The Blake Project

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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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How Brands Help Customers Decide


Birth of Venus painting by Alexandre Cabanel

In matters of taste, most people, most of the time don’t know what to think unless someone or something tells them.

In 19th century Paris, the official arbiters of taste in art were the Salon jurors; the people who decided what would and would not be displayed in the yearly Salons. The artists that made it into the Salon got the glory, prestige and, most importantly, the commissions from the well-to-do. Back in the 1860s, the jury liked big portraits of grand subject matter — history, mythology and the classics, like the Birth of Venus painting above by Alexandre Cabanel.

That left the early impressionists out in the cold. Their paintings were considered by the jury to be unfinished, uncouth and undesirable. They were certainly dramatically different from the accepted style as shown in the excellent Birth of Impression exhibition at the de Young Museum which includes works by impressionists and artists who painted in the style the Salon preferred. Some of the impressionists (particularly Manet) kept trying to get into the Salon but others (Rodin, Monet..) gave up and set up a rival exhibition of their work. Many art critics continued to find their work “despicable” but a few critics and art dealers liked what they saw and the tide started to turn. These days you could buy quite a few Cabanels for one Renoir.

Let’s move from high art to wine appreciation. In How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer describes a Cal-Tech experiment where 25 people sampled what were described as five Cabernet Sauvignons. They were distinguished solely by their retail price (from $5 (my end of the spectrum) to $90). In fact there were just three different wines and the same wine would appear in the test with two different price points. Not surprisingly, the people preferred the wines labeled more expensive whether or not the wine was really the more expensive one.

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Brand Growth

How To Keep Your Brand On Top


keys to brand growth

Well, the IPO for Fitbit got off to a flying start, but will it last? Can the company continue to grow at the rate it has? Here’s the good news. This certainly looks like a market on the march. According to the Guardian, 16 million fitness trackers were sold globally last year, with just under 34 million expected to ship this year and 56 million in 2018. So, on the face of it, plenty of organic growth. But while noting that the company’s launch on the New York Stock Exchange is one of the biggest IPOs of the year and that the company is profitable, The Economist believes the company faces an uphill race.

They’re not the only ones. In fact, a number of articles on the company’s future performance, including this one, raise questions. The thing is that at least some of those questions apply not just to Fitbit but to all sorts of brands, particularly those doing well at the moment.

So if your brand is on a tear, here’s some things you might want to ask…

What’s the next success? Fitbit has certainly grown strongly and the uptake of tracking wearables has been significant, but with suggestions that one-third or more consumers abandon their devices, customer acquisition won’t keep the numbers up forever.

Querying whether Fitbit will go the same way as the Palm Pilot, Vauhini Vara asks if the big players like Apple will simply take over. In the same article though, she notes that GoPro is managing to hold its own after IPO, with its cameras continuing to be popular and the company announcing plans to develop drones and virtual reality capabilities.

At some stage, Fitbit is going to have to find ways to lower the drop-off (if indeed it is anything that high) or broaden its offering. Perhaps, that’s the challenge of marketing a product that seeks to change habits. In time, a high number of people will revert to what they used to do. But broader than that, it’s symptomatic of a world where the timeframe from hit to has-been continues to contract.

Question: What has your brand planned for next? How will you capitalize on what works? Why will that feel like a natural extension of the relationship that your customers already have with you?

Answer: Your purpose should provide clear guidelines for future development. By thinking of itself as an adventure company and not a camera company, for example, GoPro has extended its development license considerably. It can literally look for new ways to give people experiences they haven’t had or never thought they could have/share.

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Brand Management

Great Brands Grow Beyond Their Origins


The Coca-Cola Brand Is More Than Its Secret Recipe

So someone’s supposedly discovered the recipe for Coca Cola. What does that mean for the world’s most popular drink? Very little I would have thought. Because the world’s most closely guarded beverage trade secret has already done its job – it has helped build perhaps the most consistently powerful brand in the world. Beyond that, its value as a formula today is questionable.

Even if someone did replicate the taste, so what? They still wouldn’t be Coke. Great brands grow beyond the products they marque. They actually come to embody ideas – such as happiness in the case of Coca Cola – that the product reports to, and not the other way round.

The New Coke debacle might suggest otherwise to some, but to me that was much more about changing a product that consumers held dear rather than a taste issue. Consumers expressed their apprehension by citing taste, but taste, in my reading of this particular case, was the identifier to the wider fear. What they were really saying is – don’t touch.

So often brands think that their product recipe is the greatest thing they have to offer. They trademark their products or their designs and think the business and the brand is future-proofed. Not so. IP protection is important, don’t get me wrong, but it must form part of the wider, on-going telling of a compelling and relevant brand story.

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Brand Architecture

Whole Foods Faces Brand Architecture Test


Whole Foods Brand Architecture Example

Organic supermarket chain Whole Foods is diversifying. Last week, it announced that alongside its existing 400 Whole Foods locations it was launching a new chain of branded stores in the US under the brand name ‘365’.

For superficial, tactically oriented marketers who like shiny things and new launches this is positive news. But wiser, strategic marketers should be more circumspect. Launching new brands is always a tricky corporate moment.

On the positive side, Whole Foods’ new brand allows it to access a different market segment from the one it serves. Co-CEO Walter Robb says the new stores will be “geared toward millennials”. That sounds trendy but behind the statement is a ton of shopper research that shows a younger generation searching for better quality, natural products but are not looking for it among the aisles at Whole Foods. According to Supermarket News editor Jon Springer: “[It has] identified millennial shoppers, younger shoppers who are very particular about what they eat, but also tough about what they can spend on food.”

That is an important observation because aside from opening up a new segment of the market it also demonstrates another advantage of a second brand – the ability to play at a different, lower level of the value curve. Whole Foods has been remarkably successful at not only building brand and attracting customers but also maintaining premium prices. If you have visited one of the company’s UK locations, you will know that its excellent assortment of organic offerings does not come cheap. That’s true back on home turf too where Whole Foods typically enjoys a 15% to 20% premium over its US rivals. The introduction of the 365 brand allows the company to enjoy two distinct points on the pricing elasticity curve.

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Brand Strategy

Leading Brands Extend Beyond Customer Networks


Brands must extend customer networks

This really thoughtful post by Associate Professor Rob Cross of the University of Virginia on building valuable networks caught my eye today. Specifically, I was drawn to the final paragraph:

If we are circulating too much with people we have known forever or people who themselves are all spending time in the same meetings and interactions, then we are not getting the performance impact…The magic lies in the new ideas and perspectives that can come from connections into different networks.

The same point applies in many ways to the networks that brands build with their customers. If they are just selling the same goods, or even new goods, to the same community, then there is no contagion – no reason for the brand to spread interest and influence beyond those who already know it.

A circle can quickly become a wall.

The opportunity for brands is to introduce new ideas into their networks and marketing that ‘stretch’ those who know the brand well, but also serve to introduce and absorb new followers beyond the brand’s established catchments. In other words, brands should be looking to continually expand their outreach, while remaining true to a core and unmoving purpose. The last point of familiarity should be the launch point for new ventures and approaches. And just as importantly, brands should make sure they follow the relationship and affinity trails, not just the structure trails.

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