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The Amazing Magic Of Audio Branding

Audio branding is like the icing on the cake. It provides an amazing, rich and memorable tone to your brand identity. Sound can stop you in your tracks and quickly engage you like no other sense can. Music and sounds can trigger memories and emotions. To test your audio branding knowledge, we have created a quiz. Listen to 7 different unique sounds and see if you can identify the brands.

Most retailers already leverage music as a selling tool in stores. In building a brand, the use of sound is underestimated. Few brands are strategically using music, sound and voice to create a magical brand connection.

 

The Beginning of Audio Branding

Before television, radio was the darling for reaching consumers. I have been told by those who still remember that radio was the entertainment center in households. Entire families would huddle around the radio to listen to broadcasts sponsored by a brand. Well before the trend of radio advertising. Generals Mills aired the first singing commercial back in 1926 entitled “Have you tried Wheaties?” It was an instant success and made Wheaties a national brand.

The art of building brands through jingles reached a peak during the economic boom of the 1950s. Many product categories jumped onto the trend such as breakfast cereals, candy, snacks, pop, tobacco, beer, automobiles, personal hygiene products, household products and especially detergent, advertising jingles were often used. Like the epic musical films, branding jingles lost their appeal by the 1960s. Any Boomer can recite several advertising jingles as they sit dormant in their brains like “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,” “Ai, Yi, Yi, Yi, I am the Frito Bandito,” and “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

To be a memorable and enduring jingle Linda Kaplan Thaler, Chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler advertising agency, say, “[a jingle] have huge sticking power. A jingle is not successful if you listen to it once and liked it. You have to listen to it and want to sing it. Essentially, you become the advertiser for the brand.” She also thinks today is a perfect time to build a brand through a jingle due to the many social channels to share it on. While Martin Puris, past Chairman and CEO of Ammirati & Puris, thinks jingles are passé. “In a marketing wary world, a jingle seems oddly out of place. Too slick, too contrived.”

Singing a brand message is a beautiful thing.

Big Bold Sounds

“Master of suspense” filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock understood the importance of sound in telling a story. He said, “When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.” He was brilliant at manipulating his audience’s emotions by using sound design to enhance the situation. Remember his movie, The Birds (1963). He used a combination of real bird sounds and electronically synthesized noises, creating an auditory assault that brought the vicious bird attacks to life.

Great sound design is fully appreciated through good quality sound systems and speakers. Since the 1960s, we saw significant innovations concerning sound systems, from the bulky multiunit stereo systems and the iconic boombox to putting our entire music library into our pocket with the iPod. Add a set of good quality headphones, and you are in another world.

 

Audio Branding – Music 

Eric Sheinkop, co-author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands, says, “Music brings value to a brand in three ways: identity, engagement, currency. Specifically, using music to establish an emotional connection with a brand increases brand recognition, creates excitement and buzz beyond the brand’s core products or services and can empower consumers, giving them valuable content to discover and share. Music creates the value that brands need to win the war for attention and develop a genuine connection with their consumers. When used correctly, music not only creates loyalty but true advocacy.”

Music has played an essential role in brand building for automotive and aviation brands, where it is all about the emotional state. Music is a universal language that crosses all borders of culture, nationality and languages. It is a personal connection to the brand. Yet, most brands tend to use sound and music to be campaign-oriented, not brand-oriented. Here is an example of a campaign-oriented advertisement by Honda featuring a 60-person choir who were the sole audio track. There isn’t any car sound that they can’t sing.

United Airlines took the brand-oriented approach using music as a key brand element. Since 1976, United has used the familiar George Gershwin’s tune Rhapsody in Blue as a foundation for their brand. The music is played in its television advertisements, airport terminals, and pre-flight announcements. United Airlines uses this piece of music to strategically create a distinct audio identity that expresses its vales at all necessary customer touchpoints. Have you ever watched someone bring on a musical instrument onto a plane? How about the entire London Symphony Orchestra.

Their onboard safety video creatively incorporates the distinctive rhapsody in blue music in various interpretations to emphasize each cultural destinations – brilliant.

