Jeff Sexton wrote a long blog post earlier this week on his dislike of the term, “personal branding”. He doesn’t disagree with branding on a personal level, mostly he dislikes the term. As part of that post (read it here), Jeff scanned and posted a short essay by The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams. I think it makes a great point about telling your brand story in a way that makes people care about what you do. So, I lifted it, and reposted it here as this week’s Friday Inspiration:
Archive for the ‘Brand Story’ Category
When it comes to search, Google dominates its competitors. In fact, its name is synonymous with search.
Nobody “searches” online. We “google”.
Last month, Americans conducted 18 billion online searches, and Google handled more than 65% of them. Yahoo’s search engine clocks in at 15.9% of all searches, while 14.1% were handled by Microsoft’s Bing.
Do the math. These three giants handle 95% of all U.S. search requests.
Now imagine you want to start a search engine. How would you do it?
Focus on the hole in the market. And make that your story.
Google does a lot of things right. But they don’t do everything right, for everybody. So if you want to compete with Google, you find something they don’t do well and figure out a way to do it better.
That’s what DuckDuckGo does.
Never heard of DDG?
DDG founder, Gabriel Weinberg, created a search engine that blocks content mills and sites jammed with advertising (improving the quality of results). DuckDuckGo doesn’t track search results and share them with advertisers. It doesn’t store search history or IP addresses.
This past January, DuckDuckGo got a lot of attention for a billboard in San Francisco that read: Google tracks you. We don’t.
Hit them where they are weak. Find the hole.
It’s a great brand story.
Easy to tell. Easy to understand.
But that’s not all.
DuckDuckGo does other things that customers like. All search results are displayed on a single page… just keep on scrolling. The name, logo, and site design are playful and clean. You can customize the color, fonts, alignment and other elements of DDG. And the search results are pretty darn good.
The DDG experience feels a lot like what Google was ten years ago.
DDG also does a nice job with disambiguation (they have something called semantic topic detection that helps narrow your search). Try searching for “Lincoln” and you get a box at the top of the page with several choices. Are you looking for Abraham Lincoln? Lincoln Automobiles? Lincoln, Nebraska? Novels, bands, films, or albums called Lincoln? It’s a nice feature that makes results more accurate.
Compared to Google, DuckDuckGo is tiny. Barely worth noticing.
And they’ve got a good brand story.
Small companies disintermediate bigger competitors all the time. Google did it to Altavista, Excite, and Lycos (remember them?).
And somebody will do it to Google.
Will it be DuckDuckGo?
This brand story from Google is so good, it doesn’t need an introduction…
Not only is it a fun story to watch, it’s a pitch perfect demonstration of how Google products can make life better.
Very few brand stories are told as well as this one.
H/T: American Copywriter.
Tom Fishburne perfectly captures the state of about 95% of story-telling by brands today. As he says, “it doesn’t pass the bed time story test.”
Now that the Superbowl is over, there will be hundreds of reviews of the ads. Millions if you count the tweets and FB updates.
First, the music was atrocious. The National Anthem was butchered by Christina Aguilera. My kids asked, “why is she singing like that?” And the halftime show by the Black Eyed Peas. What was that? Tron the Musical? Lea Michelle’s singing of America the Beautiful was much better than both… by two orders of magnitude.
Second, let me just say that no matter how bad a Superbowl ad may be, they are all significantly better than the ads that typically run on local television and everyday prime time. There is so much bad advertising on television which is why the Superbowl stands out. Congratulations to all of the creative teams who worked on this year’s spots.
Oh, and the game was darn good even for fans like me with little attachment to either team.
Now, on the the commercials…
Best Spots Overall:
Coke: Border Crossing.
It’s not “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, but it plays nicely off the same idea. Even bitter adversaries can find a way to share a Coke. Great use of a story to share a unique brand idea. Very different from the childish humor of Pepsi this year.
