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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Brand Management

7 Rules Of Brand Management


7 Rules For Brand Growth

1. Remember your roots

Strong brands come from people, places and times, and they remember it whether they are luxury brands or not. Brands too often forget about or ignore their origins, and marketers in the English-speaking world are the guiltiest of it. For example when Starbucks lost its way, the real problem was that it forgot its origins. It took former chief executive Howard Schultz to return to the company and help rediscover its roots. All brands have a story of their founding: it describes why the business came into being. Most marketers don’t know how powerful theirs is.

2. Work out what’s in your brand’s DNA

A brand’s DNA should comprise just one strong concept and no more than five words that define how it behaves. In luxury it is defined by history and the consumer has no say in it. But brand DNA is about walking the walk, not talking the talk, and it isn’t necessary to communicate explicitly what it’s made up of. People find George Clooney sexy for what he says and does, and for the way he looks, not because of the structure of his genes. Brands that have their words hanging up in the lobby are missing the point. If a consumer doesn’t repeat those things back to you verbatim, it’s not a problem.

3. You can play with your codes

Codes are what make brands recognizable to their consumers – they are not just logos and they are not just visual, but they are motifs that the brand unmistakably owns, however they appear. Brands need to recognize that they can and must play with their codes to balance heritage with modernity – the constantly changing Google ‘doodle’ on the search engine’s homepage being one example.

This also means brands shouldn’t submit to “logo tyranny”, where marketers think the same typefaces, colors and proportions have to be rigidly repeated. This is not branding. This is what people do when they don’t understand branding.

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Brand Management

The Varying Ways Consumers Engage With Brands


The varying roles consumers participate with brands

It’s tempting to think of consumers in binary terms in relation to the brands you are responsible for: in, or out; buying, or not buying; loyal, or not loyal. But for many brands, the status of an individual can be more complex. At any given point in time, people can take on other roles in relation to your brand, and in relation to your competitors’ brands, that nevertheless have a direct influence on your competitiveness.

The Supporter – They can be an open and unapologetic endorser of what you do, among their friends, on social media, online. Whether they buy from you, and how often they buy from you, in no way changes their status as critically valuable endorsers of your brand through word of mouth. They may support you because of what you stand for, what you make, how they see you, what you sponsor, any number of reasons…and that support may or may not be visible to you through social monitoring.

Keeping your supporters onside and engaged with who you are is fundamental to your brand’s reputational health. It’s important that you acknowledge them collectively and that you openly and generously credit and thank them as a group when they rush to support what you have done or rally to defend a change you have made.

The Enemy – The counter-balance to your supporters is the community that, for whatever reason, you rub up the wrong way. They may disagree with your right to exist, what you make, how you operate, the influence you have…and they are often vociferous and persistent in their attacks. You’re never going to win much of this group over in my view and for that reason your consideration of what they say needs to be carefully worked through.

I think there are three aspects to this: take note of the reasonable criticism, and use it to make changes to how you work and what you stand for; disregard the radical criticism altogether and refuse to engage with it or be influenced by it; and finally draw on what is being said about you by these critics to more clearly define who you are and who you are not, what you believe and what you yourselves disagree with.

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Brand Innovation

Brand Innovation Creates Customer Concerns


Brand Innovation Brings Customer Concerns

At the start of 2015, Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer revealed that the speed of innovation was greatly out of step with consumers’ ability to process the information. Even more poignant was a self-diagnostic of sorts for marketers in which consumers indicated they believed innovative products were being rushed into market without adequate testing and evaluation when in fact, many brands had met minimum standards required by local laws.

As marketers, we are either failing to match the available evidence with the concerns and needs of consumers, or failing to distill these connections at a pace that makes consumers comfortable and receptive. Fast-forward a few months to the recent Cannes Lions, and Richard Edelman’s talk on The Power of the Earned Brand. These highlights come from the study’s findings. Pay special attention to the descriptions used:

  • By a two-to-one margin, people feel that the pace of change is too quick.
  • Two out of three consumers believe that the motive for innovation is greed and corporate profit.
  • Two of three are nervous about privacy and security.
  • Three of five are anxious about the environment and over consumption.
  • Half are concerned about having to “be on” all of the time.

Edelman concludes his list by reminding us, “Most worrying, 87 percent of consumers said they will stop buying innovative products and services unless companies address these concerns.” Can content marketing get ahead of this problem? Aren’t brands being transparent in offering access to infographics, data points and available research findings?

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Brand Strategy

The Decline Of The Airbrushed Brand


The Decline Of The Airbrushed Brand

The aspiration drive that has dominated how marketers think and what they strive to achieve in building a brand’s mythology is increasingly being seen by consumers as unattainable and fake. Buyers are drawing a line under what they perceive to be airbrushed brands. And the push-back is manifest in everything from the acceptance of imperfect food to the increased use of plus-size models on fashion house runways.

The success of the Dove campaigns and brands like Aerie point to just how aware female consumers are of what they see as ridiculous perfectionism. Buyers’ response – to endorse and buy brands that portray women in a (more) realistic way. This trend, powered initially by millennials but gaining wider market acceptance, points to a clear opportunity to introduce a refreshing reality. Among the findings in a 2014 JWT study, people increasingly value things that aren’t machine-made, they find beauty in people’s flaws and they believe those flaws make them authentic.

As Brad Hanna observed, “Mega brands that pump out product on a mass production line feel over-engineered and over-processed…Imperfections are the next chapter in the transparency movement brands must adhere to in order to connect with their consumers and establish trust and credibility…Honesty has become the new standard, whether actual honesty or simply perceived honesty.”

If you’re an editor or a retoucher, don’t panic. There’s no suggestion that consumers want everything en flagrante. But what they do seem to be saying, and what brands must increasingly get their heads around, is that they don’t want more wallpaper, more stock images, more idealistic cameos or clichéd close-ups. They want characters that are human, products that feel more individualized and messages that speak more directly and more honestly. I agree with Kelli Law, that “The days of hyper-polished singular messages are giving way to brands that understand the importance of showing their rough edges to lend humanity to their company.”

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Endorsements: Pathway Of Lazy Marketing?


Jared Fogle and Subway brand endorsement strategy

As Subway’s Jared Fogle joins the pantheon of brand endorsers who’ve been dropped in a hurry for either real or alleged off-brand activities, it’s worth revisiting the risks and benefits of endorsement strategy.

When it works, it can work really well. Consider Michael Jordan’s relationship with Nike that spawned Air Jordan shoes. Or Betty White’s Snickers commercial which was a Super Bowl standout.

But Jared reminds us of the cast of endorsers who have become a sudden liability. Tiger Woods (Accenture/Nike/Buick), Oscar Pistorius (Nike) and OJ Simpson (Hertz) are just a few of the many representatives. An association with a real-life person carries the risk that that person’s real life will intervene in your carefully nurtured plans.

Should this possibility stop you using endorsers? No. As Subway has shown this time and other brands have shown before, as long as you react quickly and appropriately to situations as they arise, there’s little to no long-term damage to the brand. I can’t think of a single brand that’s been permanently damaged by its association with an endorser although Donald Trump is giving his own brand a real test right now.

A bigger issue is whether your endorsers are doing any good for your brand in the first place. Too often the endorsement route is just lazy marketing. That’s especially true in the case of celebrity endorsement when brands pay a lot of money to try and hitch a ride on a celebrity’s fame and hope some of it rubs off on them. In the worst case scenario, the people chosen are not a good fit, not credible, would never be seen using your product in real life and will be pitching all sorts of other things at the same time or soon after.

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