Posted by: kwbrand | August 1, 2011

Brand Extension: How to Stretch

I had the idea for this post as I prepared to go to a hot yoga class this afternoon. “Hot yoga” for those who haven’t heard is basically regular, crazy, stretchy yoga enhanced by humid heat piped into the studio by those sadistic yoga teachers (just kidding, they’re lovely). The theory is that the heat helps loosen the joints and enhances the stretch.

I only wish this was me

It might have been during an inversion pose when the thought of brand extensions came back to me. The thought had actually started the night before when my husband noted that our pretty new salt and pepper grinders were made by Peugeot—yep, you got it; the French brand of cars. We’d laughed about it. Can you imagine the boardroom scene when that little nugget of an idea was proposed? “Okay, mes amis, we need to leverage the Peugeot brand into new areas. Ideas? What makes the most sense? Let’s see, we French do love to eat, how about salt and pepper grinders!? Magnifique!”

Unlike Honda which has successfully taken its core brand attribute of reliably engineered engines into other product areas, Peugeot’s grinders can’t be a good brand move. What’s the message they’re sending? That their core strength is in gears that grind? machinery that crushes bigger things into dust? No, no; pas bon.

On the other hand, I love Kaiser Permanente’s branding decisions. They’ve successfully warmed up the notion of managed care which, as a concept, typically makes me chafe so this is a real accomplishment. Their “live well and thrive” concept has successfully taken the focus off of the cost-control/disease-management angle of modern medicine and presents Kaiser Permanente as being primarily concerned with helping people achieve overall wellbeing. And here’s the brand-extending brilliance; they’ve taken the “thrive” concept well beyond the walls of a doctor’s office or lab and extended it into sweet bits of advice about how to live the good life, how to be happy. Their e-store sells branded merchandise like reusable shopping bags for the health of the planet and measuring spoons with advice on how to eat well. Their ads talk about the health benefits of kindness. It’s a stretch that makes sense to the tenets of their brand.

In order to ascertain the types of stretches that make sense and those that don’t you a really good sense of your brand position. I suspect that Kaiser Permanente wanted to reframe the negative image appropriately given to managed care companies as uncaring, corporate and cold. Their “thrive” position does this for them. Their brand marketing decisions to offer advice on overall wellness takes that position and extends it, gives it additional reach, flexibility, and strength.

Assessing the good stretch starts here:

  • What’s your organization’s brand position? Have you staked your own branded flag in a position that offers something different and valuable to your constituents?
  • And, once staked, how do you get that flag to wave in a way that attracts the notice of your customers? What are the brand
    attributes for which you want to be known?
  • What are the logical ways you can get that position to stretch and bend?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC

Posted by: kwbrand | April 13, 2011

Optimists versus Systems-Thinkers

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker on the back of an old Honda that said “I refuse to participate in a recession.” Have you seen this?

My first reaction was: “Okay then, Sweet-Pants. You just refuse whatever you must and good luck to you.”

But the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. Was this a sample of down-with-Obama rhetoric of some kind? Or just happy delusional thinking? As it turns out, it’s a little bit of the latter. I did a little digging and it turns out that you can get buttons, pins, tote bags, and even flag-themed signs with the refusal sentiment stamped on it—that is, if you still have a job and can afford them.

Just kidding; they’re all value-priced to move.

Apparently, the sentiment is being promoted by Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of the networking giant BNI (i.e., Business Networking International). Dr. Misner’s theory is if you “refuse” to participate in the recession, you can turn that global frown upside-down and convert it into contacts, referrals, and success. Rah, rah, shish boom bah! Let’s hear it for positive thinking! And boo to the fun-haters who lost their jobs or can’t make a sale.

Now it is true that I’m a bit of a cynic. That’s what makes me a good researcher. I’m also, however, a strategist so the part that really bothered me about all the blithe refusal idea was the inability or unwillingness to see the big picture—namely the big, very complicated, system in which we all live and breathe. And while a can-do attitude is a must, it’s best to target that can-doing energy at the sweet spots in the systemic web where it can do the most good.

