Category Archives: Branding

A Great Brand Experience Starts With a Dream

By:  David W. Bertoni

Talking Man

Make your brand more than a name!

Every entrepreneur or inventor dreams big dreams.  That is what keeps entrepreneurs going, an idea that won’t let them stop no matter how many obstacles are in the way.  There are those that struggle along and those whose success was so large that their dream has transformed the business or lives of millions around the globe, and are often rewarded with fantastic wealth.  Each of these success stories ends in the creation of a great brand.  So, my hypothesis is this:  folks that dream in brands take a more direct route to success.

What’s in a Name?  Nothing and Everything
Here are two definitions of the word brand as it pertains to business:

A brand is a name used to identify and distinguish a specific product, service, or business.  A legally protected brand name is called a proprietary name.”


“A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced.”

Many people think of brands in the first and more limited sense, and conger up names like Coca-Cola, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Mercedes-Benz, Apple, IKEA, Nokia, McDonalds, Google, MTV, Visa, etc.  Business Week and Interbrand annually publish a list of the year’s 100 top global brands. Brands that have global name recognition seem to fall into three categories: industrial and large commercial companies, ultra-exclusive luxury brands and consumer product makers.  The Industrial leaders are brands like Siemens, JP Morgan, Oracle and the like that have gobbled up hundreds of up-and-comers to become the global behemoths they now are.  The ultra-sheik Louis Vitton, Gucci, Rolex brands occupy positions in the stratosphere due to exclusive distribution in a very high-priced luxury market. Consumer mega brands such as Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Budweiser and Gillette typically crush the up-and-comers with the weight of their advertising budgets.

Products have their own brand recognition that can be quite impactful, sometimes having as much impact as the company name: Procter & Gamble’s Colgate, Apple’s iPod, Microsoft’s Windows, J&J’s Band-Aid, etc.  In most cases, buyers are not interested in the company’s stock or committing to all its products, but only buying a product with a trusted name.

Dream Name Today – Gone tomorrow!
Global brands pay a king’s ransom to the most influential advertising agencies and public relations firms to create and manage a brand image. Then they have to spend the queen’s ransom to the media outlets that shoehorn the message into the minds of potential buyers. All that, to encourage someone to end his or her affair with a competing product and try theirs. After a purchase, products will get a test result from buyers on a scale that goes from WOW, through YAWN, and all the way to LET DOWN and OFFENDED.

Stories about bad brand experiences travel faster than positive ones and that the negative experience has the half-life of plutonium, and an effect that is just as toxic.  The long slog of creating a great brand from hard work on product quality and service can be undone incredibly quickly. How many friends did you tell about your latest good product experience, versus the latest product disaster, and after two years, which one is still the freshest in your mind?  The negative experience?  Yep, me too.  Recall the fall of one of the strongest global brands in sports – Tiger Woods.  The eventual resurrection of his image will be a case study in brand marketing, and you can bet he has the best and brightest on the case.

Brand Wars – Kick ‘em in the Experience!!
Most of us are competing against other company brand reputations and known product names, and let’s face it, if it were just a question of brand recognition, new products and companies would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell.  Pan Am would still be in business and Jet Blue would have been stillborn along with Southwest and Virgin.  There would not be a FedEx, Toyota, iPhone, Subway, or Dell.  The reason new products and companies emerge and overwhelm the market, driving their competitors to extinction, is due to the second and more important element of a brand – the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced – the brand experience!  The buyer’s true experience with a product is simply much more powerful than a company’s expensive and carefully crafted hologram of its brand. You can’t compete with the 100 top brands in the world or the top branded products on brand awareness, but your brand and product CAN compete effectively against their brand experience.

Senior management simply must focus its attention, and the attention of the entire organization, on the experience a buyer or user has with the brand.  The experience extends to all levels of interactions with the product and company: the feel of the controls, the quality of the finish, durability, its precision, perception of weight, the packaging, the user manual, customer service, billing, answering inquiries, the website, even the ambience in the office if there is ever a reason to visit.  Does that sound daunting, or does it sound like a competition that you are ready to take on?  I believe it is a winnable battle and one that I would rather fight than how much I can pay for PR and advertising, or having the cleverest arguments spoken by the most well known celebrities.

If your company’s attention is focused on your customer’s experience, you and your customer’s goals will be aligned, and that puts you on the surest path to business success.


When Management Killed the Dream – Bonuses All Around!
If it is that simple, why do big brands with the best talent and the best credentials fail?  In many cases, the company’s leaders have put the primary focus on the wrong goals.

