Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.
By: Daniel Kuperman & Sean Hynes
When an increasingly complex business environment collides with a decidedly unconventional political landscape, the only certainty is disruption. Although, to many, this bizarre interplay became most visible during Britain’s exit from the Eurozone and the ascendancy of Donald Trump, keen observers noted signs of change well in advance. The prevalence of social media helps facilitate the adoption of oxymorons like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ somehow becoming mainstays in today’s vernacular. These developments point to a deep uncertainty that pervades social interactions, political conversations, and the markets alike. For some brands, this new standard presents a unique opportunity to connect with a targeted audience.
As exemplified by the immigrant-centered Anheuser Busch ad featured during Super Bowl 50, the growing impact of increasing political divisiveness can be clearly seen. It is also no coincidence this commercial — and others like it — were aired during the single most-viewed television event of the 21st century.
Officially, Anheuser Busch played off the immigrant focus as a coincidence. Amidst the contentious debates that followed Mr. Trump’s proposals for deportation, it was quite the timely opportunity for this ad to air. Delving deeper into the elements of this industry leader’s client base and competition lends useful context to this marketing effort. It is no secret that behemoths like Anheuser Busch have been seeing market share erosion for years due to increasingly popular craft beer brands. A common criticism is that such a massive firm adapts too slowly to diverging consumer preferences, whereas its more nimble competitors were founded upon these new tastes. Perhaps this political gesture intended to rebuy the support of millennial consumers using an unapologetically current ad, costing AB as much as $15 million.
Not all companies choose to align with any specific political ideology or movement, but rather embrace a broader theme such as unity seeking widespread appeal. Coca Cola’s #AmericaIsBeautiful campaign aims to evoke a powerful, albeit safer, reaction among their customer base. The ad seems to make the case that despite our differences, we can bond together and enjoy the ubiquitous experience of a Coke. Compared to AB’s commercial, what Coke lacks in boldness it makes up for in mass appeal. For a country appearing to be growing apart on political and social fronts, this may be a wise approach.
The less audacious brands are perhaps in the best company, opting for a neutral stance instead of venturing into potentially hostile social arenas. Well-recognized (and more often than not, publicly traded) companies chose to respond in ways that would not commit them firmly to either support or opposition of Mr. Trump’s actions. A longer-term outlook reveals a danger of staying out of the conversation, however. While this more guarded course of action makes sense from a shareholder-centered perspective, if social tides turn and increase pressure on corporations to take a stand, those who stayed neutral will be first in the line of fire.
As the powers of social media continue to grow at a seemingly exponential rate, this pressure will continue to creep up on corporations. Public relations nightmares have gone from a minor inconvenience to becoming a major catastrophe overnight, with recent occurrences involving Pepsi and United Airlines coming to mind. Whether it was a company releasing the wrong politically charged ad or having employees’ actions reflect poorly on their employers as a whole, companies must be wary of the powers behind making the wrong move, especially with growing pressure to step out of the neutral zone and take a stand. For United, a single failure in PR crisis management resulted in a $250 million net loss in market value.
Individually, these examples are anecdotal at best; extrapolating on any single situation would be ill-advised. Deciphering a best practice may be impossible for industries as a whole, but by engaging with one’s unique audience, companies can aspire to connect on a more profound level with end users.
Storytelling is the oldest and most effective method humans have to pass along knowledge. It’s how we’ve developed cultural values and passed history from generation to generation. We are wired to remember it.
This is why learning how to tell your story is just as important as what it is you have to say. If your delivery is boring, cluttered, or disorganized people start to lose interest. Think of it as a dinner party. The people who take control of the conversation and demand the most attention are those who are the best at telling stories. They may not have the best stories at the table, but their ability to make what they’re saying interesting and entertaining is what wins over the crowd.
While there are endless outlets for your brand to tell it’s story, only one format has brought back the classic type of storytelling. Oral storytelling is an intimate and traditional relationship between the storyteller and audience. It’s been around for as long as we’ve used language to communicate. Although it is unlikely you will be speaking to your audience in close quarters, huddled tightly, it still offers an important lesson. The best way to experience the oral tradition of storytelling without interrupting your daily life is by listening to podcasts.