 

Audio Branding – Sonic Logo 

The sonic logo is linking your brand logo with a distinct and unique sound that becomes synonymous with the brand identity. The key is using it everywhere the brand is communicated.  It takes years of reach and frequency to link a sound firmly to the brand. But, once it occurs, it becomes timeless like NBC’s three-tone chimes, Intel’s five-note bong, and THX Sound System’s deep note. Kevin Perlmutter’s brand strategist and a blogger explain that because sound bypasses the rational part of the brain and reaches the most intuitive level, sound can be the fastest way to heighten brand engagement. Therefore, a brand identity is incomplete without utilizing a sound or music to help develop an emotional connection even if your brand is an unemotional computer chip. You have a better chance to position a brand into the customer’s mind if you use a multisensory approach.

 

Audio Branding – Product Sound

Some product brands have their very own sounds that can help differentiate themselves from the competition. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies “Snap, Crackle, Pop,” Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz,” Snapple’s “Pop” when opened, Dyson’s unique vacuum sound, Infiniti’s engine sound (check out the ten most distinctive sounding cars) and the “scritch-scratch” sound of a Sharpie marker on paper. The sound of your product can be as unique as its look, feel and smell. Rachael Pink, an acoustic engineer at Dyson, says, “People now expect products to sound good—not just sound quiet, but have a nice quality.”

Frit-Lay, part of PespiCo Inc., introduced a compostable chip bag for its SunChips brand to become more environmentally friendly. Therefore, as a result, the bag became noisy changing the customer experience so drastically sales fell, and consumers complained about the sound. Frito-Lay went back to the old bag. Don’t underestimate the customer’s relationship with your brand and product sound.

 

Hearing is Believing 

Today, visual branding remains the focus of many marketers and branding experts. Even with the increased number of touchpoints (like TV, radio, website, mobile apps, voice assistants, social channels, in-store displays, voice messages, events and in-store), you can’t rely solely on visuals. The trend is towards digital channels (social media, bloggers, podcasts, voice assistants, video) for brands to communicate.

Well, digital has many channels to reach the consumer; it can lack personality and emotional attachment. Supporting this conclusion, Kevin Perlmutter says, “The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front and center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.”

In our chaotic and over-stimulated communications world, brands need to engage all senses to create a powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences. Audio branding could be the magic your brand needs to be believed. Start turning up the volume.

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Important Survival Lessons from Dead Brands

I see dead brands

“Of all the things that your company owns, brands are far and away the most important and the toughest. Founders die. Factories burn down. Machinery wears out. Inventories get depleted. Technology becomes obsolete. Brand loyalty is the only sound foundation on which business leaders can build enduring, profitable growth,” says Jim Mullen, founder of Mullen Advertising. So often, business leaders fail to understand this and stick to what they know, which is to continue to withdraw on their brand loyalty oblivious of the dangers that surround them. Many dead brands can teach us a lesson.

There are thousands of brands that have come and gone and hundreds that are the walking dead. Learning from mistakes is always harder than justifying enormous brand successes. Shifting a brand into a new direction is hard, expensive, risky and terrifying. No wonder few brands can do it. The brand graveyard is full of exciting lessons of how indecision, denial, arrogance and fear killed a brand.

Here are six essential survival lessons to keep your brand from ending up dead:

Brand Experience

Brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. There was a day, people who drove a Ford drove Fords their whole lives. Not anymore. Yet mobile phone companies like Apple and Samsung see customers stick with them from phone to phone. The problem is keeping up with customer’s expectations. There is no shortage of new and exciting brands. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, there are over 30,000 new produced launched every year. The choices are endless. With the help of the internet, the world is your oyster. You can quickly compare prices, performance, brand value, and user experiences 24/7, including one-click to buy.

In 2018, NewVoiceMedia’s ‘Serial Switchers’ reported brands lost more than $75 billion due to poor customer service. If the brand experience isn’t highly personalized and relevant, and delivering highly customized experiences online and offline, be afraid. Customers are looking and expecting memorable, multidisciplinary, multisensory brand experiences that touch them along their journey. Brands that fail to embrace the concept that every brand touch-point builds brand loyalty are closer to their demise.

Brands that are desperate to save money start by cutting front-line service or implementing customer-hostile business models; these brands generally don’t last long. Consumer advocate Christopher Elliot identified two such dead brands: US Airways and Blockbuster.

Before US Airways demise (2015), it went through a significant downsizing and outsourced many customer service functions. Customer’s reviews on Skytrax gave them a 4 out of 10, and CustomerService Scoreboard gave them 34 out of 200 possible points with an overall rating of “Terrible.” Blockbuster wasn’t much better with a 38 out of 200 with a similar score.

