Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

There was a period between about 2016-2017 where many brands seemed to combine purpose and positioning. During these two years, it appeared society had an awakening that manifested in multiple, intersectional ways: A significant refugee crisis was happening in Europe; Britain decided to leave the EU; Donald Trump was elected, and #metoo and #timesup forced sweeping change across a myriad of public and private organizations.

But the reaction to these phenomena in the culture was often polarizing, with online social platforms only multiplying the effect as algorithms optimized to create “filter bubbles” of impassioned points of view and moral posturing. Because brands reflect what’s happening in the culture, there were more than a few brand managers who decided to introduce storylines they imagined would appeal to customers’ sense of virtue.

Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman sums it up succinctly when he says, “Do you, as a company, have certain values? That’s great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility. Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of ‘laddering-up’ of consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.”

And that’s just the problem with anchoring a brand’s market position around a purpose that considered as virtuous. Diageo’s CMO Syl Saller says, “Everyone is using purpose differently and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is straightforward; it’s why a brand exists.”

For many, the word purpose connotates something admirable and worthy which is the mistake.

And Diageo (with a brand portfolio of spirits and beer) has made their fair share of mistakes. Back in 2011, a campaign for Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur called “Make Women Shine” used lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause,’ They wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but lacked the insight to suggest that’s what customers wanted.

Diageo Europe’s innovation director Ed Pilkington recounts, “Baileys is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s take a step back and think, what is the role that Baileys plays? About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Baileys and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s a lovely treat. So what does the Baileys stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”

Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign was received favorably by consumers, but Mark Ritson castigated the purpose-driven ad, not for the values it expresses, but because it seemed the brand was an afterthought of the marketing. And marketing is not a public service agency, but rather a function that exists to sell. “Step back from the powerful four-minute Heineken ad for just 30 seconds and ask yourself why Heineken is the featured brand? Couldn’t any other brand pull this off with equal legitimacy? Surely this ad would work just as well with Guinness, Becks, Strongbow, Stella Artois or a host of other beverages,” he says.

And he’s right.

When purpose gets confused for a position, (how consumers perceive the brand in the context of competitive alternatives) brands lose their ability to differentiate and compete. A brand’s culture, organization, and strategy are what reveal its purpose, not the other way around. As Ritson says, “Somewhere between the commodifying monochrome of physical and mental availability and the achingly cool, belief-based world of ‘inspiring communities to be great’ is a middle path. A path we can call differentiated brand image.”

How Much Does Branding Cost?

How Much Does Branding Cost?

If you ask around for quotes on branding projects, you will get fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and even higher, and this often is just for design work. You might find a freelance designer online who says they can do it for less than $500, and you can even get a logo for as low as $5 on There are a few websites where you can crowdsource the design of your logo, receiving lots of options for several designers before choosing one and then paying for it. So you might be wondering, Do you really get better work if you pay more? How do these services differ? How much should you invest in your business? Well, it depends on what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your business goal is with your branding project.

As I say to everyone I meet, your logo is not your brand. Branding is three different things used together, consistently. First, there is the positioning (aka brand strategy) of your brand, the one thing that makes you unique in the market (your “It factor) and how it blends into your marketing plan and you’re your business structure. Then there is the messaging (aka strategic communications) that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and your tagline. Finally, there is the visual brand (aka Brand Identity) that aesthetically represents what you’re all about (optimally it is aligned with your positioning and messaging): the design of your logo, website, and marketing materials.

When someone offers “branding” though, they may be referring to only one or two of those three elements mentioned above. You have to take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them to decide which one your business needs.

Visual Brand Designers

When a freelance designer says they’ll “design your brand” what they really mean is they will just design your logo, website, and marketing materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand or brand identity (we used to call this “corporate identity” back in the day). You will most likely need to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will entirely rely on you regarding positioning and strategy.

This person is who you use when you are first starting out if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in your business. It gives you something to get your business out there, to start selling your services in the market. Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a strategic branding firm can craft that into something that will take you to the next level.