Podcasts have been around for a good while now, but as of recently there have emerged clear victors when it comes to storytelling. They offer lessons in effectively finding your voice, style, and feel to best reach your audience. They’re also great ways to spend long roadtrips or long days at the good ol’ 9-5. Here are some great podcasts to get you started:
Serial: If you managed to make it the past 6 months without hearing about Serial, then I’m genuinely impressed. After its release last October, Serial set a new presidence of what radio-journalism could be. It follows a reporter’s investigation of a murder from 1999. Without giving too much away, it’s a gripping series that reached the top of the charts.
Longform: A Q&A format podcast that focuses on the creative process of writers and journalists. It’s an in-depth and intimate look at a professional storyteller’s processes–both grounding and relieving (hint: everyone struggles sometimes). That being said, it’s always inspiring to hear people in love with their craft and career.
Radiolab: Taking a complex and philosophical subject matter and creating an interesting and understandable radio show is no easy task, but Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich do just that. Their series of podcasts use storytelling to explain or examine broad and sweeping subjects, such as time. Another great part of the show is the production value, which adds to their stories without being distracting.
The Truth: You can’t handle the truth! The Truth is an entertaining Fiction podcast utilizing the tagline “Movie for your ears.” Between improvised dialogue, interesting production, and captivating story lines, The Truth is definitely worth a listen. Also, I don’t apologize for the A Few Good Men reference. Worth it.
99% Invisible: One of my favorites, 99% Invisible hosted by Roman Mars focuses on art, design and architecture. Each episode examines a specific example of design, dicussing it in depth with professionals, experts, or those directly influenced by the matter at hand.
While this is just a short list, there are tons of great podcasts. Each has it’s own story, and they all tell it in an incredibly unique way. It might come in handy when telling your own story someday.
Whether you are establishing a new brand or taking a closer look at an existing brand, one key aspect to take into account is your audience. Furthermore, are you attracting the audience you want? Successful brands are able to identify and align with their audience in a way that is both natural and genuine.
The ability to identify your ideal audience allows you to establish a connection between your brand and your consumers. Having a clear understanding of the type of consumer you want gives you an advantage when it comes to the rest of your marketing efforts. Even if you’re a small business and don’t want to exclude a potential customer, identifying your target audience is crucial to branding.
Values: The values of your company should be apparent in your brand. Are you a company who values tradition and quality? Or do you value innovation and contemporary style? These types of questions should be able to be conveyed simply through your branding. That’s why luxury brands don’t waste resources by trying to reach out to every consumer. That’s also why their branding reflects the exclusive lifestyle they want to attract. They focus on being selective, high quality, and not available to the everyday consumer. By doing this they set themselves apart and attract the type of customer they want.
Social Media Engagement: What kind of audience does your brand attract on social media? Is it a younger crowd who enjoys entertaining and humorous content or is it an older crowd looking for engaging and informative content. Does it mirror the type of people you hope to attract as customers, or are you missing the mark? Social media is a great way for companies to see where they stand when it comes to branding. It gives both the consumer and the company an opportunity to give direct feedback to one another.
Be Original: It’s easy when developing a brand to look at what is working for other companies. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do for inspiration and ideas, it is a bad thing to do when you try and mimic another brand. To stand out from the crowd and attract the attention of people, you have to find your own image. Even though two car companies are fighting for the same customers, they tend to go about it from a different angle. They have their own story to tell, and that story is unique to them. Find your unique story and use it to build a brand that is all your own.
Don’t Over-do It: Trying too hard to appeal to your audience can come off as just that, forced. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t be something you’re not. Find the middle ground that keeps true to your company, but is also attractive to the audience you hope to gain. This middle ground will be the best opportunity for success.
Lastly, think about the long haul. Build a brand that can be adapted over time while staying relevant to your target audience. Building a brand for the now is setting it up for a complete overhaul. Keeping the long-term in mind will help you build a brand that can stand up to the test of time. You will always need to adapt because your audience won’t stay the same forever, but adapting is easier than changing.
Photo Credit: Roger Reuver
There are a lot of elements that go into the development of a brand. Your brand is more than a logo and a slogan. To create something that is memorable and recognizable, there are some other key concepts to keep in mind. One big part of developing a recognizable brand is color.
