The Branding Cannabis Series…#1

Welcome to the first in a series of three papers on Cannabis Branding.

It is as if the Gold Rush and the end of Prohibition crossed paths. The legalization of recreational cannabis use includes Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands, with all but Vermont and D.C. permitting its commercial sale. On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized recreational use from coast-to-coast.

If I can provide another historic reference, this has produced a Wild West when it comes to the branding and marketing of businesses in the blooming and growing cannabis industry. Policy makers can’t keep up with the ramifications. Everyone is confused about what can be said, how they say it and to whom.

This messiness is going to have long-term impact on how the industry is viewed and perceived. Further, the mostly juvenile attempts at branding cannabis-related companies has everyone veering into Cheech and Chong territory with an overuse of green leaves and big buds. The nascent industry is “stereotypicallying” itself to the point of comedy.

Download the paper SC_BrandingCannabis_1.

A Brand is Not a Way of Life

Recently, I met with a fashion technology startup. They are building an interesting secondhand marketplace whereby consumers can sell “lightly used” bespoke clothing. Perhaps you wore a Chanel dress once but have no call for it now or the Ralph Lauren tuxedo in the closet is gathering dust. You get the idea.

An additional service involves sending in your used expensive clothing and having it “re-imagined” by company designers. One example was a beautiful woman’s blue blouse that subsequently had one sleeve and the collar removed. These were replaced with a white lacey pattern. I must admit it looked stunning and was very unique. The company also accepts purses and bags that they will clean, restore and/or re-imagine. All in all, it is a cool concept.

Then came a very familiar probe from the founders. They told me they want to be a “lifestyle brand”. That means joining a very long list of brands with the same intent. In fact, I think every brand believes they are a lifestyle brand in some way.

Apple never claims to be anything. Ingeniously they let customers identify them in certain ways. Many suggest they are a lifestyle brand given their dominance in personal technologies. Plenty of apparel brands make the lifestyle claim especially those with a focused product set and defined market. Burton is for snowboarders, Quiksilver for surfers, Helly Hansen for sailors, Volcom for rebellious skateboarders, and Patagonia for environmentally friendly explorers.

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Does KFC’s Marketing Work?

A press release from September 4thgot me thinking. And that is saying something, given press releases to me are an archaic form of communications. It proclaimed:

KFC is offering a college donation to the first child born on the Colonel’s birthday (Sept. 9, 2018) named Harland…. As a birthday gift from the Colonel and KFC, the first baby Harland will receive $11,000 (in honor of KFC’s 11 herbs and spices, of course!) to go towards their college education, setting them up for future success.

It got me thinking about KFC’s marketing. Is it just a series of goofy events and preposterous merchandise or is there a deeper strategy? And is any of this activity truly helping sell product? Before I answer those questions, I have a revealing confession.

I love KFC.

The brand I mean. I eat the product only once or twice a year. It is a tradition on one occasion at my namesake golf tournament, The Swystonian Institute Golf Classic. On the kick-off night, we order up more KFC than we possibly can finish, then we finish it. It tastes fantastic, but one gorge generally holds me over for the year. In my youth, it was the best damn hangover food. I treasured it cold the next day.

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Evidently Storytelling Works

Recently, I passed an advertisement in Toronto’s underground PATH walkway in the downtown. Well, I probably passed scores without noticing. Oversized posters, television screens, storefronts, employees offering samples, consumers with purchases in bags with retailers logos. These were just a few examples of marketing on a relatively short walk to an ATM at my bank that flashed an ad during my transaction.

Anyway, back to that big poster that stopped me. It was nothing special. A bunch of text on white background. At the top it had a statistic, we make 35,000 decisions every day. That’s what gave me pause. People had to move around me as I read the entire ad. It was for a private health clinic and overall was very poor. The clinic needs to tell a more visual story and the ad’s placement sucked.

That is not why I share this story.

I thought about that stat for the rest of the day. It made me recall another. We have 65,000 thoughts every day. That adds up to 100,000 intentions in our head or close to 4,200 every hour and 70 every minute. No wonder we are all stressed, drink and cannot wait for marijuana stores to open.

