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 Engagement

Building Brand Experiences Through Coincidences


Disney Brand Experience

Marketers can be surprisingly heavy-handed. The temptation, especially with big brands, is to thunder out answers that let customers know, in unequivocal terms, that they have been recognized. Think about the almost coarse way in which airlines greet their frequent fliers – with a bunch of features dressed up as privileges and a tiered recognition system that allocates them a color.

It’s almost as if brands can’t help themselves. Informed by the mountains of data they have collected, many seem compelled to flash this knowledge under the noses of buyers, and to deliver “experiences” that are framed around that knowledge. Even customer-centric organizations like Amazon let you know what they know. So does Google. So does Facebook. In the cases of Google and Facebook, the ad placements are so blatant that everyone with an ounce of awareness recognizes that what they are being served up is no coincidence.

And that’s my point. Perhaps brands should be a little more circumspect in how they frame what people get. Not to be deceitful or opaque – but because happenstance is a powerful motivation for anyone. Coincidence turns the everyday into the extraordinary. And that sense of surprise – that unexpected but fulfilling encounter – is an opportunity too often missed it seems to me.

The experiences we remember as consumers are not the manufactured moments that everyone else got too. The times we remember are the ones that were special to us, that seemed to arrive with perfect singularity and that transformed something that was otherwise uneventful into an instance that we love to replay – even years later. In a world where so much is expected and too little is spontaneous, perhaps it’s time brands found ways to design for surprise.

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Brand Strategy

The Future Of Brand Competitiveness


Competitive Brand Strategy

Three seemingly unrelated articles got me thinking today about the future of brand competitiveness in a world where the competitors are increasingly globally scaled.

Conventional knowledge suggests that brands square off in the arena of public awareness. Each party assembles its awareness and loyalty generators and then launches a charm offensive to consumers offering them multiple reasons and multiple channels to choose them over others. In the fight between big and big, that’s a relatively straightforward competition. But how do you take on the biggest brands in the world if you are a much smaller marketing force or if you’re looking for an alternative strategy?

Perhaps you do so by not taking them on directly. And perhaps you don’t take them on alone. The thought for this came from an article by Stan McChrystal on the lessons he learned in Iraq: that a massive and powerful adversary can be seriously affected by a much, much smaller force that leverages its network and moves quickly to find points of vulnerability. The relevance of McChrystal’s point, that it takes a network to defeat a network, for business today is captured neatly in this thought. “Our organization was designed for a problem that no longer existed; we had brought an industrial age force to an information-age conflict…I believe this same challenge confronts organizations in every sector of the modern environment.”

Now combine that idea of competing via a wired network with this one from an article on the branding of global dissent: that a brand centered on principle will act as a powerful cohesion point for diverse people. As the article points out, people will address issues together, under a banner, that they would not address individually. From the article: “[Gene] Sharp … in 1973 outlined “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” in the first of many of his works that provide a road map for orchestrating protest movements around the world…Sharp’s list defines how to create a unique and recognizable identity for a movement. It recommends establishing “symbolic colors,” slogans, caricatures, sounds and symbols in service of the greater cause” Brand, by any other name.

How do these ideas come together? They suggest that a powerful brand strategy may lie in applying the same principles to the way a brand competes. That, instead of going head to head, companies could employ an asymmetrical brand strategy; one that coalesces people into a network centered around a “protest”- based principle (using social media for example) and then uses that principle as a guerrilla tactic to compete with rivals at points where they are most vulnerable.

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Luxury Branding

Luxury Brand Strategy


Luxury Brand Strategy

Considering a luxury brand strategy? Begin with the fundamentals. Luxury brands don’t start with prestige and premium – they begin with a founder who inevitably comes from the middle of society rather than the top. Madam Chanel was an orphan, Guccio Gucci a merchant’s son from Florence – founders are artisans not aristocrats.

Next you have to examine the categories where they launched their businesses. To our eyes today, a category like champagne is an ancient and established one. But back when a young monk named Pierre Perignon was experimenting with the fermentation of grapes, the name Champagne simply meant a region.

To a visionary founder working in a new category, we must next add a moment of creativity or sublime innovation. For a young man from Basingstoke named Thomas Burberry it was the creation of a new fabric called gabardine – a water-resistant yet breathable fabric. For a middle-aged entrepreneur named Louis Vuitton it was the addition of canvas to his trunks as a means to ensure they were totally waterproof and could be produced in flat, stackable units – as opposed to having rounded peaks to ward off the rain.