Consider this scenario.  A few years back, engineering found a way to significantly reduce the cost of the product, operations cut logistical costs, there was a killer PR campaign and the rate of product returns showed a significant decline.  Great year!  The managers all took huge bonuses and the company was on the skids a few years later.  This scenario is remarkably common with companies churned by private equity firms.

When engineering is primarily focused on ways to reduce the cost of the product, rather than trying to solve new customer demands with creative (and, lower cost) solutions, the company’s most creative talent is no longer focused on the ultimate brand experience.  When logistics are optimized to minimize warehouse space but doesn’t get the goods where and when the market needs them, orders will flow to the competitors.  When marketing is spending more time with the PR firm than with customers, they may get out-flanked by a ground swell buzz in the streets about a new, agile competitor.  When customer service is judged on how well it decreased the company’s warranty replacement rate, rather than how well it found creative solutions to customer problems, your client’s next call may be to your competitor.  As management succeeds in getting all of the company’s functions to focus less on the customer’s experience, the cumulative effect leads to poor sales, which leads to more cost cutting,  and if the focus does not get back to the customer’s brand experience, such short-sighted focus can lead a company to the brink of extinction.

That is not to say that cutting costs and expanding the reach of the company through advertising and public relations to build sales is not important.  A financially healthy company with solid margins can focus more resources on developing new products, and afford top-notch employees to innovate.  Never forget that the customer’s buying power is selfishly concerned with satisfaction with the product, service and experience.  The customer is ultimately quite fickle and brand loyalty has its limits.  It is often said that business would be so much easier if it weren’t for the customers.

Brand Dreaming is Like Going on a Blind Date
Brand dreaming is visioning ideal customer/brand experiences with your company and products, even if (and, maybe especially if) today’s reality is a lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng way from ideal.  Dreaming in brands is an exercise in perspective and awareness. The hardest change is the perspective shift – from seeing your product or service from your normal point of intimate understanding, which can cloud perception of the most obvious, to the point of view of a person seeing it for the first time.  The familiar becomes new.  Try to imagine that it is a blind date and you have just opened the front door.  Imagine the process of product discovery from the beginning, when the product is seen at a distance for the first time.  Does the first impression suggest that the product features and benefits meet the requirements of the purchaser, and does it look like it does what your sales material says it does?  Does it look functional and efficient?  As a buyer moves closer, he or she will begin to discover the details and form an opinion of the quality.  Now in hand, what is the first impression of weight, finish and feel?  That first, brief interaction is so important, because if the impression isn’t very good, it’s all you are going to get.  The potential buyer didn’t even make it to the point where he or she begins to learn about all of your product’s abilities, fine qualities and charms.

If you are lucky enough to make it past the speed-dating, beauty pageant of the first impression, the discovery begins in earnest.  If the product is technical and complex, there is so much to learn about all of the uses, features and capabilities (and so little time).  Does your product speak for itself or does it require a matchmaking sales aid?  Hopefully, your brand dream visualized the product so that it’s most important features stand out and lead naturally to the discovery of the next layer of features.   Often, the most relevant benefits to the buyer remain safely hidden away from all but the technical support staff and the most tenacious customer.  If a point-of-purchase aid, video or interactive demo tool is required, it is as important as the product itself – don’t skimp!

Getting the idea?  How was your imagined first date with your own product?  Take the point of view of the least informed and most attentive potential customer and you will discover much about your own products.  It doesn’t matter if it is a piece of hardware, software or a service.  Once the process of brand experience dreaming becomes more comfortable, imagine the same uninformed and attentive customer calling or visiting your place of business, from first greeting to follow-up.  Every touch point leaves an impression.  Why not make the impression a good one.

When Your Blind Date is in a Bad Mood – It’s Normal!
It is enough of a challenge to envision converting a neutral potential customer into an advocate of your brand.  Lucky you if you should ever encounter a neutral prospective customer.  If your PR, advertising, word-of-mouth and sales effort are hitting on all cylinders, the prospective customers might be neutral about your company at the first meeting.  However, that is not the normal state of affairs in today’s business environment.  More often, at first meeting the person is distrustful of another sales pitch, dismissive of some new gadget, or anticipating another broken promise from another flimflam sales person.  When you can dream with great clarity how to take the typically cantankerous American customer from combatant to advocate, you win your black-belt in the Jujitsu of brand dreaming.

