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From B to B or Not to B? That is the Question.

Does a human being benefit from your Business-to-Business (B2B) product or brand? To survive the future you need to be a Business-to-People (B2P) brand. While your brand might be only an ingredient or strategic component supporting another brand, eventually it will reach a human being.  But more importantly, every brand affects the world we live in so at the end of the day, you are dealing with humanity. The most dramatic change to cause this shift is the free flow of digital information (and digital misinformation). The number of stakeholders you had to worry about in building and maintaining your brand was easily managed years ago but today this isn’t no longer true.  If you start now you can build goodwill along the value chain and maybe you can be immunized against negative attacks in the future. But the biggest reward is more profits.

 

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Moving Brands from B to C

 

In a B2B study done by Siegel+Gale, they state that “Most business-to-business companies still debate the ultimate business benefit of building a strong brand…” The first problem is many business-to-business (B2B) companies don’t think they need a brand as they don’t deal directly with everyday consumers. If this was true there wouldn’t be so many memorable and powerful B2B brands existing today such as Boeing, SAP, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Siemens and General Electric, to name a few.

 

The line between B2B and B2C has blurred and the boundaries are quickly disappearing. The internet has created a new consumer that wants and needs to be informed. Joel York marketing software expert describes the consumer as “more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.”

 

But what hasn’t changed is the risk level between a B2B and a B2C. Most business buyers follow a rigorous procurement process that is steeped in analytics, data and facts. The buying process is based on a rational decision making process based on quality, features, functionality and price. Buyers review all of the product specifications and technical details, past history and performance measurements, etc. The purchasing process is longer and may require contracts and large quantities based on a specific time period. Where does branding fit into this process?

 

In a study done by Zahra Seyed Ghorban and Dr Margaret Jekanyika Matanda at Monash University they found that most procurement managers go through a hierarchical ‘Think-feel-Do’ sequence where brand perception is the starting point. One manger explains it as “Knowing the brand and having good perceptions, good attitudes, and associating to that brand all are prior to establishing relationship. The relationship comes after.” They also discovered that emotions played an important role in the purchase decision even in highly formalized B2B procurement processes. This would explain why Boeing launched its new 787 the Dreamliner to the general public with a record order of 50 aircrafts from All Nippon Airways. Since then, 59 airlines have ordered over 1,000 Boeing 787s, making it the most successful aircraft in Boeing’s history.

 

 

Cisco System’s Advertising Director Julia Mee says “the lines have blurred so much between B2B and B2C.” To survive B2B marketers must “Think about who the customer is and what do they want to hear from us.” At the end of the day she says “Our customers are thinking about us as just a brand—they are not differentiating it as B2B or B2C.”

 

No surprise it’s all about connecting and engaging with people on many levels not just a highly emotional video with pretty pictures and a great sound track. There still needs to be substance to support the brand image. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a great example. If you visit their website they have everything there to satisfy the left-brain and the right-brain, from the engineer, to the purchasers, to the pilot, to the passenger in business class, to the poor guy at the back of the plane.

 

It must have been very hard for all of the Boeing aviation engineers to sit back and abstain from adding all of the technical mumbo jumbo into the sound track.

 

Moving Brands from B to P

 

There are several marketers like Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, and Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP who believe that B2B marketing is no longer relevant. Kramer says marketers need to move away from the complex business vernacular full of acronyms, scientific and technical terminologies too complicated for the average person. His solution is to speak Human-to-Human (H2H) where the communication is simplistic and more emotional. Becher was instrumental in shifting SAP’s brand positioning from talking to other companies to focusing on people. “It’s not just ‘business runs SAP’; it’s also ‘life runs SAP.’ You can sum up the change as moving from B2B to P2P—people to people,” Becher said.

 

The trick is engaging people to wanting to consume your boring B2B brand messages. Volvo Trucks wanted to communicate their transport truck’s Dynamic Steering system to demonstrate the precision and directional stability. A topic everyone needs to know about – right? Well, check out the B2B video with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over 83 million people have watched it!

 

 

The Web Video Marketing Council, together with survey partners ReelSEO and Flimp Media conducted a B2B Video Content Marketing Survey in 2015 with over 350 B2B marketers who confirmed that 73% of them believe that video positively impacts results and ROI. No surprise 96% are engaged in video content marketing. But remember human attention span is only eight seconds. You have a better chance to attract a goldfish which has an attention span of nine seconds.