Color combinations, or using a single yet distinct color, can give your brand a clear and unique look to help it stay at the forefront of people’s minds. Almost every major brand has had a consistent color scheme that can be found throughout every part of their branding efforts. A good amount of research has been done to determine what effect colors can have on consumers. This is because colors have the ability to evoke emotion, which also gives it the power to influence public perception. Here is a brief look at the psychology behind colors, and some brands you may easily associate with each color.
Red is an energetic color that increases the heart rate and catches peoples attention. It projects a sense of urgency and excitement, but also comes off as youthful. Brands such as Target, Netflix, Pinterest, YouTube, and Coca-Cola have all used red to express the values of their brands.
Orange can be seen as aggressive, but it is mostly considered a friendly and cheerful color. The Home Depot, Amazon, and Payless are three great examples that use orange.
Yellow is another attention grabbing color that brands love to use to give off a sense of warmth and optimism. McDonald’s, Ikea, Best Buy, and Nikon are just a few that utilize yellow.
Green promotes health and growth and is associated with the environment which is why companies like Whole Foods, Starbucks, and John Deere use it in their logos.
Blue is a trustworthy color that has caught the attention of a lot of social media brands including Twitter and Facebook. It is also a strong, dependable color making it the color of choice for American Express, JPMorgan Chase, HP, and Ford.
Purple is seen as a creative color that is both imaginative and wise. It is also a calm color and can be found in the brands of Yahoo!, Taco Bell, and the Syfy channel.
Multiple Colors can be used to express diversity. Companies including Google, NBC, eBay, and Microsoft all use at least four colors in their logo designs.
Some companies chose not to use any color in their iconography. This can give a sense of balance and neutrality. Apple, CBS and The New York Times all have logos that lack color.
Color can improve brand recognition by up to 80%, especially when you stay consistent across all of your brand’s platforms. According to studies it takes 12 views before a consumer will begin to respond to your brand. While the color may not be the only thing you think about, it is definitely worth your consideration. Take the time to figure out what works best with your brand, helps you stand out, and is relevant to your business.
Photo Credit: Marco Bellucci
Don’t set out to build a brand, set out to build a community. Build a place in hearts and minds and memories. Build a movement. Build a collective of beliefs and standards and by that a collective, focused group of advocates.
That collective group will help you build the brand.
Even when it comes to persona or personal brands, from actors to athletes to world leaders, it isn’t about that one person. It’s about what that one person stands for in the hearts and minds of fans and colleagues and competitors. It’s about the ideals or values represented by that individual. It’s about backing up your talk with the walk. It’s about communication and follow-through.
What I’m saying in all of this is a “brand” is only as good as those who stand behind it. Not just the founders and c-levels but the community that gathers to help carry the flag and share in telling the story.
I have a great friend, Marty Vian, who has always said that “Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience.” I’ve named this Vian’s Axiom.
Now take that to heart for a moment and apply that to your customer’s experience. How much time to you spend extolling the benefits/virtues/outcomes of your product? How much time do you spend trying to cut through the noise and get potential customers to at least be interested or aware of your product?
If you’re like most companies this is the entire focus of your marketing and advertising effort.
Now take everything you know about your marketing and throw it away for the next fifteen minutes. Forget about all of the effort you’ve put into positioning, promotion and communications.
Make yourself a customer and do the following.
- Respond to your own marketing offers.
- Click on social media link, go to your website and pretend you know nothing about your offering
- Post a question to your company on Twitter, Facebook, Etc and see who’s listening
- Contact your customer support with an issue
- Call your customer support phone number and see what happens
- Call the main phone number of your company and see what happens
- Send in an email inquiry through the website
- Fill out a contact form on the website.
If you do these things the response/result you are experiencing is your brand: as Vian’s Axiom goes this what you’re actually delivering to your customers therefore it is your brand.
You probably know where to go from here, but make sure the response from these experiences matches your marketing…that’s real brand alignment.
Here are a few things we’ve worked with our clients to align, all the company names have been replaced with Green-Widget.