Innovate or Die

Every brand’s survival mantra must be — innovate or die. Innovation comes in many forms: product changes, new use patterns, production efficiency, service improvements, digital enhancements, new features and benefits, or more environmentally friendly inputs and uses.

No brand should be complacent. The speed of change will continue to exhilarate thanks in part to new technologies such as 5G, Blockchain, Voice technology, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 3D printing, Edge Computing, Spatial Computing (Mash-up of augmented, mixed and virtual reality AR, MR, VR), and Quantum Computing.

Brands must always be looking to improve or surpass customer’s ever-evolving expectations. Apple understands this in spades as they launch a new iPhone almost every year. Currently, the rumour is the Apple will be introducing a new 2020 iPhone model this fall, which could be called iPhone 12. How original.

In 2008 Nokia was ranked as one of the most valuable brands in the world. New Yorker writer James Surowieckisays Nokia failed to keep up with the competition in the smartphone game and relied on its past brand strengths. “The high-tech era has taught people to expect constant innovation; when companies fall behind, consumers are quick to punish them.” Nokia was severely punished and is dead when it comes to the mobile phone business.

PWC report that many brands don’t have an emerging technologies strategy at all, and aren’t monitoring them. They also determined that an entirely new business could be constructed using new emerging technologies with less investment than one-quarter of an existing IT maintenance budget. This new brand threat could be up and running in less than a year.

Today, it’s easy to build a brand on innovations and technologies. It’s much harder to sustain a brand on past innovations and successes. Kodak didn’t envision a future without film nor Blockbuster without VHS videos.

Shifting Audience

There was a day; all a brand had to do was keep the Baby Boomer happy — the most significant consumer base the world has ever seen. If a brand built a loyal Boomer consumer base, it was golden. The problem is that this demographic is getting older by the day, and their consumption pattern is shifting and declining drastically.

Many brands need to re-engineered to meet the expectations of the next significant consumer waves — the Millennials and Generation Z. Many new brand-breaking paradigms are causing considerable disruption like Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and Spotify. Rave Reviews state 78 percent of Millennials say that brands have to work harder to secure their loyalty. How brands guarantee dedication and commitment has changed significantly. Millennials are looking beyond traditional brand value and quality with higher expectations on transparency, sustainability, and innovation. Your brand must always prove itself worthy as Millennials, and Gen Z continuously monitors online reviews, influencers and social media before buying any brand.

I am sure many Millennials and Gen Z have never heard of such dead brands as Napster, Walkman, Palm, Compaq, and Enron.

Trend, Fad or Fiction

Times change, and so does consumer’s needs and wants. Make sure you know when your brand is a fad or just a passing whim.

Remember the Pet Rock? In 1975, Gary Dahl, an advertising executive, conceived and marketed rocks called Pet Rock. In less than a year, he rocked on to sell over 1.5 million Pet Rocks at $4 each. For a fleeting moment, he was a rock star, and then the Pet Rock disappeared forever. This brand was dead before you knew it.

Famous actor, filmmaker, author, and former politician and professional bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was captivated by a convoy of military Humvees driving down a highway in 1989. Immediately, he had to have one. We know from history that Arnold always gets what he wants. AM General worked with General Motors to supply a civilian version called the famous Hummer. It was a great success as other affluent “Arnolds” stepped forward to have the privileged to feel the power of a tank stuck in traffic gridlock. Sales peaked in 2006, and the last Hummer H3 rolled off the line on May 24, 2010. High gas prices and the ever-increasing pressures by the environmental movement made the Hummer brand symbol unpalatable as a gas guzzler. Eventually, even Arnold sold his seven Hummers for a reported $950,000 to conform with other Californians. The Hummer brand was dead.

Remember Segway? The cool two-wheeled motorized self-balancing stand-up personal vehicle that allowed you to travel standing. Was this another Pet Rock? The problem was the Segway was expensive ($5,000), massive (over 100 pounds) and potentially dangerous. It wasn’t big enough to navigate the road with cars and wasn’t small enough to travel safely on the sidewalk. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was quoted in the book Code Name Ginger stating, “I think this plan is dead on arrival.” The inventor Dean Kamen (nicknamed Ginger) was planning to sell half a million of these in a year. According to Forbes, they sold just 30,000 Segways in six years. As people continue to embrace a healthier lifestyle with more exercising like walking, the Segway looks like the laziest mode of transportation ever. Jeff Bezos was right; the Segway brand is dead.

