees work remotely. Punch cards? No one needs to carry those around now that we have apps that can store that information.

An over-emphasis on social promotion

This rush to eliminate all these reminders of the pre-online world has left a gap in many online companies’ marketing mix: any evidence that someone actually used the service that can remind them to come back or attract others. While every consumer web and mobile company seems to be falling over themselves trying to get you to tweet or create a Facebook update about your experience with them, which has been called the “exit through the gift shop” of the consumer web, few companies have tried to do the same in the physical world.

Word of mouth still happens offline

Many marketers have fooled themselves into thinking the atomic unit of much sought after word of mouth is a post about them on social media. The simple fact is that most word of mouth still happens via words, said through the, you guessed it, mouth. And that only happens offline. That realization is only half of it. Much word of mouth doesn’t come from people being so overjoyed by a service that they run and tell their friend about it. It happens because their friend sees them do something and asks them about it. For GrubHub, that might look like:

Clueless Friend: “So when are you going to order that sushi?”
Totally Hip You: “I already did. I just got texted that it will be here in 20 minutes.”
Still Clueless Friend: “Really? I didn’t see you make the call?”
Totally Hip You: “I didn’t. I used GrubHub.”
Starting To Get Clued-In Friend: “What’s GrubHub?”

What great physical evidence looks like

What physical evidence can help you do is generate more of those types of conversations in the real world. Great pieces of physical evidence do the following things:

1) Showcase the usage of the service in front of others, friends or not: When someone skips the line at an amusement park, they pass everyone in line on the way to the front, either advertising the service or making people ask how they did that and trying to find out

2) Become a showcase for the service even when not in use: Lyft’s pink mustaches stay on the fronts of cars even if no one is riding in that Lyft, or if the Lyft driver is just driving him or herself somewhere, leading people to ask what the mustaches mean.

3) Remind the original person who used the service to use it again: Punch cards get stored in wallets and remind and entice the person to make repeat visits just by seeing them or by there being a deal after a few more purchases.

Now, physical evidence is just one component of a successful marketing plan for a service. If it doesn’t match your positioning or your product, it will likely be ineffective. So, before you think about adding loud noises when someone opens your app (looking at you, Gilt), think about what the physical evidence will say about your product and if it will achieve one of those three goals listed above that is consistent with your company goals.

On Lagniappe

I grew up in New Orleans, and there’s a word in use there that isn’t known anywhere else. Mark Twain said it was “a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get”. It’s a French word based on a Spanish phrase, the type of co-mingling of language only possible in such a place as New Orleans. So, what does it mean, and why is it so powerful?

Everyone in New Orleans will define lagniappe the same way, as “a little something extra”. The real meaning’s a bit more complicated than that. For example, the other day I ordered from Leona’s on GrubHub. Every time you order, no matter what you order, they add in at least one of these mini-cupcakes they make for free. First off, they are delicious. Secondly, there’s no message about it, and you didn’t have to pay anything for it. It’s just there for your enjoyment. That’s lagniappe, that little something given to you for free that you weren’t expecting but is such a treat to find. This type of practice is common in New Orleans, but you rarely see it elsewhere outside of the extremely common baker’s dozen or the fortune cookie in Chinese restaurants, which, because they’re so common, are expected and therefore no longer really lagniappe.

This type of practice creates such an overwhelmingly positive impact on the experience, I don’t understand why the practice in business seems to stay limited to small shops in New Orleans and bakeries. A small gesture can go a long way in creating a memorable experience with your customer, and whether you deliver food, make doughnuts, or do management consulting, there is always a way to give lagniappe. So, what little something extra are you providing your customers? How can you give lagniappe?

Track Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, or How To Track Your Brand Online

In my various rounds of speaking engagements on social media with my partner in crime Amy Le, I have been including a slide on general brand tracking/monitoring. This slide always receives a bunch of questions, so I am posting this how-to online so anyone can figure out how to track mentions of their brand anywhere and everywhere on the internet. Now, if you’re frugal, there isn’t one great system to compile every possible mention of a keyword across the internet. But if you use about four different ones, you can get everything.