Do Not Reply
Don’t send emails out to anyone, under any circumstances, with a return email address that starts with “firstname.lastname@example.org” all this tells the customer is that you don’t really care about what they have to say and you are making them look for a way to respond if they need to.
If you have to do this because your IT department is making your marketing decisions then provide a contact email in the body of the message. Never, ever make your customer have to hunt for a way to contact you.
You’re Valuable, but not That Valuable
Do not send an automated reply to a customer service inquiry that says
**This is an Automated Message to confirm that we have received your inquiry.**
Thank you for contacting Green-widget Support.
As a valued customer of Green-widget, you will receive support within 1 business day
How’s that for mixed messaging.
Setting expectations is a good thing but try something like, “Thank you for contacting us. We want you to know we have received your request and are reviewing it now. It may take us up to a day to review it and respond. However, If your matter is urgent please contact us at 123-123-12345 or email@example.com and we’ll get on it immediately.
To contact us…aww we’re only kidding
Recently we encountered a firm whose website contact page had no email address or contact form. It simply listed Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube etc
We sent them a question via Twitter…no response.
We sent the same question to them via Facebook…no response.
We looked up their Chief Operations Officer on LinkedIn and send him an InMail…no response.
We looked up their VP of North American Sales on LinkedIn and sent him an InMail…no response.
That’s their brand you hear talking, very loudly.
If you want your customer to love you and what you’re doing listen to them, engage them, applaud them…but do not ignore them; what you say is marketing, what you do is brand.
Photo Credit: aldenjewell
Backstory on Photo
The Chevrolet Corvair was an entirely new approach to car design, fun, fuel efficient, inexpensive: a marketer’s dream. Then reality set in when Ralph Nader published Unsafe at any Speed. It crushed the Chevrolet Brand for years. Thus a great case for Vian’s Axiom.
Pepsi means something different to me than it does to you. I may love it. You may hate it. It may have nothing to do with taste. I may not even drink soda but still love Pepsi the brand. Pepsi can’t control that. They never will be able to. That’s ok.
What brands can control is their efforts to build emotional connections.
It’s the same reason why my wife thought I was somewhat cool and loveable and someone else thought I was a clumsy geek of a mess and said, “pass.” We can never truly control the reaction and perception of others but we can control the vibe we’re putting out and how we communicate our intentions. With brands, like with humans, a little self-awareness can go a long way.
Despite the accessibility to information buying decisions are still made primarily based on emotion. Social media has only amplified that. When we see stats like, 71% of consumers are more likely to purchase based on social media referrals it’s easy to see the logic behind that. However, we as consumers seek even a small portion of logic in order to feed a larger feeling of comfort and affirmation about the purchase about to be made. It makes it ok to buy.
When it comes down to side by side choice, often times people can’t really pinpoint the reason for preferring one brand over another. It’s the emotional connection that wins out over price. Generational demographics matter not because of age and technology skills but more because of familiarity. It’s science. Processing fluency relates to the way information and memory is accessed. When fluent processing is attributed to the past it can create feelings of familiarity. “Processing fluency may even be the foundation for intuition,” the sort of “gut feeling” that can often override factual decision making.
So when building a brand adept at creating emotional connections consider:
- Positioning your message based on what you want the customer to feel versus telling them your product or service is so good they’d be crazy not to buy it.
- Leading with your brand values instead of a rebuttal to the competitor landscape.
- Focused listening. Why stop at creating a realistic customer persona when you can survey the actual customer base?
Which brands do you feel are best at building emotional connections? Let us know in the comments.
Photo credit: Lecates via Creative Commons
Every day we’re subjected to broad brushed statements, taglines, and data geared toward making us take some sort of action. It’s marketing. It’s communication. It’s normal. But all too often a portion of the content we digest on a daily basis works to drive action by peddling fear.
Local news has been guilty of this as long as I can remember.
Severe weather alerts forever, roads are virtually impassable, you better hope you have sled dogs. You might as well just stay home and watch your local news all day for the latest so we can sell more ads.
I get it to an extent. Your local news is a business just the same as a company making hand soap. They are both working to make a profit, to stay open, to pay their people, to pursue the American Dream.