Guts to Change

If you see your brand failing and the market changing, what do you do? Do you tinker with your business model that has been working for decades or, in some cases, centuries? Do you alienate your loyal customers by changing too much, too quickly?

Kodak and Blackberry are great examples of trying to stay in the past while trying to meet the future at the same time. Unfortunately, they both failed. Allen Adamson, Chairman of North America Landor Associates, explains that Kodak “failed to seize the day in terms of moving away from the existing cash cow to figure out how to live and fight the future.” Today, Blackberry is still trying to reinvent itself to find its vision. Meanwhile, all of its customers have replaced their “crackberry” with an iPhone or Samsung smartphone. Like Nokia, the Blackberry smartphone is dead.

Remember the Friday or Saturday evening trip to Blockbusters to rent a new movie release? The writing was on the wall as cable companies, internet providers, and Netflix offered seamless video streaming at home. But, Blockbusters stayed the course except for extending their late fees charging, which they accumulated over $800 million — something I don’t miss paying.

Many other brands (Circuit City, Future Shop, Olympus, Barnes & Noble, Borders, H&M, Taxis and retail stores, to name a few) face significant disruption from new technologies and digital innovations. Unless they embrace drastic changes, if they can, their destiny doesn’t look bright.

Bad Business Models

The fastest way for a brand to achieve death is not having a sound business model to ensure sustainable profits. The airline industry is notorious for building a new airline brand, then watching them fall from the sky (in some cases literally). Severin Borenstein, an economist at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, says, “The industry in aggregate has lost about $60 billion over the 32 years since 1978. The biggest mistake they seem to make is not making money.”

Wikipedia has a list of defunct airlines by country. I counted over 430 USA airline brands, and over 105 Canadian airline brands no longer taking off. Remember, Eureka Aero, Mohawk Airlines, Zip, Greyhound Air, Roots Air or Pride Air? TWA, owned by Howard Hughes and Pan Am were the first airlines to fly around the world. They pioneered many innovations such as jumbo jets, computerized reservation systems, in-flight meals and much more. Sadly, they are both dead brands.

The automotive industry has a similar story, but theirs are less about the business model and more about production and quality issues, and costs. Check out the defunct USA auto list. The list is very long!

Do you remember the dot.com bubble? The stock markets went crazy with new internet companies that promised to change the world, with high valuations and no profits. At the time, losing money was a symbol of success. By October 2002, the Nasdaq stock market index had lost 78 percent of its value from the peak. By mid-2003, trillions of dollars on wealth vanished, and thousands of dot.com brands like Pets.com, GeoCites.com, TheGlobe.com, InfoSpace.com, LastMinute.com, Altavista.com, Kozmo.com, Boo.com, all disappeared. The lesson is you need a sustainable business model. Currently, its the weed brands that are learning this fact.

Today, many retail brands are heading into the same direction with colossal debt, poor customer service and no digital strategy. Too many dead brands.

Survive or Die

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, who made the company a microprocessor behemoth, wrote the book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Identify and Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Business. Written over 20 years ago, it is still very relevant to the concept of “inflection points.”

An inflection point is a point where you know that the industry in which your business operates in, has changed so profoundly that you can either change your business entirely as well or get killed by your competitors. The inflection could be a change in competition, a change in regulatory issues, a change in consumer habits, and a change in technology. He believed in taking action, doing something about it, staying ahead of times and winning at all costs even if it meant changing even his company’s core areas of business. “Most companies don’t die because they are wrong; most die because they don’t commit themselves,” says Grove. “They fritter away their valuable resources while attempting to make a decision. The greatest danger is in standing still.”

Death isn’t inevitable. There are many successful brands well over a hundred years. Some brands that came back from the dead and are flourishing today are Lego, Marvel comic books, Old Spice, Apple, Nintendo and Volkswagen.

In this new world of disruptive technologies and innovations, no brand is safe. Changes are being launched at lightning speed, copied overnight, and improved continuously by the hour. If you freeze in indecision or blink, your brand could be dead before you know it. Today the Coronavirus’s impact is still unknown, but brands must be on high-alert as customer’s consumption patterns and preferences shift. Be ready to respond and fight to survive. There are already too many dead brands.

