For marketers, success hinges upon making a connection with the consumer. No matter what market, product, service, or story, we must understand and, above all, respect the consumer. In this episode, Bill examines how respect builds brand authenticity, shapes brand strategy, and delivers results in the real world. If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Welcome one and all! This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, your host, president of Finch Brands, which is a premier, boutique branding agency. Happy to be with you for One Big Idea. This week’s One Big Idea is ‘Respect the Consumer’.

Seems obvious for those who are seeking to transact with those consumer. But I think, in our industry, it isn’t always practiced as being obvious. We had Jordan Goldenberg, Finch Brands’ Creative Director Emeritus, with us last week. Having worked with Jordan for almost 15 years, one of the things that he said in last week’s interview but has modeled over that time is in being and understanding that the role of what agencies do (whether Finch or others) is to transact. And that in order to do that, to become cheerleaders for the client brand and by extension to respect and seek to communicate in a substantive way with their target markets, with their consumers, is essential to being successful as an agency. It may seem obvious but it isn’t.

We often find (I have found in my career) or observed agencies where folks were ‘too cool for school’ when it came to the product they were trying to sell – they didn’t like the product. We found in the research realm brand and market researchers who may not ultimately believe that the consumer they are speaking to, or seeking to collect data from, has anything all that interesting to say because of who they may be or where they may shop or what they may value.

We’ve seen clients, won’t mention any names, but clients who by being leaders, owners of companies or senior level executives have entered or embraced a different lifestyle, within their own lives, than that of the customer base they are seeking to attract. While that isn’t in and of itself a challenge when one is dismissive of the choices, the dignity, and the wisdom of one’s customer, any of these conditions or thought planes – whether its agencies that are just too cool, or researchers who are dismissive, or senior leaders/heads of companies who are dismissive of customers – the net effect is failure and really the lack of seizing the opportunities that exist, the lack of the ability to be strong and authentic and savvy communicators. If you treat people as rubes when you seek to sell, or market to them, or learn from them, or whatever it is, you will fail.

When we look back at the numbers of clients with whom we’ve worked from different categories and industries, a lot of the consumer work we’ve done, in the furniture realm for example, Jonathan Adler on one hand is not just furniture, but is a very smart, clever nod and wink type of brand that has quirks and personality. On the other end of the spectrum is Ashley Furniture, a brand that is really about value and quality. Their customers, desired customers, and most likely customers could not be more different. In order to be effective for those brands across that wide expanse of difference, those who seek to work on them (and when we sought to work with them) needed to respect them equally. Even if in our industry Jonathan Adler is much more in line with those personal sensibilities of most of the folks in the brand and agency world, more so than Ashely is. But when you go out to research with customers and consumers of Ashley, when you spend time in their home stores or in their wholesale accounts, there is immense dignity and importance to the way those folks live, the way their customers think, and make decisions. In order to be a good steward of the message for the company like that, one needs to have a healthy respect for their consumer.

Then, you look at brands that are really seeking to appeal to well-defined fandoms. ThinkGeek, for example, (which we’ve spoken about on this podcast before) is very much about a wide and deep targeting strategy in terms of the belief that everyone has a geek inside of them. But, of course, the core customer there is really of, by, and for the classically defined ‘geek’ universe. While the project team that we worked with may not see ourselves as that, we need to endeavor to understand. You always have to seek to understand before you can be understood. So if we have the responsibility and have earned the right to help a company, like ThinkGeek, communicate its essence and value, then showing respect to the eccentricities, rhythms, and quirks of their target is absolutely essential – not only to understand them well enough to do this work, but also so that the work that comes out of this is perceived and felt authentically. People can smell a fake no matter who they are. Consumers of all stripes, all types, all ages, and demographic groups can smell fakery and detect it seemingly from a mile away. So it’s on us as communicators and as marketers to ensure and take every step, not only in terms of the content but also in terms of the process that leads to the content, to be authentic.