The problem with this, outside of creating a nation of people digging bomb shelters in their backyards is that fear is a short-term game. Fear may be the easiest emotion to tap into but it is only a short-term motivator. It’s a motivation based on instinctual reaction and survival not on choice.
People learn and adapt and evolve. It’s the same reason why the effectiveness of email marketing continues to decrease and why interruptive marketing tactics like animated banner ads and pop-ups rarely convert.
What if we built marketing based on desire instead of fear?
If fear helped model a more dedicated consumer fast food restaurants would no longer exist. Gyms would far exceed McDonald’s locations. Las Vegas would have no more secrets to keep.
Fear doesn’t embed habits. The solution does. The benefit does. The reward does. The attainment of the desire is what promotes dedication.
In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg tells the true story of Claude C. Hopkins, a successful advertising executive hired in the early 1900s to help market this new toothpaste called “Pepsodent.”
Despite widely known information on the decline of the health of Americans’ teeth, many other toothpaste pushers were going broke. That is until Hopkins focused Pepsodent’s positioning on the reward, the desire to have a clean feeling, pretty, film free teeth.
“Within a decade, Pepsodent was one of the top-selling goods in the world and remained America’s best-selling toothpaste for more than thirty years. Before Pepsodent appeared only 7 percent of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine chest.” – The Power of Habit
Why not to position around fear
It’s a punk move: it’s a quick fix in an age where consumer education and the value of social validation are high. Fear might get you a quick sale based on reaction but rarely will it translate into recurring revenue or repeat business. You can do better than fear. You can be more creative. We believe in you.
Don’t confuse fear and empathy: Sure, people are concerned about germs and they want a hand soap that will take care of that but you don’t have to lead with how sick they’re going to get if they don’t buy your hand soap or diagram the latest virus spreading across the country.
Empathizing with a concern or pain point in order to provide a solution isn’t the same as pushing an unbalanced dose of “do this or else.”
Brand Association – communicating from a fear platform doesn’t mean you’ll be cast in the role of the hero saving the day it just means you’re scaring the hell out of everyone.
This is a great opportunity to refer to your Brand Manifesto or Brand Guide as your compass, making sure you’re pointed in the right direction and speaking from the brand characteristics you documented for your business.
I bet you didn’t write “scary” as one of your brand characteristics so why tag your company with that feeling? It can lead to a negative stigma in the subconscious of the consumer if pursued regularly over the lifetime of the brand.
What to do instead
- Focus on the resolution – put your benefit upfront and the problem at the end of your copy. “Shout Out fresh scent hand soap softens hands and kills 99% of bad marketing causing germs.”
- Paint a brighter picture – instead of talking about the potential of post-apocalyptic fall out describe the utopia that comes with the solution you provide.
- Build an audience around social proof – back it up with positive feedback and a happy community of fans across social platforms.
Add this to the push for a more authentic, useful, inbound focused marketing and business development approach.
Questions, thoughts, ideas or examples? Stop on by the comments. Don’t be scared, we’re friendly.
In earlier posts, we’ve referred to storytelling as a key component of marketing, regardless of the distribution medium. Most companies know they have a story of some kind but it’s not always easy to tell it in clear concise terms.
We recently discovered this for ourselves in redoing our company About page. In asking everyone to write a short bio for the new page the general response was as if we have asked people to eat a bowl of boiled okra, and for those of you wondering, that’s not a good thing. To a person, everyone said they hated writing about themselves and didn’t know what to say, so we changed it up. We wrote everyone’s name on strips of paper and took turns drawing them out of a hat. So the net effect is that everyone got to tell someone else’s story. And you know what, it turned out pretty well. The profiles really captured the essence of each person and there was peace in the read more
Is It Hanks?
If you had to choose a public figure or celebrity who most represented the company you work for, who would it be? The team at Shout Out Studio once asked themselves this very same question.
As a new member of the team, I am still getting a feel for who we are and how we talk about ourselves as a company. During my first internal marketing meeting, I asked if there was a simple statement or question we could ask to make sure we’re staying true to our brand and consistent in our tone-of-voice. Someone suggested, “Who is our brand?” Immediately I heard them respond, “Tom Hanks.”