And then add the final magic ingredient: time. Decades must pass. The founder must die. The clients must die. And time must move on until the brand eventually acquires a luster of exclusivity and heritage. Where once they were radical, now they becomes classic. And there you have it – the formula for a luxury brand.

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Brand Management

4 Ways Brands Should Support Sales Teams


Brand And Sales Support

While there has been plenty of discussion around how marketing and sales teams should play well together, the onus on brand owners to proactively support people in the field seems to have attracted less attention. Customers, of course, make no distinctions between which parts of the organization they are dealing with at any one time. In that sense, brand is sales: a brand is only as good as its ability to attract, convert and retain fickle buyers.

So, could brand managers be doing more to help sales and frontline teams? Here are four ways that these historically distinct teams can get more done together.

1. Build a brand that people want to meet. Salespeople are going to struggle to get appointments if they represent a brand no-one wants to know. Likeability is absolutely a brand responsibility. By creating a brand that is insightful, honed, intriguing and trusted, brand teams can directly help open the door for sales. The more inclined buyers are to want to know more, the more likely they are, obviously, to take a call or a meeting, ask for a demo or search a site. The real power of perception lies in what it enables, and brand owners should be judging their effectiveness on that basis. The responsibility for brand people couldn’t be more clear-cut: build an interesting brand that is a pleasure to sell and represent.

2. Create environments where people come to you. So often, marketers expect sales teams to be the bridgers and closers. They expect them to take what has been prepared out into the world and to bring back new business. That’s a very one-sided view of marketing – because, in reality, brand owners should be intimately involved in the development of communications campaigns and branded environments, online and off-, that invite customers in and make them feel welcome. The role of sales is to drive and close decisions in favor of the brand. The role of brand is to help those decisions feel valuable.

3. Weave the brand through everything you do. The brand and what it represents should be the benchmark for all customer-facing behavior, and sales teams are no exception to this. But if the things they are rewarded for are off-skew with the brand’s values and priorities, then brand and sales will continually be at odds. For that reason, be very careful that what you encourage, recognize and incentivize in your sales team is in keeping with who you say you are and what you say you prioritize. Compassionate brands don’t reward greed. Exciting brands don’t accept complacency. Innovative brands want more on their frontline than order takers. Too many companies have sales cultures, marketing cultures and corporate cultures that are conflicted. Each carries an impression of what the brand is and what the brand encourages into their work and out into the world. As a result, brand encounters can be confusing, even contradictory, for buyers making decisions across different channels. No brand should be confusing. It dissipates meaning and energy. Getting everyone to understand the brand and to apply it specifically to what is required of them takes investment, time and clarity. Money well spent.

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Brand Strategy

Brands And The Evolution Of Surprise


Samsung Brand Strategy

Capturing surprises likely started with the invention of the camera and it seems we will never tire seeing how ordinary people react in extraordinary situations. The popularity of sites like Upworthy has helped call attention to the kind of surprises that give people hope — the single mother of three who works as a maid is asked to clean a house not knowing that it is about to be given to her; the science fair winner whose family went bankrupt is awarded a full scholarship to a major university. While media coverage reports on an unending series of potential disasters deemed newsworthy, shareworthy news finds home and life on our social networks.

This presents a unique opportunity for brands that demonstrate authentic intent. The key difference is that these types of surprises do not just improve someone’s life, they transform it. That’s what makes us cry when we see the commercial. We identify with the sensation of hope and we’re rightfully quite hungry for it.

Samsung and Leo Burnett produced a huge stunt for an ad campaign in Turkey. One of the town’s residents was hearing impaired and in the month that it took the agency to set up cameras around the town, they taught all of the person’s neighbors sign language. The gist of the ad is that he goes out about his business and the store clerk “speaks” in sign language to him. Then a woman bumps into him on the street and also signs to him. Finally, when he gets into a taxi, the driver signs to him before we get to a heartfelt reveal: an entire community united as never before.

Watch “Hearing Hands” by Samsung

This was part of an advertisement for Samsung Turkey’s new video call center for the hearing impaired. Of course, there is much more going on here than just a campaign for a video call center. Both Samsung’s brand leaders and the strategists from Leo Burnett are very smart. They see, globally, that this type of “upworthy” content has high share and engagement rates. Sure, the ad is for a call center, but via social networks a global audience will see it. Here it is on BuzzFeed.

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