Dreams Need Fuel – Fill ‘Er Up!
You need to feed the dream machine, and the fuel comes from customers.  You must spend time in the field with customers, potential customers and your competitors’ customers.  That is where you see people using products in ways that could never have been imagined in a design meeting.  Your product, which you crafted to be the pinnacle of efficiency, will be used up-side-down, inside-out, backwards, at half speed, double time and inverted, all to the horror of the designer, but maybe to the delight of the buyer.  Inventive misuse is often the inspiration for the next R&D meeting.

Hail to the Chief – The Chief Dreaming Officer
Brand dreaming is like a gym membership, the first few visits may be tough, but soon the results begin to show off that new and fabulous you.  The first brand advocate converts need to come from your own company before imagining that you are going to convert the masses.  Everybody’s trip will be much smoother if the company is on the same compass heading as the market.  Then as your improved brand experience first date leads to more lasting relationships, you may create some distance between you and the competition. When others in the company begin to see the competition in the rearview mirror, everyone becomes a brand advocate.  If engineering is going to find a way to reduce the cost of materials and production, that’s great, but don’t let them lose site of the objective – a win-win improvement – more WOW for the money.  Brands loyal to their customers create customers loyal to the brand.  Why would a customer whose buying power is selfishly concerned with satisfaction with the product, service and experience do anything else? 

And, when the competition has you backed into a corner – Kick ‘em in the Brand Experience!

Note:  This post was originally published in ‘The Marketer’s Almanac’

The Power Blog: Going beyond Words to Building a Following

Expedition Leader

Being an effective blogger is like being an expedition leader. You will be introducing your readers to new vistas in their world while building trust. These followers will always want more and often become your best customers.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Whether you are listening to the radio, catching up with the news of the day, reading your favorite blog or even conversations at work, the terms ‘Content Marketing’ and ‘Social media’ seem to pop-up ubiquitously .  We have written on both topics here as well. (Content Marketing: Are You Using This Key Tactic to Win the Startup Arms Race?, Avoid the Siren Song of ‘Going Viral’: The Most Powerful SEO is Great Content).  As topical as all this may be, it is important to understand the benefits and costs (Time, effort, patience) that embarking on a Content Media campaign are before committing to this.  As we have previously discussed, in our ‘Content Marketing’ piece, regardless of the tactics you select for your own campaign (e.g. blog posts, hosting topical forums, podcasting, videos & webinars, Facebook pages, websites etc.) the key element is to create and share quality content.  Writing and publishing effective blogs is the most content rich (and potentially time consuming) tactic you could choose.  However, when this is done well, the benefits (eventually) will far outweigh the time and effort that you put into this.

Why bother…
Hosting and maintaining a successful blog is not a trivial effort.  It also takes time and patience before the rewards of your efforts become apparent.  Here are a few reasons to give this important tactic a second look.

  • Become an authority:  New customers are more likely to buy from a trusted source.  If you share what you know on a regular basis with a blog, you will begin to become known as a trusted and knowledgeable resource for them.  Even in the early days, being able to refer new leads to ‘articles’ that you or your company have written can have a very positive impact on the sales cycle.
  • Rise from obscurity: Even before your first offering is ready to be sold, you can start to build your brand with a good blog.  It takes time to build a customer base.  Hosting a great blog allows you to start the process by building awareness and brand way before your launch so that you will not have to start from scratch on launch day.
  • Recycling:  The content in each blog post can be reused.  Take copy from some of your more successful posts to help you create better website content, brochures, trade journal articles, press releases and more.
  • Escape the glacial pace of academic journal publication:  For Life Science and Biotech companies, the greatest validation of their products can come when some of their customers publish using their offering.  This can take a long time.  Remembering that this is an ‘Ad-Free Zone’, asking your best customers to guest blog on their work (applications) can be a great way to get influential articles in the public realm faster. 
  • Build more powerful connections:  Everyone has a business card to hand out to new connections.  Sharing a link to a relevant post article or two can be a powerful way to distinguish yourself (either when you meet or in your follow-up).   Your new connection will have a chance to further evaluate how you communicate and how you think.  The combination of an in-person meeting with a ‘content rich’ follow-up using this tactic can lead to a stronger (and more valuable) relationship.

A few fundamentals
There are a huge number of resources and opinions about how to write a successful blog that will really light up the literary world and have current and future customers and readers clamoring for more.  (We share a few of these resources at the end of this post).  One thing you will discover early on is that there are as many opinions on the rules that must be followed to create blog content as there are blogs and posts.  The following guidelines (not rules) are based on what the author has found (and validated with clients) to be the most effective way to create content that works.