 

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While many B2B companies realize they need to be customer-centric to compete in today’s market, few have figured out how to put this model into use. It’s important for B2B brands to understand it’s not just one video that will make the brand connection unless you’re Gangnam Style (2.5 billion views). You need many touch points to build a brand. The hardest part for most B2B brands is to focus on a promise that people care about. It isn’t easy for most large corporations, as they organically grow from one innovation to the next or acquire one business to another. How does a mega corporation align the many innovations, products and services to a common, meaningful message that people want to listen and relate to? One of the great values for B2B branding is to define the brands ultimate promise to everyone including your employees. The perfect test – if they don’t believe the promise who else will?

 

 

Doug Webster VP of Service Provider Marketing at Cisco explains “We can’t just say it provides 322 terabits per second of processing. What we need to say is that 322 terabits per second is enough for every man, woman and child in China to be on a video call at the same time.” I’m not sure I want to be on that call.

 

 

A Brands Social License to Operate

 

The need to expand beyond the traditional stakeholders (like customers, employees and shareholders) isn’t about growing the business, it’s more about ensuring the brand doesn’t face any roadblocks along the brand journey. The sphere of a business is getting more complex. Today, you need to concern yourself with a multitude of target groups.

 

As San Jin Park VP of Global Marketing Operations at Samsung Electronics said “the most prominent brands in the future will be those which build networks.” The problem today is the network is everyone. The social license isn’t controlled by the company, it’s the community-at-large that can determines a brand’s fate. A lack of trust in any brand, including a B2B brand, can result in regulatory delays, market access issues and unfavorable legislation, all of which affects the bottom-line. John Morrison author of the book The Social License: How to keep your organization legitimate says a number of factors damaging trust is transparency, accountability, clarity about benefits, and adequate due diligence. He cautions that “Consent is also an essential component. It is a mistake for any company to proceed on any activity without securing adequate social permissions.”

 

It will be the end-user and the general public who will determine your brand’s destiny based on your social license to operate. NGOs understand this. It’s no longer about science and legal requirements but about perceptions and how your brand is perceived.

 

Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed is a great example of not gaining the general public’s social permission before launching a revolutionary technology on an ill-informed public. Had they talked more about the millions of people whose lives could be saved from starvation the brand outcome could have been significantly different. Intel made the brilliant move to tell the general public that you can’t buy a computer without the horsepower of a Pentium processor. Consumer’s bought their story and in turn only bought computers with an Intel Inside. On the other hand, Monsanto, one of the most hated companies, kept the end-user in the dark and subsequently NGOs defined what GMO was. Unfortunately, a great technology that can help feed the world is struggling because the public support just isn’t there.

 

At the End of the Day

 

If your B2B is ultimately focused on the betterment of mankind you should use every opportunity to get your brand message out and tell the world your story. Everyone wants to back a winner. Duracell understood this and tied their brand to life-saving tools that required a battery. Their very successful campaign “Trusted Everywhere” was based on the premise that devices that are important to consumers can be trusted to work when powered by Duracell batteries.

 

Every ingredient in the value chain has a brand story of why it’s important. If you can ensure your employees live the brand and you have a dialogue with the communities you live in, you have a great foundation. Getting your story out to a broader audience takes time, conviction and commitment. And in some cases its a snowball’s chance in hell!

 

 

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The Touch of a Brand

In past articles, we’ve covered the sense of smell and sound and how they enhance the brand relationship. Here our goal is to explore the sensation of touch and its impact on branding. The sense of touch isn’t often considered in building a brand. For some brands this is a huge missed opportunity.

 

One of the obvious ways we use touch is shopping for clothes. Our first instinct is to touch the fabric to feel it against our fingers. The quick touch tells many things about the garment – its softness, wear ability, durability and quality. Think of the last time you visited a car dealership showroom when you inspected a vehicle. The first impression is how the door handle felt in your hand, how it opened and closed. If the interior was leather you assessed the quality by touching the seat or better yet felt the experience by sitting in the driver’s seat. Then grab the steering wheel. With every touch point our brains are processing the information and analysing the vehicle’s durability, craftsmanship and overall quality.

 

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Touch is the first sensory system we develop in the womb and is the most developed by birth. If you ever raised a child you know that holding, rocking and rhythmic stroking are all ways to calm and connect with babies. Trust me, I had many sleepless nights using all of these techniques to make my loved ones fall peacefully asleep hopefully as humanly possible.

