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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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Branding & Retail

Retail Brand Strategy: Role Of The Flagship Store

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Apple Brand Flagship Store

As the downtown areas of major metropolitans reclaim popularity and no small element of retail cool amongst the citerati, more and more globally scaled brands are scaling up their physical presence with impressive and expensive flagship stores that literally showcase who they are and what they have to offer.

It’s tempting to see these stores as shops. Yes, they often provide a shopping function (which in itself differentiates them from pure-play concept stores) but the best flagships add a new dimension of physicality to a brand. They define in materials, aesthetics and by location how a brand wants to be seen in the world. At some level they complement the expansive digital presences of today’s global brands. They can also be an effective countering strategy in sectors where there is an increasing trend towards direct and/or online channels. They provide a new reason to shop live.

Done well, a flagship store expands on a brand’s experience with an uber-cool environment that is inspiring and relaxing, and that offers distinctive ways to interact that add to the consumer’s visceral understanding. The Starbucks store in Amsterdam for example functions as a “coffee lab”: a place for the brand to introduce and trial new brewing methods and new blends, try out new layouts and host events/launches. The research value of such a venue is obvious. But just as importantly, the store is a statement of Starbucks commitment to coffee – to its customers, to the wider world and of course to its competitors.

As brands increasingly frame themselves as ways of life, flagship stores are the new High Street gathering points; bold environments in high footfall areas where people with similar aspirations and viewpoints can congregate or pass through. In effect, they are a tangible meeting point for a brand’s population to see the brand and see each other. (The social reinforcement of such gathering points is easily played down but it’s important to remember that venues have a powerful effect in defining people’s view of ‘who they run with’.)

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Branding and Social Media

Brands Must Know The Scales And Values Of Talk

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Social Media Brand Strategy

“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying,” observed Harry Nilsson in 1969. 45 years on, it seems a lot of people are still not listening – but brands should be. New findings from Gallup suggests marketers may be pinning the wrong hopes on social media.

While brand owners and managers continue to view Facebook and Twitter as opportunities to increase visibility and interaction, consumers are much less swayed. In fact, “Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be,” concludes the report, with just 5% of consumers surveyed saying that social media exerts a great deal of influence on them, and a clear majority (62%) saying it has no influence on how or what they buy at all.

Even allowing for the fact that some consumers may refuse to acknowledge, or to realize, that they are ‘swayed’ by media, there’s a clear message here that brands and consumers are operating at cross purposes. While Gallup finds that more than 90% of consumers are connected to a social media channel to connect with family and friends, that connection does not extend to companies and/or their products. And while companies may view social channels as large fishing grounds within which to hook new customers, consumers are neither motivated to switch or to recommend a new brand on the basis of social media presence alone.

I was intrigued by this observation. “Social media entail just a fragment of a consumer’s experience with a company. Customers are much more likely to be active listeners and participants in a brand’s social media community when they have already made an emotional connection with that brand through other experiences.” That finding flies in the face of much of what we hear so often – that social media attracts and draws people into the sales funnel. This suggests that social media functions much more as a channel for those who are already converted, often by interactions elsewhere. It would seem we need to be thinking about a much more nuanced approach to social media where, perhaps, brands take up conversations socially that consumers have already begun amongst themselves offline.

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Brand Storytelling

How To Avoid Short-Selling Your Brand Story

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Nissan Brand Storytelling Strategy

I’m dismayed by how frequently the conversation around content seems to devolve to quantity and tactics. That’s hardly surprising in some ways because of course the two are quickly linked. When everyone’s using the same tactics, quantity starts to look like the only differentiator.

Too many brands are in love with frequency. But you don’t build a deep and storied brand purely by posting and retweeting with gusto. Roel De Vries, Corporate VP, Global Head of Marketing, Communications and Brand Strategy, at Nissan Motor Co. summed it up really well in an interview with Jennifer Rooney when he said that the biggest challenge facing marketers in his opinion was getting all the opportunities available to brands to drive up to something bigger. The risk, he says, is that brand managers go after shiny objects and measure them by things that are not important to customers.

Nissan’s countering that temptation, he continues, by setting its storylines, by deciding what it’s not going to talk about as much as what it is, and by adopting a longer term view. “If you go after clever ideas,” he says, “there’s a lot you can do, but it probably won’t lead to anything bigger.”

I agree completely. Story is more than random content. In a world replete with content, what really counts is the content that systematically and insightfully builds your long story.

Sponsored By: Brand Storytelling Workshop Series

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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Common Brand Problems

The Twenty Most Common Brand Problems

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Brand Strategy Problems

After thirty years experience in brand management and marketing, I have directly advised more than 150 brands and indirectly advised (through educational workshops, Just Ask responses, pro bono work, etc.) more than twice that number. That is to say, I have dealt with many brands’ problems in one way or another. Here is my observation of the twenty most common brand problems.

  1. No one in the organization has a solid understanding of the brand’s consumers or their needs.
  2. The brand does not stand for anything and it does not promise anything. It is just a name and a logo.
  3. The brand touts a clichéd, unsubstantiated, meaningless point of difference (such as, we are the quality leader or the service leader or the innovation leader or, worst of all, just the leader).
  4. Brand messaging is helter-skelter. That is, it varies by audience, message vehicle, campaign, etc.
  5. A crisis occurs that reinforces that the brand was never really serious about its promise.
  6. The brand becomes a “whipping boy” for some social issue. Special interest groups that disagree with the brand’s policies target the brand for attack.
  7. There is little to no awareness of the brand in the marketplace. This could be because it is a start-up brand or because it is new to the specific geographic market.
  8. The brand’s less than stellar perceptions are due to product problems. The product may have quality problems or be inferior to its competitors’ products in other ways.
  9. Internal politics and organizational dysfunction lead to brand and customer service dysfunction.
  10. The brand and the organization behind it have rested on their laurels for far too long, not keeping up with consumer needs and industry innovations.
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Brand Loyalty Value Creation

Brand Strategy For Lasting Value

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Brand Loyalty

Every brand manager would like to believe that the world will love their brand. Given how much time, energy and experience they pour into trying to make that happen, that seems like a reasonable hope. But, as Douglas Van Praet observes in a recent Fast Company article, consumers are far from inclined to feel that way. “The human truth is no one wants to connect emotionally to your brand … People want to be [led] to a better life not bond with companies.”

We could debate whether people want to be led at all, but there’s little dispute that, in the light of this idea, brand loyalty is probably not what most brand managers have talked themselves into believing it is at all. If Van Praet is right, consumers are not loyal to a brand. Not really. Buyers are most loyal to the feeling that a brand evokes in them and in those around them. The emotion sways them. Perhaps the company reassures them, but it’s the feeling they keep coming back for.

Loyalty is connected with the hopes people have for their lives, not the companies themselves. People are inclined towards stories and ideas and changes that brands articulate that stimulate them and that attract their interest. All of this flies in the face of how brand managers rationalize what they do: that people identify with the brand; that awareness evokes loyalty and familiarity generates action. The thing is, maybe buyers aren’t really looking for the company when they look for the logo – perhaps they’re looking for a sign that the emotion they treasure is present.

This further suggests that brands that communicate but fail to bond people to ideas may not have achieved anything like the levels of loyalty that they think they have. They may get a response – but if Van Praet is right that response is triggered by other reasons: convenience; price; happenstance … Buyers may be moved by a stimulus to act. That does not mean they are hooked into the brand. Contact, even action, is not persuasion.

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