A Few Thoughts on Keeping Your Brand Promise

Like most people, I’m deeply loyal to few brands.

I love coffee. And I love Starbucks. I used to enjoy the hipsterish experience of hanging in their coffeeshops with my laptop, staring intently at the monitor while I sipped my cappuccino. But now I find that experience somewhat inauthentic. I buy Starbucks at the supermarket, but I haven’t set foot in a store in years.

I also love technology that I can actually make work. So I also love things Apple. I’ve been a fan since the iPod—the notorious gateway drug that subsequently led me to the iPhone, MacBook, iPad and Apple TV+, all of which I use every day. But Apple messes up sometimes, and a relatively recent product departs from the Steve Jobs “insanely great” mantra. So I’ll double-check my enthusiasm when the next Apple miracle appears.

So, why the skepticism about those two enormous brands? For me, it’s about a brand keeping its word to its customers. I think a brand promise is a big thing.

I stopped visiting Starbucks for a simple (if somewhat curmudgeonly) reason. To me, the “quick-serve” pricing of their products is contrary to their brand promise of affordable value. Their larger sizes appear to be better values, but in fact, you’re getting a little more product while Starbucks is making much more profit.

And Apple? Not long ago I subscribed to Apple TV+, which gives me high-quality streaming and some nice conveniences. Saying, “Siri, I want to watch The Office” is certainly better than searching five streaming services. But to talk to Siri, first you have to find the remote, which is so small and thin it can hide anywhere—plus the small size and light weight make it a challenge to hold and use. It’s a sexy-looking little piece of equipment, but the engineers and designers at Apple appear to have thought appearance was more important than function.

For me, Starbucks pricing is inconsistent with making the world a better place one cup at a time. And though I look to Apple for “The Big Idea,” with the remote control the “Good Idea” might actually have been better.

Am I just being snarky, or is there a branding lesson here? I think the latter. There are much more dramatic stories about brands failing to keep their word, and the two above aren’t earth-shaking. But customers sense it when their experience is inconsistent with what a business says about itself. In my case, a couple of disconnects have changed my opinions of two brands. Make sure your company keeps its word to customers.


This Entrepreneur Is Also My Collaborator and Friend. You Should Really Know Maggi.

Over my long career, I’ve encountered a lot of great people—some talented, some personable, some intelligent. But seldom all those qualities and more in a single person. My partner, Maggi Beckstoffer, is that and much more.

Maggi and I have worked together for nearly 30 years. When she opened MBM Marketing as an advertising agency, she turned to me often for copywriting and creative direction. Now MBM is a branding strategy consultancy, and a couple of the qualities she demonstrated early on have carried over brilliantly to this different role.

As a marketing collaborator, she often questioned my creative work (that still happens). But our clients now see what I experienced then: she’s never superficial or pedantic. Her questions and comments are insightful and always get to the heart of the matter.

Maggi’s and my collaboration quickly grew into a valued relationship, and that’s another quality our clients appreciate—she cares deeply about people, and it’s obvious that she wants you (no matter who you are) to be as complete, fulfilled and successful as possible. She listens deeply, and has the ability not only to hear what you say, but to understand why you’re saying it.

She not only brings a lot to business—our community also benefits from her energies. She serves on boards, supports arts organizations and charities and has a Rolodex-busting collection of friends and business associates.

I’m certain (and glad) that Maggi will always be one of my best friends and valued colleagues. She’s quick to laugh, reads voraciously, loves to converse, and has thrown out the first pitch at a Squirrels game. She really is someone you should know.


High Achievement Doesn’t Have To Mean High Blood Pressure

As a partner in a small enterprise, I have the luxury of controlling how much and how hard I work. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do, and if inspired, I’ll work any hour of the day—just not every hour of the day.

And from that fortunate vantage point, I’ve found myself reflecting on the times in my career when I worked like a maniac—either by unhealthy choice or in an unhealthy environment. And the uncomfortable truth is that none of those long hours and Type-A behavior had a positive impact on where I am in my career today.