 

The somatosensory cortex of your brain, which processes touch information, dedicates a large numbers of neurons to your fingers, lips and tongue. What this means is these areas are more perceptive and finely attuned, maximizing the sensory richness and brain intimacy.

 

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Greek philosopher Aristotle concluded that man was more intelligent than other animals because of the accuracy of his sense of touch. The sensation of touch influences what we buy, who we love and how we heal. We use touch to gather information, establish trust and social bonds.

 

Dr. David Linden said in his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind that the “genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience.”

 

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Test Your Touch

 

Let’s try a touch test. Imagine that you are in a pitch-dark room with no light and you’re handed a bottle. Through the power of touch you determine what I have given you.

 

You feel the cold glass bottle in the palm of your hand. You sense a distinct curvature of the glass in an elongated shape. Moving your fingers along the side you notice subtle smooth groves like ribs that flow up & down the bottle. Through the glass you can sense the content. It feels cold and wet as the glass sweats droplets of water on your hand. You remove the cap with a pop then move the bottleneck towards your lips. You feel the coldness against your bottom lip and tongue. The effervescence of tiny little bubbles dance and tingling against your lip and mouth. You smile with excitement and embrace the bottle’s opening with your lips like a wet kiss. It’s the real thing!

 

If we really conducted this experiment you would have quickly determined that the glass bottle was indeed the most famous shaped soft drink bottle in the world – the iconic contour fluted lines of the Coca-Cola bottle. In 1915 Coca-Cola challenged several glass companies to design a bottle that could be recognized by feel in the dark. 101 years later this unique design still succeeds with its objective.

 

Two Types of Touch

 

We’re not going to talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching if that’s where your mind went. If you want to explore the topic of sex and branding check out my article on Using Sex to Build a Brand.

 

The first type of touching is the sensory pathway that provides us with facts about touch such as pressure, location, texture, vibration and temperature. The coke bottle test is exactly this type of touching. Linden explains it as “figuring out the facts…uses sequential stages of processing to gradually build up tactile images and perform the recognition of objects.”

 

The second pathway processes social and emotional information, with human touch, for instance; a simple handshake, a hug, a caress of the arm, or a pat on the back. Friendly touching communicates trust and cooperation. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study stating that people are making judgments and base their initial opinions of you based on a simple handshake. Linden explains “In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds.” Further echoing this idea is Dacher Keltner, Ph. D. and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who explains “that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

 

What does this have to do with building brands? Both types of touch are very important in helping build brand perceptions and trust.

 

Tactile Branding

 

This is all about what the brand or components of the brand feel like. Jeremy Hsu in his article Just a Touch Can Influence Thoughts and Decisions on Livescience.com says “hardness may evoke concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness. Roughness can lead to thoughts of difficulty and harshness, while heaviness conjures up impressions of importance and seriousness.”

 

In a study conducted by Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT in Boston, Mass., he had participants sit in a hard and soft chair as they negotiated the price of a new car. Guess who was less willing to move on their position? If you guessed the poor people in the hard chairs where the hardest negotiators, you’d be right.

 

Apple is a great example of a brand that has embraced the importance of touch. Their smooth, rounded edged, metal and glass iPads, iPod and iPhones convey a sense of ease and simplicity. They also make sure their customers have ample opportunity to touch and feel the merchandise in their interactive Apple stores.

 

If your brand isn’t an actual product but more based on services, understand that anything you physical give a customer, like a brochure, contract or correspondence, is tactile and communicates your brand by touch. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon says “The physical world is the best medium ever invented and betting against it has always proved wrong.” No surprise that Amazon takes pride in their shipping experience with custom printed boxes and custom packing tape with a program called “Frustration-Free Packaging.”

 

Packaging can be paramount to a brand experience. Again, Apple shines with its packaging. Their new Apple watch packaging is a masterpiece, making the watch seem bigger and weighty to help deliver the “a-ha” moment of expectation.

 

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Ever wonder why a diamond ring box is as important as the ring itself? The jewelry box must communicate the feel of love and commitment while showcasing the ring in all its glittery splendor. The most popular materials are velvet (commonly used on valentine day), silk and leather. All soft and sensual to the educated and expensive touch.

 

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Bed Bath & Beyond organizes their customer experience around touch as their store layout is designed to allow consumers to feel their way through the various sections of towels, curtains, linens and rugs, etc.