If your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

You can find people online who will do your entire brand identity for $1,000 to $3,000, but they may be less experienced (or capable) compared to other designers. This inexperience usually means a lot more of their time and yours is spent on the project. Also, they are not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may design something that looks great, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

Brand Messaging & Design

Fortunately, many agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you or your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words and design an identity to match. This approach is probably the most common to this type of branding, and if you’ve got a solid business strategy, a branding agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.

This firm is who you hire if you have an explicit business model, own a reliable positioning in the market and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing and strategy savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.

A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up.

This is quite a range, I know. It’s not an exact science, and if there were a definitive way to explain the difference in these numbers I would share it with you. Usually, the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principal, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with, and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.

Strategy Plus Messaging & Design

Finally, some (but not many) agencies do all three. This is who you hire when you have steady revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. They can help you strategize how to best position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.

Few of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.

One of the reasons so many branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and typical creative agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Simply put, if your business is not profitable (meaning everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), a new brand may not be enough. You may also need a more robust sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design. In other words strategy, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business without a good strategy.

Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000, but could be even more. Some of the largest agencies start at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smaller agencies that offer all three services (like we do) is not usual, but they do exist. If you are seeking more profitability, I highly recommend you work with an agency that does positioning, messaging, and identity. Even if you only engage them for messaging and identity, you’ll benefit from their strategic acumen.

The real price of branding though is not doing anything consistently.

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

Surrounded by world-renowned brands such as Amazon, Apple, Procter & Gamble, and Netflix, we tend to forget there are over 28 million small businesses in America that create two-thirds of all new jobs.

Publications, podcasts, and business schools love to analyze what makes these giants successful. Although these case studies are inspirational, it is very hard if not impossible to implement such strategies with little to no marketing budget.

I truly believe that ‘small’ brands and businesses are poised for growth in today’s crowded marketing environment. Below is some  – free –  advice on how to build a brand when you can’t afford the Super Bowl half-time, nor even a local TV spot. I intend to turn the tables here, by giving small brands some tips that large players could hardly if ever implement.

1. Offer A Product That Is Noticeably Different And Superior
A local brewery can’t compete with Budweiser’s marketing budget. But its product is locally-made, has a distinctive taste and comes across as authentic. Such craft beer should be marketed to connoisseurs that seek your craftsmanship as well as regular beer drinkers that will indulge with your product from time to time. Remember that you are not trying to dominate the lager segment: these same people likely drink Budweiser also and that’s ok. Your play is to secure a niche of loyal buyers and leverage the uniqueness and quality of your product to command a price premium.

This same strategy can be implemented for any artisan-made products, such as small-batch whiskey, scented candles, olive oil, barbeque sauce or marmalade. If your production is very small (for now), take the time to write labels, and thank you cards by hand. Yes, it takes ages and doesn’t scale up, but it costs pennies and handwriting is the hallmark of authenticity.
The smaller the budget, the more you will have to rely on your point of difference. Brands with small budgets should focus their resources on promoting their strengths, ideally the key point of difference. Often, being local can be your strongest link versus large competitors. Communicate your local origins, reflect the local culture and reposition the ‘strangers’ as your far away, disconnected rivals.

2. Engage In Customer Intimacy
Jack Trout (a pioneer in positioning) once pointed out, being ‘mentally closer’ to what’s important to customers sparks an intimacy that is a core advantage for smaller brands. For example, cross-fit studios, spin-cycling studios and other small gyms charge 2-5 times more than large fitness chains. Yet they often offer a lot fewer amenities, in much smaller venues. Their success is found in customer intimacy. That is, to understand the goals of each and every member, develop custom fitness programs accordingly and track member’s progress. Keeping track of each member of a club that hosts 2,500, let alone remembering their name is next to impossible. For $40/month at a large chain, you buy access to a well-lit parking lot, a plethora of equipment and large changing rooms decked out with saunas and hot tubs. For $150/month at a local gym studio, you pay for personalized training and membership in a community. Of course, customer intimacy is not limited to the fitness industry. Consider how this strategy can be used by coaches, consultants, bespoke products, or local businesses to gain a loyal following.

