How to zag authentically

I don’t know about you, but I think that the term “personal branding” is a bit over used. And, not being used correctly. When I worked in marketing, even marketers struggled to understand the meaning of “branding” so expecting non-marketers to get it is a big ask. I think one of the best definitions I’ve found of personal branding is from Kelly Cutrone, the PR Maven:

“Personal branding is about figuring who you are and what turns you on and then monetising it”

You can read about her other insights into personal branding here.

The other thing about personal branding is that when ever you come across articles telling you how to build your personal brand, they all say the same thing! So, how on earth are you going to stand out if you’re doing the same as everyone else. So, it was refreshing to read a brilliant piece by Robin Dickinson “35 ways to profit by doing things differently online”. I would definite recommend you pop over to his blog to take a peek.

He’s essentially pushing two of my favourite philosophies;

1. The first of which is “when others are zigging, you should be zagging”.

2. And the second is BE YOU!

The need for authenticity right now is more important than ever.  But I think the reason that we are seeing so many copies out there is that finding out who you are and what you’re about isn’t as easy as it sounds. But once you’ve cracked it, success is surely to follow.


The problem with branding is …

When I work with people on their business or personal brands I inevitably end up sharing a variation of this quote.

“A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer.” Al Reis and Laura Reis

The problem is, for people not used to working in branding and marketing, this is actually quite a hard thing to grasp. Once you’ve worked with many brands and wrestled with this problem, you have the benefit of hindsight. And the trouble with hindsight is that it makes everything always looks so obvious.


I think the problem with identifying the idea is that it’s just too simple. And simplicity is difficult to achieve. Simplicity requires some brave decisions. It requires you to eliminate elements and ideas that dilute and distract. It’s far too easy to try too hard. The result of this is trying to appeal to everyone. And you know what Simon Manchipp said about that. “A brand trying to be all things to all people = blanding”.

Making a decision on what idea you are going to own can happen in one of two ways. You can either plan on the idea that you will own, or you look back and ask your customers what it is that they think of when they think of your brand.

The first route can come from the gut, or from lengthy reviews and analyses of what else is happening in the market. Either way, once you’ve identified your idea, you need to build your whole strategy around it.

The second is more interesting. You might have been doing X for a while, but when you finally get round to asking your customers what they remember you for, they tell you Y. Depending on what Y is, it can be a great opportunity to start building on what you’ve already established without realising.

This article by Brand Strategy Insider sums up the whole issue quite nicely, as well as showing what happens to big corporates when they ignore this simple piece of advice. And you’d think that they would know better!

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Social media: what’s your excuse for NOT taking part?

geek_party_3It used to be that the only brands that got involved with social media were tech brands. Brands whose very premise was technology and web. So for them, the very idea of NOT taking part in social media was not an option. If there was a party, they had to be there. Fast-forward a few years, and the party is still alive and kicking, but it’s not only full of geeks. There are some bigger better-known types turning up. After all, everyone is invited; it’s an open door policy. But for some reason, brands are still slow to the party. Lame excuses probably include “…not sure what to say”, “…might look stupid”, “…do I have to?” blah blah blah.

But these excuses are starting to wear thin. There really is NO EXCUSE. A report out last week confirms what many have known for a while; engaging with your audience through the use of social media pays. Oh yes!

Money“… the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social engagement…”

So now we’ve got that out the way, let’s just get our heads around what engaging really means [clue: it's a lot more than just showing up].

Being seen in the right places

Well as with most things marketing, first you need to find out where your audience is hanging out. Once you know that, you can make a decision as to which channels you want to be seen in. But remember, to take part in a channel doesn’t mean you have to own it. It is OK to just hang out. Let me explain. Blogging might be really important to your audience, whether they read them or write them. But you don’t necessarily need to have your own blog, you can actively take part in their blogs; make comments, give prominent bloggers a preview of new products, submit articles and news. The important thing is to take part, and not just have a presence.


catjobphase4As I’ve said, just being in your chosen channel isn’t enough, you have to take part and interact (this bit is so important I decided to repeat myself - it’s for you skimmers out there) And most importantly, you have to listen. This is quite new to a lot of marketers, who usually too busy spouting outward. Used to focussing on getting their message out there, now they’ve got to learn to listen and converse. Before I hear too many marketers shout in protest, when I say listen, I mean listen as a daily activity, not an annual one. Listening needs to become part of the fabric of the business and not just an isolated focus group attended by a solitary marketing exec.

Make a commitment

This is really important. For a brand to engage with its audience, it needs to commit to it. Once you’re in, you’re in. So make sure you have a plan and a resource to deliver that plan. Sure, the plan can evolve. But at the very least make sure that someone owns social media in the business and is listening to the conversation. Ideally, social media needs to become part of the culture, right up to the top. But, one step at a time is fine at this stage.