In brand strategy, one must consider the system in which the organization lives and breathes. I run across a lot of marketing and advertising companies who claim to do “strategic” marketing, But what they mean by this is that they will conduct a two-hour exercise in which the client-company leaders are gathered into a conference room and led through a flip-chart SWOT analysis. It goes like this: “What do you think are our Strengths? Okay, how about our Weaknesses? Great! Now onward to Opportunities…” At the end, everyone feels good about having teased out some “strategic “points. The problem is that it what the leaders consider to be their strengths or opportunities are likely influenced by their own day-to-day triumphs and headaches. They’re too close, too enmeshed in history and habit.

I’ve sat in on many a strategic session that began with leaders describing their strengths in exactly the same terms as the leaders of another organization. I routinely hear things like: “Our key strength and primary differentiator is that we really care.” Okay. That might be true. However, what the leaders need to realize is that this message won’t sound true if it’s one of a jillion messages saying the same thing. And, ultimately, the message isn’t true until or unless their customers say it’s true. So, while it might be “cynical” to admit that your organization operates in a tough economy or a crowded marketspace, it’s true if your customers think or feel it’s true.

What are the systems-oriented questions you ask yourself and/or your clients to help them grasp the complexities of their environment? Some of my favorites are these:

  • Who do your customers see as your competitors?
  • Your customers live in a system too. Other than your direct competitors, what else competes for their attention, commitment, and enthusiasm?
  • What’s the point when their need for your services rises above their own level of distraction so they begin to hear what you’ve been yelling all along?
  • When customers choose among vendors, which features or attributes do they consider?
  • How do they rank the relative value of those features? What are the deal-breakers and deal-makers?
  • Do you prioritize and promote the deal-making interactions or leave it to chance?
  • If it’s true that your competitive strength is the extent to which you “really care,” what does that mean to the customers? How do they define and experience your care?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | March 14, 2011

A Cult-Like Devotion to Brands

Quick. What are your favorite brands?

  • What are the brands you search for by name?
  • For whom have you willingly and happily handed over your email address so it can be included in a mailing list?
  • For which companies are you willing to actually open and read those emailed newsletters, sales and updates?
  • What are the companies or products you’ve considered promoting to your own network? (OMG! Check out ________, they are the very best for_______!)

One of my favorite brand strategy books is The Culting of Brands: When Customers Become True Believers by Douglas Atkin (2004). In it, Atkin compares the dynamics that draw people to cults with the dynamics that make “true believers” out of ordinary consumers. It’s fascinating psychosocial stuff and if you haven’t read it, run out and pick up a copy post haste. Or, in the meantime, check out my summary here.

Atkin begins by saying that “the sacred and profane are bound by the essential desires of human nature.” As evidence of this, he shares that the people who participated as his research shared the same kinds of reasons for joining either a religious cult or a consumer oriented cult-like following. Their reasons included “profound urges to belong, to make meaning, feel secure, have order within chaos, and create identity.” “This is the stuff,” he says, “of the human condition.” Atkin’s research also found that unlike popular conceptions of cult-members as flawed and gullible people, the majority are, demographically speaking, “from stable and financially comfortable homes and are, above average in intelligence and education.”

So how do they, and we of the brand-believing sect, get drawn in? Atkin identified these dynamics:

Belonging to the group of believers paradoxically makes individuals feel self-actualized and more free to be and express themselves.

Harley Davidson provides a bad-boy outlet for people who occasionally need to stick it to “the man” by revving their throaty engines in suburban cul de sacs.

The group is a “beacon of difference” that operates in a distinct and sometimes fringe element of the otherwise unwashed masses.

The group takes on its own culture, terminology, and customs that all signal to its members “You’re different, but we’re different too.” Strategically, this means organizations have to be willing to exclude people who don’t fit in order to be clearly differentiated enough to attract the right fit. This takes courage and focus. Apple provides creative people a community of creative, hip, arty types where they and others who feel disconnected from an uncreative world can come together and celebrate their quirkiness. Remember the iconic Mac ad of drones and the anvil throwing liberator? Now envision a bunch of quirky, anvil-toting, Mac-lovers.