  • Keep it short (sometimes):  You can find various recommendations on how many words your post should be.  350 – 700 seems to be a rough rule of thumb.  However, this ‘rule’ should not be what defines the length of your writing.  (UpStart Life Sciences routinely violates this dictum.)  A good post should be just long enough to discuss (or cover) one topic.  If you find that you have written a piece that contains several concepts in it, you can divide it into separate posts during your editing.
  • Follow the WEE principle: Trying to write the world’s best blog post the first time out can lead you directly to ‘writers-block’ or worse (giving up).  I have found that once I have found a topic of interest that I will just go ahead and write it out as quickly as I can (spelling errors, awkward sentences, meaningless digressions and all).  After a day or so, you can read and edit the piece with fresh eyes.  You will likely find that it is ‘not as bad’ as you thought at first.  Be sure to give it one more round of editing before publishing it.  The Write (W), Edit (E) and Edit (E) again principle will free you to be your creative best and routinely produce interesting, informative and polished pieces.
  • Spice it up: Use pictures, diagrams, videos, podcasts and links to tell your story.  Each of these things offers a different way to communicate with your audience.  Just make sure that they really do contribute to your piece and are not just thrown in as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) gimmicks.  Sometimes the best way to punch up your writing is to use paragraph headings and bullet points (allows your readers to skim to what interests them in your longer writings).
  • 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … Launch: When are you ready to go public?  When helping our clients with this, we recommend that they have at least 10 posts ready to go on the first day of ‘publishing’.  It takes time for your audience to discover you, so you would like to keep them coming once they do.  Having 10 pieces prepared will also test your own commitment to this effort.  If this seems a little too much, consider trying this out by offering to be a guest writer for another well-established blog first.  Having a body of work already available when each of your readers finds you will go a long way to retaining them and encouraging them to come back for more.
  • Delight your audience not the world:  This is especially important to keep in mind if you would like some of your audience members to eventually reach out to you to become your customers.  Constantly worrying about what length or words or clever titles you should use to enhance the SEO of your piece will lead to mediocre content.  If someone thinks your posts are too long, or boring, you can be sure that there is someone else out there that is glad that you took the time and effort to write a good piece.  In time, if you focus on delivering value, your readership will grow and it is these fans that are most likely to reach out to you to do a little business.  Remember, there was a day when nobody had ever heard of J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.  They produced great content that nobody read in the early days.  However it was this great content that ultimately got them recognized and has built them each a huge following (there are still many people that don’t care for their work but I am sure that this does not keep either of them up at night).
  • Save your company news for the Press Release:  It is important to remember that your content rich blog articles help you garner trust and support amongst your target audience.  They are not Press Releases.  Press Releases generally announce goings on at your firm.  They do nothing else, especially in the unsolicited online world.  At worst, when applied to your blog they actually make you look like a less than savvy communicator online.  Save those releases for other mediums or for a separate place on your webpage.
  • Focus on ‘Content’ not ‘Marketing’:  I have mentioned this before but it warrants repeating.  If your main focus is producing high quality content, everything else will take care of itself.  Write the blog posts that you would like to read.

Want to learn more about blogging and how it can impact your business?  Get additional insights and tips from this podcast on this topic with the author on the No Boundaries Radio Hour Podcast hosted and produced by Scott Graves (Blogging Fundamentals Podcast)

Selected Resources:

Picture Credit:  filip.farag via photopin cc

Content Marketing: Are You Using This Key Tactic to Win the Startup Arms Race?

Classical Library

Effective content marketing is like building the world’s greatest library of resources in your field of expertise. Your audience (and customers) should find the materials there not only informative but entertaining and compelling.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

The sooner you connect with your customers the better.  Most consider this to be when you have your first sales with them.  However, content marketing gives you the opportunity to connect with them in a meaningful way long before your product launch. You start the connections that will build the awareness and trust that leads to strong product sales in the future with this tactic.  These early relationships will provide you with insights not only on how to communicate with them but also help you to establish what offerings will delight them.