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Pink Colour Branding

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a striking and controversial colour, full of meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more interpretations than any other colour. This article is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the pink colour branding has a lot of opportunities left in it in the world of branding.

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which means we don’t see actual wavelengths. Pink light is “an extra–spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink are red and white, but it is yellow and blue tones that form a broad spectrum of pink hues. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (blue has over 73). In the ranking of fashionable colours, pink is number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell, in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pink represents masculinity honouring slain Samurais, whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront, starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960s, pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there, we saw the pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as a cheerful colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to hot vibrant pink, and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray vast and can quickly define gender or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink, transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and hip. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successfully motivate his employees to wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day proudly.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and -$6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend, says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She told the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that the Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (U.S.) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. They were making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink colour branding power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion U.S. (2015) in worldwide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

Gender-Coded Pink

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men, nor does it have any effect on human behaviour. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II, every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.” Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

The Politics of Pink

The colour pink connotes passive, innocent and girly; however, as an advocacy pink colour branding, it’s fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement. Still, its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazis to identify homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official, now-ubiquitous, symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour communicates active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

Pink Ribbon

The Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their profits. BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 42,170 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2020 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign, but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the pink colour branding. They just want a colour that will differentiate them from the competition.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies that introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since launching the Pink Panther, customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in an Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first companies to trademark their colour against copycats successfully. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing, says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink, which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than making it white. Today, the opposite is correct, but as readers’ transition to the online version, the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurant interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to soothe their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

Pinked Out

No question, pink is an intense colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to develop with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will make pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said, “women are complex creatures.” I think pink colour branding is just as complex.

However, many brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd by pink colour branding, and more new brands will do the same.

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter

This updated article was originally published on January 14th, 2018.

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Fear Is The Greatest Persuader That Doesn’t Terrify Brands

Using fear to build a brand

Find out how brands use consumers’ fear to influence the buying decision.

Fear is the most visceral and primal emotion. It’s our survival instinct to keep us safe. Emotional fear can break through the mundane noise of life and have a profound, lasting effect on the human psyche. Fear is the most excellent persuader to make us do things and sometimes buy things that hopefully give us peace of mind. People can fear anything from missing out, pain, failure, losing, uncertainty, the unknown, or death.

If fear is the most excellent persuader, it is hard for brands not to use it, especially when it is hard to stand out in this noisy world. Fear has been the principal instrument for religions, politicians, advocacy groups, media, and brands. Without it, brands have little persuasive ability.

Neuroscience has found that our brain is always wired to search and seek safety, moving away from a perceived threat towards a perceived reward. Fear is precisely how the stock market works. For instance, there are five times more threat circuits compared to reward circuits in the brain. In a study, the University of Bath, U.K., found that the fear of failure motivates consumers far more than the promise of success. Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, an occupational psychologist, says that people are more motivated by fear of losing something than the reward of gaining something.

Fear of missing out and fear of messing up.

What is Fear?

Fear can be experienced in two forms: physical and emotional.

Fight or flight is our physical response to fear. Where our body either stand its ground or runs for its life. Anxiety comes with sweating, rapid heart rate, and high adrenaline levels.

The emotional response is highly personalized, starting with a chemical reaction in our brain. For every person and situation, the fear factor is different. Some people are adrenaline junkies, thriving on fear-induced experiences like extreme sports or watching scary movies. The net outcome is a fear-induced positive. For others, these situations are avoided at all costs because these fear-inducing experiences are undesirable. It’s through emotional fear that brands try to convert us.

Fear in the Moment

When something scares us, we are on high alert. We quickly focus on the here and now. For instance, you feel your heart pounding in your throat as you fight for air. Precisely what a brand wants you to do — pay attention. It does not guarantee a sale, but hopefully, it gets your brand on their shopping list.

Several research studies done in the 1960s found too little fear wasn’t enough to create an action, and too much fear created a defensive reaction like denial. You have to find the sweet spot.

The relevance is essential. The fear portrayed must be related to the person’s psyche and phobias. If you recently had a heart attack, you will pay attention to every warning/danger concerning your health (i.e. diet, fried foods, smoking), especially if it was the cause of your heart attack. Targeted fear is more effective because your target is ready to listen and is desperate for a solution — your brand’s solution.

