ARE YOU DILUTING YOUR PROFITABILITY?
If you’ve been here for any length of time, you know that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I are big fans of the F-word.
Focus, focus, focus.
A relentless consistency and focus is the profit goblin of sharp minds.
Knowing that your brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business can help drive a focused entrepreneur to big profitability.
But what happens when you split your brand focus?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF DOING TWO THINGS REALLY WELL?
When you have two ways and two core customers?
Well, ain’t that a conundrum.
Ultimately, it depends upon how you handle it.
Here in town, there’s a photo gallery that specializes in big, dramatic landscapes.
Their work is stunning.
But mixed in with their landscape photography are some other stunning photos. These photos are of horses.
You could argue that they’re also landscape photos, as the horses are usually shot in the context of the landscape.
BUT YOU’D BE WRONG
Moreover, the photographers won’t argue that.
They know that the horse photography is off-brand.
Fortunately, it’s on-fleek.
OK, yes, I said that. And I’m sorry. So poke me with eyebrow tweezers.
Anyway, the horse photos are off-brand and still stunning. So, it works.
While talking to one of the gallery owners, he said that in a perfect world, he’d have a second gallery up the street that specialized exclusively in the horse photography.
HE GETS HIS BRAND
He understands the one way the core customer should feel about his work.
And he knows that the horse images are speaking to a different core customer and engendering a different feeling.
Maybe someday, he’ll have that second gallery.
In the meantime, it doesn’t appear to be hurting his business.
He is focused and consistent enough.
He’s not the Grace L. Ferguson Airline & Storm Door Company. (Thank you, Bob Newhart.)
The brand survives the digression.
MANY BRANDS WOULD NOT SURVIVE
We recently did some work for a solopreneur who was rebranding her physical therapy business.
We’ll call her Margie Smith. That’s nothing like her real name.
Margie’s business was slow. To make ends meet while she built that business, she was doing some social media work on the side.
Ironically, the name of the physical therapy business was capable of being applied to the social media business.
So she did the smart thing.
She turned her business into the Margie Smith Physical Therapy Clinic & Social Media Agency.
No. No it’s not. And it’s not what she did.
She started a separate business using the same name, focusing on social media. The physical therapy business remains separate and distinct.
No brand would survive such a split focus.
Recently, while visiting a winery in (of all places) Iowa, we were talking with the winemaker and tasting his wines--which were quite good.
But in the tasting room, he two different wine lists.
One was for his estate label. These were his tried and true wines. This brand was established and very formal. This was the wine upon which he had built his name.
The other label was for his experimental wines. These were the wines that he wasn’t sure he was going to keep around. But he found them good enough and interesting enough to put on the market.
SOME OF THEM WERE ARGUABLY STUNT WINES
Really, what else would you call a red-hot, spice-infused wine that can remain tasty while stripping the varnish off your throat?
It was impressive.
I salute anyone for trying something so ballsy.
And the wine sells--especially in bars favored by motorcycle riders, apparently. That’s one of the places where these wines are favored--because the brand name evokes power and energy and romance.
It seems unlikely that the hot pepper wine would ever be moved over to the estate brand.
If it did end up there, what would it do to the otherwise respectable, heritage brand he’s been building?
It would help undermine that brand.
THE ESTATE BRAND WOULD LOSE CREDIBILITY
And he knows that.
So instead of splitting the focus of his product line, he merely has two different brands, each a two different focus.
Over here is the stately brand.
And over there is the wild child brand.
And not to pat ourselves on the back here at Slow Burn, but one of the million-dollar brands we helped build came as the result of relentless focus.
The business came to us wanting to advertise a particular service as part of their existing brand.
We said, “You could do that. But it’s a distinct specialty. And you’re going up against a national specialist brand in the category. So why not split it off and build a brand for that specialty?”
THEY DID. IT WORKED.
So, what about your business?
Do you do many things in your category?
Are you crushing it in those many things?
Or would it be smarter to take one of those things, split it off into a new category, and become the category’s 600-pound gorilla?
Understand, we’re not saying you should do it.
But it’s worth some introspection.
Because it could be that you’re doing seven things adequately, and one thing really well--and that one thing could be the ticket to building a monster brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
BECAUSE YOU KNOW ANALYTICS, ARE YOU A KNOW-IT-ALL?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I traverse the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we have been doing something interesting.