I hope you’ll consider your own circumstances and take positive steps for your own mental and physical health. The reasons are simple—you’ll feel less stress, you’ll reduce your risk of burnout and enjoy a greater sense of well-being. And guess what? Studies show balance is not only good for you—it’s good for your company. Here’s a link to a great first step …

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5244-improve-work-life-balance-today.html

I won’t repeat everything from this insightful article in “Business News Daily,” but my paraphrasing of some of their tips will certainly get you thinking.

  1. Find a job that you love
  2. Prioritize your health
  3. Don’t be afraid to unplug
  4. Use ALL of your vacation time
  5. Set boundaries and work hours.
  6. Set goals and priorities (and stick to them)

I realize those steps are not an easy assignment, so don’t take them all on at once. But everyone reading this deserves a life with more fun. At the very least, give yourself permission to have more fun and you’ll immediately be better off physically and emotionally.


You Can Make the Most of the Disappearing Art of Listening

Over my career, I’ve encountered many people whose m.o. seems to be “talking and waiting to talk.” And sadly, that’s a behavior that’s often attached to people deemed “experts”.

Advertising and marketing are full of people whose success seems to point to how forcefully they express themselves and impose their opinions on others. I don’t think that applies to you (or you’d stop reading right now), and it certainly doesn’t apply to me.

Since I don’t want to be “that person,” I’ve done some studying about the disappearing art of listening. I’ve really worked on two aspects of the skill, and I hope they resonate for you, too—

People deeply want to be understood and supported. Really being listened to satisfies that very basic human need. It’s an empathic experience—the listener honors the speaker.

Secondly, listening is not just passive absorption of what the other is saying. A good listener engages with the speakers’ ideas and energy, and the speaker comes away with a feeling of support and clarified thinking.

These skills are valuable in any contact with a client or customer, and they’re equally valuable in your own organization. If you become known as a constructive, supportive listener, your teammates will turn to you more often and value what you give them.

One of the reasons I was happy to partner with Maggi Beckstoffer is because listening is right at the heart of the MBM Marketing business model. Maggi is not only a skillful listener herself, but with the Smart Branding™ Process, every voice in an organization is heard. MBM doesn’t offer strategic recommendations until we have a top-to-bottom view and understanding of the organization. So, here’s my recommendation—

One of the most thought-provoking articles I’ve ever read on listening skills is from the Harvard Business Review at this link— https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do.

I recommend you read it and bookmark it—listening skills can contribute to anyone’s success.


Hearing from every voice in an organization can be more useful than rushing to create a new brand

At MBM Marketing, we talk a lot about “The Rebranding Myth”—the notion that a stagnant  company can be magically renewed with brand aesthetics. A new logo, web site and slogan are  all you need, right? Rarely is that the case. 

Aesthetics have their place, but our Smart Branding Process™ begins by focusing on thorough investigation and solid data. The process can reveal gaps in an organization that need to be repaired, or hidden strengths that can be capitalized on for greater sales and profitability. Sometimes leaders, managers and line staff aren’t aligned on the real meaning of the brand and its promises. Internal issues like that won’t be solved by slapping on a fresh coat of paint.

For example, we completed a brand evaluation project last year that included far-reaching strategic recommendations, all of which could be accomplished with the existing brand. No, we weren’t paid for doing nothing. Our data gathering and conclusions were so refined and thorough that the client fully understood what they needed to do, and embraced the internal strategic steps we recommended. And we put them a full year ahead of their strategic plan.

The organization consisted of six large groups of cohorts, all of whom were invited to share their thoughts on the branding of the organization. The Smart Branding Process begins at the top, where leaders are interviewed individually to gather their thoughts and opinions. 

We followed up with interviews and very similar questions with the other five groups. Since we couldn’t speak to everyone individually, we sent electronic surveys to everyone who hadn’t been interviewed—so every voice was heard in person or by survey.

As we pored over the resulting data, one thing was abundantly clear—there was nearly universal loyalty and even affection for the organization itself. That’s a nice place to start. 

A very vocal (and vastly outnumbered) portion of one group of cohorts made it clear they disliked the current brand and wanted a new direction. That aside, the vast majority of interview and survey responses clearly pointed to internal changes that were needed, none of which required changing the brand. But the brand had been largely ignored, and needed attention like this ...