Another example of a client, at least that I’ve worked with a lot, that has a defined fandom is World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE is a phenomenon. It is a brand, a business, an entertainment form and some would say, I certainly would, an art form that is uniquely American. It is, when one thinks of the spectrum of different artistic programming, sort of middlebrow or lowbrow in terms of the way ou might think through the sense of humor or the nature but it is a tremendously important brand to those who are fans.

Just speaking personally, I had been at the right age to be a part of the Hulkamania generation in pro wrestling, in the early 80s, where the form of entertainment was really about some pop culture connectivity with MTV and Cyndi Lauper, among other things. But many of the characters were cartoonish. These characters were written cartoonish. I, like many others, reached my teens and got interested in other things. When WWE had its second big era, which is called in the wrestling world the Attitude Era in the mid to late 90s, in many ways the brand had grown up with its fans. Guys who had been fans of Hulk Hogan and others in the early 80s had grown up from 85 to 97/98 so now they are late teens to early 20s. The Attitude Era was Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, and everyone else, and was really the baddest thing on TV. WWE led this rush to the edge in terms of taste level, sexuality, violence, and attitude. That’s why it was called the Attitude Era and that really led to a major peak for the brand.

I personally had lost touch, and many of my friends in college or just after had gotten into Attitude Era WWE/WCW programing. I had lost touch and really hadn’t followed the WWE brand when we were brought in to help them with brand research in 2003. What it took, really, was a reentry into that world in order to do well for them. One cannot do that in a detached way, so our project team and I threw ourselves back into the world of WWE. Over the course of working with them 2003 to late 2012/early 2013 completing 15-20 different projects, I think our effectiveness was based largely upon the fact that we got it, we respected it.

So whether we were doing on the fly focus groups with the crowd that was in town for any WrestleMania, or whether in Phoenix or Atlanta, wherever (which we did for a few years), or whether it was a series of focus groups for apparel, or whether it was helping them think through the strategy in terms of how to interact with Madison Avenue or whatever it was, the many different business issues that we dealt with over that span – and because of the length of that span, I personally have probably conducted more research with wrestling fans than anyone other than maybe those who work for the company – got me back in to the WWE product. And here I am at 41, watching RAW every Monday night, being excited because this coming weekend after we record this is summer slam, reading the gossip sheets (called the dirt sheets), getting involved and appreciating this art form, listening to podcasts, being a fan. We’re not currently working with WWE but I’m a fan. I’m back. They got me. I think being that way has really helped us be effective [in working with them].

Longer story than perhaps one might find interesting, but it’s an interesting example of a client that I think those that are traditionally oriented to our industry may look down on. In fact, we saw when WWE was renewing their TV contract last year with USA Network and NBC Universal, there was a lot of media coverage. Given the ratings and the regularity of those ratings for RAW, it almost looked like the size of the TV deal was a lot lower than you would have thought for programming with that level of popularity. There was speculation that there is a tax on WWE because of the fact that their fans are not deeply coveted by advertisers. That may be true but in many ways, I think that point of view, if it does exist, (and I think it very likely does on traditionally defined Madison Avenue) is much more aesthetic than it is quantitative. WWE is a brand that when they entered films when they entered books, I remember speaking to an executive at one of the major publishers who said “We got an opportunity with wrestlers back in the 90s, early 2000s, right when WWE began to publish or publish in partnership, and I had no idea how this was going to work. I didn’t even know that these people could read.” Which made the point about how folks viewed the fan base. Of course a WWE book now, depending on the title, is almost an automatic bestseller.

There are many brands, companies, and product types that appeal to all different types of people. In order to do what we do well, you have to respect the consumer. Find dignity in their opinions. Believe that they are acting in a way that you can study and understand. And that has inherent need and worth in terms of respect at the end of the day. Client performance is the score card of an agency of any kind. Jordan Goldenberg talked a lot about growing up into feeling this way, enjoying, and finding value in how our clients perform as the ultimate measure of how effective we’ve been. If you don’t feel that way, find a different business. If you do feel that way, inherent in caring about how work ultimately is in making the brand an ever more powerful driver of business performance for clients, you must, at least respect the consumer. You create when you listen and learn, you must respect the consumer.