People buy people before they buy things.

Or in other words, people buy into the feeling they get from a cult or company. In retrospect, they might rationalize their decision by pointing to the ideology or the product-features, but it’s the “staff not the stuff” that really drives results. Build relationships.

The Norman Rockwell vision of small town communities might be going away or gone; the primal need for community has not.

People desperately need to belong. Atkin illustrates that belonging in a community provides for us a filter with which to determine what’s real, what’s meaningful, and gives us a sense of identity. And while people may no longer find those community benefits in their geographical locations, they can find them in membership with consumer sects of other likeminded people. And the good news about consumer communities is that unlike family or neighbors, we get to pick them and/or opt out at any time.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Sure there are those whack-a-do consumers out there who get all into their stuff, but not me. I have a life.”

I had the same thoughts when I snapped this picture of a Mac-nut camped in front of the Mac store. He was one of about thirty people waiting for HOURS to be the first to get some Mac product (was it the Mac Pro? A new iPod? Who knows? I’m a PC). I thanked him for posing for my photo and told him I hoped his wait would be worth it. He assured me it would be. I walked away tsk-tsking to myself and feeling both self-righteous and impressed by the machine that is Apple.

Of course, I’ve been known to tell my kids that I’m busy “working” while I surf online sales at Anthropologie so it’s a slippery slope.

Where’s your brand devotion?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation 

Posted by: kwbrand | January 20, 2011

The Voice of Authenticity

There have been a few recent events that have conspired to create a theme in my mind. One of these events was a Forbes article that came out in early January and essentially slammed the cheesy business terms and lingo so many of us hear, know, and use on a daily basis. Most of this knowledge-class business jargon is composed of visual metaphors whose creativity rating is fair to middling. Examples include phrases like “drilling down,” “grasping the low hanging fruit,” “circling the wagons,” and “wrapping one’s arms around the problem.” As I write this, the guy sitting next to me talking on his cell phone at the coffee shop is talking about finding “someone else to throw under the bus.” Charming, no?

I have less of a problem with visually-oriented terms than I do with the words that aren’t actual words. I’ve heard people’s behavior described as “integrous” and there are some who insists on “languaging” the wording of a document until they get it right (or the words just roll over and die).  Seriously, just writing those two examples gave me the shivers and sent my spellchecker into a seizure.

How many of you can honestly say you’ve used phrases like this in meetings, in conversations or even in reports because it’s the language of the day and something you picked up from your peers? I ask because even though I am a linguistic snob, I am guilty of using office babble. It makes me wonder how much of what we say is really our own. How much of it is language that is true to our own linguistic styles and how much is just a borrowed business language template filled in with a few original thoughts. 

And then the problem becomes one that isn’t limited to words, but to voice. And this brings me to the other event that conspired to produce this particular blog rant. I was sitting in a meeting, probably using words like “synergy,” and we were talking about prospective college students. We were talking specifically about some of the research results I had recently uncovered and how to translate those findings into “actionable” (hah!) marketing communication tactics. One of my insightful meeting-colleagues made the observation that although the research gave us a good sense of the way the students described their own style and voice, we would be deluding ourselves—and ultimately unsuccessful—if we tried to borrow that same voice and make it sound credibly like our own.

A wise caution indeed because grown-ups like myself manage to sound linguistically flabby enough when we use worked-over business lingo, but it gets much worse when grown-ups try to get down with the young folk. Suddenly, you have a wool-cap wearing, grunged out, 40-year old father of three who’s trying to be “dope” with his “sick” attire while shopping for life insurance and rocking to Phish or Rick Astley…or whatever it is the young people like these days.

So the question remains: How do we speak? Whose voice do we use? Hopefully, the lesson here—particularly in these marketing-cynical times in which we live—is always use your own voice. Research the hell out of your market segments by all means, learn the nuances of their sub-culture, and the stylings of their voice, but then let them use it.

Now let me hear your voice.