Those of us in the communication business know we are exposed to over 5,000 ads every day. I deliberately chose the word, “exposed”. We don’t actually see them. We have become inured. Just as I was on my walk until something compelled me to stop. And that is the crux of marketing today.

In a world full of communications inhabited by people with busy lives and minds … how can brands meaningfully connect? The answer is as old as mankind. Storytelling. It has been, is, and will continue to be, the great connector.

Here is an assemblage of evidence proving the power and impact of storytelling.

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Creativity: The Rituals and Routines

Recently my stepdaughter shared an article called Rise and Shine: The Daily Routines of History’s Most Creative Minds. She is entering the creative and competitive world of acting and writing in film and television. In sharing she could not help but note that I am well practiced in the routines of coffee, long walks, and inebriation (aren’t I the greatest influence?).

All family kidding aside, I struggle with the discipline and creativity required by writing. Writing is so much of what I do now. Branding and marketing requires conveying relevant and different ideas so I have always honed this talent. Now I am writing fiction and screenplays, as well as, ghostwriting for others. I like to think I am getting better at the craft but that does not mean it gets any easier.

Oliver Burkman’s article is a review of Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. In it Currey notes that Joyce Carol Oats worked the morning, took a big break and cranked up again in the evening. Anthony Trollope set the goal of 250-words per quarter-hour. Meanwhile, Friedrich Schiller could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples (for me it’s fermenting grapes).

I like background noise and always have. Since studying in high school and university, the tunes or television have been on. As I type this blog on my computer, one earbud is in place hooked to my tablet where Better Call Saul is in rotation.

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Dissecting FT Weekend’s New Branding

Two months ago The Financial Times refreshed FT Weekend. This was introduced through an integrated marketing campaign “aimed at a growing readership who favour the immersive experience of print on the weekend while remaining highly engaged with digital journalism during the week.” That is an insightful and challenging objective.

What piqued my interest was the print component. The campaign’s tagline grabbed me (isn’t it great when that happens?). The three lines are compelling. “World-class writing” is sharp and smart. I can see how they arrived at it and am grateful they did. The cornerstone of journalism is a free press. That means possessing honesty and objectivity and marrying them with insight. Those are lofty ideals to sell a paper. Perhaps too lofty and I expect FT and their advertising agency thought so too.

Instead they now focus on global reach and fresh perspective along with how they write and communicate. The three words in the tagline are absolutely power-packed. The line represents the core skill-set of journalism and what must be the overriding differentiator of any publication online, off or both. That is quality of writing. As far as I know no other publication is landing on that notion or boldly claiming it even though it is fundamental.

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Turf War?: Consultancies and Agencies

Consulting firms have always sized-up the marketing space as a potential service offering. They have flirted with it for decades. Most large-scale forays have ended up in retreat after just a few years. Meanwhile, ad agencies have long-looked to shore up their dusty, old revenue models and expand by purportedly delivering more strategic offers. This too, has been largely episodic and unsuccessful.

Stick around and I will tell you why neither have historically worked but why they may work now. First off let’s substantiate that this mash-up is taking place:

  • Eight of North America’s top 10 agencies are owned by consultancies. Accenture has acquired at least 40 of them. Deloitte, Accenture, KPMG, PwC, and McKinsey now have agency arms.
  • Deloitte is out to create “the world’s first creative digital consultancy.” Meanwhile, IBM’s digital agency unit, iX, has over 10,000 employees and 1,000 designers in 25 offices worldwide.
  • Del Monte Foods selected Epsilon as its U.S. creative agency of record reflecting a fresh focus on data-driven marketing and a move away from traditional advertising agencies.
  • PwC made waves in 2016 when they appointed their first Chief Creative Officer. It should be noted that PwC also named a Chief Purpose Officer, which seems very much like an agency-thing-to-do.
  • Omnicom created Hearts & Science, an integrated digital agency leveraging technology to scale customer relationships. It has attracted Proctor & Gamble and AT&T as clients.
  • Razorfish, a division of Publicis Groupe, partnered with Adobe to build its own digital marketing platform.
  • Starcom MediaVest Group launched marketing consulting brand Zero Dot and sibling Zenith soft-launched a media-focused consultancy called Apex.
  • R/GA and GroupM now offer broad-based consulting services for the purposes of higher margins while securing traditional ad business. This is the strategy of O&M’s strategy consultancy, Ogilvy Red. Carla Hendra, global chairman of Ogilvy Red, is quoted as saying, “If we sell $1 of consulting work, down the road it can lead to $3 to $4 dollars of communications work.”