  • Reallyowning the brand and slogan—embracing the brand and pointing to it consistently from every level of the organization.
  • Using the slogan much more visibly and especially purposefully.  
  • Making it a human, living thing. Bringing it to life with stories about the product.
  • Developing a much more robust presence on social media (an important medium for prospects) with video and human interest stories.

The steps for moving forward were clear and relatively easy. Of course, projects can point to much bigger challenges than this one did. In the case above, there was remarkable alignment on the meaning of the brand from the top to the bottom of the organization. 

But when we find serious misalignment and disagreement on what the brand promises, our strategic recommendations can point to much harder work ahead. But those recommendations will help the client solve their internal problems, and realign the brand so it’s embraced at all levels of the organization.

 


Tips for Young Entrepreneurships— Review Your Website Once a Month

You have a great business idea. You have capital to move it forward. And you’ve begun to surround yourself with people who share your vision. An exciting place to be, for sure.

But, caught up in ambition and fueled by adrenaline, it’s all too easy to charge ahead and start to lose sight of why you’ve started your business. One way to slow down a bit and make sure you and your colleagues are focused is to take a regular look at your web site. The Internet has made it really easy to pass along information, but the information must be meaningful to customers and prospects. Your web site is your public persona, and it’s essential to review it and then give your business serious and regular consideration. Consider these three ideas—

Your mission, vision and purpose: are you speaking to you?

Solid, well-defined MVPs are a critical step in getting started, and are often an entrepreneur’s first challenge. That’s good, and it’s time well spent. And it’s appropriate to be proud of those definitions. But if mission, vision and purpose are the focal point of your web site you’re missing an opportunity to speak directly to potential customers in a way that’s meaningful to them. You’re really just describing you. Here’s what you should do instead …

Clearly describe the customer problem you intend to solve.

It’s been said in hundreds of different ways by great marketing minds, but if your background isn’t marketing, it may not be obvious. Advertising giant David Ogilvy said it succinctly decades ago. “Consumers do not buy products. They buy product benefits.” That’s also accurate if your customer is a business. Your customers want a solution to their problem, relief from a pain in their life, making today more comfortable, less expensive and more satisfying than yesterday.

ASK customers what they think of you. And make it easy for them.

Okay, so business is rolling in and the future looks good. But don’t forget who deserves the thanks. Every web site has a “Contact Us” link, but you’ll have better results if you’re active instead of passive in looking for feedback. “Have something to say? We want to hear it!” is the right kind of approach. Bill Gates, another marketing genius said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

And when you get feedback, make absolutely sure it will make a difference. Expert Shep Hyken rightly says, “Customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy to be embraced by everyone in an organization.”

All of these tips really boil down to one simple idea—your customer is your business. Setting aside time to think about how your business and your customer intersect is essential, and your web site is a great place to start.


The Great Ideas Your Company Needs May Be All Around You

You can make your company stronger just by calling on the talent and ideas all around you. That probably sounds obvious, but it doesn’t often happen. So when you hire MBM and begin our Smart Branding™ Process we’ll start with careful, purposeful listening. You and other senior leaders will start the process with our inquiry into your goals for the company. But then we do what you and your staff really don’t have time for—we talk with every level of the company, from management and administration to frontline staff. By approaching these interviews in the context of branding, we hear thoughtful, impactful insights that probably aren’t working their way up to you—including gaps you need to close and strengths you’re not taking advantage of.

Our reasoning is simple. A 2016 Medallia Institute survey showed that 56% of frontline employees had suggestions for improving company practices, and 43% said their insights could reduce company costs. But a third of the respondents said they weren’t surveyed often enough or asked the right questions.

In the course of compiling all of the data we gather, we also uncover the places where your organization is not aligned. Until every department and every person understands and embraces what your brand stands for (and what your customers expect!), you’re missing opportunities for growth—so you’ll be given actionable strategies to realign your organization.


Closing the Knowledge Gap Is at the Heart of MBM's Smart Branding™ Process

Over 30 years ago, research conducted by Sidney Yoshida showed that the C-Suite is often woefully out of touch with the real issues affecting their business. Sadly, that’s still the case, decades later. A recent Business Value Study conducted by IBM and reported by ForbesWomen’s senior contributor Kathy Caprino, showed statistics like these …

Despite the upheavals of this unprecedented pandemic, 74% of executives believe they’re helping employees learn new skills. But only 38% of those employees believe the same. That is a scary disconnect, and future success requires it be addressed.