  • Whose voice do you find the most annoying?
  • For you marketing professionals, whose voice do you find the hardest to understand?
  • Whose voice do you find the hardest to engage in a meaningful dialogue with your own (real) voice?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | September 24, 2010

The Role of Advertising in Strategic Marketing

I recently worked with the type of client that makes it easy for a brand marketing consultant love her job. Their team was thoughtful, open, eager to learn, and perhaps best of all, willing to make decisions and move forward. Love you MNU.

Over the course of the project, we talked about the difference between advertising and marketing—or perhaps more specifically, where advertising fits into marketing. For those who don’t spend their waking hours thinking about brand and direct marketing strategy, it’s easy to mistake the most visible extension of marketing as the whole of marketing. It’s fall around here so I’ll provide a seasonally appropriate example.

Envision a beautiful maple tree.

Within the tree is its maple-specific cells are the little maple-flavored genetic coding bits necessary for growing maple roots that thrive in specific maple-friendly conditions and produce maple wood, bark, branches and leaves. You might look at the maple leaves in fall and say “Those are pretty. They make me happy.” Or, for those of you less inclined to sanguinity, you might see them and say “Oh crap. Gotta get out that old rake or hope there’s a stiff wind that blows those leaves into the neighbor’s yard and out of mine.” Either way, the tendency is to look at the most colorful, waving, outward extensions of the tree and forget about the structure beneath.

So it is with the role of advertising in marketing. Many of the preliminary activities of strategic marketing happen behind the scenes and within the vital, but plainly dressed, trunk of the marketing tree. There is a progression to strategic marketing that starts inward and proceeds up and outward and typically includes activities like these:

  • Clarifying the salient parts of the organizational culture that serves like the DNA and provide direction to questions like: What do we do better than anyone else? Are there products or processes we need to fix before going public with more marketing and advertising?
  • Defining the strategic goals (sales, cultural or otherwise) that steer the marketing activities and answer the questions: What are we trying to do more, better or differently? How will we measure this?
  • Doing the market research to answer questions about the customer’s demographics, decision-making process, access points (e.g. the media they use) and emotional trigger points.
  •  Selecting the marketing tactics which will lay a solid foundation of brand awareness so that when you do advertising, people have heard of you and associate the right attributes with your name.
  • Defining a reasonable number of direct marketing tactics—such as advertising—that will reach out to the customers and draw them inward.
  • Taking care to establish collection points that track return on investment (you can call them the giant black trash-bags of advertising leaflets if you must; either way the point is to ensure that your activities are measured against the goals to assess efficacy).

For those of you who find models more useful than metaphors, this is the (oversimplified) one I used with my client.

Strategic Marketing Approach Model

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | August 30, 2010

Communication Technologies Catch Up(?)

I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine. After over 18 years, we saw each other at a mutual friend’s wedding. In the course of our update-each-other conversation, I learned that he had parlayed his many skills into a position as IT director at a prominent university. He’s what most of us would refer to as the “tech guy” on campus. I found this interesting because he was always really smart, but when we’d known each other, technology wasn’t what it is now; hell, the internet hadn’t even arrived to the college which we’d attended. I brought a typewriter to school my first year.

In those intervening 18-odd years, of course, technology and technology-facilitated communication has taken the world by storm. We used to have a phone whose long cord was always hopelessly tangled. The only phone with a cord my children are likely to experience is the Fisher Price phone that also has eyes that open and close when it’s pulled along by a string. We used to pass notes in high school. Do they still do that? My nephew isn’t supposed to (but totally does) text during his high school hours. When was the last time you sat down and handwrote a letter and then mailed it? Now most of my correspondence happens through email or through FaceBook. I’m told that email is considered too slow by many modern high school students who are exclusively available via text.

Occasionally old folks like me will sit around and tsk our tongues at the new-fangled technologies. Damn kids and their music and their cell phones and all that. Back in our day, we had to look each other in the eye. Back in our day, we had to talk to each other even as we walked uphill in the snow for six miles (both ways). We oldies sit around and gloomily wonder if communication technologies have outpaced our ability to meaningfully relate.

