Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

A few great ads

Found these great ads on Sherbs Blog.

technorati tags > advertising

Kathy Sierra has a great post on how much time, effort, and branding is put into creating pre-sales materials while post-sales material like user manuals is pure function.

I find it interesting how corporations are structured to support this mismatch. Marketing handles the glossy slick brochures and outer packaging, while either engineering or Pubs handles the user manuals, set up guides, packing materials, and quick reference sheets in most companies. Very few companies put a lot of thought into creating an experience that is reflective of the brand after a user buys their widget. I know we talk a lot about Apple in the design and user experience space, but they truly do take every opportunity to create loyal customers. Everything from pre-sales collateral to unpacking the device to installing the software and using it has been thought through from the point of view of a normal user not an engineer buried deep within a company that sees these products every day. That creates passionate users. Passion breeds loyalty. And loyal users are a key component of keeping the doors open and the lights on long term.

Here's a great quote from Kathy:
As a potential customer, I'll find your attention to user learning a lot more convincing than your attention to new sales. Rather than using your brochure to show how much YOU kick ass, I'd much rather see no-marketing-spin hard evidence of how you're going to help ME kick ass.
Kathy reminds us that users don't care about your features. They only care about how improve their daily life. When a user sees your product as an enabler to getting more done or doing things better, they become loyal. If you concentrate your efforts on generating loyal customers, you'll quickly discover that you need to focus more on the activities that happen post-sale. If you offer generous support, information, and ease of use as soon as they open the box you will create loyal users.

Obviously you have to get people to buy your products first so I'm not saying shift all of your resources. The glossy slick brochures, have their place. And are very effective at what they're designed to do. I'm just saying put more thought into how you can improve the user experience throughout the life of your product not just pre-sale.

technorati tags > presales, post, sales, collateral, user, experience, customer, loyalty, marketing, publications

Seth Godin, David Armano, Cre8tive Group

A recent post by David Armano (Logic+Emotion) got me fired up about my company's value proposition. I've stayed away from this blog being a Cre8tive Group corporate pitch, but I also call out good work when I see it.

For the last two years we've used a combination of "Balance" and "You know it when you see it" as our external value propositions. Both David and Seth Godin have covered these topics recently. So mainly, I'm just pumped that my firm is thinking two years ahead of these industry heavyweights that we all look to as new media leaders.

Here is how we have tied the two thoughts together:

(image source:

Seth takes a different approach. He doesn't believe people know it when they see it. I partly agree because the vast majority of people are not visionary thinkers. They have a hard time seeing something that is outside of their box. Over the years we've become pretty good at reading between the lines with our clients. Once we understand their business, their audience and their goals; we don't need to be told exactly what to do. By balancing those tensions above, we often have clients look up during an engagement and say "that's it, you nailed it". That's what we mean when we say "you know it when you see it". Most clients seem to like and appreciate that approach. And even if they cannot "see it", they like to think that they can.

Like a lot of small firms, we are constantly trying to separate ourselves from the competition. One of the biggest things that set us apart is the fact that we only work with 8 clients at a time. That's how much we value quality over quantity. It's about giving our clients the level of service and thought required to make a difference. We've also leveraged the 8 symbol across a lot of our communication touches. It's a unique way to bring consistency to our materials.

We're betting on the fact that great experiences along with a consistent image & promise will improve our brand.

technorati tags > seth godin, david armano, logic, emotion, value, proposition, marketing, strategy

Is B2B marketing different than B2C?

No small question to tackle! Over my career I've held marketing position in both B2C and B2B. And while I personally didn't approach each role differently, a lot of people did. I typically work under the general principles of:
  1. Figure out what the target audience is looking for
  2. Build your service or product (and your collateral) around meeting that need
  3. Test, test, test
  4. Refine and launch
  5. Test, test, test
  6. Refine and re-launch, rinse and repeat
I know that's just Marketing 101, but it's amazing how many people skip a lot of those steps. In organizations that are not customer-centric, you're forced to sale what you've got. Sometimes those products are big hits and sometimes they're not; regardless it's risky. You may not have the luxury of testing or refining.

The idea of business customers needing something that retail consumers didn't was always foreign to me. Obviously it takes different types of messaging, packaging, promotions and payment structure for a B2B audience, but that's not a big deal. That's just good segmentation or targeting. Different audiences should receive relevant messaging. Products targeted at everyone rarely make a difference to anyone.

And obviously different marketing mediums reach the different audiences more effectively. It's hard to market to top tier business executives with 30 second TV spots. They're too broad and expensive to reach such a small audience. Rebates don't work well in large organizations. If you've ever worked in a Fortune 500 business, you know how big of a pain it would be to process a rebate coupon with your procurement department much less American Express. Tech-heavy spec sheets or pricing schedules do not appeal to the general public. But, I contend that the thought process is the same. The deliverables, mediums and tactics may differ but you still need to determine the best message that will get this user to buy - and buy now.

It's about getting them over the hump as quickly as possible. You have to show them what problem your particular offering solves, why you are the provider of choice, and why they should act now. Those foundations should be the core of any marketing initiative.

