We Compare All Brand Experiences to Just a Few Brands

Have you noticed the same handful of businesses lead every brand ranking, are mentioned repeatedly at conferences, and are consistently referenced in books and articles? One cannot escape testimonials to Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Harley-Davidson, and Disney. It is if there are only a handful of successful brands on the planet.

Now it seems consumers believe that to be true. Wunderman and Penn Schoen Berland surveyed 2,000 people aged 18 to 65 in the US and the UK, and the findings were consistent across generations, geography and gender. Here is an amazing finding: 87% of US and 85% of UK consumers compare all brand experiences to those they consider the best, such as Netflix, Amazon and Starbucks.

That means when we pick up our dry cleaning, rent a bicycle, or buy a shirt we are judging the experience as compared to ordering a venti cappuccino from Starbucks or streaming Better Call Saul.

After working with tons of brands and consulting to agencies who work with an exponential number of brands I am confident I know what consumers truly want from brands. They demand a solution. A solution that makes their lives easier and more enjoyable. Netflix, Amazon and Starbucks do that.

All that other brand stuff involving authenticity, consistency, and transparency are in the next consideration set. Those considerations are important for sure but when you boil it down consumers consume. Sure, some vote with their wallets if a brand does bad or badly but we buy to satisfy our very selfish needs and wants.

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Too Cool? Men’s Fashion Brand Naming

A fun day in my life was when I happened across the brand Scotch and Soda. Originally launched in the 80’s, the brand was revamped in 2001. My affection was, and is, for the name. If I had the gumption to start a clothing brand then “scotch and soda” would be a gutsy moniker I would be proud of.

Recently, I was surfing and shopping. You know, that time wasting trend of attempting to satisfy more complex needs through hollow and vacuous retail therapy. The activity turned out to be more rewarding and fulfilling than expected because of the men’s wear brand names I happened across.

Still, none of them made me buy more or switch my favourites. They did, however, catch my attention. Consider the first up: A Fish Named Fred. That name conjured a tinge of nostalgia for the John Cleese and Jamie-Lee Curtis movie. Overall, it was a foreshadowing of the extreme irreverence that these brands draw upon and strive for.

Then came ArboristBespoken and Cheap Monday. A tree trimmer, elite, and price sensitive offer all install different meanings. Next consider the brands called EmbellishFilling Pieces, and Fish N Chips. They sound like Michael Chabon or Irvine Welsh novels.

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The Coming Difference in Brand Storytelling

“Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known and have told us again and again: books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.” Novelist Umberto Eco was echoing (all pun intended) Charles Dickens who previously spoke of life as a “furious plagiarism”.

This addresses the fun conundrum of brand storytelling. If every story has already been told then how can a plagiarism differentiate a brand?

Of course, the answer is that stories differentiate in their execution. Protagonist and antagonist. Character archetypes and fables. Three acts. These notions are important but are not at the core. The answer for brands lies in relevant and fresh approaches. Ones that are not one-way narratives but a dialogue and experience that influence changes in thought and behavior.

In the old days ad gurus would say, “Do not sell the mattress, sell the sleep.” Coke does not sell beverages, it sells happiness. AirBnb promises you will live like a local rather than making a hotel room the destination.

Michael Shermer believes, “Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” Storytelling in marketing is constantly debated. Yet, the fact remains a banner ad, a poster, a 30-second television ad all tell stories. If they don’t the consumer makes up their own. If they do it well, a consumer inserts themselves into the narrative.

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What’s New in Storytelling

“Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” So says Michael Shermer. Storytelling in marketing is constantly debated. Yet, the fact remains a banner ad, a 30-second television ad, a poster all tell stories. If they don’t the consumer makes up their own.

Here is a roundup of current thinking on the art and science of storytelling…

How Barbie is evolving its storytelling for the digital age

The Drum covers interviews Mattel’s chief content officer Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, to find out how the toymaker is evolving its approach to storytelling. We are living in a Barbie world.

How Equinox, Coca-Cola, American Express and Marcus use data for storytelling

This is topic worthy of further examination. Stories are only going to get more dynamic. Static tales may become a thing of the past. Brands need to recognize that.

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Paying Homage to Brands…Irreverently

Since I have been in branding and that is not a short time, strategists and creatives have had fun with brands and the notion of branding. When not using branding to advance businesses, these folks find ways to mash things up or pay homage to the power of a brand … often with bizarre mixes of satire, irony and irreverent reverence. Consider the following ten creative takes:

Vino Logos

Thomas Ollivier actually did 99 of these. Brands as wine is a fine idea but the Tabasco variety would take some getting used to. We wonder what how the Uber wine would be described.

 

 

Well Heeled
After his Pepsi-Mondrian can, Italian designer Andrea Salamino explored the idea if brands were sneakers what would they look like? Works for us.