Addressing it isn't really difficult, either. The MBM Smart Branding Process makes sure that every voice is heard and the right questions are being asked. We talk with all levels of an organization—always in the context of the company’s brand. That helps employees feel comfortable opening up and being 100% candid.

Once we’ve gathered data from the entire organization, MBM Marketing distills that input into actionable strategic recommendations for company leadership. Armed with those, a business can realign itself around its brand and begin delivering 100% on its brand promise.


Take a Deep Breath and Consider How the Pandemic Has Affected Your Customer Relationships

As you’re reading this, millions of people are examining what brands they’ll continue to bring into their homes and lives. And they’re reassessing whether they trust those brands. Even customers with secure jobs and disposable income are scared, angry and uncertain about the future.

It’s a great time to take a step back, evaluate how much your company (and your customer) have already changed, and what you want your company and brand to represent as we all move slowly and painfully toward what the “next reality” will look like.

Your brand is the expectations your customers carry, based on the promises you’ve made and they’ve come to expect. So, what are they expecting? Are there promises you can no longer keep? And do your customer-facing employees still honor who you are and reassure customers that they can continue coming to you?

Consider taking these steps …

  • Think about how your delivery methods during the pandemic are aligned with how your customers are accustomed to interacting with your brand.
  • With customers increasingly shopping online, test and measure how their experiences compare with the in-person experience they’re used to.
  • If your customer service people will continue to work from home, make sure they have the tools and support they need to support your brand as expected.
  • Be sure that contractors you’ve outsourced to understand and align with your brand.

By asking those questions and taking those steps, your organization will have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses – and you’ll be poised to act on them effectively. And that can give you solid footing to accelerate your success when the economy recovers.


That Pandemic Feeling You Can’t Quite Figure Out?

Covid-19 has impacted all of us, with symptoms ranging from mere annoyance to depression. Sadly, the practice of psychotherapy is booming as we all try to cope with this sudden, convulsive change in our daily lives that affects us personally and professionally. I’m a collaborator, and one of the things I love about business is working closely with people. Eight months without sitting across the table from my colleagues is unsettling to say the least.

Much of the attached article from “The Harvard Business Review” focuses on personal emotional impact, but his pandemic’s effects insinuate their way into our professional lives as well. The article is certainly worth reading, followed by some reflection on how you’re interacting with other people in your organization.  Give it a read -- https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief


Five Steps for Running a Good Videoconference. Yes, There Is Such a Thing

Almost all of us hate meetings, and they’ve only gotten worse since we’ve all gone remote. Meet.google.com and Zoom have become the new, imperfect norm, and too few of us have bothered to adapt to the medium and make conferences more effective.

We have a very strong position about wasting time at MBM Marketing – our own and our clients’. That takes clear, concise communication, professionalism, and sticking to one of our corporate maxims – everyone who needs to know, does.

So with our current dependence on online meetings, we agreed upon five “Virtual Meeting Musts.” I hope they’ll be of value to you personally. And you may want to send a copy to that person whose meetings always drive you up the wall – just a thought.

Be a gracious host. First think about the people in the “room.” Introduce yourself and briefly state the goal of the meeting. If some are new to the group, introduce them, and ask the other participants by name for their names and responsibilities. If someone will have the floor for much of the meeting, say whom and why.

Then lead, for God’s sake. Be sure to state your objective, of course. And this may sound a little like Parliamentary Procedure, but your meeting will be doomed if people talk over one another. Require that people mute themselves unless recognized, and agree upon some signal like a raised hand or a ‘chat’ note that they have something to say.

Agenda before; results after. Don’t you hate walking into a meeting “cold”? You’re not alone, so send out an agenda a day or two in advance, and a quick summary of decisions and results the day after.

Accommodate late arrivers. Yeah, it’s a pain when people aren’t on time – but it’s gonna happen. So be prepared to start some small talk, and let people know that the meeting doesn’t officially start until everyone’s present.