We've been staying at vineyards and wineries that welcome people in recreational vehicles to stay overnight.
It's a welcome alternative to sleeping in Walmart parking lots (which is a whole subculture unto itself), or in roadside rest areas.
Granted, it's an unwritten rule that one makes a purchase from the host winery.
But unless you go crazy, it's definitely less expensive than a pay-to-stay campground, though one misses the joys of a fleet of motorhomes dispensing hordes of screaming children into the grounds.
We are willing to suffer through.
AT ONE WINERY, WE MET A PROPRIETOR WHO STARTED TALKING ADVERTISING
He found out what Honey and I do for a living, and for some reason he decided he had to start peeing all over radio.
He said, "I keep getting all these radio guys coming in here and telling me I need to be on radio.
"Why would I want to be on radio?
"You can't tell if radio's working! You can't track it!
"I have an online ad, I can look at the analytics! I can see who got it and the demographic breakdown. I can see everything about it!"
Notice, he did not say anything about being able to tell if anyone bought anything.
And if you know anything about moi?
YOU KNOW YOU DON'T WANT TO BE DISSING RADIO TO ME
With a lifetime as a lover of radio, and more than a decade in radio advertising with a long list of awards and big ROI performances, I will defend radio.
But I did not reveal any of those things to this gentlemen who was letting us stay in his vineyard.
Instead, I said, "There are two really easy ways to track radio.
"One, put a flag in the commercial. We have an eye doctor client in New Hampshire whose tagline is, 'Straight talk, better vision.' People love it. They're constantly coming into his office and repeating it to him. He doubled his new patient base in 10 months.
"So, if you can come up with a memorable and desirable flag, that's one way.
"The other way is with an irresistible offer that you're not running anywhere else. If people come in asking for the offer or if they're going online to buy it, that's a way to track it."
AND I STOPPED THERE
One reason is I didn't want to seem impertinent or come off as a know-it-all.
And the other reason is I could see his face.
He was glazing over.
He didn't want to hear it.
He had no interest in being disabused of his preconceived notions about the efficacy of radio advertising and one's ability to track it.
Too bad, really. I could have given him many more ways to effectively track radio.
I could have talked about how doing radio well is to be building a local celebrity brand.
I could have told him stories about extraordinary ROI--as high as 2,000% using the offer irresistible-offer tactic mentioned earlier.
But he was obviously the bean counter in charge.
HIS ABILITY TO COUNT BEANS IS SUPREME!
The problem is, people are not beans.
People are soft, squishy creatures with emotional engines that drive the decision making process.
And looking around his winery, it is plainly evident that he knows everything he needs to know about his business.
His branding is a mess.
He has a logo that lacks distinction. It doesn't make the name prominent in any any way, and happens to encourage the misspelling of the brand name. (Using traditional icons to represent homonyms will do that. The city of Elkhart, Indiana uses an icon of an elk head inside of a heart shape. You see that, and your brain says, "Elkheart.")
HIS WINERY VEHICLES HAVE BEEN WRAPPED
Fundamentally, that is a good plan.
But fundamentally, whoever is responsible for the wrap lacks any fundamental sense of focused design.
On the wraps, the indistinguishable logo with the hard-to-find name is practically invisible on the design.
The design is dominated by a giant face with a lurid grin.
There is a mish-mash of design elements that don't say anything about the winery, but create a jumbled mass of colors and distractions.
The only readable words are a line in giant letters that says something like, "Ya gotta try it!"
I'll bet the wrap shop designed it for free. And I'm sure that, as a beancounter, he thinks he got great value because he didn't need to hire an art director.
HE KNOWS ALL THE BEANS SO HE KNOWS ALL THE ANGLES, RIGHT?
He would benefit greatly from spending some money on someone with a proven track record who can speak to focused messages and ROI.
His branding unfocused and messy.
And he has all the answers because he hasn't bothered to ask any of the right questions to someone who knows.
He's a self-informed know-it-all.
It's very frustrating to witness.
That said, he's committed.
He's doing something that a lot of folks will never do.