But there was something my long lost, techno friend said during that wedding weekend that really stuck with me. It was this: he believes that technology is getting very close to catching up with humanity. He said that in his view, we’ve always had to retro-fit our communications into awkward technologies and as a result, we were always simultaneously focused on the technologies and their limitations even as we tried to communicate with and through them. Our communication was always limited as we were forced to attend to the clunkiness of the medium and work around its deficiencies. Now, however, as he experiments with educational technology in a higher educational setting, he said, technology might be approaching the point where it can catch up with the way people really communicate, with the way people absorb and relay information. Technology, he said, might soon be advanced enough to fade into the background and simply be the tool it’s been intended to be for us all this time. Here’s a tech guy who’s really a people-person with tech skills.

And he might be right. My smart phone is way smarter than I. It anticipates my moves with uncanny insight. I’ve had it for about a week and frankly, I’m still a little creeped out. I find myself asking it (yes, I talk to it) How did you know I was about to end that call? How do you always know where I am? Can the guys at Google Maps see me naked? Soon, I’m sure; I’ll get used to my phone’s genius and simply let it help me.

But what I’d like to pose to you is this: Where does that leave marketing? Will marketing communication technologies open avenues that allow us to communicate with one another in a way that facilitates greater relationship? How will our humanity shine through as the technology takes its place under our feet? What will that look like? Are there organizations that have effectively harnessed their technology so that it fades to the background and ceases to limit real human connectivity? What did they do and what results have they seen?

 Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | July 21, 2010

Brand Personality Test

Maybe it’s the fog and chill of today’s Colorado summer mountain rain, but I’m feeling all deep and existential.

Who are we? How are we known? How do the attributes by which we are known help others understand and connect with us?  

It’s not a novel concept to note that we are all different and that our differences derive from the particularities or our genetics, past experiences and choices. The same is true organizations of people. Over the years, I’ve worked with more than thirty colleges and universities engaged in the same types of work with the same basic sets of people and yet each institution is different—sometimes vastly different—from its peers as a result of its own strategic genes, legacy and choices. Each has its own personality.

I was reminded of a tool I developed and used with for-profit clients several years ago. Each of these clients had been in business long enough to have developed their own corporate personality. I had been called upon to clarify and focus their brand strategy and so I developed a brand personality assessment as a part of the research we did with their existing customers. It was a fun and insightful way to get at the relationship an organization has with its constituents in a manner that goes much deeper than simple conversations about advertising campaigns, recognition and recall.

Want to try it? This is how the brand personality assessment works. Think of your organization as though it were an individual person. For example, if you worked for the powerhouse athletic apparel company Nike, try to envision “Nike” as a friend of yours; what do you know to be true of Nike? What types of things would be authentic expression of who Nike is? What would seem false?

Now it’s your turn. Instead of “Nike,” conjure up the name and associations that come to mind when you think of your own or another organization you know well. Remember to try to think of the organization as though it were an individual person, than answer some of the questions from the original brand personality assessment.