VW: The Force
The :60 version of this spot got more than 12 million views online in the week before the Superbowl. That version is better than the :30 we saw during the game. This seems to be the crowd favorite. Another good story used to demonstrate a product benefit: the car can be turned on from far, far away (so to speak). Here’s the long version:
Audi: Old Luxury
This spot made me smile. Clever way to stick a finger in Mercedes’ eye. And make Audi the brand of “hip” luxury, all in a some-what silly story…
Dorito’s: Best Part
Another funny spot, though a little creepy. Finger sucking is one thing when they’re your own fingers, but someone elses? Still, I like it.
Chrysler: Detroit is Back
It’s not easy to make a big American car look cool, but this one did it. A decent sound track, good copy, and cool visuals back up the come-back story Detroit has been telling for a while now. Much better than the Brisk ad featuring Eminem. Side note: two ads featuring Eminem? Didn’t see that coming.
Another decent use of story to demonstrate a product benefit—in this case your tires will save rodents on the road and maybe even your life.
Stella Artois: Lounge Singer
Okay, this one is a little over the top. But I liked it. And given the lack of views online, I may be the only one that felt this way. So sue me.
And while I really didn’t care for the Snicker’s ad, any ad that knocks Roseanne Barr on her backside with a battering ram deserves some credit.
Now the bad…
Worst Spots Overall:
Mini: Cram it in the Boot.
Yeah, it is humorous. And it does a good job of demonstrating a product benefit. But the double entendre was just too much. The Superbowl is supposed to be family entertainment right?
This one starts out like a public service ad, with a few facts about the political situation in Tibet. Then turns it into a joke with a Groupon for Tibetian cuisine. Lame. Making a joke out of Tibet doesn’t do it for me. Even if it means I save $10 on Pad Thai.
Pepsi Max: Torpedo Cooler
Hey I’ve got a an idea that will make them laugh. Let’s hit a guy in the nuts. That’s been comedy gold since before Weekend At Bernie’s. Boorish behavior. No real story or product benefits (with the exception of the diet ad). Pepsi ads in the past have been so much better.
So what did I miss? Agree? Disagree?
The real power of a good brand story is that it communicates an idea in an emotional way. Listeners immediately get your message and if the story is good, they internalize it and may even share it with others.
For example, you can tell your customers that you provide outstanding customer service. In fact, many brands say exactly that in their advertising, mission statements and their web sites. And it’s all completely forgettable.
Or you can “show” your customers a story.
No doubt you’ve heard about the woman who returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom (or maybe it was a toaster). The salesperson gladly refunded her money and took the tires off her hands. The hook is that Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires. But they did what it took to make a valued customer happy.
That story is almost certainly an urban legend. But it is told and retold by Nordstrom customers to illustrate how great the customer service is at Nordstrom. It feels true.
Another example is the pizza story told by Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh.
This story has become a part of the Zappos narrative. This story has been told by Tony hundreds of times. It brilliantly demonstrates to what lengths Zappos will go to serve their cusotmers. And each time he tells it, Tony says that he hesitates to share it because he doesn’t want people to call his company to order pizza. (Given that Tony has shared this story over and over, we can assume that he isn’t hesitant to tell it in the least, and this is just part of his approachable delivery.)
I’m reminded of a time when I was in Santa Monica, California, a few years ago at a Skechers sales conference. After a long night of bar-hopping, a small group of us headed up to someone’s hotel room to order some food. My friend from Skechers tried to order a pepperoni pizza from the room-service menu, but was disappointed to learn that the hotel we were staying at did not deliver hot food after 11:00pm. We had missed the deadline by several hours.
In our inebriated state, a few of us cajoled her into calling Zappos to try to order a pizza. She took us up on our dare, turned on the speakerphone, and explained to the (very) patient Zappos rep that she was staying in a Santa Monica hotel and really craving a pepperoni pizza, that room service was no longer delivering hot food, and that she wanted to know if there was anything Zappos could do to help.