HE HAS COMMITTED 100% TO HIS IMPERFECT BRANDING
He is conveying it to the public in a way that he feels makes sense.
He might be wrong about details. His ignorance is his bliss.
And he's not afraid to put the brand out into the world and push it forward.
You wouldn't believe how many people we've worked with who lack the courage to make the branding happen.
We've literally rebranded a business that was desperately in need of a makeover--only for the client to kill everything at the 11th hour after spending thousands.
One thing you have to do in this business (or any other) is know what you don't know.
But another thing you have to do is have the courage to commit and propel that baby out into the ether.
Courage and commitment can cure a lot of ills.
Even for the know-it-all who, when he wants your opinion, will give it to you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DO YOU REALLY HAVE ANY IDEA?
Do your employees?
Or your business partner?
You might be shocked and surprised, perhaps unpleasantly.
Earlier this year, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I announced a new project called CoupleCo.
This is a project by and about couple entrepreneurs--why they do it, why they love it, and how they keep a business going without killing each other.
CoupleCo is one reason we're out here on the road, crossing this great nation of ours in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit. Besides visiting clients, we've been conducting interviews for CoupleCo.
Recently, we interviewed a couple who have been running a business together for about 8 years.
These are not kids. They are fully formed, middle-age adults who've been around and had successful careers of their own independent of each other.
TOGETHER, THEY HAVE BUILT A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS
They are exactly the kind of people we like to interview.
In wrapping up an interview, we ask the subjects a series of quick questions about each other.
With this particular couple, the exchange went something like this.
"OK, Bill. What is Jill's best quality?"
He says, "She has leaned to do this and such much better with more patience and insight, and she has become more thoughtful about the process."
She says, "You have no idea what you're talking about."
She then rebutted his entire answer.
Clearly, she was right.
He had an entire set of assumptions about something she was doing in the business, and he was dead wrong.
LET THIS BE A LESSON ABOUT ASSUMPTIONS
They are no substitute for actual communication.
And actual communication is something that is frequently lacking inside of a small business--and can bite a brand in the butt, Bob.
Often, the lack of communication is basic.
A simple and common example: The receptionist says to the business owner, "I don't know what's going on, but the phone is suddenly ringing off the hook."
Business owner: "Oh! I forgot to tell you! We're running a new ad in the paper!"
And don't think this is uncommon. I can't count the number of times something like this happened when I worked in radio.
You spend a couple of weeks working with a client who's spending a few thousand to put together a radio promotion.
The radio commercial finally hits the air.
And you find out the business owner never bothered to communicate the promotion to the staff.
DON'T THINK THIS IS NECESSARILY SMALL IN SCOPE, EITHER
We've seen the person in charge not bother to communicate a new brand to the staff.
You know what happens then?
People who've been working under the old brand for years and loving it (even if the brand fits like a bad suit) become uncooperative and pissy.
They refuse to join the business in its brand evolution.
And eventually, the brand withers.
Conversely, we've seen a good explanation of a new brand to the team do astonishing things.
A workforce that was already doing a good and competent job suddenly becomes energized and ready to do things that are even bigger and better.
THE TROOPS BECOME GALVANIZED!
A good brand makes them rally around their leader and prepare to go forth and crush the competition!
But that works only if there's actual communication.
There is no substitute for having a message and being clear.
Communicating the brand and the advertising--the strategy and the tactics--is an essential step.
Imagine that commerce is a battlefield.
The brand's army is assembled there, ready to fight.
And the general standing before them suddenly looks at his cell phone, and wanders off to take a call from his wife.
And never comes back.
WHAT ARE THE TROOPS TO DO?
That's a lot of guys all dressed up, armed to the teeth, and scratching their asses.
That's an expensive proposition--and one that's destined to fail.
Without a mission and orders, those troops are going wherever they feel like--and that doesn't mean they're going to accomplish anything of value.
They need communication.
We've seen something as simple as a re-branding with clarity and purpose give the business owner a tool with which to marshal the troops, inspire them, and give them purpose in a business that was once muddled and without obvious direction.
But if clarity of communication is lacking?
THAT ENTIRE REBRANDING EFFORT WOULD BE POINTLESS
It would be a waste of time and money.
And who has enough of either?
At its most basic, communication keeps everyone on the same page with a clear of idea of mission and goals.