Seth Godin said it best, "Business to business marketing is just marketing to consumers who happen to have a corporation pay for what they buy."

technorati tags > B2B, B2C, business, consumer, marketing, strategy,

How to hit a moving target

Great article in BusinessWeek today. We all know how hard it is to innovate consistently. Yet some companies do it all the time; Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Target, Amazon, Land's End, Catepillar, etc...

How do they do it? Here are the keys to beating the competition:
  1. Experiment fearlessly
  2. Don't just get bigger, get unique
  3. Why compete? Create new markets
  4. Obsess about customers, not rivals
  5. Give as good as you get
  6. Get personal
  7. Stay hungry
technorati tags > innovation, competition, strategy, market share, business week

Best blogs in Branding

Small Business Branding and Marketing was named on the Canadian Trademark blog as one of the branding blogs they're tracking.

I'm proud to contribute to a site that's so well respected. Keep your eyes open for some major changes we have coming in the next few months.

technorati tags > small business, branding, marketing, branding blogs, small business branding, small business marketing

My posts on Small Business Branding & Marketing

Standing between OK and remarkable

Since I'm off enjoying a few days at the beach, I thought I'd just pass on some wisdom from Seth Godin.

technorati tags > seth godin, awkward, product, strategy

Brand adjectives and alignment

I run across a lot of marketing managers that continue to think of their brand as their logo. Obviously there is much more to your brand than just your logo mark. I've read all of the classic brand definitions and here is mine:

Your brand is defined by the individual gut feelings of those people that has been exposed to your company and/or products and services.

Notice that they do not have to be current or previous customers; nor do they need direct contact with your offerings or corporation.

One thing that we tend to do with customers is get them talking about brands they favor. Doesn't matter who or what. But it's all about describing the company without necessarily talking about their products. Here are some examples:

  • fitness
  • athletic
  • speed
  • innovation
  • not as globally focused as Adidas
Chase Manhattan
  • late fees
  • always merging w/ another bank
  • lots of direct mail
Red Lobster
  • hopefully fresh
  • suburban
  • decent substitute for the real thing
  • average
  • in touch w/ the creative industry
  • don't screw up the Macromedia apps
  • trusted
A lot of product-driven companies like to talk about product features or industry jargon. No normal customer thinks that way. Most users are very pragmatic about their brand impressions. It's basically a bell curve. They love a few brands, hate a few brands, and most are just stuck in the middle. If you can become loved, you'll grow profitably. Preference leads to loyalty and that's a powerful position.

If you're responsible for marketing products, I contend that you must know what your customers and the general public think of your brand. Overlay that with your desired brand adjectives. If there is a gap, you've got a problem. And unfortunately you cannot fix it immediately - simply because you cannot completely control your brand. The best you can hope for is alignment between those gut feelings about your company, products, services and your vision.

What do you want to be known for? And don't cop out by saying "exemplary customer service" or "industry leading whatever" or some crap like that. It's hard work to change gut feelings. But you can with innovation and communication - and time. Consistent alignment is the primary driver of brand strength.

Do you have an alignment issue with your brand?

technorati tags > branding, marketing, strategy, alignment, brand promise, gut feelings,

Carnivale of Customer Service

Maria Palma of "Customers Are Aways" invited me to be part of her Carnivale on customer service.

I believe that good customer service is pretty simple yet surprisingly difficult to execute. The very nature of service is putting someone else's need ahead of your own. In today's society, that is not something that comes natural to most. You truly have to want to help someone to succeed in customer service. It has to be part of your being.

Many moons ago, I started corporate American life in Tech Support. I was young and had never really worked with the general public before. In dealing with Tech Support calls, you really start off on a bad foot. Something is broken and it needs to be fixed - quickly and painlessly and there's a good chance it's out of warranty. On top of that, you're just a faceless voice on the other end of the phone. It's much easier to to go postal over the phone than it is when you're sitting across the table. At that time, the company was very focused on keeping customers and prospective customers happy. Tech Support was the face of the company's brand to 99% of the callers. We were instructed to be respectful, knowledgeable and empowered to do what we thought it would take to solve their problem. That's all great. Unfortunately a lot of teams were also praised for taking as many calls as possible and not giving away free service (parts, service calls, etc...). Think about the recent fiasco with AOL - but it never close to that situation. Regardless there in lies the rub. Some Tech Supporters were naturally geared towards call volume instead of truly helping each caller. Luckily I stayed in a product group that was very hands on and always went above and beyond to help each user. And they loved it. I would get thank you letters, gift baskets, Christmas cards - you name it. And the beauty was that you never knew who was connected to the person on the other end of the phone. I ended up solving problems for the CEO of Caterpillar, IBM board members, and author Stephen King as he was trying to finish a short story. It was great and I learned a lot about helping people.

So here are the lessons I learned and currently live by:
  1. Treat everyone - everyone - with courtesy and respect
  2. Answer all voice mails and emails before you leave the office every night
  3. Never over-promise on something you cannot deliver (it's much better to under-promise and over-deliver)
  4. Keep an eye on the little details - people notice
  5. Do what's right for the customer - 99% of the people simply want to be treated fairly
We're all consumers. We all have our own personal stories of bad service; they're hard to forget.