 

In the book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind The Stuff We Buy, the author Martin Lindstrom shares an example of ASDA supermarket chain in UK where they displayed their store brand toilet paper so shoppers could actually touch the tissue and compare textures with other brands. The sales for the store brand T.P. “soared.”

 

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Human Touch Branding

 

The power of interpersonal touch can be euphoric or at least communicate the feeling of warmth, safety and reassurance. The outcome of this feeling motivates consumers to spend and consume more. No brand has been immune to the changes digital technology has given to the consumer relationship, but technology will never replace the human touch. Brands live in a highly competitive and fast moving environment where creating meaningful connections with customer is almost impossible. More and more brands forgo the bricks and mortar for a digital brand connection. If your brand has any chance to reach out and touch a customer in a truly meaningful way – the human touch is a true differentiator.

 

Research conducted by Ackerman found that waitresses who touch restaurant patrons (mainly men) earn more in tips, and customers (mainly men) innocently touched by female bartenders drink more alcohol. The key point here is woman touching men. Are we so gullible? You don’t have to answer. The research is clear.

 

Have you ever checked into a Starwood Westin Hotel? Once you have completed the check-in transaction they make sure they move away from the counter that divides you from them and stand face to face in front of you. There is a moment of peace and warmth when they welcome you and hand you the passkey. The touch is minimal but the effect is powerful. But the best part is tucking into the Heavenly Bed with its luxurious 100% Egyptian cotton sateen sheets. Now I am in heaven and been touched by a angel.

 

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The Last Touch

 

The simple use of touch can be profound when used properly and authentically. The sense of vision might dominate many aspects of branding, but the subtleties of touch can increases the brand perception immensely. In the book In Touch with the Future, authors Alberto Gallance and Charles Spence state that more companies have started utilizing the growing field of cognitive neuroscience to help guide product development and marketing decisions.

 

Look at everything your brand is doing to build relationships – where do tactile touch points fit to heighten your brand relationship? Are you maximizing the human touch points? You must clearly understand how your customers interact with your brand to ensure the right touch points are consistently in place to strengthen the brand experience.

 

Think about the key moment when the customer interacts with your brand for the first time. Are they excited to open the box or remove the wrapping? Do they need to read a 10 page instruction manual before they start engagement with your brand? Have you made it idiot-proof for them to turn it on? Is the packaging inviting? Does it feel expensive or simple and clean? Does it reinforce their purchase decision?

 

IKEA has an obsession with efficient packaging to lower transport costs and ensure their products are affordable. CEO Peter Agnefjäll explains “We hate air at IKEA.” But it is a balancing act in efficiency and customer satisfaction. Allan Dickner, packaging manager at IKEA admits that they have destroyed products because they were driven by efficiencies and not customer needs.

 

One word of caution as people get older their sense of touch decline so does a lot of other senses (like hearing, seeing, and smelling). Today, there is a large portion of the population that is aging. If older people are your target audience you might need to reengineer or increase the intensity of your brand’s sensory touch points to make the emotional connection remain with your brand.

 

Whether or not a customer physically interacts with your brand today, consider the influential power it plays to reinforce your brand relationship. It might be time to reach out and touch someone.

 

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Making Employees Brand Crusaders: 5 Examples Of A Strong Brand [Cult]ure

Your greatest brand asset is starring right at you – your employees. So what are they saying about your brand? Are they selling your brand virtues to friends and family? Do they share great stories or bitch while they BBQ? Turning employees into brand advocates or ambassadors should be a major priority for any brand.

 

 

One big problem – most employees aren’t engaged in their jobs and workplace. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement for over 15 years and worldwide only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged. The number improves to 32% in U.S. but that still means 68% of Americans are unhappy at work. Unhappy or disengaged employees spell trouble for branding.

 

If an employee isn’t engaged in your brand why should a customer be any different? This has to be the biggest missed opportunity for brands around the world. The Weber Shandwick Employees Rising report found that only 42% of employees can describe to others what their employer does. Only 42%! That’s better than my kids. Meanwhile 70% of adults online in the USA trust brand or product recommendations from friends and family says a study done by Forrester in 2013. Imagine if every employee recommended your brand to all of their friends and family. Sounds so simple? It isn’t.

 

With the advent of social media every employee can be a brand advocate or brand destroyer. But as Jay Baer, author and President of Convince & Convert, says “If your employees aren’t your biggest fans, you’ve got problems WAY bigger than social media.”

