The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
Category: Brand Strategy
In a world dominated it seems by the push for scale and mass coverage, it’s easy to forget that sometimes the smartest thing you can do is the polar opposite: develop a deliberately limited edition brand that shuns the mainstream. I’ve written about this a number of times and coined the phrase cultrepreneurs to describe those enterprising individuals who have chosen to create and market brands with cult status. As Julian Van Winkle and his Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery shows, there is nothing accidental about why his aged bourbon attracts a fervent following.
Here are just some of the ways Van Winkle uses a strategy of scarcity to build cult status:
- The company deliberately stymies supply in order to raise cachet and lift returns. It’s one of the great ironies of cults that, beyond what you need to be viable, sometimes the less you produce, the more you make. As Van Winkle says he could unload two or three times what he makes. But keeping his inventory low minimizes the chances of being stuck with spare stock and also means he can continue to raise prices.
- The brand is not visible. You have to be in the know, and prepared to wait, in order to procure the product. So – scarcity of presence only adds to the mystique, and lack of readiness lifts the anticipation levels. Entirely the opposite dynamics of mainstream, scaled brands.
- The brand gets covered by others. The article is a prime example of that. But Van Winkle also makes great use of word of mouth, through dinners and trade shows, to get connoisseurs talking and so raise authenticity, desirability and credibility.
- The brand has deeply embedded values – in Van Winkle’s case, an unstinting focus on quality. And there’s a figurehead who embodies those values – Julian’s grandfather, Pappy Van Winkle – and who is known by consumers of the brand.
- There’s a secret recipe – this one substitutes wheat for rye. Another component of making the brand exceptional.
- Awards prove the value of the brand and its claims to quality – and once again, they do this objectively, rather than the brand itself having to make public claims.
- Distribution is limited, and upmarket. A very big part of the joy of a cult brand lies in its discovery. Finding out about what most people don’t know about is a reward in itself. It also, ironically, invites the very kind of ‘sharing’ that galvanizes the brand.
Ultimately, you want people to like your brand. So, what makes a brand likable? Think of a brand as if it were a person. And then think about what makes people likable. Here is my list of attributes that make people likable:
They are secure and self-confident
They are honest and have integrity
They keep their promises and are reliable
They are genuine, sincere and authentic
They are positive, happy and optimistic
They are not too serious, they laugh and they make people laugh
They ask questions and they truly listen to and try to understand the answersRead More
Ten years ago, Don Tapscott and David Ticoll’s book “The Naked Corporation” foresaw a time of transparency in which businesses would find themselves more visible and subject to greater scrutiny. They were on the money. But in an age where everyone is more inclined to talk a lot louder and a lot more frequently, have brands reached a point of “too much information”? Do brands risk being so familiar that people feel they know them too well? Will over-familiarization work against the marques of tomorrow?
Perhaps we need to bring back a little secrecy … but only to make brands more inviting and exciting. Perhaps more brands should be looking for ways to be intriguing and to offer something that rewards curiosity. That’s not easy in a world where Tapscott and Ticoll’s forecast has proven remarkably accurate. Yet some brands have used secrets to successfully preserve an air of mystery. Three types of “secrets” spring to mind:
Secret formulae – there’s something fascinating about a brand that has something to share with everyone, the basis of which nobody knows. From the Google algorithm to the secret recipes of Coke and KFC, these secrets juxtapose in view/out of view in ways that make the formula even more interesting. Deciphering the decisions of the Google search-gods continues to keep a lot of people in work. Curiously, only brands that have built high trust and high participation are likely to get away with such secrets in these days of food safety and privacy concerns. But secrets work in this context because they add to the mythology of the brand.
Secrets in progress – in an age where “seeding” of products can now start literally years in advance of release day, there’s something to be said for keeping things closer to one’s chest. The ultimate exponent of this approach of course is Apple which has perfected the art of getting everyone to speculate, thus maintaining interest, without revealing what exactly is in development. Again, the Mac rumor mill keeps a lot of people very busy. This approach works when you have in demand brand with huge intrigue factor. While everyone else jostles for space and priority, Cupertino has gone out of its way to be circumspect.Read More
Every brand wants advocates. Little wonder. According to Janessa Mangone, people who actively promote your brand can be 50% more influential than the average customer in helping you secure new sales. So perhaps attracting them is something best not left to chance. Here’s some simple reminders on how to put some wow! in your Word Of Mouth.
Give them something to talk about – advocates love to share. Release news, ideas, tips, FAQs, case studies, video and reviews that the people who love your brand can enthusiastically share with others. Use email marketing to give them ‘scoops’ that are not released in the general media, and watch your traffic. It’s a simple way to monitor the amplifying effect of your advocates. While companies are increasingly looking at content marketing to bring new people to their brand, it’s easy to overlook the need to keep your current community involved and excited. A comprehensive piece here by Joe Pulizzi on how to attract and retain customers this way.
Recognize your most loyal customers – obvious, yes but often missed. Recognition might be through discounts, invitations to events, special previews or exclusive content. Above all, continue to thank these people for their support. And make sure that they never feel taken for granted. See how it’s worked for Starbucks.
Work the industry influencers – tell them things that they can tell others. This group is different than your advocacy network because they may or may not be passionate proponents. But in a world where everyone wants content to share, giving those who have clout the information they need to spread the word adds valuable third party endorsement that will bring new people to your brand and confirm the loyalty of those who are already followers.Read More
Marketers and business writers have been talking for ages about disintermediation – cutting out the middle man – in a bid to achieve more direct and economically efficient relationships. But the battle between Hachette and Amazon reminds us there are still very powerful players mediating between customer and producer.
So, why in a world where direct contact seems so easy and where brands are so keen to cultivate communities do some intermediaries continue to thrive – and what lessons can others who stand between maker and end buyer learn from these successes?
Surprisingly perhaps, the answers to adding value as a bridging party in the digital age (and therefore not being squeezed out) seem to come down to three critical but very simple factors that still count for a lot: influence; time; and relationships.
1. Be the platform – these powerful intermediaries are aggrandisers. The brands that supply to them are stronger and more credible for being seen in their company than they would be if they went it alone. These intermediaries in essence act as platforms for the brands they support, elevating the value of everything associated with them. But whereas more traditional intermediaries look to stock and supply, these intermediaries treat their brands as assets and in magnifying their perceived value they also increase their worth. In so doing, they establish a ‘virtuous circle’, where the brands are more powerful for being in their company, and the company is famous for offering access – sometimes exclusive access – to these brands. Washington Speakers is a great example of the platform principle in action. If you are part of their stable, such exclusive membership is a credential in its own right.
2. Be the tastemaker – these intermediaries direct traffic often in competitive, crowded sectors. They cater to our very human nature to seek reassurance that we are making good decisions. Their verdicts – often crowd sourced – decide who others decide to go with. The obvious examples are review sites like TripAdvisor for anyone considering a trip. Other successes include those who’ve gathered expertise to provide readers with information they want but can’t easily access – e.g. Open Table for anyone looking to eat out. These intermediaries depend on their accumulated authority and of course the convenience of having many opinions in one place.Read More