So that’s it for me. One Big Idea. As always, 3 ways to register your support in what we’re doing here at Real-World Branding is to give us a rating. Make sure you don’t miss a one of these by clicking that subscribe button. Also, leave us a rating if we’ve earned it – 4 stars, 5 stars (we hope). Finally, enter the dialogue with us via twitter, the best way to do it, @billgullan or @finchbrands with questions or comments. We’d love to hear from everyone. Signing off from the cradle of liberty.

The post One Big Idea: Respect the Consumer appeared first on Finch Brands.

Creative expression is the vessel to communicate a brand’s essence. In this episode, we host Jordan Goldenberg, Creative Director of Finch Brands, to celebrate his tenure and share his unique insight in supporting brand strategy and delivering real-world results through creative execution. If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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The post Creating the Brand: Jordan Goldenberg- Creative Director of Finch Brands appeared first on Finch Brands.

Every organization, large or small, needs a guiding light – a ‘North Star’ that defines the collective purpose. A clear vision documents your ‘why,’ providing inspiration and clarity. In this episode, Bill details the core components of a strong vision statement and demonstrates the value of vision in long-term brand building. If you enjoyed our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Welcome one and all, this is Real-World Branding and I’m Bill Gullan, your host and the President of Finch Brands. We are a premier boutique branding agency and we’re very excited to have you with us. As noted, in weeks between the interviews that we have with business and brand builders, I like to do something that we call One Big Idea, which is to focus for a few minutes on a really important topic or a singular topic that relates to the world of branding and of building brands and businesses. Often that has some relevance to some recent conversations that we may have had with the newsmakers that we feature on the show.

This week the concept is, the topic is Vision. Every interview that we’ve had, and probably will have, spent a little bit of time at least talking about Vision. Vision is a large concept and a big term, we’re going to focus on Vision statements today. You often hear about Vision and Mission statements as companions that are used to distill the essence, potential, and focus of companies and that’s true. In a future One Big Idea I will talk a little bit more about Mission but our focus today is on crafting a really powerful Vision statement that is used to inform and inspire the people around you, whether they be colleagues in your business or whether they be folks on the outside, prospective customers, partners etc.

Important is the distinction between Vision and Mission in the way in which they work together or fit together. Vision is designed to be future focused. It’s designed to be a statement of potential and a statement that enables you day in and day out to focus on the core values and elements that drive a business to achieve its full potential. So Vision is about defining an ambition for a business or an ambition for how a business or an organization will have impact on the world and in the lives of its customers and partners.

In some ways you can consider it as a North Star. It’s a guiding principle or set of principles that no matter how the rhythm or pace of life at work, how fast it can become, your North Star your Vision always reorients you and helps you make sure that you’re spending every day, and making every decision, with the best possible future and potential in mind. So this ambition, this North Star, helps you guide the big bets that you make. It is your Vision, often, that helps you determine, not ‘well should I do display advertising or should I maybe think about radio’, it’s not that granular. But it is a guiding light when it comes to the major initiatives that will drive the business forward and making those big bets and assessing priorities.

It is designed to inform, but importantly to inspire. It is a big idea, typically a grand idea, which through the sheer force of its bigness and its audacity serves to inspire, motivate, and focus those around you. By definition the Vision is future focused rather than present focused and its long term. Some days it may feel like you’re galloping towards the achievement of your Vision, and other days it may feel like you’re standing on the side of the road looking for a map, but it is a big idea that has a future in mind.

Some characteristics of really effective Vision statements are clarity, obviously, and sometimes being succinct is important to being clear. It is purpose driven, it isn’t just about, for example the financial performance that one desires from a company or its growth rate. It is about purposes, it is about the why, it is inspirational, and as noted, it is ambitious by definition. Every business wants to aim big, shoot for the stars, the Vision is a place to do that and it is also obviously relevant to the business that one is in – the focus of how the company grows and what the impacts, benefits, and outcomes are of that company growth.