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Big Brands Go Analog With Merchandise

In this time of all things digital it is fun to see big brands going “analog”. Promotional merchandise or merch or schwag is hot right now. And I love that it is. Perhaps I am dating myself but promotions were always a fun part of the marketing mix for me.

KCF loves to print the Colonel’s likeness on shirts and pillows while self-desprecating about fried chicken in general. The brand has been taken to ‘quirky territory’ by its agencies. It may be time for KFC management to exert a little more control.

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Why Are So Many Brands Named for a Fruit?

There are definite trends in brand naming. Some become faddish and others earn iconic status. Think of the advertising industry. While at DDB we would joke about changing the name to Tartan Elephant or Lollipop Attack. This was to sarcastically compete with Big Spaceship, 72 and Sunny, and Blammo, and others.

Now you have dropped vowels businesses like Tumblr, Flickr, and Grindr. Twitter began as Twtter but then thought better. Then there is the -ify movement that includes Adify, Crowdify, Mobify, Navify, Optify, Shopify, Spotify, Storify, Topify, and Soapboxify.

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Marketing Lessons from British Bands

The force that was the British Invasion had never been experienced before nor has there been anything like it since. It has been examined for its musical influence which was considerable. What has not been covered is the role marketing played.

There is much to learn from how these bands deliberately and accidentally built their brands. So join us for this magical marketing tour.

Brand Invasion

Marketing Lessons from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals

In 1965, The Rolling Stones released (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. According to Keith Richards he started the song on March 6th of that year (which happens to be the day I was born). The band was on tour in America at the time. “I’d woken up in the middle of the night, thought of the riff, and put it straight down on a cassette. In the morning, I still thought it sounded pretty good. I played it to Mick and said, ‘The words that go with this are: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ That was RS1just a working title. … I never thought it was anything like commercial enough to be a single.”

The song attracted attention for its implied, risqué content but I always enjoyed the knocks it made against the media, advertising, consumer culture, and materialism. In the lyrics, the radio broadcasts “more and more about some useless information” while television advertisements tease with personal improvement and brand status: “how white my shirts can be – but he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.”

With great irony this stand against materialism launched the Rolling Stones and grew their collective bank account. Along with the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals, they produced timeless songs that continue to attract and keep fans. Make no mistake, these bands are brands and music is their product. If you think they did what they did solely for artistic or altruistic reasons you are wrong.

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Selling Happiness: Flaws in Marketing Wellness

Before bookstores became dinosaurs I worshipped within their walls. The Strand in New York, Chapters in Toronto, Barnes & Noble in Chicago, and Nicholas Hoare in Ottawa. Now bookstores sell more tchotchkes than actual books (but that is another story). One section that never drew me in was “Self Help” books. That category was always expanding and encroaching on my beloved literary fiction and history sections.

From The Power of Positive Thinking to Chicken Soup for the Soul to Awaken the Giant Within the shelves were stuffed with how-to’s to become a happier and healthier winner. What screamed out at me was, “Snake-oil!” That is my active skeptic (and I love him) though I conceded there must be a few things of value in so many books and so many pages.

Mostly though the content is all derived from the same few pieces of common sense wisdom. Then it is repackaged and regurgitated resulting in a nauseous cycle of vacuous repetition. Of course the writing, publishing and selling of these magic panaceas continues. In fact, Amazon has 660,249 Self Help books available online.

In the last decade we have seen the definition and explosion of a broader industry. This is wellness. It encompasses so many businesses that it is losing specificity. The Global Wellness Institute has proclaimed that the industry is now worth $3.7 trillion. That is more three times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry.

In one sense that is a victory for humanity. Simply speaking we are seeking solutions beyond doctor-written prescriptions but we are medicating in new ways. That is because marketers would have us believe we are facing new problems. Stress, anxiety and depression are more widely accepted and talked about. That is fine as long as it is never absolutely normalized. We are close to having normalized divorce even though it is incredibly destructive within the family unit and society overall.

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Hiring the Right CMO

It has been called the most dangerous title in business and many pundits have suggested it does not work and should be banished. No role in the last fifteen years has been scrutinized and debated more than the Chief Marketing Officer. Businesses have struggled with the title and role since it was first coined not too long ago.

I remember working in Price Waterhouse’s Marketing and Customer Management practice when I first saw it referenced in the mid 1990’s. I think I danced a nerdy marketing jig. My excitement was shared by marketing practitioners who long thought our services were poorly understood, inaccurately recognized, and under valued.

The hope was this executive position would set the record straight and have uber impact within a business. What happened and continues to take place are huge assumptions and unrealistic expectations placed on the CMO that almost always result in disappointment. Of course, I have seen situations and models work but I have witnessed many more fail.

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