The receptionist doesn't wonder why the phone is suddenly ringing.
The salespeople don't look like idiots when a customer says he wants the offer from the radio.
And your wife doesn't look at you during a recorded interview and say, "You have no idea what you're talking about."
Talk to each other. It's more profitable.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
IS IT YOUR KIND OF PLACE?
A hap-hap-happy place?
Or is it someone else's place, and you're just an interloper?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I continue to span the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we've been spending some time in the Fun-Size State.
That would be, of course, Rhode Island. It's cool. It's hot. (As the infamously short-lived, multi-million-dollar tourism branding campaign tried to tell us a couple of years ago.)
We've been enjoying off-the-beaten-path Rhode Island, which is cool and hot and truly fun-size and most people do not know about it.
While everyone's over in Newport, whooping it up at the Jazz Festival in the shadow of billion-dollar Russian oligarch mega-yachts, we are flying below the radar in a sleepy little hamlet that tourism almost forgot.
AND WE LIKE IT THAT WAY
So does the town, apparently.
And in that town, there's a small restaurant that we frequent, which has some excellent seafood, some simple and elegant dishes, a good wine list, and an array of small-batch microbrews on tap.
Finding refuge there late in the afternoon, we will sit at that bar and imbibe effervescent, frosty-cold malt beverages while indulging local bivalves on the half-shell at special mid-day prices.
The restaurant is not cheap, but it is reasonable. It is foodie enough for those so inclined. It is an honest effort by a determined entrepreneur with a distinct vision who has put her stamp on it. (She also likes us, and will occasionally buy us a round when we come in and say hi.)
One afternoon while we were there, a man of a particular style came in. He was youngish, tall, dressed in a expensive jeans and a cheap white T-shirt. Except for his face, all of his exposed skin was covered in tattoos of questionable quality (quantity seemed more the point). He wore a heavy tweed driving cap (yes, in August), and his earlobes had been augmented with big, black rubber grommets.
We'd been joking with the bartender when this man approached, asking, "Do you have any good bourbon?"
The bartender said, "We have those," pointing to the top shelf behind the bar, "And we have Maker's Mark."
WE CONTINUED HAVING FUN WITH THE BARTENDER
Meanwhile, the gentleman perused the shelf, regarding it as if it might be a bad smell.
We were joking to the bartender, "Good bourbon, indeed. There is no bad bourbon."
The tattooed gentleman snorted. He said with disdain, "Well, that's debatable."
He returned to his table without ordering bourbon.
Honey and I looked at each other.
Each of us immediately flashed back to an episode in another bar.
THE SNAKE PIT IS A DIVE-BAR LOVER'S SIREN SONG
When we lived in Los Angeles at Fairfax and Melrose, the Snake Pit was our local joint.
We were there at least once a week.
It was a dump with friendly bartenders, excellent beers and liquors, and a solid kitchen that turned out some surprisingly good fare.
Details Magazine once named it one of the city's top-ten dive bars.
It looked rough.
But if you scratched the surface, you realized it was a diamond.
Some years ago, there was a fire there. Stunned regulars from around Los Angeles got out of bed and were standing on the sidewalk in front of their bar at 5am as the fire crews battled the blaze. It had that kind of following.
HONEY AND I BECAME FRIENDS WITH THE STAFF
We performed a wedding for one of the bartenders.
The manager has become a dear friend, whom we periodically see in Utah.
She's originally from the genteel South, and moved to LA seeking fame & fortune on the screen. She found she preferred the relative anonymity of running a good, simple bar owned by a blessed-out, post-hippie, surfer-dude with a home in the Pacific Palisades.
Her T-shirts and boisterous demeanor belie a first-class education and a background in game hunting and equestrian pursuits. Her personal brand is one of interesting contradictions.
One night, we were sitting at the bar, talking to her when a customer walks in.
SHE TURNS TO THE CUSTOMER AND SAYS, "WHAT CAN I GET YOU?"
The young woman replies, "I'd like a frozen margarita!"
Our friend looks her square in the eye and says, "It's not that kind of bar."
The woman looks around a bit more, orders a beer and takes a seat.
We've always enjoyed that simple, direct moment of unapologetic brand honesty.