Surprise everyone – finish early. One way to measure your success with the steps above is to be crisp, purposeful and decisive – and to conclude the meeting early. Or, if nothing else, on time. There’s a special corner in hell for meeting moderators who make people late for the next meeting.

Really good leaders knew most of those tips in the old days when we all sat in one room. If that’s you, congratulations. But remember how different an online meeting is from face-to-face and be prepared to make yours successful.


Your Organization May Be Headed Toward an Iceberg

In 1989, consultant Sidney Yoshida presented a study known as the “Iceberg of Ignorance.” His work revealed that at Japanese automaker Calsonic, frontline workers knew about 100% of the problems facing the company. Above the frontline, supervisors knew about 74% of the issues, middle managers knew about 9%. And senior managers knew about only 4% of the problems in their own organization.

MBM Marketing’s Brand Alignment and Brand Assessment Processes continually confirm the Iceberg thesis: A lot of really important information never makes it to the top. And when tiers and cohorts in an organization aren’t aligned, the effects can be awful. Consider this imaginary example of mis-aligned objectives …

C Suite. We make the best athletic apparel and shoes in the world.

Manufacturing. This new sole material is probably good enough, and will really help our budget.

Sales. Top line goods are great, but we really need a $99 shoe to fit peak demand.

Customer service. Customers don’t understand our brand anymore, and 30% of what we sell is coming back.

That is an organization headed for an iceberg.

If you’re a CEO, don’t take the Iceberg of Ignorance personally. We’re sure you WANT to know everything about your organization and your people, but you have a full plate already. That’s why the information uncovered by an independent consultant can be so valuable. We’ll certainly rely on you during the process, but you and your people don’t have to take it on themselves.

MBM’s process is new, unique and unlike any other in restoring brand and organizational integrity. We’d love to tell you more. Just click on the Get Started link below.


Your Employees. Are They Still Aligned With You and Your Brand?

As hard as you and your leadership may have tried, the pandemic and the stresses of working remotely have put a strain on many companies. You and your senior team can feel confident about the future, but your employees don’t know what you know. At least not until you communicate with them.

To keep everyone aligned and moving in the same direction, there are three key things you need to communicate …

  1. Communicate what’s the Same
  2. Communicate what’s Different
  3. Make your communications Stand Out

Build the confidence of your employees in the future of your organization, and the important role they play. To do this, you must...

  1. Tell them what they will continue to do that delivers on your company’s brand promise. Reminding them about the great things they’ve done (and will continue to do) to help grow the company will help them lean into the changes the future may bring. Make them feel a sense of ownership. Only then should you…
  2. Tell them about any processes and procedures that may be changing as you move forward. Give them time and opportunity to understand these changes, ask questions, and make suggestions to make them more effective. There’s already been significant upheaval in how they’re performing their jobs, and it’s critical that you get this right. Then you can…
  3. Share with your team how your company will continue to be different, and better, than your competition. This is team building at its very best as you bring your employees into your vision of the future, motivate them and encourage their loyalty.

Now that your employees are on board, consider also communicating with your vendors. Follow the same steps as with your employees. With the country’s supply chain and manufacturing capabilities so disrupted, vendors you rely on also need to know where your company and your leadership stand.

This type of communication is essential – and it needn’t be difficult. If need be, talk with your advertising agency and get their help. You would never ignore your customers. So don’t ignore all the people who help keep your brand promises.


Triage for Your Ailing Brand

Recent events have done all kinds of damage to brands – much of it largely invisible. Businesses have been turned on their heads. Not only are most employees working remotely, many companies have lost suppliers, given up face-to-face contact, and left customers wondering whether the brand promises they used to trust are still being kept.

We believe that a brand is much more than your web site, slogan or logo. Those are the “face” of your company, but the promise of a brand goes much deeper – and it represents your company as a whole. That’s why we look at your culture, operations and processes, too – not just the areas you’d typically associate with “traditional branding.”

After all, if your teams in Manufacturing, Sales and Customer Service are all operating on different assumptions about your brand, how can you expect your customer to understand and value your product consistently? Internal disconnects like that are the gaps we’ll uncover for you, and we’ll also find ways to capitalize more on your strengths. We’ll present your senior team with both gaps and strengths, along with actionable strategic recommendations that will bring your brand back into alignment.