3. Provide Useful And Meaningful Content
Meaningful content is one of the great business equalizers of our times, lifting profiles to that of much larger competitors. While this is widely known, today many small brands have yet to take advantage of the opportunity. Creating content (like this article) is hard work, but it’s cost-effective and pays off. People seek, and value, free ‘how-to’ content to help them deliver on their projects, and grow their business. To be impactful, your content must be informative and express innovative and actionable ideas that matter to your target customer while relating to the essence of your brand. The key to success is persistence and consistency: whether you maintain a blog, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile or Youtube channel, it will take weeks, possibly months before you gain any real traction. Therefore, try to produce content that will be valuable to your audience in the long run. ‘5 tips to lose weight in the New Year’ might be newsworthy today, but becomes pretty irrelevant after January.

If you don’t want to educate your audience, you can simply showcase your craft: Mark’s Bake Shoppe in Staten Island produces outstanding videos and pictures that feature Mark’s artisan-made cakes and pastries. It’s no wonder his Instagram account boasts 1,300+ followers. And if you think 1,300 is small, check the following of your local grocery store (assuming it has any). Be sure to develop your content with customer intimacy in mind, this is key versus the larger players.

To sum up, most of these strategies require hard work and don’t scale well, but they’ll lay the foundation for a stronger brand on a small budget.

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and has been since I was a kid. I grew up on the thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (be thankful I didn’t choose the other image from that iconic movie). What I liked most about many of the thrillers from back then was that we often didn’t actually see the monster until late in the movie. So much of what scared us was the idea of the monster lurking in the dark.

Many companies have built their brands on promises based on addressing fears – the needs for protection, for reassurance, for status, for achievement, recognition and so on – in a world where so many of those things are portrayed as being at risk. But how successful is fear as an emotive driver today and should we still be using it as a motivation to get people to buy more?

The first thing to be aware of – fear works. While some marketers regard fear as an old-fashioned way of changing attitudes and behaviors, a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 and based on 50 years of research shows that fear-based appeals are still effective, particularly when they contain recommendations for one-time only behaviors. According to the article, including a fear element more than doubles the probability of change relative to not presenting a fear motive or including an appeal that has a low fear component.

Some of the reasons for this seem obvious. Fear gives people a reason to pay attention and therefore it instills an emotive reaction. Fear plays to our view of a changing world. And it seems we live in an age where fear is a significant component in the media. As someone remarked recently, the world is now presented to us as an ongoing sequence of dramas. So much is such a big deal that if your message lacks an element of primal response, there’s a risk some will feel that your brand could easily be lost in the noise. The temptation for brands to play up fear is also brought on by the observation that others seem to be using it successfully.

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, makes the point that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. In the absence of patterns, we go looking for regularities to make our lives work, he says. Chaos and randomness stress us because they make us feel left out, left behind or out of control. Lack of pattern and predictability induce fear. Too much pattern and predictability, on the other hand, quickly incites boredom and rebellion. We all want to know where we stand. At the same time, we don’t ever want to feel stuck or being seen to be stuck. We fear that.

Social media has generated its own fears, particularly around failure. The article I read that quoted Keith Payne also pointed out that Facebook et al have exploited notions of what is normal. Perfection is now portrayed ubiquitously as achievable and expected. In a time where so much is streamed to us as picture perfect, the fear of missing out or of not keeping up is driving many of those who interact with their world digitally to be highly anxious and chronically over-aware of other people’s achievements and opinions.

Another reason why fear gets our attention is that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we must not just solve the problems that we face, but do so in ways that vanquish them completely. One of the key reasons for that, according to Brene Brown is we live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We’re told we’re not getting enough sleep. We worry that we’re not getting enough done. We’re concerned that we’re not perfect enough. And we feel an expectation to deal with those concerns comprehensively; to use the resources that we have available to us to make the problem go away once and for all. But Brown makes the point that the opposite of scarcity is not necessarily abundance or completeness. Sometimes, it’s the ability to do enough, just enough, and then stop.

That brings us back to the point in the research – that people are looking for answers that resolve what concerns them; answers that they understand and can act on.