The Zappos rep was initially a bit confused by the request, but she quickly recovered and put us on hold. She returned two minutes later, listing the five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were still open and delivering pizzas at that time.
Now, truth be told, I was a little hesitant to include this story because I don’t actually want everyone who reads this book to start calling Zappos and ordering pizza. But I just think it’s a fun story to illustrate the power of not having scripts in your call center and empowering your employees to do what’s right for your brand, no matter how unusual or bizarre the situation.
As for my friend from Skechers? After that phone call, she’s now a customer for life.
Tony could have said, “Our service is the best,” or “We’ll do anything for our customers.” But by telling this story he doesn’t have to. Instead, he shares an experience that a listener can relate to. And we draw our own conclusions.
What stories are you giving your customers to tell?
In case you’re interested, here’s a longer version of Tony talking about Zappos (and the pizza story) from the Business Innovation Factory:
Last year, automotive companies spent more than $20 billion dollars on advertising.
And what did they get for all that cash?
Endless shots of sports cars speeding through S-turns, SUVs bouncing up rocky trails or through deep snow, and pretty cars posed in gleaming show rooms. And interior shots of polished wood panels, cool-looking dashboards, and comfortable leather seats with plenty of head- and legroom.
The ads look so much alike partly because the cars look so much alike.
If you’ve seen one, you’ve just about seen them all. If it weren’t for the logo, you’d be hard pressed to identify the car.
It’s not that these are bad ads. They look great. They sound great.
But they all look the same. Cadillac. Infiniti. Lexus.
There’s rarely a story. So it’s tough to make an emotional connection.
They’re all about features. No real reason to buy. So they don’t break through.
Good auto advertising is hard. When cars look the same, share the same price points, and try to appeal to the same consumers, it’s no surprise that the advertising is so similar. And forgettable.
But not all car advertising is bland.
Occasionally a brand breaks through the clutter with a compelling story that drives home a unique brand position and reason to buy.
Check out this spot (it’s a few years old) that beautifully tells a value-based story about the VW Jetta.
Beautifully shot, nice soundtrack, and a great story.
More recently, Toyota did a good job breaking through the mini-van clutter with it’s Swagger Wagon campaign. Each individual spot is a unique twist on how one of the car’s features makes life better for the self-centered owners. I like the back-up camera spot:
The campaign was supported with longer-form videos online, including this hip-hop video featuring the Sienna parents.
Note that video has more than 7.5 million views on YouTube. Not bad for a car ad (compare that to the Cadillac ad above which only has about 170,000 hits). Want the MP3 for your iPod? Me neither, but it’s available here.
And speaking of hip-hop videos, there’s the KIA Soul Hamsters.
It seems you either love it or hate them.
I hate them.
Partly because I don’t get it. Partly because the music is bad. And again, what’s the story? Where’s the reason to buy?
But then I’m not a hamster or a hip-hop artist, so clearly I’m not in the target demo. I’d rather get with a toaster that drives.
It does deserve some credit, though, for being different enough to get noticed. Now if KIA would get to work on the story…
When it comes to telling a compelling brand story, nothing is more powerful (or more effective) than letting your customers do the talking.
That’s exactly what Patagonia has been doing for three decades.
Every year, customers send more than 80,000 photographs of themselves doing the things they love—wearing Patagonia gear.
And the results are stunning.
Rock climbers. Tree sitters. Alpine skiers. Hikers. Wild-life.
Thousands of photos taken in places with crazy names like: Suicide Rock, The Thrill is Gone, and The Asylum.
A recent issue of the catalog featured stories of failure—written by climbers who got tantalizingly close to a summit, only to have to quit climbing before reaching the top. Sometimes it really is about the journey (though not always by choice).
And between the customer stories are photos and descriptions of the gear that makes it all possible.
Visit Patagonia.com and you’ll see more of the same.
Customer photos and stories featured on the home page and blog.