1. Where in the line-up of siblings was this person born?

Oldest      Middle     Youngest     Only Child

2. What kind of vehicle does this person drive?

_____SUV (that actually gets taken off-road from time to time)

_____Mini-van

_____Buick

_____Harley

_____A hybrid car

3. What kind of living space does this person have?

_____A downtown loft

_____A home large enough for a guestroom for elderly parent

_____A townhouse

_____A modest brick home

_____A teepee on a commune

4. What is this person’s favorite place to eat out? 

     _____IHOP

     _____The cool new bar downtown

     _____The artsy new bistro with tiny portions on large, oddly shaped plates

     _____Chiles

     _____Somewhere organic and local

5. What is this person’s favorite music?

     _____Jazz

     _____Pop

     _____World music (i.e. foreign music)

     _____Classic Rock

     _____Classical

6. This person was born in ________ (pick one of the following cities that best represents the company’s personality.)

     _____Des Moines

     _____Seattle

     _____Venice, Italy

     _____Minneapolis

     _____Boston

7. On a major holiday, this person would be most likely to:

     _____Host the traditional meal at their home, make all the food from scratch

     _____Go to Aspen for a ski vacation

     _____Agree to come to your house for dinner and ask what they can bring

     _____Drink too much and get a little sloppy

     _____Do their holiday shopping at the last minute at 24-hour drugstore

8. It’s your birthday, this person…

     _____Bakes you a cake

     _____Surprises you with an adventure road trip

     _____Treats you to lunch

     _____Sends you a belated card (as usual)

     _____Completely forgets

9. You have a personal crisis, this person….

     _____Comes right over to your home with a meal and a card

     _____Takes you rock climbing to get your mind off of it

     _____Sends flowers

     _____Listens to you talk, but gets distracted

     _____Doesn’t return your call

10. You haven’t seen each other in a while. Who calls first?

     You       Him/Her

11. When you communicate with this person, you usually feel:

     _____Included in the discussion

     _____Like he/she expects you to read his/her mind

     _____Like he/she won’t shut up and let you get a word in edgewise

     _____Stupid! You feel you struggle to understand what he/she is saying

     _____Other (please explain)

12. If you were back in high school, this person would best be described as…

     _____The popular kid that everyone admired and/or hated

     _____The intelligent kid that had a circle of friends and no specific enemies

     _____The class nerd that everyone made fun of

     _____The druggy/stoner that broke the rules and scared people a little

     _____Who? (The loner no one really knew)

Interesting, isn’t it? What did you learn as you thought about the organization’s brand personality? I’d love to hear your insights. I’d also love to hear any new questions you’d like to see added to the assessment.

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | June 15, 2010

Brands as Customer Service

In a recent issue of Cooking Light (yes, I’m a foodie and cooking nerd), I discovered something perfect and just in time. It was a week before Mother’s Day and there on the glossy page was a spread of a really cool, oddly shaped vase available at Chive.com.

My mother is queen of the beautiful and creative table arrangement and I had no other good gift ideas so I immediately dragged my magazine up to my desk to order the vase. I was all set to happily check “Mother’s Day gift” off of my to-do list.

What I soon discovered was that the website was not set up for web orders. (In 2010!? What?!) I was stunned. This was one of the rare times when I actually followed up on a promotional piece in a major magazine and their information had been bad. I did, however, find an email address and since this was the perfect gift idea for the perfect price, I persisted; I actually made a call (in 2010?! It’s madness!)

I got a call back, from a lovely Canadian woman named Kristina. She cheerfully explained that the Cooking Light spread had run several months before they had expected it too and that their website wasn’t quite ready but that in the meantime, she could take my order by hand. She also added me to their mailing list so that I would be apprised of the website’s launch as soon as it was ready.

I should stop for a moment to say that I do much, if not most, of my shopping on-line. But this experience with Kristina was different. She wasn’t all customer-servicey and scripted; she was completely human. She was up-beat, fun, and imminently approachable. After the brief conversation on the phone I was not only not annoyed anymore, I was excited for Kristina and hopeful for their small company’s success.

When the vase arrived, it included a letter in which more of Kristina’s personality shone through. It also included two free plastic travel vases that fold flat (coolest damn things ever and perfect for my mom who in addition to being queen of table décor is moving to Rwanda in November).  I was delighted.

Several weeks after that, I received an email announcing the launch of the “newly spiffed up” Chive website. The missive laughingly confessed that the Chive staff had expected 6 or 7 orders from the Cooking Light spread and instead had responded to 1000 emails in three weeks.

What strikes me about Chive is that their brand is that they have not limited the thrust of their communications to their graphic design or typical marketing tools; they don’t have a logo, a tagline, and aren’t—near as I can tell—running  a slick “campaign.” Yet, they come across as hip, young, fun, approachable, just like the vases they are selling. Their brand is exactly what good brands should be: first and foremost a human interaction between people who connect through business as individuals.

There are examples of larger, more complicated companies than Chive that have also done a good job living their brands through their customer service. Whenever you see the green and black Starbucks logo, you know you can reliably expect to be greeted by clean-cut, up-beat yuppie types who are only too happy to customize your drink in one of 10,000 ways.

