with depression. Now if my math is correct, that adds up to nearly 55 million potentially great brand marketers. Why do I say that? Because brand marketing is about empathy. The ability to recognize that life is hard, Facebook profiles are curated and no one, not even Jay-Z and Beyoncé, are perfect, is the key to your success. People struggle, and the more you, the marketer, can relate to that struggle, the better at building a brand you’ll be.
So stop pretending your brand is spotless and life is flawless, neither is true. Neither is relatable. Your product is here to help repair a small part of our fragile psyches. I didn’t ask Santa for the Dee Brown Reebok Pump basketball shoes as a kid because I thought they would make me a better point guard. I had to have them because they looked cool, all of my friends wanted them, and in my head, that combination added up to girls liking me. Humans are a simple species, quit treating us like we’re Aristotle and Plato. That’s not the case. We’re thinking at the surface and managing our delicate egos, just like you.
Which is why your own struggles as a person equate to your super power as a marketer. You get it. You get me. You get us. You know the real reason people buy what they buy, and it’s not because that $5,000 Rolex watch is great at telling time.
When it comes to building a social media community, quality trumps quantity. Having thousands of Instagram followers only matters if they’re the right followers. People who believe in and are fanatical enough about your brand message to repeat it back to you and engage, much like a concert.
Choosing quality over quantity is the difference between an arena packed with die-hard fans of your music, stomping, clapping and singing your songs in unison, versus a lethargic, unenthusiastic crowd waiting for the next band to come on stage. You want the former.
A big gathering does you no good if those in attendance don’t enjoy your genre of music. The more like-minded and passionate your audience is about your brand, the stronger it’ll appear and feel to the outside world. Leading to more of the right fans, more of the right headlines and more of the right buzz.
Instead of spending your time trying to sell out Madison Square Garden for the sake of saying you did, turn your attention to packing that intimate club down the street with people who want to be there.
Another of my former bosses, and current mentor, once advised: “If it’s not on paper, it’s not real.” Meaning, if you don’t have a documented marketing plan, digital or otherwise, there’s nothing to talk about, stay out of my office. As frustrating as it was at the time, he spoke the truth and taught me a valuable lesson. Without a paper-trail, there’s nothing to keep a group of free-thinking, idea-chasing marketers on task. Without that documentation to anchor us, planning meetings routinely turned into brainstorms, pushing and pulling the team away from the original strategy and fracturing morale.
Can you build a high-rise without a blue-print? No. Can you build a brand without a formalized plan? No. Marketers are architects of their own kind. Instead of building houses, condos or commercial real estate, we construct brands. And, just like our hotel designing cousins, without a schematic to follow, we’re lost.
But staying on task is not the only reason for putting pen to paper. The exercise itself acts as another brand filter, sifting out those employees who follow through on their ideas and those who don’t. If you’re not willing to put a presentation together to outline your strategy, how can I trust that you’ll follow through in executing that strategy?
Without goals, there’s no way to measure progress. And yet, so many of today’s marketing departments are being overrun by “idea people.” Those staff meeting heroes who’ve turned their backs on long-term objectives, opting instead to chase the mythical “silver bullet” concept that solves all of the brand’s problems in one fell swoop. It doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts to brand development.
At best, that so-called antidote equates to the marketing version of a “one-hit wonder.” Mr. or Ms. Idea may have won the meeting, and perhaps the esteem of the high-ranking executive in the room, but the brand just lost. Without company-wide targets to measure against, ideas are nothing more than guesses.
So, what’s the solution? Discipline. Don’t listen to an idea until you hear an objective. Whenever an eager thought carrier bursts into your office with “the next big thing” on the tip of his or her tongue, stop them and ask:
“What are your objectives?”
That question will act as a filter, allowing “on-brand” ideas to pass through, while eliminating the dangerous “off-brand” variety. If the person can’t tell you what his or her intentions are, or perhaps offers an agenda incompatible with the company’s direction, stop them right there. Don’t even listen to the thought. Instead, remind them of your goals and ask that they ensure their concept accomplishes one or all of those aims before presenting again. Adding objectives to the planning process will keep both the team and brand on track.
You might be surprised to learn that a brand marketer’s greatest talent is patience. Not creativity or imagination. Yes, I know the “fun” part of marketing is advertising. Dreaming up the next great television campaign, writing clever Twitter copy and doodling print ad ideas onto napkins. But until you’ve taken the critical step of defining your positioning statement, what it is you’re building toward, your ideas are nothing more than guesses. Without that statement to guide you, you’re marketing with your eyes closed. It’s the brand version of pin the tail on the donkey. Sometimes you’ll hit, but more often than not, you won’t. Fun for you, but severely damaging to the brand. And yet the answer to avoiding such peril is simple: take a breath.
Don’t let your eagerness to promote a brand, take away from your ability to build one. Start from the beginning and don’t skip steps.
When the time comes to build a brand marketing plan, go home. It’s not happening at the office. Not with water cooler talk, meeting after meeting and email jail haunting you from 9am to 5pm each day. I learned this lesson (and countless others) while at Ubisoft. It was there that I enjoyed several firsts. I was in my first brand marketing role, as an associate brand manager. I’d been given my first brand to launch and manage on my own, a low-budget first-person-shooter game set in the wild west, by the name of Call of Juarez. And it was in that downtown San Francisco building, as an early twenty-something, where I first discovered the power of leaving the office.
The industry had low expectations for Call of Juarez, nonetheless it was my opportunity to prove I belonged and I wasn’t about to take it lightly. But I was running into the same issue many of us face at work. Distraction. There was too much happening around me to truly sit down and concentrate on building a launch plan. So I went home to formulate my strategy. That was step one.