So, what’s your excuse?


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When Branding and Marketing collide

With news this week that Ryanair are considering making some of its passengers stand during flights in a bid to squeeze as many as 30% more people on board, I couldn’t help but think that Ryanair must be getting a little bit confused.

ryanair468x286On the one hand they are trying to make more money. Well, you can’t have a go at them for that. That’s what all businesses are trying to do. And, in this current climate, the airlines are having a tough old time. But on the other, each action they take to bring them closer to the money is moving them away from the long term win; a brand that inspires loyalty and trust. That is where the real money is.

There appear to be two forces at play here so let me introduce you to the terrible twins; Branding and Marketing. Twins because they are often confused for one another.

But first, let’s just go back to basics for a moment. What is Marketing anyway?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing, which is the world’s largest marketing body, defines marketing as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” Notice that last word, “profitably“. Also, notice the word “satisfying“. Mmmm.

ryanairSo, in the name of profit, Ryanair have come up with a load of ideas to generate more money;
Charge to use toilets on board
Get passengers to carry all of their own luggage onto planes
• Abolish check-in facilities and demand that all passengers check in online at a cost of £5.

Our favourite is the 2-in-1 sick-bag cum send-your-film-off-for-development envelope. Genius!

But what about the other twin, Branding? Well, a company invests in branding because of the benefits that come with a good brand. A good brand:
• Delivers your brand message clearly
• Gets your audience to think that you are the ONLY solution to their problem
• Confirms your credibility
• Connects to your target audience emotionally
• Motivates your buyer into action
• Builds loyalty over the long-term so buyers keep coming back

So, in the name of marketing, O’Leary is doing everything he can to squeeze more profit out of his operation. And he’s being quite innovative with it. The trouble is, it’s not the sort of innovation that wins brownie points (a.k.a. happy paying customers). It seems that when Ryanair had their brainstorming away day, the branding team weren’t invited. If they were, someone would have been standing up for the poor paying customers. Someone would have been asking some tough questions about why the customer experience is being destroyed. Destroyed so much, that there are now masses of travellers that will do anything they can to AVOID travelling with them. One angry blogger has even gone as far as setting up

It seems as though Ryanair just don’t get it. The whole branding thing I mean. If they could successfully engage their customers on an emotional level (preferably nice positive emotions like love and delighted, not emotions like anger and hate), then customers would choose to travel with them. Some might even pay a little bit more. Imagine that Mr O’Leary?

ryanair-staff-nappingSo, we thought we’d come up with a few ideas of our own. After all, it looks like he needs all the help he can get.

• Ryanair Express store selling over-priced packed lunch ingredients and sandwich fillings for customers to make their own lunch before coming on board. Advise customers that if they require a preparation surface they can use the baby-changing facilities.
• Sell customers oxygen masks and a choice of getaway devices, from slides to parachutes
• Charge customers a monthly subscription to access the website
• Oblige customers to undergo steward training, in preparation for the no-staff service.
• Sell customers Ryanair uniforms in Duty Free, in case the staff are free of duty and absent
• £100 soiling charge if you wet your seat from not paying the £5 toilet charge

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King - A Branding Genius?

shaving bond home pageYou would have been hard pressed to get through the weekend papers without escaping any reference to the King. And, I’m not talking about Michael Jackson. Instead, I’m referring to Will King, founder and CEO of King of Shaves. The reason for this is that last week, he launched the Shaving Bond. This is a corporate bond that aims to attract funds for their marketing war chest in their fight against Gillette.

This brand building idea is ingenious on so many levels. So many levels that I’m not quite sure where to start, so in no real order…

A brand you can trust

In the current climate of dishonest and untrustworthy politicians and banks, choosing where to put your money is tricky business. And yet, here is an opportunity to put your money behind one of the fastest growing brands around. Not only that, but Will King is proven when it comes to building assets. After all, he knows how to manage money as he’s built a hugely successful business over the last 16 years. Politicians and banks can’t claim that one very easily. So, in terms of trust, he’s got that one nailed. That’s no mean feat; give the guy some credit.

It’s a win-win!

Will King is predicting that his business will double in the next year. For those of you that struggle with percentages, that’s +100%. So, to offer a +6% return on an investment means that he is going to be quids in. But so are the investors. The majority of investors out there would be hard pressed to find a better return than 6%. Especially one that comes with free King of Shaves products. The free product bit is so neat. For KoS, giving away free product is nothing, but the perceived value to the consumer is massive. Consumers love a bit of FREE.

willI saw King speak recently at the British Library and he was asked how he measured his marketing spend on advertising. The response quite simply was “Sales! We sell loads of product”. King knows that lack of awareness is their biggest barrier. He calls it their “biggest competitor”. So, King knows that if he could just spend more on advertising, then sales will follow. The problem is, he needs to the cash. So, what are his options?