The big take-away here is this: When it comes to building a solid brand reputation, the most compelling way to cut through the crap is still with old fashioned relationships. Branding is more a function of customer service than graphic design or media buys. The trappings of a brand identity (logos, colors, taglines etc.) should be the visual cue that the relational interaction customers have come to value is reassuringly imminent.

There are examples of exceptional power brands that have been built on values like inventory and value but sans customer service (Wal-Mart). But, my conviction is that unless you’re the category leader in something like pricing, leaders will have to find and defend their market niche by finding people who can literally embody the values of the organization.

So let’s talk: Have you experienced good customer service recently? Bad service? How did it influence the relative power of the service-giver’s (or refuser’s) brand equity with you?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | May 4, 2010

Keeping it Real: Brand Authenticity

I met Kathryn Higgins in Vegas. I was there as a marketing consultant for a client attending  a “Mom to Be” tradeshow where, typical tradeshow fashion, we began each day by winding our way through lines of people checking in or out of the hotel, through the casinos, and into the giant room with booths of exhibitors showing their wares and hoping for buyers. Kathryn was there with her daughter Silencia, who she’s hired as her colleague, representing Motherlove Herbal Company

We connected right away. Like us, Kathryn and Silencia are from Colorado. Their laid back presence was a nice change from the overly smiley, perky types selling stuff like nail polish for new moms and pregnancy approved makeup. (Whatever).

Kathryn told us her story. Back in the day, she was a real Colorado hippy. She lived off the grid in a tee-pee. She loved the earth and trusted its resources. By the 1970s, she was a full-fledged herbalist making herbal concoctions for skin care and teaching classes.  When she became a mother, she developed several organic herbal products to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The rest is an American dream success story (which means she was given an opportunity and Kathryn and a handful of loyal employees spent the next 20 years working their tails off to make the business successful).  Motherlove products are now available in major chains like Whole Foods, in 100 hospitals around the nation, across Europe, and recently, in Southeast Asia. They’ve received press in over 50 national magazines such as Fit Pregnancy and Mothering. But the values of the company have not changed. When we first met Kathryn, she laughingly confessed that the outfit she was wearing was a gift from her mom since she (Kathryn) still couldn’t muster up much interest in shopping and fashion.

On Saturday, I was privileged to attend Motherlove’s 20th birthday celebration. The event was held in a cool old converted warehouse with hardwood floors and exposed beams. The food was amazing and the live music was great. But what really struck me was the way the Kathryn’s—and now Motherlove’s— values were so seamlessly woven into the execution of every detail.

Kathryn’s short speech highlighted the value they place on the love and care of both the mothers they serve and the love for mother earth. She thanked Silencia for making all the arrangements for the party in a way that would minimize waste. And sure enough, Silencia had seen to it.

  • The cups were biodegradable plastic made from corn.
  • The forks were made of carved bamboo.
  • The plates were made from husks that had been steamed together to form square-shaped, fully compostable plates.
  • The centerpieces were simple, elegant floral arrangements tucked into the trademark blue Motherlove bottles.
  • Recycling stations were set up around various corners.

This is a great example where marketing is just the public way of communicating the essence of a brand already at work in the values of the organization and its clientele.

The band, Edgewater Juke, struck up a dance-worthy tune and Kathryn, understated and practical as ever, hit the dance floor.

Where have you encountered examples of such great brand alignment?

Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation

Posted by: kwbrand | April 6, 2010

Story, Community and Social Media: A Case Study

The following is a guest blog post from a KW Brand client.

Marketing maven Jonathan Kranz says this about the use of storytelling and marketing:

    “Stories aren’t just for campfires and school children: they’re a powerful way for businesses to communicate their value, to create an emotional hook that sticks in their prospects’ imaginations.

    Stories can make a business. Yet most businesses remain tongue-tied, not because they don’t have stories to tell, but because they don’t know how to tell them.”

My business–get born magazine–an edgy, mouthy magazine for mothers, began with my conviction that, through story, the full realm of motherhood (that is, every stage and every experience, from adoption to grandparenthood to parenting an autistic, sociopathic or brilliantly gifted child) could be less lonely, and, therefore, less daunting. 