If you believe as I do that brands are most effective when they address a need stated simply, clearly and distinctly, then the path to being competitive may not lie in simply adding to the burgeoning fear factor. If they want to avoid being caught up in this escalating volume of drama, outrage, and concern, brands may want to adopt a different approach. As Anne Bahr Thompson points out, millennials rely on their favorite brands to help them feel less anxious and more emotionally balanced and fulfilled in a world that is increasingly complex to navigate. And so brands could, perhaps should, be making better use of that reliance to help them achieve a balanced response to the demands of their social media peer group and to develop more valuable relationships in a range of ways. I think her ideas are potentially applicable to all sorts of brands:

1. Deliver Leadership – in a world where people are concerned about the quality of life, long-term security, and family, brands should be looking for ways to inject confidence about the future and the planet and to embed broader societal solutions into their ways of doing business.

2. Be Realistic – brands need to help people connect with what really matters to them in life. The most powerful way they can do is by example – by being genuine and sincere themselves in how they interact with customers and potential buyers.

3. Protect The Relationship – brands need to respect buyers as people and treat data as a relationship building tool rather than as a sales platform and a means to stalk shoppers. Inevitably that means addressing the irony of a desire for more personalized interaction with a willingness to set boundaries around intrusion.

4. Treat People Fairly, Starting With Your Own People – brands need to establish their credentials as good citizens by behaving fairly and openly, but they also need to build a deeper and broader sense of community by taking opportunities to involve more people in how they develop products and set and deliver policies.

5. Defend And Support Wellbeing – in much the same way as brands need to consider how they can offer solutions for the world, they should also look at how and where they can help people function more effectively and in a more fulfilled manner. That may well mean looking out beyond what they feel they are responsible for (via their products and services) to a broader consideration set of human factors that they could positively influence.

Increasingly, it’s not good enough for brands to simply focus on what they want to get out of their relationship with customers and to use whatever means necessary, including fear of failure, to achieve that. While the pressures to deliver profitability internally may be as strong, if not greater, than ever, and certainly more complex, the onus for brands now is to participate in a much more rounded and considered way with those who buy from them.

So if fear works as such a powerful motivator, how do we harness it without relying on it? As Martin Lindstrom wisely pointed out, what’s more important for brands is to use our fears as the starting point for helping people to better manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement.

Here is my perspective on how to best think about fear when: “People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. I personally believe marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties. And, to Brene Brown’s point, brands need to do so in ways that are practical, finite and provide a sense of closure and resolution. Brands should inspire customers to achieve what they want, but also help them set limits on where a sense of fulfillment ends, and unhealthy obsession begins.

That conversation – the one about brands’ responsibilities for responsible consumption – is only just getting started, and there will be some who fear it’s a step too far because it’s not the role of brands to define when enough is enough. But as brands like Patagonia have shown, calling time on what counts as *enough* builds trust and reinforces authenticity.

My (professional) fear is that unless brands choose to see their behaviors in the wider context of social responsibility and check them accordingly, they will continue to play on powerful emotions like fear for the quick wins they can get now, at the expense of the brand’s deeper, long-term value and trustworthiness to customers.

When Is It Time For A Name Change?

When Is It Time For A Name Change?

Dunkin’ Donuts recently announced that it was considering dropping ‘Donuts’ from its name in selected stores. A Pasadena, California location is to be the first with the Dunkin’ only branding. This new naming will highlight that there is more to the brand than the products it’s well-known for, according to a spokesperson.

“While we remain the number one retailer of donuts in the country, as part of our efforts to reinforce that Dunkin’ Donuts is a beverage-led brand and coffee leader, we will be testing signage in a few locations that refer to the brand simply as “Dunkin’,” according to a company statement. “We have been referring to ourselves simply as Dunkin’ in our advertising for more than a decade, ever since we introduced our ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ campaign.”

Is this a smart move?

Identity, meaning, and recognition are the most powerful elements of a brand name. A great name tags a brand’s character. You know what to expect from the way the brand identifies itself. Casual, credible, functional … great names capture the nature of what they describe. Powerful brand names also hint at hidden meaning. Sometimes, they carry within them the synopsis of a story. And of course, names provide us with cues as consumers. We recognize them. They give us something to ask for, and something to look for.