Get your customers to pay for it!

Well why not? Most brands pay for their marketing through their premium prices. Taking this route allows King of Shaves to keep their prices competitive during these “tough times” while offering consumers a return in more ways than one. I also think that the transparency is going to be respected. They’re quite blatant in telling us that they’ll spend the money on marketing and advertising. And so, consumers get to choose as to whether they take part in this. You don’t get that choice with many other brands. You pay or go elsewhere.

Now, back to the lack of awareness issue. What better way round this than to get your name out there? Mmmm… now let’s think, how could he do this. Well, you could try and pull a big PR stunt that gets you into all the papers.

A PR stunt?

the-sun-230609The press coverage for the Shaving Bond has been pretty impressive. Oh sure, it helps that they’ve been spending a little cash on advertising, but nonetheless. To secure coverage in wide ranging publications like The Sun, The Times, Brand Republic, Management Today and Marketing Week makes for a great PR stunt. The value of the PR alone will make this exercise worth it, even if no-one signs up. But, the reach achieved with this coverage would probably surpass anything they could hope to pull off with any ad campaign. And that coverage was despite the other “King” that hit the news this week.

Consistency of message

I can’t help admire the PR aspect of this initiative. Having worked on PR stunt campaigns, I know how hard it can be to ensure that when your story gets out there, the journalists are saying the right thing, consistently. After all, you have no editorial control. But, for this campaign, the message that keeps coming through is “It’s not just a better way to shave, it’s a better way to save”. And that comes straight from King himself. Great brands are built on consistency, and these guys clearly know what they’re doing.

And finally…

What a great name!

This name is a marketer’s dream. It’s just so perfect! I won’t go on as Shaving Bond speaks for itself.


Branding is more than just a logo. Or is it?

As someone who has worked with brands for many years, I understand that branding is more than a logo. But, let’s pretend for a minute that we’ve forgotten what branding is and we think that the brand IS the logo. Where would that take us?

Consider these scenarios:

Nike launches a range of shoes and clothing with no visible branding. The same performance and technology will be present, as that is what Nike is all about. Right? I wonder how they would sell.


my-vuitton-is-a-fakeA girl buys a fake Louis Vuitton handbag because she just loves the brown beige print pattern. What is she buying? She’s certainly bought into the brand, but is not consuming the brand in the traditional sense. One could argue that she’s buying the logo, the pattern.


quarter_pounder_1xyz1The McDonalds venture in Japan where they have created a no-brand outlet. The Quarter Pounder stores in Tokyo have no golden arches and no clown and the menu is limited to one of two items; Quarter Pounder with Cheese or Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

menu_mcdimg_assist_custom This is interesting move by McDonalds created a bit of a buzz late last year when they launched. But, what is even more interesting is the fact that since its launch, the website has now been changed and is now adorned with the golden arches. They couldn’t resist getting their branding assets in there.

After all, the brand is the logo. Right?

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Branding; The Next Generation

A great article from Branding Strategy Insider last week cites a trend in branding toward the Holistic Brand Proposition:

“There’s every indication that branding will move … into an even more sophisticated realm — reflecting a brave new world where the consumer desperately needs something to believe in — and where brands very well might provide the answer. I call this realm the HSP — the Holistic Selling Proposition. HSP brands are those that not only anchor themselves in tradition but also adopt religious characteristics at the same time they leverage the concept of sensory branding as a holistic way of spreading the news. Each holistic brand has its own identity, one that is expressed in its every message, shape, symbol, ritual, and tradition — just as sports teams and religion do today.”

When I read this, the first brand that springs to mind in Guinness. Guinness has most definitely moved beyond the space occupied by “normal” brands and has taken up residence in the realm of holistic brands. With its iconic advertising, its association of black and beige and the fact that it pretty much owns St Patrick’s day all over the world. It has it all; the rituals, the symbols, the tradition, the legacy…

But, my question is this. If branding is to move into this new territory called holistic branding, on what basis?

Should all brands now be considering what their holistic brand assets might be? And what about new brands, are they really in a position to be citing rituals and tradition when they weren’t even around the year before?

And what if all brands got on this bandwagon? Would we be surrounded by big brand wannabes all punching above their weight?

Or, is this where branding comes full circle and where the authentic heart of the brand finds its true place, and the brand finds its purpose. After all, each brand needs to have a reason for being, as we do. And so, the beauty of this approach is that each and every brand will fill the space that’s right for it and express itself in the ways that are most appropriate. It is for everyone, and it is not dependent on how big you are but how authentic you are.

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