A couple of examples of really effective Vision statements from leading brands across the world and they are different in some ways, but the things I just mentioned are that which they have in common. So if you look at Virgin for example, ‘To embrace the human spirit and let it fly.’ That’s the Vision of a Virgin Atlantic, it’s not about on time arrivals, and it’s not about anything other than the wind beneath the wings of such an airline.

If you look at Nike it’s Mission is, ‘To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ and there is a mark next to athlete, an asterisk that refers you to the bottom of the page which it says, ‘if you have a body you are an athlete.’ So a big thought as to why Nike exists, which is that inspiration and innovation for every athlete in the world, again not just about making shoes and building stores etc. Under Armour is, ‘To empower athletes everywhere.’ IKEA is, ‘To create a better everyday life for the many people,’ which is Swedish or Danish but the translation is the ‘Better everyday life for the majority of people.’ So IKEA is not in the business of selling and making furniture, its about making lives better and helping folks, regular folks, live a better life.

Disney is simply, ‘To make people happy’ and Amazon, which gets a little bit more specific and technical, sounds a little bit more like business speak is ‘To be the Earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.’

So these are different flavors of different Vision statements that all have in common this inspiration and this ambition – the fact that these are big sweeping ideas, that are future focused and that are long term. So those are examples, and one in particular Vision that is worth a look, is LinkedIn’s, that is particularly powerful. I think, as we at Finch have been going through a process of thinking about Vision ourselves, as well as coaching the team about how to think about it for clients, the LinkedIn Vision is really powerful. That’s a strong core idea, which is ‘To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.’

It is notable that this Vision is not about creating a website where people can come and post their resumes and get jobs, or anything that may be more specific to the Mission of LinkedIn or to the actual execution of the business at LinkedIn. But again LinkedIn’s Vision is ‘to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.’ That is how they see the why and the purpose on which LinkedIn operates and what LinkedIn does. That is the right kind of big and future focused idea that will help them as they think about those big bets in terms of product development, building out the site, building ancillary lines of businesses to complement the core LinkedIn business social media site and business that they have today.

So will stop for now. That’s a quick one, hopefully of value to those who think about how to build businesses and brands. Vision is essential to this and having Vision and Mission statements that are well crafted that come from the heart, that are relevant to the business, that are shared and reinforce both with internal colleagues as well as with external partners and customers.

Often a strong and well executed Vision is an attribute of a purpose driven and ultimately large and successful business. However be it small, medium or large, everyone has dreams when they enter into business building and as they drive through what it takes to build businesses day in and day out. Whatever the anticipated size, the Vision and the Vision statement is an indispensable tool for making things happen and keeping one oriented to why one is doing what one is doing. One Big Idea for this week is about Vision. This is the Real-World Branding podcast. Signing off from the Cradle of Liberty, have a wonderful day and week.

The post One Big Idea: Define Your Vision appeared first on Finch Brands.

Commerce is downstream from culture — and emerging cultural values presage what gets bought and how. In this episode, Bill provides several examples of how brands can anticipate or capture changes in the culture to promote brand relevance and success.

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Bill Gullan: Welcome one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. So we’re six-seven episodes in now, for the Real-World Branding podcast. It’s been super fun for us. Our guests have been so gracious with their time and their insight.

Some of the feedback we’ve been receiving from listeners has also been very positive, so we’re gratified by that. One of the things that we’ve heard, that we think we’re going to try, is in off weeks from the interviews, we’re going to record a shorter monologue about key ideas that are practical and that are important that have emerged from the interviews that we’ve conducted.

So the schedule will be an interview, then the week after, some reflections with really One Big Idea – one major point that came to mind from the work that we’ve done. We’re going to start with that today, and it was very clear from the conversation with Joanna Klein the CMO of Fathead, the importance for Fathead, in terms of their social media strategy, their content strategy, etc. of being engaged in the culture.

It was obviously commercial information that they want everyone to understand – who are the athletes, who are the licensed characters that are available in the various formats that Fathead offers –but important to them and for them is to be seen as being part of the enduring conversation about sports and entertainment that their target customers and partners really thrive on in terms of creating demand and ultimately transactions. So the big idea today is that Culture Drives Commerce.