Clearly, traditional lines are crossing and blurring but why?

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Jeff Chats Canadian Brands

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

It works for Canada Goose, but how far can ‘made in Canada’ go? by Shelley White

Sun, sand and surf are not three things we’re internationally renowned for in Canada. Yet one of our hottest exports of the moment is Shan, a line of chic, high-end resort and swimwear that is designed and manufactured entirely in Laval, Que.

In addition to flagship stores in Montreal and Toronto, Shan has boutiques in Miami and the Hamptons, and 65 per cent of its revenue comes from the 30-odd countries it ships to, says Jean-François Sigouin, vice-president at Shan.

Shan is a line of high-end resort and swimwear that is designed and manufactured in Laval, Que., which allows it to retain full control over its product. As 65 per cent of its revenue comes from abroad, the “Made in Canada” brand works for the company because its international buyers recognize that to mean quality, the company says.

The suits aren’t cheap – they run about $300 each – but that’s sort of the point, says Mr. Sigouin.

“The philosophy of the brand is to offer quality instead of quantity,” he says. By manufacturing in Laval instead of overseas, the company has full control over its product. “We are totally vertically integrated from the design to production to retail because we have everything in the same building.”

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Trends in Association Branding

Years ago I spoke at a conference focused on crafting association business strategies. This was in the late nineties while in the Marketing and Customer Management Practice at PW (now PwC). My work to that point focused on professional service businesses and consumer products. To tell the truth I was filling in for a colleague who fell ill.

The presentation went well but it was the conversations following that stuck with me. In short, I was rocked by the complexities of the industry and the challenges faced by these entities. iacpconferencephoto1-520x346Associations have always been “up against it”. All share certain issues. After working with four associations in the past two years, we have discovered the following:

Cost Not a Benefit: in many cases, members join to maintain accreditation or there is a penalty for not keeping membership but not necessarily claimable upsides.

The “Nonprofit” Label: it suggests a softer culture, less talented employees than the private sector (but stronger than the public sector!), and lack of depth and sophistication in leadership, management and planning. Let me be clear…this is perception not reality.

Overlap: one only has to look at the marketing and advertising industry to see that an agency in the United States could belong to easily over twenty different associations. Imagine being a retailer or in healthcare and that number is many times higher. This makes it important for associations to differentiate. When you think about it associations are competing against every other association out there and be held to the standards of the best. Also note there are associations for every conceivable group in the world…there are even several associations for associations!

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An Ad Agency Tipping Point

Starting any business is a bold move. Not all survive and few truly thrive. Those that do face the challenges of managing growth and staying true to what made them successful in the first place. This is an interesting tension that I recently discovered in working with four advertising agencies.

These businesses had grown to 100 or more staff. Of course, that metric in, and of itself, is not an indicator of sustained success. The good news is the agency leaders know that. In fact, these leaders were concerned because interesting things happen when the payroll hits 100. Here are some issues that arise:

  • Agencies of 15 or 30 or even 75 employees possess a start-up or boutique feel. When you hit 100 this weirdly begins to dissipate.
  • You don’t know everyone any more. Small agencies talk of being saatchi-saatchi-office-funkt-1“family” where everyone has each other’s back. While a strong culture can keep this rolling as staff size grows, it cannot mitigate the realities of being larger. This is compounded when they open up other offices.
  • A bigger payroll and presence prompts new business pressures. This can mean chasing the wrong work to keep the machine humming.
  • Founders and principals move from client service oversight to functional roles. Marketing, people, service and product development and other areas need full-time leadership. This transition can be bumpy and skill-sets are stretched.
  • Specialisms and differentiators begin to lose their luster. You simply cannot make the same claims. Being “nimble”, as an example, gets called in to question.

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