At first, I thought of it as foolish being of the same vein as middle school games such as M.A.S.H. and that fortune telling the game that uses a folded up piece of paper with numbers on the outside. However, the more they explained why Tom Hanks represented our brand, I found my perception of the exercise swaying towards relevancy.
Now, I wasn’t there for the original conversation, which I can only imagine consisted of intense debate about how Tom’s performance was better in Big than in A League of Their Own, or how the best movie of his career was hands down Saving Private Ryan rather than Forest Gump, but I know that they discerned two important characteristics of Mr. Hanks and the characters he plays; he is genuine and helpful.
For one reading this, these specific characteristics shouldn’t matter; rather it is the simplicity of the statement that is most important. The group narrowed it down to two specific characteristics, and like any good design, there is beauty in simplicity. Don’t get caught up in how silly the exercise feels or the subject matter. Focus on the simple direction and the insight it gives to the company’s brand identity.
Tom Hanks represents Shout Out Studio’s most valued characteristics of our brand voice, thus giving us one simple question to ask before we send a tweet, write a blog post or give advice to a client. Is it Hanks?
So, if you find yourself asking, how do we go about finding your company voice? You just might find this exercise will provide clarity and consistency to your brand and communications.
Photo credit: Howard Lake
Many companies hear branding or brand building and automatically associate that with high-cost services that lack concrete deliverables. It’s a fair connection. It happens. But it doesn’t have to. The truth is companies can start making a positive impact on their brand on their own, with a healthy dose of honesty….with a little brand self-awareness.
Often times branding work isn’t really building anything new, rather it’s helping companies cultivate something they already have. Building Brand Self-Awareness is just as important as building Brand Awareness. In fact, the latter relies on the former.
So, how might a company go about building Brand Self-Awareness? Glad you asked, er, glad I wrote that you asked. read more
Let me preface this post by saying that none of what we write here is to call anyone out or make anyone feel bad about their efforts online. If you think we don’t screw up you’re crazy.
The goal for us is to provide some guidance when we can so companies can get better and in turn, provide a better experience for their clients.
Thus the basis for this reminder.
A good friend of mine was telling me about a conversation he had the other day with the marketing manager at a respected business in his area. They were talking about everything online marketing and happened to stumbled over the topic of online reviews like Yelp and Google and so on. This friend of mine happened to ask how this business handled negative reviews online. The reply was to the effect that they ignore it because it doesn’t make sense to let people tell them how to run their business.
Here’s where the reminder comes in: read more
The jury of branding experts is out on the absolute necessity of a tagline in branding. Some argue that the majority of taglines are bad and basically worthless while others point to the tagline’s direct opportunity to communicate a brand’s purpose and difference right from the start.
A more reasonable statement would be that when conceived and created properly a really good tagline reinforces your brand’s message and helps connect an idea with your audience. Not having a tagline won’t sink your company. But why pass up the opportunity to communicate with the market? read more
Some things to think about when naming your business
What’s in a name? Well, it sure meant a lot to Romeo and Juliet but does it have to be a life or death decision for your business?
It should be a piece of your brand’s overall strategy and it shouldn’t be something that you take lightly. A name is often the first thing you decide on when starting your company and it’s almost always the first impression your potential clients are subjected to.
How will it stand up?
What is brand equity and what does it mean for your business?
“Products are created in the factory, brands are created in the mind.” – Walter Landor
A former CEO of McDonald’s once said, “If every asset we own, every building, every piece of equipment were destroyed in a terrible natural disaster, we would be able to borrow all the money to replace it very quickly because of the value of our brand… The brand is more valuable than the totality of all these assets.”
In addition to being Intern Extraordinaire by day for Shout Out Studio, I’m a full-time college student at night. Think Batman, only for the good of marketing instead of justice. As I sit in my Marketing class I often come across a few terms, models and theories that make sense to share. That brings us to Brand Equity.
A brand is a terrible thing to waste. It can also be a rewarding yet tiring thing to create. This total package of concrete and abstract things and emotions can seem daunting. Like trying to catch fog. Brand development contains a number of things to consider. The good news is that you can start to create a more clear picture of what your brand should be by asking yourself a few key questions. read more