Brand Culture

The first step is creating engaged employees by building an enthusiastic culture and collaborative environment. Engaged employees feel empowered, trusted and valued and those who lead them show confidence, provide feedback and demonstrate appreciation. The workplace must be truthful, open, transparent and fun. Stever Robbins, a personal coach and podcaster, says “Transparency and authenticity build a trusting relationship in which people are more likely to bring their full creativity, commitment, and motivation to work. The way you treat your employees will be mirrored in the way your employees treat your customers. Treat your employees poorly and they’ll pass that treatment along to your customers.”

 

Employee expectations are also changing. Gone are the days of just using the carrot and the stick to motivate employees. Today employees are looking for companies that will pay them well, but just as important, they are looking for a job with a purpose. Daniel Pink author of the book DRIVE The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us says employees are seeking more autonomy with a clear sight of purpose that matters in the big picture of life. Millennials aren’t asking for much are they?

 

 

 

Brand Purpose

Brand purpose should be the beacon that every employee understands and wants to follow within an organization. The recent pioneers of branding understand this and have levered their employees to the good of the brand. How do you instill employees with the feeling that it’s “their” business to the point where they take ownership through good and bad times? They must have a strong sense of what the brand stands for, understand where it is going and its ultimate mission, and know where they fit within the purpose. Here are a few brand examples of highly engaged cult-like brand evangelists:

Zappos

Zappos (now owned by Amazon), located in Las Vegas with roughly 1,500 employees, is an online retailer selling shoes and clothes. Their campus-style-meets-frat-house environment gives everyone the ability to make their space their own which doesn’t match any other office space I have ever seen. If you want privacy this wouldn’t be the place for you. Every new employee goes through five weeks of extensive training including call centre support and shipping. After the five weeks, they are offered $3,000 to quit. The purpose is to ensure the new employee is dedicated and motivated to support the Zappos customer value culture.

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CEO Tony Hsieh says “We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up. Your culture is your brand.” Zappos number one core value is “Deliver WOW Through Service” through its employees who are ambassadors of delivering a customer-centric experience.

Google

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Google goes to great lengths to create an environment for employees with perks such as free gourmet food, beach volleyball courts, mini golf courses, and adult playgrounds. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. But more importantly Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, says the people who work at Google “believe in what they’re doing.” He also explains that “We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us…”

Starbucks

epa04318933 Employees celebrate during opening of the first Starbucks coffe store in Colombia, in Bogota, Colombia, 16 July 2014. EPA/Mauricio Duenas Castaneda

The global coffee chain Starbucks is another company dedicated to building a culture where their employees matter and they invest in them. The retail industry isn’t known for employee engagement or retention but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz claims that their relationship “with our people and the culture of our company is our most sustainable competitive advantage.” Starbucks doesn’t leave their employees to magically become brand ambassador. They have invested over $35 million into a ‘Leadership Lab’ designed help store managers better understand the Starbucks brand and culture. In Schultz’s book Onward he explains that “[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers.”

SAP

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The German software company SAP has quantified what employee engagement means to their bottom-line. In their 2014 Integrated Report they estimate that for every percentage point on their employee engagement index the impact on their operating profits go up between € 35 million and € 45 million. Their secret ingredient? Their employees understand the “why” behind their jobs and how their personal inspiration ties to a bigger vision. The reason why they come to work each day.

 

Southwest Airlines

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Southwest Airlines has been around for over 40 years as a very successful airline in an industry that sees many businesses fail. As Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest, explains any airline can buy all the physical things and copy our business model but “The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” In 2013, Southwest updated their vision and purpose, and according to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest is a great place to work and brings the greatest joy because we have such meaningful purpose.” The purpose to “connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Making Crusaders

No surprise the strong and admired brands we know and love are also strong brands within their company’s walls. Employee brand advocacy is a competitive advantage. The power of employees who are truly engaged as brand advocates is difficult for competitors to replicate and for customers to ignore. The key elements required to make the right environment for employees to succeed as ambassadors are:

  • Strong understanding of the brand’s big picture and purpose
  • Clearly linking their aspiration with those of the brand
  • Freedom to speak and share via social channels about their brand experiences
  • Autonomy to enhance a customer relationship or fix a problem
  • Tools to help employees share the brand
  • Trust that the brand and culture has their well-being covered
  • Feeling appreciated and having an impact on the purpose

 

Brand crusaders don’t originate overnight nor does a strong brand culture just happen. It starts at the top and is clearly supported by all levels of the organization. Building a robust employee culture will help build a durable brand cult. Keep a pulse on your brand culture and employee engagement. Chances are if you have a strong customer brand you already have a very dedicated employee culture. Just make sure you give them the tools and support to help them amplify your brand. If you don’t start building a culture that will support your brand vision, you are only renting your employees, and in turn, your customers. As Hsieh said “The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.”