A couple of examples, from my own history and our own history of Finch Brands, of this in a moment, but when marketers and branding folks are stuck and they’re focused perhaps at a level that is beneath the ongoing cultural conversation or the zeitgeist, what typically emerges is something in terms of brand messaging or marketing messaging that ultimately lands with a splatter. With a thud rather than the impact that one is seeking as a marketer.

For brands that are consumer facing, having a strong command of the culture, having the ability in an opportunistic way to insert one’s brand into the ongoing continuing conversation around culture is absolutely essential for brands to be current and relevant.

’Inserting one’s brand into the ongoing conversation around culture is absolutely essential for brands to be current and relevant.’
A couple of examples from our history of our clients that have taken advantage of cultural moments or cultural movements to create attention and ultimately financial performance, one that goes back to the early part of last decade is when we’re working with Joseph Abboud, the men’s, primarily tailored, clothing designer and manufacturer that has since been acquired by Men’s Wearhouse. There was a big cultural conversation about the nature of masculinity.

The media had largely created a bipolar reality in terms of the dialogue about what it means to be a man. On one end, there was this metrosexual cliché or profile that had been created of a largely urban skewing man, city dweller, young who was really getting interested in fashion and style and grooming and hygiene and all these different things. Then the media created an opposite pole to that which is the caveman that didn’t care about these things.

Now, I don’t think the data would suggest there really ever was such a war between the caveman and the metrosexual so to speak, but had there been one the metrosexual without question would have been victorious because of the fact that grooming, hygiene, style, and everything else has become a dominant part of the masculine creed. As we moved into this decade and beyond, the level of transaction around men’s health, style, personal care, etc. has grown stratospherically.

In working with Joseph Abboud, there was a launch that they had done in conjunction with Macy’s that was a licensed brand Joe by Joseph Abboud. It was focused on college juniors and seniors to really get that first interview suit. They were selling suit separates, and they were selling sportswear but it was primarily about sport coats and suits for young men who maybe had very strong brand associations for Abercrombie, American Eagle or other brands that they knew and then marketed directly to them.

These were fashion conscious consumers, but they didn’t have a clue when it came to tailor clothing. How to wear it? Whom to trust? Etc. So when building messaging and imagery around that it was important to reference and play off of that cultural conversation about metrosexuality and what it meant in an emerging and evolving way for men to be men. That was one example.

Another one that was a bit more recent in our work with ThinkGeek. The dominant exciting interesting e-commerce purveyor of both licensed and proprietary goods that are supposed to appeal to the geek in all of us.

The business was little less than a decade old. They started really with a focus on what the traditional definition of geek had been – a person who was very smart, who was very adept technically, often in the profession of being a developer or anything else and thus their logo had a brain in it. Their tagline was ‘Stuff for Smart Masses.’ The brand was built in some ways on the self-identification of a geek in a traditional sense, and they were building product for that person and that person was not necessarily considered to be as socially adept, that person was considered to be having a small group of friends, etc.

The notion of a geek in culture has changed considerably over the course of that decade ‘I’m geeking out about XYZ.’ Geek became more of a signifier of one’s passions and going deeper with one’s passions. Sharing and building community became part of what a geek is as the decade came to a close, and we moved into the 2010’s or whatever we call it.

So here we are where ThinkGeek had a brand and a business that was very successful with a very strong following, but their definition of geek was a little bit out of date. When they brought Finch in to manage re-branding, the first element of the process was really understanding what a geek is all about today. You see NBA players wearing Urkel inspired outfits in post-game press conferences; you see everyone talking and using that phrase as noted ‘geeking out.’