So if the Dunkin Donuts name already has a clear personality why would the company look at changing it? It means a lot to plenty of people and it’s very recognized. There are arguments for and against such a move. Coca Cola changed to Coke, and Starbucks dropped Coffee from its’ name. But when Pizza Hut tried to become “The Hut” it reverted under public pressure. Consumers dismissed the initiative as an unfashionable attempt to be fashionable.

So when should a brand look at changing its name? If you want to signal a change in strategic focus, and if the name change will serve greater meaning, resonance, and value for consumers and customers, then do it.

Let’s apply those three criteria to Dunkin’ Donuts proposed name change: Does “Dunkin’” as a name carry greater value than the original? Yeah, sure, it gets around the recognition issue in that half the original name is there. And since people want minimalism and simplicity, it could bring greater resonance to a market where it’s harder and harder to stand out.

As for the third criteria, only time will tell whether consumers see enhanced value in the abbreviated version. After all, the company is currently the undisputed leader in the donut industry with a greater than 60% market share and a presence that runs to 11,300 restaurants globally.

What’s the biggest risk here? Messing with the brand essence too much confuses customers. You put doubt in the consumer’s mind as you force them to ask if that new brand is still the same product they used to buy or a completely new product. This changes consumer expectations erodes the hard-earned reputation and can result in a drop in sales due to the confusion you as a brand owner create.

Here is the real question: what benefit will shoppers get from the Dunkin’ brand that they don’t get from Dunkin’ Donuts? In terms of association and experience, is anything going to be different? If not (the company has talked about rolling out a new image, with emphasis on beverages and leadership in coffee), then what exactly does the change signal?

Every change you make to your brand is a signal to the market that things will not be as they were. What Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be signaling though is a shift that could feel like a brand looking to keep up with the times. People may like that, and welcome it. Or they may not. Because they may see value in it happening, or they may perceive no important difference—in which case they might prefer that things stay as they are.

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

We all understand how important brands can be. There are brands that are significant all over the world. Nike. Harley Davidson. Starbucks. These are companies that are more than just the products they sell. They’re lifestyles. They’re statements, both about the company and the consumers who choose them.

If you think bold, memorable branding is only available to big companies with massive marketing budgets, think again! No matter your industry, you can cultivate a unique brand that resonates with your clients. Want to know how to do it?

Small Business Branding Tips

1. Clarify Your Company’s Purpose. For a brand to be meaningful, it must connect to your company’s reason for being.  Why did you start your company?  How do you think you’re making the world a better place?  Without a firm grasp of your purpose, you’ll never be able to communicate what’s unique and important about your company.

2. Enlist Your Employees. Along with clarifying your purpose, you must also ensure that every single member of your staff understands that purpose and knows how and why to communicate that purpose with every customer. In a perfect world, your purpose isn’t something that’s pounded into your staff. It’s something you hire for. When you hire an employee who shares your values, then you’re on the right track. Effective branding isn’t an afterthought. It infuses everything you do!

3. Create a Rallying Cry. Your rallying cry lets you communicate your purpose and values quickly … to anyone and everyone. More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album. There’s a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us. Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects. Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy). A rallying cry builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. A rallying cry gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. That’s your brand. As Springsteen sang: “at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.”

4. Enlist Your Customers. You know your purpose. Your staff knows your purpose. But do your customers know your purpose?  Letting your clients know that they’re buying more than just your goods or services is key to enlisting them in your brand building efforts.  Consider the Life is Good brand.  When people don a t-shirt, they’re making a statement about a lifestyle, rather than just getting dressed. Folding in what makes you unique and worthwhile is a big part of successful branding.

5. Hire a Pro. Sometimes we think we should be able to do it all, but no matter how talented you are, you need help in the areas that aren’t your strength. If marketing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a consultant or agency to help you crystallize and evangelize your brand. Professionals can help you avoid spinning your wheels and wasting money on ineffective tactics.

Your brand is more than just your company name, logo, or slogan. It’s the expression of your values, your quality, and your unique vision.  Branding done right cements you in the minds of your customers. It makes it easy for people to understand who you are and what you do. Branding differentiates you from your competitors, and it speaks to your ideal customer, resonating with the people who will most appreciate your work.