Macro Fears

There is always a prevailing crisis that captures the world’s imagination through sensationalized news reports and documentaries. The broad topics range from economic catastrophe, environmental annihilation, health epidemics or pandemics, and political upheaval or war. Many brands use these fears to help promote their products or causes. Climate change has been a big one for the last decade. Today, the coronavirus has superseded all other worries. Next will be the economic fall-out and the fear of the unknown.

Fear of germs and fear of climate change.

Micro Fears

Micro fears are fears directly related to personal situations and individual psyche. The personality and behavioural profile model DiSC identified four common fears based on its four personality styles: Dominant, Influencing, Steady, and Compliant. Each personality type is motivated by different factors based on environment, heredity, and role models, but their underlining behaviour is influence by fear. In each case, there is a different common fear.

Source: www.discprofile.com

The two most common styles globally are Influence and Steadiness, closely followed by Conscientiousness. More women than men residing in the Influence (32%) and Steady (33%) styles, whereas more men occupy Compliant (30%). Interestingly, more Americans are Dominate (17%) or Influencing and significantly less are Compliant (13%). Of course, these numbers are very black and white. Most of us are a blend of these four styles. For instance, many brands focus on the fear of rejection and the fear of losing security/stability. Nobody wants to miss out.

Fear of rejection.
Fear of insecurity.

Scared Straight

Many advocacy groups want people to stop deviant behaviour like smoking, alcohol & drug abuse, drinking & driving, gun violence, unsafe sexual practices, animal cruelty and eating disorders. Telling people what they shouldn’t do is hard. Sociologist and author of How Fear Works Frank Furedi says “…advocacy groups use ‘surveys’ and ‘research,’ rather than the language of good and evil, to claim that a particular problem is getting worse and that unless Something Is Done, it will engulf the whole of society.”

In many cases, the target is foolish young men whose hormones are driving them towards risky behaviour. They don’t listen to anyone, not even their mothers. So why would they listen to a brand commercial or print ad? There is an urgent need to change their behaviour as death rates are highest among 16 to 23-year-old males (until they reach 60 to 70). In most cases, these campaigns try to use fear to knock some sense into these delinquents. Making deviant behaviour uncool is the goal.

While these campaigns win awards, I’m not sure they change behaviour. Don’t get me wrong; these are dangerous situations that deserve serious attention. But is scaring people to death sustainable? Fear mongering has been around longer than I’ve been alive. Religions are notorious for putting the fear of God in sinners. The fear they used years ago wouldn’t be beneficial today unless you are Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. So far, his ability to perpetuate fear seems to be — unfortunately — sustainable.

Fear of death.

Risk Averse

Society has become more risk-averse since the advent of helicopter parents. These parents sought to protect their children from everything imaginable from accidental injuries to terrorists, child molesters, sexual predators, drug gangs, and crazy killers lurking in the dark — and now pandemic viruses.

As people age, they become more risk-averse. An Economic Journal study found that regardless of income, wealth, and education, risk appetite falls as investors grow older. Millennials are also showing signs of risk aversion. Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that Millennials started saving money for retirement around the age of 24. In contrast, Generation X began at the age of 30, and Baby Boomers didn’t start saving until they were 35.

Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, says, “…most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history, and yet fear levels are high…” Top of mind for many Americans is a devastating shooting in a school, mall, church, office, or at a social event.

If we critically look at the evidence, the top fears aren’t killing us like the media and social channels would want us to believe. To put COVID-19 in perspective, 634,000 Americans die of heart disease every year. At the time of writing, over 100,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19. My guess would be over 75 percent of the media channels are consumed with Coronavirus fear.

Our lives have become much more comfortable, thanks to technology, government systems, and economic stability, but people are more afraid than ever. Now that COVID-19 has entered the picture, fear is at an all-time high. Brands understand this fear. They are more than willing to show how they can help make your life better for a price.

Fear of health.

Risk Takers

Like Yin and Yang, there is a positive side to fear. Adrenaline junkies respect and reverence of fear; they see both the challenge and the reward of fear. They thrive on adrenaline by facing fear directly. Extreme sports are all about risk management and controlling fear in a way that isn’t debilitating. In a study published in Health Psychology, researchers found a correlation between extreme sports and transformational changes in confidence and sense of self. But, let’s be real, many of these daredevils die — fear or no fear. However, people, who can embrace their fears and face them head-on are reported to be happier, more stable, and able to handle life’s ups and downs.