Good customer service can overcome a lot of product issues. At the end of the day, just do what your Grandma told you years ago - treat others like you want to be treated. If everyone just did that, the customer service industry would be entirely different.

technorati tags > customer, service, strategy, support, carnivale, maria palma

The right priorites

This image from Hugh Macleod got me thinking.

Trust in a seller/customer relationship truly is paramount. Big advertising blew it - people are sick of being screamed at. Big business blew it - employment for life? The social media push is all about trust. It's an amplified globe-shrinking Word of Mouth push. It is about customers taking back control and recognizing the power of their tribe.

I've seen it happen a thousand times - and I'm guilty of it myself. Once a creative firm (in-house or outside) sells a new idea; the client usually jumps right into "so how are we going to do it". I've always thought they should be more concerned about ensuring their brand is elevated in the eyes of the customer instead of the technical details. I'm sure the thought process is "if I understand how it's going to work, I'll be able to know if it's right".

Most clients are focused on the wrong thing and it's puts them at a disadvantage that is next to impossible to overcome. Focus on what your customer wants to hear (the why), not the technology (the what or how). Focus on solving the true business problem that's prompting you to market/publicize/advertise/etc... Be brave enough to peel back the layers and write an honest creative brief. Make trust a priority.

technorati tags > marketing, branding, advertising, priorities, strategy, customer, trust

Brainstorming tips & tricks

I've used the SCAMPER methodology for brainstorming quite effectively over the years.

SCAMPER stands for:
  • S - substitute
  • C - combine/create
  • A - add
  • M - modify/magnify
  • P - put to other uses
  • E - eliminate/elaborate
  • R - reverse/rearrange
This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. We've all seen that ingenious little tweak on someone else's idea that sparks a new flurry of ideas. The SCAMPER methodology allows you to create in bitesize chunks. Instead of having to have an ideal moment of inspiration, these techniques get your brain thinking in ways that you may not be used to.

Let's take a basic pencil.

S - substitute pencil for crayon, marker, chalk, lead, paint anything that play a similar role
C - combine pencil with lead pencil, #2 pencil, pencil and pen, pencil and paper
A - add pencil to a messy desk, journal of dreams, a sketchbook
M - magnify a part of the pencil you want to focus on - clean erases, visual display of how sharp the lead is and how much is left
E - what would a pencil be like without the six sides (easier to hold or harder), is it better w/ blue lead, does the audience need a pencil/pen combo
R - is there a way to rearrange a pencil? Not sure, it's pretty well baked.

After a while, you can see how these methods get you thinking differently about a simple pencil. It's easy to put yourself in the shoes of the Dixon-Ticonderoga marketing manager planning his/her next campaign.

Anyway, use the SCAMPER techniques to find new solutions to problems. Once you begin to understand and apply each letter, you'll be able to dissect how other companies came to their conclusions on product names, features, and design.

technorati tags > brainstorming, techniques, scamper, product, development, features, design - It's official

Just a quick post to let you know that I've officially began writing on

Here are my two initial posts:
  1. Hi, my name is...
  2. 5 tips to getting the biggest bang for your buck
I'm truly excited about the opportunity to work with business owners and executives. Helping corporations and organizations improve has been a passion of mine for a long time.

technorati tags > small business, branding, blog, marketing

Gen Y is driving technology consumption

According to Forrester, North American 18-26 year olds are integrating technology into their lives faster than any generation previously. They spend twice as much time online as baby boomers. Almost half have broadband at home. Whether its blogs, IM, or social networks like Facebook, Gen Y is driving technology consumption.

It's amazing how much this trend is changing the face of America. Pay phones are gone. Travel agencies are very hard to find. Land line phone subscriptions are falling. To most folks in the blogosphere this is not new news. But I'm still surprised at how many corporations are not embracing the shift.

Loyalty is the key to long term growth. The Web 2.0 trend is only exposing & amplifying what has always happened. People have always recommended products the love and bashed products they hated. Technology has enabled those local conversations to happen globally. It has created massive tribes of like-minded consumers with the power to shower explosive growth on a company or tank it.

Now more than ever you must make products/services that customers will love, not just be satisfied with if you want to grow. Keeping your customers happy is more important than short term Wall Street-driven changes. Be more competitive by beating the competition. Not by simply cutting price.

You should leverage technology to enable conversations. There's still room for traditional market research, but you can learn a lot by paying attention to what is already being said. Before you had no idea what college kids in Idaho loved about your product without expensive focus groups that were automatically filtered because they're staged research initiatives in a controlled setting. Now you can just tap right into Bebo, MySpace, Flickr,, xanga, etc... The list goes on and on.

Here's the key; take advantage while you can. Every corporation on the planet is heading down this same path. If you don't beat them, all you'll hear is corporate marketing crap that is coming not the users themselves.

technorati tags > forrester, strategy, customer, loyalty, marketing, technology, integration

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