The cultural conversation about ‘geekdom’ had moved more quickly than perhaps the commercial application and the things you could put out into the marketplace. Thus, the re-branding process was not really all about a great new logo and tag line which became ‘Join In. Geek Out.’ In many ways the new brand is reflective of the transition and evolution that geeks had taken – in terms of being a marginalized subculture within the Internet revolution to being a dominant cultural force and all of us having a geek that we could find inside of us when we’re around the things that are most compelling to us. So that is an example of how an e-commerce company really wrapped up into their arms, the passion, and momentum around a cultural movement to define ‘geekdom’ anew.

The last one is the Scünci, the brand of Conair, owned by Conair, known by many over the time as the originator and purveyor of the scrunchie, which Sex in the City famously labeled dead late in their run, and I’ve heard it might be coming back. Either way, Scünci had grown into a very sizable brand in terms of hair accessories for women and girls in food, drug, and mass. Forty percent market share whatever the number was competing with Goody and many, other brands, and they came to Finch to do a category study and a brand evolution.

In many ways, this was a category where the retailer and the manufacturers, Scünci included, had conspired to make very uninspiring and unemotional play – to be all about replenishment and all about technologies, specs, ‘the no slip grip,’ and everything else, which certainly has its place. However, what we encouraged the brand to summon was: what’s the emotional undercurrent of this brand? What’s the role that hair accessories play in her life day in and day out?

We found through our research a couple of things that related to active women who play sports, are involved in working out, or whatever the case may be. What underlies the category in many ways is this notion of confidence, and that hair accessories give women the tools that it takes to be their confident best. Whether they’re looking to blend in or stand out, from day to night and between, what Scünci was really providing, in addition to technologies, is the ability for women to go about their day confidently.

So when we thought about what confidence is and where, for many women, confidence is forged, we kept coming back to the significant increase in both sports and active participation on the part of women in America and girls. Whether that’s playing sports recreationally or at a college level, pro level, or an Olympic level or whether that’s just simply participating in softball, soccer, recreational sports, or gym habits, distance running, etc.

Often this notion of feminine self-confidence is fueled and forged in that active arena, and so that gave Scünci a couple different opportunities as we’re going to hinge the brand on confidence and deliver it through the tagline: ‘Ü got this’. ‘Ü with the umlaut referencing the Scünci logo, and ‘you got this’ as a notion of a proprietary statement of confidence in the role that hair accessories play in confidence.

We found from a perspective of product development, as well as marketing currency, that confidence was important to the branding because confidence was important to women and very frequently forged in this cauldron of active living. It was important and appropriate for the brand to manifest itself in and around active pursuits. We found that many of the also functional needs for elastics and jaw clips and hair bands were around active pursuits running on the treadmill whatever it was.

Thus, Scünci developed, in conjunction with Walmart, a Scünci active brand that was focused particularly on active women, and it’s been very successful and it’s been a really effective launch both for retailer and for manufacturer. As Scünci moves in the marketing realm, they are seeking and have sought ways to bring athletic and active imagery as well as partnerships and corporate social responsibility opportunities that are associated with women finding joy and confidence in playing sports, being active, etc.

So three quick examples of ways in which the continuing cultural dialogue around masculinity or what it means to be a geek, or femininity have led directly into business and brand strategies that have driven commerce and driven brands forward. So the Big Idea this week is that Culture Drives Commerce. Fat Head certainly exudes that and we are exhorting our friends and colleagues in the marketing and branding element communities to always be close to the culture and to employ cultural movements in the way that they think about and build and market their brand.

That’s all for me. One Big Idea for Finch Brands this week. As we sign off, a quick reminder that there are three ways to support what we’re doing here at Real-World Branding. One of which is to subscribe through the app store of your choice or podcast of choice. The second is to give us a rating and a comment. We really want to hear it, also helps us make sure that others can find value in our programming because it’s important to the way that we appear or don’t appear in these app stores. Lastly, we would love feedback. We would love questions. We would love suggestions of future guests and probably the best way to do that is to reach out to me on Twitter at @BillGullan or at @FinchBrands.

So thank you for your time and your interest. We look forward to continuing our own dialogue with you, and we hope you have a terrific day. Signing off from the Cradle Liberty.

The post One Big Idea: Culture Drives Commerce appeared first on Finch Brands.

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