If you’re thinking, “Well, my HR people can do all of this,” we respectfully disagree. Here’s why 

  • An outside source can gather useful feedback because your people will be more comfortable speaking with someone who doesn’t have access to their personnel file. This is a confidential “brand” discussion, not a morale survey.
  • You and your reports already have plenty on your plates, and don’t need to be embroiled in all this detail. But we’ll make sure you’re informed all along the way.
  • We don’t doubt that you know your company well, but you may know little of what your customer-facing employees think. Skeptical? A well-known study published in Inc. reported that 100% of front-line people knew the company’s challenges – but only 4% of those challenges worked their way up to the C Suite.

We know that you and your team have put a lot of time, effort and money into making your company successful. You’re unique, and the last thing you need is a cookie-cutter solution. That’s why we begin with you and your leadership team, agreeing upon goals, learning about you and your competitors and designing a brand exploration that is totally yours. 

Elsewhere on this web site, you can find a more detailed explanation of how we go about realigning your brand. But a better way to learn is with a one-to-one conversation. We listen hard and talk straight, so don’t hesitate to get the conversation started. Just click "Home" above, and then click "Get Started."

 


Can we finally commit “committed”?

Many years in advertising and branding have left me just a bit cynical (big surprise?). I’m usually a really cheerful positive guy, but when I see toothless language used to describe successful businesses and their products it’s just, well, sad. And avoidable.

Take “committed” for example, or its brother, “commitment.” Commitment is a great human attribute, but is it really worth saying in a slogan? “We’re committed to making better paperclips.” As a consumer, can’t I assume that particular commitment is pretty obvious? That’s why the company is in business, right? “Making better paperclips” is three words instead of six, it starts with a nice assertive verb and it’s a declaration of the quality of the product.

There’s the “working” construct, too. “Working to help our customers …” and “Working together to create …” You’ll find those in content and copy all the time and that’s bad enough. But in a slogan or tagline “working” is just air – I know you’re working. Starting those lines with “helping” or “creating” is much more powerful. 

One more example and I’ll get off the stump. Too many companies describe themselves as “Leaders” or “Global Leaders.” I expect the C-Suite and the board feel all proud about being leaders, but I’d assert that leadership means little to the consumer. Especially these days, when every company and product in the world are just a few clicks away. Being the biggest isn’t necessarily a benefit, either. Remember how famous Avis got for being #2? (Great story if you’re too young to remember.)

Anyone who’s ever done a copy test knows that individual words have power. When our team evaluates a brand and its promise, we don't just look at the words and images that promote the brand. We gather data from every level of an organization—especially people who face the customer. And we even talk with vendors, board members and other stakeholders. Only by examining a company and its brand from top to bottom can we distill the essence of a brand’s promise and present powerful recommendations. And that's why MBM's proprietary branding process works.

What Can I Say?

“But what can I say?”

Supporting the people in your organization isn’t easy even when things are going well. And now you’re living with events going very not-well. By now, you’ve gone through the process of asking employees to work from home. Or tougher yet, you may have let people go or put them on furlough. Painful things for a boss to do and say.

So, what’s left for you to say? Here and during the coming weeks we’ll offer executives some possibilities. Simple one-at-a-time suggestions for you. If these ideas feel like a good fit, feel free to use them (add your own personal thoughts or just copy and paste if you like). We’ll offer more as you work through the weeks and months of struggling to keep your business moving.

You’re concerned about your employees (and so are we). And we also hope these simple messages offer you some personal support. So, first of all, consider this …

“You’re stuck at home, in isolation with your family, limiting your trips outside the house and maintaining safe distance when you do. Congratulations. You’re part of the cure. It feels strange, but you’re doing exactly what needs to be done. You’re in partnership with millions of other Americans who are taking this health threat seriously. I thank you, and the country thanks you. Your continued health also preserves the health of others. Keep it up! And look forward to lots of hugs on the other side of this.”

Stay well. This isn’t forever. And we’d love to hear your thoughts if you like. Just share them here.

Kurt