As a bona fide evangelist for my product, I surmised that everyone would “get it” if only I could get five minutes of their time. Unfortunately, in the midst of raising four daughters, starting a business, having a limited marketing budget, and then being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, finding five minutes to give to everyone became impossible.

I realized that my business is a classic niche business. I target moms and primary caregivers from a specific demographic and their support systems. I deliver an edgy, unpolished, though sharp product that doesn’t appeal to everyone, particularly not to any group of moms interested in keeping up a perfect image for the public.

We began to work with KW Brand Translation, defining, refining, and appropriately extending both our brand attributes and our brand definition.  During a marketing retreat laden with my particular form of compensation—gourmet snacks— my staff, along with KW, fleshed out our focus, incorporating both short-and long-term goals for multi-faceted marketing strategies. At the end, we drafted a marketing plan. Our goals were lofty. We were working on a new website, doing some direct marketing, facilitating sponsored events and launching a social media strategy. Since our marketing budget is modest, Kyndra suggested we approach the “budget” question by filling in the number of hours each of the (entirely) volunteer staff would have to spend for each initiative in between their other jobs as moms and professionals.

And, because such a large portion of our demographic are at home with small children either full or part time, daily conversations (stories—see quote above) encouraging participation was a no-brainer. So we began a “get born” FaceBook fan page effort.

  • During the retreat, we’d reviewed our brand position and attributes so when we divvied up the job of administering the content, volunteers know what types of things to post.
  • We post at least one new thing a day but monitor the site for interaction throughout the day.
  • We’ve learned what types of posts tend to elicit the most reaction: We start with a personal anecdote of sorts, then lead into an evocative question. We post content that is honest and highlights our humanity. We look for humor and truth.

These parameters have facilitated the ongoing stories on the fan page, allowing our demographic to write their story as we write ours. Since the retreat, we’ve watched the FaceBook page grow:

  • We started with under 100 fans to and today have over 800 (700%!)
  • Every week we have approximately 150 interactions and the FaceBook post quality metric suggests that close to 10% of our fans are responding on a weekly basis. Sometimes it’s as high as 25%.
  • Our website traffic has also dramatically increased from between April 2009 to March 2010:
Category April 2009 to September 2009 October 2009 to March 2010 %
Visits 1,808 3,788 109% increase
Total Page Views 4,959 25,920 422% increase
Page Views per Visit 2.74 6.84 149% increase
Bounce Rate 53% 19% 34% decrease
Average Time on Site (minutes) 2.24 4.03 79% increase
Primary Traffic Source: Referring Sites
(Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
   37.18% 54.49%  

 Of course the big metric is revenue. I’ve watched my revenue increase, albeit slowly, as a result of the social media activity. Patience seems to be the ticket here since our demographic is leery of a hard sell, and prefers to feel like they’re a part of a legitimate community.  But, because our brand embraces a mother’s mental health and her sense of belonging in a community, this approach fits us well. 

Our long-term goals will continue to involve a more steady revenue stream through an increased subscription base as well as maintenance and acquisition of loyal advertisers.  We plan to continue the use of social media while also branching into both direct marketing and events as our fan base continues to grow and build loyalty. We’re also considering other ways to leverage the community we’ve created.

My advice? The first step is realizing that everyone loves a good story, regardless of the product involved. Because, we, as people, are made up of our stories. Once you’ve established your own story (and believe me, you’ve got one—unless your company is being run by robots), tell it bit by bit through social media, offering tasty morsels of humanity. Then, elicit a response from your customer or fan base asking them to respond in kind. The thrill of social networks like FaceBook is twofold: first of all, people love to see themselves in print, even if it’s online. Secondly, we all love instant gratification, which social networking hands out in spades. When you give your customers the opportunity to interact with you on this level, you don’t simply build a customer base; you build relationships, and in spite of the ever-increasing activity online, all any of us want, at the end of the day, is to be known.  The cake is the revenue; the icing on the cake is knowing that you’ve built genuine rapport with real people.

Heather Janssen

Publisher, Editor and co-founder of get born magazine: the uncensored voice of motherhood

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