"This is where you are, and your choices are limited. We are focused, and you are welcome to join us. Otherwise, there are plenty of other bars with sugary, frozen drinks just down the street.
"We do not try to be all things to all people."
Everyone was welcome. Nobody was turned away unless they were disagreeable or over-served.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Back in the heady days of her Big New York Ad Agency Career, Honey was once sent to Mississippi to work on an agricultural product related to cotton farming.
She and her team were in the middle-of-nowhere rural south, surrounded by farmland, and had gone into a rustic, redneck roadhouse for drinks.
You know the kind of place. "Oh, honey, we have both kinds of music: country and western."
Richie, one of the New York guys on Honey's team, saunters up to the bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you have?" Richie says, "I'll have a Toasted Almond."
The bartender says, "What's that?"
Richie explains the cocktail.
"We don't do that."
Richie orders a beer.
IT'S NOT THAT KIND OF BAR
Moreover, it doesn't apologize.
It knows its brand.
It know its core customer, and how that core customer should feel about the place.
The place back in Rhode Island is fancier than either the Snake Pit or the Mississippi roadhouse.
But it still knows its brand, too.
It knows it's off the beaten path. It knows who its customers are: sensible New Englanders who like shellfish, catch of the day, and other unfussy food and don't really give a damn about small-batch bourbons.
And the place doesn't apologize.
BUT IT DOESN'T EXCUSE THE BAD ATTITUDE OF THE TATTOOED FUSSBUDGET
Especially when you're walking around inked up with mediocre artwork and have earlobes outfitted with hardware big enough to run a hawser through, and you're in the land of pragmatic people, a sailing town to boot, wearing a heavy wool hat on a sunny, 89-degree day with 97 percent humidity, your brand says, "Fish out of water."
Your brand says, "I make choices you don't."
Your brand says, "I don't care what you think."
Your brand says, "Look at me. What are you going to do about it?"
There are all kinds of aggressive, in-your-face things his brand package is saying to the world.
And interestingly, everyone we've ever known who has such a distinctive personal brand like this is usually pretty low-key and gregarious.
They're usually happy to have a conversation and be friendly.
We certainly knew plenty of them during our time in the Snake Pit.
THAT'S LOS ANGELES FOR YOU
You're going to meet all types and draw no conclusions about them until you have enough information.
But here, in this small, New England seaside town, in a nice little joint with a good feeling, with a brand that obviously cares about its customer, this man violated one of the cardinal rules, to wit: "Don't be a dick."
In seconds, he branded himself as a problem customer.
Because it's not that kind of bar.
Let's face it, if you know anything about bourbon, you know there is very little in the way of bad bourbon.
IN SOME WAYS, BOURBON IS LIKE CHAMPAGNE
To be of the bourbon brand, it must come from a specific region of Kentucky. To be a true Champagne brand, the wine must come from a specific region of France. Producing anything but good Champagne is financially ruinous.
In other ways, bourbon is a very American, egalitarian tipple. Even the people who make it have no pretenses about it.
By all kinds of measures, most bourbon is at least good.
Better bourbons are really good.
The best bourbons are stunning, both in taste and brand power.
If you have disdain for Maker's Mark (the Ford F-150 of bourbons) or small-batch whiskeys that aren't your favorite, and you are willing to express it openly to people you don't know, you have a problem.
You are an overt snob about something that doesn't matter.
And you are going to miss out.
You don't know who you've alienated. You have no idea who might buy you a drink. You have no clue what might be squirreled away somewhere in that bar that a sympathetic bartender might be willing to share with you but not the gen pop.
BUT THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE A LECTURE ABOUT BEHAVIOR
It's a reminder to be true to your brand.
You're never going to please all of the people all of the time.
We've had clients get complaints about the craziest of things.
One didn't like a radio commercial that championed mom as her family's primary care provider.
Of course, the client didn't do anything about it, other than say, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
If you've approached your brand in a way that's honest and makes sense, and you can live up to, have at it.
Once you've committed to your brand, be that brand.
Be committed and unapologetic.
And let the uninformed customer know it's not that kind of bar.
Even if someone else's personal brand requires that they pee on it, your honest, authentic brand is much easier to make live, and to live with.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.