And a microsite called the Tin Shed (harking back to the shed in which Patagonia first opened) where you can see even more photos, watch video, and hear audio from customers like Maxime Turgeon who rode his bike 770 miles around the Alps looking for new climbing routes to try.
Or check out the story of Fletcher Chouinard and several others who visit the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra to test their new surf boards.
There’s some really good stuff here.
Patagonia gets bonus points for its “Spread the Shed” feature which makes it easy to tweet, email, dig, and otherwise share these incredible stories.
Or check out Patagonia’s Youtube channel where you’ll find more of the same…
The most important part of these stories is that they aren’t about Patagonia at all. No talk about the triple stitching or waterproofing of the jacket a person is wearing. Or the unique cut of a fleece liner.
Just aspirational images and stories about what their customers love to do.
And by retelling these stories in their marketing materials, Patagonia shows their customers that they get it.
They are a natural part of their customer’s world. A brand they can trust.
The reality is that customers often tell the story better than the marketing department. So why not let them?
A short excerpt from Baked In by Alex Bogusky and John Winsor:
“Marketing people like to say that product is more than a physical object. As in a cup of coffee is more than a cup of coffee. A pair of sunglasses is more than a pair of sunglasses. A car is more than a car. There’s a story that the car represents. A promise. And that’s what we’re really selling. That’s what the brand is made of.
“Sometimes this story is true, and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not. Sometimes a car really is just a car. So the process of marketing is to uncover, coax out, and tell a story that is buried inside the product. Most of the time a story can be found, but too often the story is only tenuously connected to the product, and in some cases the story is just wishful thinking on the part of all the marketers around the table. Perhaps the product was created without a clear narrative and audience in mind or is just another me-too product with nothing new to offer. What happens next is too often the sad state of affairs that passes for marketing. A battery of focus groups, ethnographies, brain scans, and more are arranged to go forth and uncover what the consumer wishes the product really was. Then the marketing budget is spent telling lies about the product.”
I think we can all agree, there’s a better way.
It’s a little pricey for its length, but it’s a quick, worth-while read.
You can buy Baked In here.
It’s a question many marketers face: what do you do when your product isn’t perfect? Even worse, what do you do when your product has characteristics that make people turn up their noses? Or opt for a competitor?
Answer: Use a story that turns the negative into a positive.
I’ve written before about Buckley’s Cough Syrup. It has a nasty taste that consumers don’t like. Once you’ve tried it, it’s hard to want to use it again. And that drives down repeat purchases. So Buckley’s story is that something that tastes this bad, must work. Read more here. It’s a great story and it works.
Legendary adman James Webb Young, who started selling fruit by mail around the same time that Harry & David did, tells the story of an apple-growing season where he was nearly ruined.
Violent hail storms bombarded his apple trees with ice pellets, causing bruising and pock marks.
He feared massive complaints and returns if he shipped the bruised fruit to his mail order apple buyers. But if he didn’t ship the damaged apples, he would have to refund all the orders, and his mail order business would be ruined.
The apples were damaged only cosmetically. The hail had pockmarked the skin, but this did not affect the flavor or freshness.
Young went ahead and filled his orders with the pockmarked apples, and in each box shipped, enclosed a preprinted card that read as follows (I am paraphrasing):
“Note the pockmarks on some of these apples. This is proof that they are grown at a high mountain altitude, where the same extreme cold that causes sudden hailstorms also firms the flesh and increases the natural sugars, making the apples even sweeter.”
According to Young, not a single order was returned. In fact, when orders came in for next year, many order forms had handwritten notes that said, “Pockmarked apples if available; otherwise, the regular kind.”
Young’s story proves what experienced marketers know: Often, by being truthful about your weaknesses and flaws, you can gain substantial credibility with your buyer, increasing loyalty, sales, and customer satisfaction.
Do you have a product weakness that can be turned into a positive with the right story?