Step two was setting the mood. Not only did I need freedom from interruption, I needed to immerse myself in the game’s story. So I hosted my own personal screening of old west movies. And while Billy the Kid did his thing in the background, I channeled my inner-sheriff to build one of the strongest marketing plans of my career. It worked.
The game went on to exceed expectations and I had discovered a solution to planning amid corporate chaos: go home.
If you’re a market leader, challenger brands are coming for. And when they do, don’t take the bait. It’s a trap. Public brand clashes are lose-lose situations for industry favorites and win-wins for the underdog. Starbucks has little to gain from a scuffle with a local coffee house. Amazon can’t win a war of words with a mom and pop book store. When you’re on top of the mountain, there’s only one way you can go. Down.
Brand battles like these play out much like they do in sports. When a traditional college football powerhouse like the University of Michigan beats a smaller school, they receive no credit for the victory. In the minds of fans and the media alike, the Wolverines were supposed to win, so what’s there to talk about? Nothing. But when the opposite happens and Michigan unexpectedly loses to one of those heavy underdogs, all hell breaks loose. As was the case in 2007, when number-five ranked Michigan, a 33-point favorite hosted small school, Appalachian State and lost.
The media’s reaction was relentless in its criticism of the slayed giant from Ann Arbor. Sports Illustrated called it “The greatest upset of them all,” while Pat Forde of ESPN.com claimed the game was “the most astonishing college football result I can remember.”
The reality is that Michigan, playing the role of a market leader, had nothing to gain and everything to lose that day. A win over an opponent perceived to be far inferior, would have generated little for the program, while the eventual loss changed the brand’s perception and future for the years following. On the other hand, the Mountaineers of Appalachian State, college football’s version of a challenger brand, reveled in its newfound attention, enjoying a 15% increase in applications to the school and a 26% jump in ticket sales for all sports between 2007 and 2008.
The underdog laid a trap and the favorite stepped in it. Don’t make the same mistake.
There’s so much for marketers to learn from the story of David and Goliath. Not least of which is the fact that David only exists in our world because he convinced his heavily favored adversary to take the fight in the first place. By doing so David gained instant recognition and fame that, thanks to his ultimate victory, has withstood the test of time. That’s the kind of longevity that every brand strives for. For our challenger, the reward far outweighed the risk. Lose the bout and go back to obscurity, win and suddenly everyone in the world would know David’s name.
But there’s more to be gained from picking a fight than simply brand awareness. Namely, share of voice, defined by Sprout Social as “the amount of the conversation your brand owns with your target audience compared to your competitors.”
In a typical boxing match, only two people matter, the two participants squaring off in the middle of the ring. When the bell sounds and the battle starts, all eyes are pointing in the same direction. By picking a fight, a challenger brand creates a natural focal point for consumers to center on. A focal point that cleverly removes the rest of the competition from the conversation, while putting a much larger spotlight on the upstart itself. In an instant, the once overlooked brand has been elevated to the market leader’s level, shut out the rest of the competition, soaked up any available share of voice, and given itself a chance to dethrone the champion. None of which happens, without first convincing the biggest, baddest brand in the bar to step outside.
They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. As a challenger brand, you lose 100% of the fights you don’t pick.
the amount of the conversation your brand owns with your target audience compared to your competitors.
You’re in a boxing ring, tucked away in one corner. In the opposing corner you see your opponent, a longtime, and heavily favored rival. This is the moment you’ve been training for. This is why you lifted all of those weights. For a chance to defeat your competition once and for all.
The bell sounds, the fight begins. You land a jab, they land a jab. You miss on a right hook, they land a left. And another. And another. You’re dazed, but still standing. Round one ends with you sporting a swollen eye and bruised ego. The crowd is on their side. Things look bleak.
Round two picks up where round one left off, you’re getting the worst of this fight. Until you see an opening. The body is vulnerable. You pounce. Left. Right. Right. Left. They’re not ready for it, and just as they lower their guard to protect the middle, exposing their head…WHAM… you land a fierce uppercut to the jaw. Your opponent’s legs are wobbly, eyes are glazing over, they’re ready to go down. With one more shot this fight will be finished and you’ll be the new champion. What do you do?
Before you answer, imagine your opponent is a competing brand. One that’s fallen on tough financial times, but still holds a significant amount of market share. They’re vulnerable. If you overinvest now, there’s a good chance you can take that market share away and end their reign. It’s kill or be killed time, what do you do? Do you get conservative and hope that they throw in the towel? Or do you attack by pouring money into an ad campaign that exposes their weaknesses for the world to see? I know what I would do.
Those who are comfortable in their own skin, are sexy. We want to be with them. Individuals who know and love themselves for who they are, are infectious. We want to be around them. Those unicorns among us who live their lives unapologetically, are role models. We want to be like them. And surprise-surprise, brands are no different.
When that upstart surf company rejects public opinion and instead carves out its own radical path, people swoon. People swoon because many strive to live their lives in a similar way, but don’t. It’s too scary. That same public opinion, along with the responsibility, fear and consequence that come with being an adult, get in the way. We all have a little anarchy inside of us, but it’s a brave few that actually let it out. And that’s why we’re attracted to the ones that do. They say what we won’t, they do what we wish we could, and they refuse to worry about what other people think, including their own fans. That’s why we love them. People follow leaders and leaders don’t follow anyone.
It’s often said that humans can smell insecurity, but that’s not all we can smell. Self-assurance produces an equally potent scent. The difference is, one turns us off, while the other turns us on.