Adrenaline junkies.

Buying Peace of Mind

Fear is what keeps us alive. No shortage of fears exists in consumers’ minds. Brands that get it right tap into the instinct for self-preservation, which, at its core, motivates most of our decisions. Brands need to be there to help consumers survive and flourish.

Fear isn’t a weapon to prey on consumers’ underlining insecurities but more to help them embrace truth. It shouldn’t be condescending, finger-wagging or hopeless. Creating an emotionally distressed state should come with a definite benefit. In many cases, fear only creates a defensiveness reaction of denial, anger, disgust, and avoidance. No one benefits from de-moralization except the righteous activist who frightens and morally condemns people’s actions, shaming them into conversion. Consumers need to see a better future with courage, trust, hope, love, and solidarity. Healthy fear creates attention and breaks through the noise, but it must come with a sustainable solution. As British philosopher, Bertrand Russell once said, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

Fear can be the starting point of a great brand relationship. Show them how your brand can help with practical information and resources, not just scare them to death.

1

Suddenly Corona Beer is in Danger of Becoming a Victim of Coronavirus

We all know there is no link between Corona beer and the Coronavirus, but they have an unfortunate coincidence of sharing the same name. After 100 years of building a formidable beer brand, Corona is helplessly watching its brand name become a victim of a devastating global pandemic. Prior to Coronavirus, Corona Extra was the third-most popular beer in the United States. Coronavirus is becoming this century’s biggest catastrophic causing untold amounts of mental and physical mayhem on people, societies, businesses, and countries. Coronavirus destruction will live in the annals of history longer than any pale lager. Suddenly, Corona’s brand name is under attack with no clear direction of what they should do.

Fear Mongering

The first bad press Corona got in association with Coronavirus was from 5W Public Relations. They surveyed 737 U.S. beer drinkers and vigorously promoted their results: 38 percent of beer-drinking consumers would not buy Corona under any circumstances due to concerns about Coronavirus. They also claimed that 4 percent of people who previously drank Corona would stop drinking it — a rounding error.

PRWeek received the release but determined that “it was lacking in credibility…due to previous interactions with 5W and Torossian [CEO of 5W], who has courted controversy in the past and is not averse to a little self-promotion.” The 5W website shows no connection to beer consumers. But they got the results they were looking for. Mainstream media (like CBS News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox, Vice and New York Post) jumped on the story, focusing on the 38 percent stats without any further investigation. Constellation Brands CEO and President Bill Newlands, owner of Corona, had to address the situation head on. He stated that “these claims simply do not reflect our business performance and consumer sentiment, which includes feedback from our distributor and retailer partners across the country.”

We all know that Corona beer does not causes Coronavirus, at least I hope we do. But people are scared and drinking a beer that shares its name with the virus can make some people uncomfortable. Is this the beginning of Corona beer’s demise or just bad research?

Negative Brand Names

The world is over saturated with brand names, making it almost impossible to break through the marketing noise. Wine brand names have tried to break this barrier with negatively charged brand names. With wine brands popping-up on shelves everywhere like Frog’s Piss, Earthquake, Killer, Fat Bastard, Prisoner, and BoomBoom. Negatively charged brand names are cutting edge. They are notorious and risqué like Fcuk fashions, Heart Attack Grill, Monster Energy drink, Skinny Bitch apparel, and Raging Bitch beer.

While negative words can generate negative feelings, they also create marketing opportunities because they are different and memorable. However, research has shown that extremely negative brand names can create consumer avoidance. But humour and attitude based negative brand names can create excitement, savviness, sensuousness, hipness and daringness that appeals to Millennials. Negative brand names challenge conventions and stand out from the crowd, but I don’t think this is where the Corona beer brand wants to go. It prefers golden sandy beaches, turquoise waters and clear blue skies.

Brand Name Casualty

Every brand works hard to build positive associations through product performance, employees, advertising, promotions, sponsorship, events, customer interactions, and social and community engagements. Once a negative association starts to take hold, its hard for people to separate the two.

