The Blake Project

Why a Branding Strategy Blog?

At The Blake Project our sole focus is helping organizations create brands that build and sustain trust. Branding Strategy Insider is an extension of our efforts as brand consultants to help marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

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Brand Management

Balancing Efficiency And Brand


Balancing brand and efficiency

In the hunt for more streamlined businesses that are less resource intensive, how real is the risk that brands are actually putting people off dealing with them? When does an efficient process become so rationalized that it loses its humanity and therefore its appeal?

On the face of it, brand and efficiency have similar objectives. They’re both about creating financial headroom – but of course they approach that goal from opposite directions. Efficiency is so often about what can be subtracted. Brand is all about what can be added, at least perceptually, that people will pay more for.

The problem occurs when the experience is over-compromised in the interests of saving money: when the seats become too cramped; the aisles too narrow; the servings too small; the service too automated…Because it’s at that point, that delight leaves the building, and customers start looking elsewhere because they feel you’re being mean-spirited.

There are, as I see it, two ways to address this:

1. Set very clear customer expectations. If you’re running a high volume, scaled brand, make it very clear to customers why they’re getting what they’re getting. And when you make a change that delivers them perceived greater value, talk about that openly and clearly as well. I refer to this so much because it’s remarkable to me how many brands are vague about what customers are getting that they’re interested in for their money.

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Brand Strategy

How Will Your Brand Win?


How will your brand win?

Two thoughts that I really like, brought together.

The first was one introduced to me by Rob Smith, CEO, Paper Plus back in August 2008.

It’s called –est. It goes like this:

There are a very small number of fully competitive positions in a sector and you need to own, and align yourself, to one:


Anything else is the middle ground.

Everyone I raise this with debates the number and raises other possibilities. But you get the idea. It’s superlative and competitive and combative. To me, this is the –est test in brand positioning. Who are you going to be? And are you sure, are you really sure, you want to be that?

Second thought, introduced by Seth Godin in this post.  Out-. You win when you:

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Brand Management

6 Ways Of Putting Truth Back Into Your Brand


Restoring Trust In Your Brand

So you’ve looked long and hard at how your brand is managed, and it’s clear that the truth has been allowed to slip. If you no longer want to be managing a deceitful brand, how do you find a way back?

1. Start by setting new rules. Articulate “new rules of brand” that set out in a clear manifesto form what you will do and won’t do going forward. If necessary, revisit the values and behaviors that have condoned how your brand has been managed in the past.

2. Look for quick wins. What are the immediate things that you can do to turn around how your brand is managed? If you’re making claims you can’t back up, for example, either alter the claims to make them realistic or seek further substantiation. Quick wins do two things. They establish momentum, and they signal that you are serious about the changing of the guard.

3. Change what you reward. Oftentimes, brands are managed in ways that directly mirror the priorities and attitudes that are prized internally. By shifting the emphasis to integrity for example (not just what happens, but how), you can motivate people to rethink the actions they will accept from themselves and from those around them.

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Brand Management

Brand Transparency vs Brand Authenticity


Whole Foods Brand Transparency

Last week, brand leaders from many industries gathered for The Blake Project’s annual Un-Conference at the Versace Mansion in Miami Beach. During a segment led by Mark Di Somma on Evolving Customer Engagement, one participant smartly reminded the group that transparency and authenticity are each unique.

Mark Di Somma offered this, “We quite rightly think of both transparency and authenticity as being about truth. The difference is that transparency is about being true to others in what you disclose while authentic is about being true to yourself in how you act.”

Transparency is a property of observation
For brands to be transparent, there must be an absence of hidden agendas and conditions, and a minimum degree of disclosure wherein transactions, practices, dealings and agreements are open to all for verification. While the operations of a business can be made to be transparent, it does not mean it creates resonance. The Edelman Trust Barometer findings in the US and Canada revealed an overwhelming majority of consumers felt the speed at which new pharmaceuticals and technologies were coming into market did so without adequate testing and trials. The curious insight from the Edelman study is that most companies had conducted adequate testing, well within required regulations and making full disclosures publically available. Given this level of transparency, why was there so little belief?

During the Un-Conference, Dr. Gerard Gibbons shared a compelling example of statistics illustrated as a well-designed infographic followed by a story which incorporated every data point from the infographic threaded as a narrative line in a video. By the time Gerard’s session was finished, nobody recalled the stats, but everyone remembered the story. The implication: While transparency requires that disclosure and data be made available, the data alone is not enough. Human beings do not communicate with charts and white papers no matter how well they are designed, we communicate with stories.

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Branding and Social Responsibility

Shifting Brand Responsibility


Corporate Social Responsibility

Let me make a suggestion to brand owners in the interests not just of transparency but of greater consumer belief. Stop communicating your efforts in sustainability, diversity, traceability, environmental contribution, fair trade etc as corporate social responsibility obligations. Instead, act on them, and account for them, as differentiating inclinations.

And frame those inclinations within a broader, singular superset: your brand’s distinctive sense of its responsibilities.

To that end, let’s stop talking about reporting. It smacks of obligation and compliance rather than commitments and contributions. And I would suggest, change the way your responsible actions are shared to make them more involving. Less paperwork, a wider range of sincere and honest conversations, with more people, across a broader range of platforms. In other words, make the discussions around how you behave ongoing, less formal and truly “social”.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not for one minute advocating that the activities identified above go unaccounted for. Quite the opposite. I am advocating a change in spirit. I am suggesting that the underlying question that has driven corporate social responsibility reporting for so long – What has [our corporate] done that could be deemed socially responsible? – is fundamentally, even cynically, flawed because businesses have been able to engage in behavioral offsetting: announcing and promoting their contributions to good at one level and, at the same time, masking or downplaying the damage they are doing elsewhere.

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