Twitter

This is probably the section most people know how to do already, but it is where the most mentions originate, so I still include it first. Thanks to Twitter’s home page redesign, most users know they can search Twitter and see all mentions of a brand or keyword. Well, what if you don’t want to keep refreshing Twitter all day? Applications exist for all mobile and desktop platforms to notify you when new comments mentioning your brand or any keywords you want to track exist. My favorite of the free platforms is Tweetdeck, though Seesmic is pretty similar. Tweetdeck in particular also pulls in data from Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn related to your accounts on those platforms, but is not able to scan data mentioning your brand on them due to the lack of public availability. Tweetdeck and Seesmic are available as desktop applications that can be hidden in your tray until you receive a notification as well as all mobile devices. Reply to people if it makes sense and retweet some complimentary remarks.

One note here: Neither Tweetdeck not Seesmic will remain free forever. It’s important to note that there are other players in the space that already charge and may be better suited for your more aggregate monitoring needs, such as SproutSocial, HootSuite, Radian6, et al. This post focuses on free apps, but want to make sure you keep this in mind.

Tweetdeck Search for GrubHub

Forums

I know what you’re thinking. People still use forums? Hell yeah they do, and you should know what people are saying about you on them. BoardReader allows you to search all forums for mentions of your brand. What makes BoardReader even more invaluable is the fact that you can subscribe to searches so any time a new mention occurs you are automatically notified. Just perform a search and click the “See Tools…” link at the top to subscribe. My personal preference is RSS (no, it’s not dead), but setting up a personalized home page isn’t a bad idea either. Jump in the conversation if you want, but do it respectfully and don’t hide your connection to your brand.

Blog Posts

There are numerous blog search sites. The important thing to remember is that all of them are good besides Google’s. My personal choice is Icerocket. Just do a search and click the Results RSS link on the left. Pop that into your RSS Reader or personalized home page and you’re set.

News

In reverse of my section on blog posts, Google News actually works pretty well here. Just search your brand and find the RSS link at the very bottom of the page. Rinse and repeat on the RSS Reader or personalized home page.

Backlinks

If you’re asking yourself what are backlinks, well, you should learn some SEO. Backlinks are the most important part of search engines’s algorithm. They determine the authority of your website. SEOMoz has a great post on using Yahoo! Pipes to track new backlinks.

Now, all of this can be applied to your competition, so if that’s important, replicate these suggestions with your competitors’ brand names for competitive research.

So, now that you know how to track it, what are people saying about you?

Abbreviate Yourself

So now that we’re out the silly web 2.0 naming conventions that defined websites for a while (did you spell Zillow right the first time you tried to go there?), we can finally get back to to a sincere discussion on brand names. Now, I’m not going to talk about what’s a good one, how to name your product, etc. But I will talk about what happens after you create a brand. It gets changed. Shortened. Abbreviated.

Abbreviations are created for numbers of different reasons. You can become a stock which forces a maximum of a four letter way to describe you e.g. GOOG. You can merge with another company, and since egos are always involved and no one wants to give up their namesake on a company, you initial the words of the two companies together e.g. BBDO. It also could be a marketing reinvention or an offshoot e.g. Gatorade’s “G” campaign, conceived not longer after the debut of their “G2” product line. Brands’ customers can also develop shortened nicknames for products at any time e.g. the Volkswagen Bug.

The danger of abbreviations in branding is a gravitational pull towards the generic. The shorter your brand name the more likely it is there are five or six other companies with the same name. This not only affects awareness and word of mouth, but also search engines. Can Gatorade really optimize for “what is G?” when it’s typed into Google? (no, but now some bloggers have.) And what is the answer? Is it Gatorade? Or Groupon’s rewards program? If you become aware that abbreviations are bound to happen, you can steer this trend in a positive direction for your brand. When McDonald’s decided to target younger people with ads in the 90s, it had young actors refer to the brand as “Mickey D’s” in commercials, which is 1) easy to remember and 2) easily distinguishable from other brands, yet still shorter than their actual brand name. If you type in Mickey D’s into Google now, McDonald’s website shows up first.

Thinking about this when naming your company can save you a lot of marketing headaches down the road and potentially create some opportunities. If you’re thinking of starting a company (or, just for fun, if you already have one), take a potential/your current brand name. Now, pick a stock symbol for it. Pick a name for a sub-brand that is related to the brand name. Now pick a shortened version for it. Now find a way to abbreviate it. Now search all of those terms on Google. If you’re scared by what it returns, you might want to keep trying brand names until you aren’t.