Effective Content Marketing can help startups win against larger established competitors Content marketing is an especially important effort for any startup company.  When you introduce game-changing products into the marketplace, you will be introducing something that is, by its very nature of being innovative, unfamiliar. Your content marketing efforts will be one of the best ways to transform this ‘unfamiliarity’ into the trust and confidence that wins new customers.  Large established companies with powerful brand names like Apple, Thermo Fisher or Coke have the ability to launch new and unfamiliar products by using the trust that they have established with customers by virtue of having a strong brand.  However, even these large companies rely on content marketing to accelerate the successful launch of their innovations (e.g.  Google Glass, )  When effectively deployed content marketing, , will build the kind of trust with your future customers that will significantly shorten sales cycle times, reduce the cost of sales and augment the impact that your marketing  efforts have for generating new leads, closed sales and boosting revenue.

Why is Content Marketing missing from many startup companies’ business plans?
Content marketing is not often included in the tactics that many startups use because its true value and purpose are not well understood.  Part of the problem comes from the name itself. Content Marketing is not really marketing at all but telling a story or providing some valuable information without reference to the company’s offerings.  A content marketing piece is more like the article you read in a magazine or newspaper than the ads in the same paper.  As such, the ROI between the investment in time and effort of launching and maintaining an effective content marketing campaign are a significant challenge to quantify with traditional marketing metrics.  The full benefit of an effective content marketing campaign can take time to be realized so this can seem to be a luxury to be cut when cash flow is tight (especially in the early days).

Want to learn more about why you should give Content Marketing a second look?  Get additional insights and tips from this podcast on the topic with the author on the No Boundaries Radio Hour Podcast hosted and produced by Scott Graves Content Marketing Podcast

Building an effective Content Marketing effort that won’t break the bank
As mentioned earlier in this post, the full value of an effective content marketing campaign takes time to be fully realized.  As such the earlier you get started the better.  The following tips will help you to do this in an efficient way that that will build the trust that future customer’s value when they decide who to do business with.

  • Know your audience:  Your audience is your target market segment.  Be sure to read the articles, blog posts, news pieces and other content that your customers are reading on a regular basis.  This will not only provide you with a wealth of ideas for topics that you will cover but also allow you to further  your understanding of what  issues are critical to your customers and hence how you might position your traditional marketing efforts as well (an early ROI from this).
  • Create interesting content, not ads:  Remember that you want to connect with your customers as a subject matter expert.   Remember that you are creating content that is interesting and that your future customers want to consume.  (When creating new content, you should be asking yourself why would someone want to read (listen, watch) this?  Rarely do we choose to watch or read an ad.
  • Create what you know:  You need to tell compelling true stories.  Be authentic and write about what you know.  Create content that discusses the issue or problem that your product will fix (resist the temptation to promote your product here, that makes it an ad).  Each piece you create should be inherently valuable to your target audience by itself.
  • Regular delivery is important:  It takes some time for your audience to discover your content.  Once they have discovered and like it, they may share it with others.  It is important to have a regular delivery of the content that you create.  Whether this is once a month (e.g. newsletter or blog post) once a week or daily is up to you.  Consistent delivery is more important than quantity, especially at the beginning.  Pick a regularity that you can keep up with (perhaps start with a monthly, you can always increase the frequency later).
  • Content quality first, delivery media second:  Create something that will delight your audience first, and then select the way that you will deliver it to your audience. Boring and irrelevant content delivered by a flashy YouTube video, podcast, blog or newsletter is still boring content.  (Don’t forget traditional publications, many trade publications are hungry for interesting articles.  Some print publications may also promote and/or publish an online version as well which can provide an even greater level of exposure).
  • Don’t go it alone:  The effort required to do this effectively is not trivial.  There are many resources that you can turn to lighten your burden.
    • Ask Key Opinion Leaders, influential customers and other authorities to consider writing a guest blog post or newsletter piece for you.
    • Hire a firm to help you create the content.  There are many excellent content creation firms that will take your ideas and create publication-ready copy for your blog, newsletter, white paper etc.
    • Don’t’ like to write?  Consider doing a podcast.  You can do this yourself but consider using a professional that knows how to create compelling content for this medium.
    • Embedded video clips.  Convert one of your written pieces into a compelling 2 minute video.  Resist the temptation to show your product in action.  (Think TED Talks rather than Ad copy).
    • Produce slideshows and webinars.  You have worked hard to create talks that showcase your science to academic and technical audiences.  Why not capture these ‘talks’ using software like Camtasia and share them on your website?  Hosting a webinar can also increase the impact of your presentations by allowing you to reach larger audiences that are geographically distributed while also providing the opportunity to interact with them live.  The other advantage of this is that you can easily record the session and share it.

Additional Resources:

Picture Credit: Curious Expeditions via photopin cc