 

May the employee brand force be with you!

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Brand Voice… it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that matters

Everyone in brand marketing understands the importance of clearly defining and living your brand tone-of-voice but I am not sure many brands stay true to their personality. In some cases, let the creative teams win and run a muck. As blogger Harriet Cummings says “A tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” Some brands tone-of-voice are just down-right boring or nonexistent, and others change their voice daily depending on who is controlling it or where it’s being used. It’s so easy to fall for fun and humorous creative, but by not matching your brand’s tone and voice, you could be diluting your brand’s hard-earned equity.

 

Rob Marsh, copywriter and author of the blog Brandstory says “very little attention is paid to brand voice—the words, phrases, and characteristics that set a brand apart take a back seat to the more “important” visual aspects of the brand.” The reason why is because defining and living a brand tone-of-voice is damn hard. It is especially hard when many people are involved in producing various communications, each having a different point-of-views of what the brand voice should be. If done right, the brand tone-of-voice can be distinctive, recognisable and unique. In life, sometime it’s more important on how you say something than what you say. As American author Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

 

A brands tone-of-voice, when consistent, can tell consumers a great deal about the brand, especially its attitude and overall personality. To be successful whatever the brands tone-of-voice is, it must be consistently delivered everywhere. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that most people aren’t aware of the many different tones they project. But with a brand you can build a brand image from a consistent tone that accentuates its brand values and personality. Nigel Edginton-Vigus, Creative director at Blue Hive advertising agency says many large brands are schizophrenia with their tone-of-voice. You can go from a friendly and chatty physical brand experience a cold and cluttered online experience. “It’s like finishing this amazing love-making session and you lie back content with bliss and your partner turns to you and says ‘affirmative you now have been logged out. Thank you.’”

 

To illustrate the importance of a brands tone-of-voice, I have selected three brands in the men’s shaving industry who demonstrate three different voices.

 

The Designer Shave

 

The first one is Harry’s, an online low-cost provider of high quality men’s shaving products. Harry’s was founded by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider, two bright millennials who shared a passion “for simple design, appreciation of well-made things, and a belief that companies should try to make the world a better place.” Not surprising, Jeff went on to become co-founder of the trendy online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker. Harry’s website states “Harry’s was built out of respect for quality craftsmanship. Simple design, modern convenience and most importantly for guys who think they shouldn’t have to overpay for a great shave.”

 

Viewing Harry’s website or their lifestyle blog-a-zine Five O’clock gives you an immediate feel of a New Yorker Magazine layout. Their tone is calm with subtle, dry, sophisticated humour, yet very easy going and approachable. It’s confident and smart without the hassle or aggression. You feel clean and positive about the experience.

 

 

The High Performance Shave

 

The next example is the mammoth Gillette brand worth $20.4 billion and part of Procter & Gamble that controls 70% of the global blades and razor market. When you think of Gillette, you think of technologically advanced superiority shaving – so how complex can “the Best a Man Can Get.” Their tone-of-voice reeks of masculinity, confidence, precision and calculated. Every time I shave with my Fusion Proglide razor with the new Flexball technology, I think I am driving an Audi RS 7 Quattro with a V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Foot to the floor, the best I can get. Plus the maintenance cost to boot.

 

 

In 2014, the Gillette brand shifted into a new gear with a tone-of-voice that didn’t fit the brand. Maybe they are trying to be more human, like their competitors. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like the Gillette brand I grew up with. When did the Gillette brand start becoming funny?