A similar unfortunate situation developed for Ayds (pronounce as “aids”) candy. They were a popular appetite-suppressant candy in the 1970s and early 1980s until Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was discovered. The horrible disease also caused massive weight loss in patients. To try to save the brand name, they changed it to Diet Ayds. The negative connotation was still too great to overcome. The brand eventually went out of business.   

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating hurricane to hit southeast New Orleans killed 1,836 people and affected over 15 million residents. At the time, the name Katrina was ranked the 246th most popular female baby name according to nameberry.com. Seven years later, the name’s popularity has dropped 696 spots to 942. Once a negative connotation is placed on a name, it’s hard for people to move on. Once a brand name becomes negative, its almost impossible to turn the tide.

Drowning Sorrows

As the saying goes “when times are good, people drink — when times are bad, people drink.” Beer and other alcoholic beverages sales continue to rise as people self-isolate and worry about their future. No sports, no clubs, no concerts, no events of any kind, yet Nielsen data showed that beer sales rose 34 percent year-over-year for the week ending on March 21. Sales of Constellation Brand products, owner of Corona, are up higher at 39 percent, led by the Corona family, which is up 50 percent. Impressive until you compare it against toilet paper sales which are up 160 percent!

Corona Beer Virus

Since the end of January, the hashtag “corona beer virus”, “beer virus” and “beer coronavirus” have continued to trend upwards on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Some followers support of the brand, while others mock the virus and beer with creative memes. As the Coronavirus situation continues to intensify and people are in lockdown, connecting with friends and family through video conferencing online is the new normal. Corona beer has become an online celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Kellan Terry, senior manger of communications at Brandwatch, says that young people tend to laugh at what they consider to be dystopian events as a coping mechanism online. Having your brand associated with a deadly virus isn’t a healthy trend with or without the name.

Then, corona’s next problem appeared. Corona launched an online campaign for their new Corona Hard Seltzer with the slogan “coming ashore soon.” Twitter followers quickly attacked the campaign as “bad timing” and in “poor taste” amid the spread of Coronavirus. Corona promptly removed the slogan.

Beer Branding

Marketing alcohol is like marketing water; its not the taste that matters, its the brand image. In a classic blind taste study done in 1964, regular drinkers of certain brands failed to rate their brand as significantly better than the other samples. In fact, regular drinkers of two of the five types of beer scored other beers significantly higher than the brand that they stated was their favorite. There have been many other studies since with similar results. In 2018, the beer manufactures in the United States spend close to $1.5 billion on advertising. Constellation Brands ranked 2nd with a $368 million ad expenditure on Corona and Modelo. Beer brands live and die on their image. Corona brand marketing executives are likely increasing their own alcohol consumption in these unprecedented times.

Brand Reaction

Corona owner Constellation Brands has over 100 brands in beer, wine, spirits and, more recently, cannabis. Each brand gets its allotted marketing, brand support, and funding. So far, they have been lying low. If sales are good, why rock the boat? Reputation expert Andy Beal says, “The real threat would come if Corona were to dive in and capitalize on this by running some crass social media post.” In light of the seriousness of the situation, he cautions that “they should not make light of it.”

This isn’t about online social strategy (which Corona isn’t involved in). They do the bare minimum on social channels. Sitting on the sidelines and hoping this will eventually blow over isn’t a leader strategy either. The challenge is all alcohol brands make money on the image of people having fun. The Corona brand is all about sandy beaches, hot sun, and total escapism. John Alvarado, SVP of Brand Marketing for Corona Extra says Corona is “a carefree brand that encourages consumers to relax and enjoy life no matter the situation.” The Coronavirus is the antithesis to these positive vibes.

Brand Survival

Today, the Corona virus is attacking the United States with the fierceness never before seen in our lifetime. The Coronavirus crisis is affecting millions of people’s lives and livelihood. Consumers will judge brands on how they helped and stepped-up through these terrible times. Stress can cause people to make inappropriate jokes to lighten the mood; right now, Corona beer is one of those jokes. After all the turmoil, deaths, and dramatic life changes, can Corona bounce back as the king of carefree and sunny times? Will the emotional shock associated with one of the world’s darkest moments destroy the Corona name? Can a brand name live with so many negative connotations? In these catastrophic times more alcohol will be consumed than ever before. Hopefully after the hangover of isolation is over, Corona beer will still live on.

Stay safe and healthy.