 

The Cheap and Cheery Shave

 

I am sure everyone has seen the youtube video of Michael Dubin co-founder of Dollar Shave Club ranting about how F**KING GREAT their one dollar blades are. The Dollar Shave Club, a subscription based razor company’s tone-of-voice is funny, cheeky and makes fun of Gillette. They quickly tap into every man’s feeling of getting ripped-off with the high cost of razor blades. Their underdog brand has no flashy models or famous sports stars. They’re just down-to-earth, humble, witty and supported by an unbelievable price. Today, buying a pack of razors isn’t cheap. A pack of eight blades can set you back $35 to $40 dollars. The Dollar Shave Club taps into consumer frustration. “Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice,” Dubin said in an Adweek article by Tim Nudd. “Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it’s important to remind people, here’s a guy who’s just like you, finding a solution to a real problem.”

 

 

Final Voice

 

Who would have thought a simple product like a razor blade could be as complex as it concerns their tone-of-voice? But like a human, a brand’s attitude and personality is complex. Many brands leave the tone-of-voice to be driven and cultivated by the creative folks and designers, but in actual fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility working for a brand to emulate the brand’s attitude, personality and with its customers. It even becomes more important when more employees are communicating with customers through social channels. Every brand needs a voice and tone guide to ensure employees are consistently projecting it. The guide forces the brand to clearly define what is its tone-of-voice and gives the brand a benchmark to judge future content. Maybe this would have helped Gillette from making the “first real suit” commercial. I don’t think so.

 

If you can’t describe your brands tone-of-voice and don’t see it in any of your communications, it might be time to start building your brand’s voice and tone guide. Click here to view some examples and tips to help inspire you.

 

Remember it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.

 

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What does a red cup have to do with branding?

Full Stop – red cups are part of the Starbucks brand experience. As a matter of fact, over 60 million Starbucks cups are served each and every week. From the beginning of November until the end of December, Starbucks will be serving 480 million red holiday cups to help celebrate the festive season.

 

Eighteen years ago Starbucks launched their first holiday red cup – a duration that has created great expectations beyond a simple disposal coffee cup. Has this red cup replaced the advent calendar? With all the controversy so far this season you need to wonder.

 

 

Over the year’s Starbucks red cups has celebrated the holiday season with snowflakes, doves, reindeer, snowman, vintage ornaments, poinsettias, and Christmas trees, but this year they opted for a minimalist design of a two-tone red cup with no images. This brilliant long-term campaign has taken some of Coca-Cola’s best Christmas ideas and put them on a cup. Check out Time’s magazine for the evolution of the Starbucks red cup over the last seven years. This year’s red cup sans holiday icons has become blasphemy for many Christian’s organizations or an opportunity to create a controversy to garner media attention.

 

 

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ Vice President of Design and Content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

 

Customers See Red

 

Former Arizona Pastor Joshua Feuerstein wrote in a Facebook post “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” that went viral with over 14 million views in the last five days. This extreme view has stirred up the media and the social channels. Even Donald Trump has entered into the picture with the suggestion of boycotting Starbucks. Obviously he doesn’t have any Starbucks shares in his portfolio.

 

Starbucks issued a statement Sunday explaining that they are trying to create an environment that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way” and “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.“

 

Jay Parini, a poet and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God said on CNN.com that Starbucks red cup is an attempt to remove even the most secular side of Christmas by “strip[ping] all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life – seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.”

 

Or from Starbucks point of view it’s about creating your own texture and mythic potential without being spoon feed of what you should think or believe.

 

What 480 Million Red Cups Mean

 

There are a couple learning’s we should all take from this event.

 

First, colour does matter, (check out my article on colour), red is a very strong and vibrant colour that can stimulate high emotions – just ask a raging bull. In 2011, Coca-Cola changed their sacred red Coke can to white to celebrate the holiday season and were punished by retailers and customers who became confused by the change.

 

Second, customers own your brand. Before you change any representation of your brand make sure you understand what your customers’ think. Product packaging is sacred ground for loyal customers. If Apple changed their earphones from white to red what do you think would happen? Maybe nothing or maybe all hell might break loose.

 

Third, by providing ambiguity with a blank red cup and letting the customer fill the void leaves too much room for misinterpretation or anti-brand advocated to take advantage of the situation. The brand must own the space (physically & mentally) and direct the conversation.

 

I am happy that I don’t drink coffee and have to endure this tragedy on a daily bases for the next six weeks. However, I did hear that Starbucks has started using cup sleeves with snowflakes on them. Maybe this will appease the detractors.

 

The great thing is brands continue to have the power to inspire, create conversations and be news worthy without changing anything inside their cup. And as we see here, some brand loyalists will always see the cup as half empty and others as half full. Cheers.