Your brand’s foundation

June 18, 2011


How are you building your foundation?

A brand, much like someone’s personality, isn’t something you concoct or fabricate.  You can’t put it on and take it off at will.  It’s not window dressing, but instead it comes from within your company, the culture, the people, the vision and of course…the marketplace in which it exists.


You can, of course, amplify your brand by doing the right things with intention and frequency.  But…the foundation is already set.

In fact…you build your foundation with every choice you make as an organization and as the individuals who work for that organization.  David Ogilvy once said “every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand.”  In today’s digital world where everything is archived by Google — it goes far beyond that.

Long before you are consciously on the radar screen of your target audience…you are creating your brand’s foundation with every:

  • Tweet
  • Facebook update
  • Snarly employee wearing one of your logo’d shirts in a bar
  • Branded truck driving carelessly
  • Sponsorship of an event
  • Comment left on someone else’s blog, FB, etc.
  • Advertising/Marketing offers

Think of each action as a log or brick.  Without meaning to — you are stacking each of those choices/actions together to create my first impression of you.  The foundation upon which I will decide if I want to keep interacting.

And by the way — your absence is as noticeable as your presence.  Those choices should be made as carefully as deciding where you do want to be seen.

Here’s my question.  How intentional are you being about your brand’s foundation?  Are you building it with a vision and purpose or is it just happening haphazardly?


Hat tip to Derrick Daye for reminding me of this Ogilvy quote.


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Brand truth: I don’t care

June 13, 2011

…Are they really the tree huggers you’d hoped?

…about what you wish I cared about.

Way too many brands chase the fad of the day, thinking they can jump on a swell of consumer sentiment and rise those profits into the sunset.  No so fast, my friends.

For your brand to be effective, sticky and enduring — it has to be about what matters to your consumers.  They have to genuinely identify with it/care about it.  You can’t make them love you.  (Nod to Bonnie Raitt)  No matter how hot the trend is or how passionate you might personally be.

Case in point — a recent study done by OgilvyEarth (I’m pretty sure David Ogilvy rolls his eyes from the grave on that one) shows that most consumers aren’t buying the whole “green movement.” In particular, men are not motivated or swayed by green marketing messages.  It turns out that their perception when they hear green is “more expensive.”

So playing to the trend is actually hurting those brands who hoped that men would be moved to pull out their wallets based on the green movement marketing position.

Time to do your own brand check.  Are you trying to force an idea, value or belief at your core audience?  Or…do you know yourself and your core audience so well that you know what brings you together?

And before you are quick to answer…be ready to tell me this.  HOW do you know that your brand is what truly resonates in the hearts of your core audience?


Hat tip to Kami Watson Huyse for tweeting the Ogilvy link.


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Your brand is out of control!

June 8, 2011

When you look in the mirror, do you see what they see?

Businesses big and small expend huge resources (proportionally) to build a brand they’re proud of and can live up to.

Remember, our definition of a brand is a promise you make that differentiates and creates an image in my mind in terms of what it will be like to work with you/your product or service.

We help clients create/discover their brand and then weave them into the culture of their organizations so that everyone knows and is keeping the promise.  But what happens once you release the brand out into the wild?

It quickly gets out of control — that’s what happens.  At least it is now out of YOUR control.  (For this discussion — your brand could  mean your personal brand, a corporate brand or even a specific product’s brand.)

How you want people to interpret your efforts and how it actually plays out are two different things.  Sometimes they’re in alignment but maybe the words are different and sometimes they’re light years apart.  How does that happen?

People.  Pesky human beings.  Who all have their own way of looking at things.

What got me thinking about this today was a blog post by Liz Strauss from yesterday.  She asked...what soundbyte do people use to describe you? It’s a brand question.

What Liz is getting at is — you either consciously or unconsciously go to a lot of effort to build a brand.  But then I get to observe, interact and ultimately decide what all of that means to me.  In most cases, it is not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it.  That’s how I describe what you’re all about.

Let me give you an example.  In 2008, I was humbled to be named one of the bronze level winners of the Personal Brand Awards (started by Personal Branding guru Dan Schawbel) — an honor that recognizes people who have created remarkable personal brands.  In the descriptions of the winners, here’s how I was described:

Why he wonDrew is most notably the nicest guy on the internet. Aside from being one of the most recognized and respected authorities on marketing and branding online, he is a savvy networker. Since personal branding is all about giving before receiving and not putting yourself first, Drew has become known as a connector and friend to all. For all of this, we would like to present him a bronze personal brand award!

Read that first sentence again.  The nicest guy on the internet.  First…a very flattering description.  But in relation to this blog post — I would have never described myself or expected to be described that way.  Smart marketing & branding guy — sure.  That’s what I do day in and day out — write about marketing and branding.  I am a c0-creator of the Age of Conversation books (with Gavin Heaton) and Bloggers Social (with CK Kerley and Lori Magno) so maybe a community guy or a collaborator.  But the panel of judges examined the sum total of my brand… and they decided (because that’s how brands work) that I’m a giver/nice guy.

I’m not telling you all of this to toot my own horn.  After all, you too get to examine the sum total of my brand and decide what it means to YOU.  I am using myself as the example because as a branding guy…. I preach this stuff every day.  And yet how my own brand was perceived still surprised me a little.  I’m proud to be considered a nice guy but even I got caught up in the what (co-creator, marketing and branding) and didn’t remember that it’s the how/why that sticks with people.

When you read Liz’s post, she gives some examples of the soundbytes she’s talking about.  I think you’ll see that it’s not the what (marketing/branding) but the how or why (nice guy) that gets noticed.

So….your brand is out of your control.  It’s in the hands, minds and hearts of your consumers.  What would your soundbyte be?  (And how close it is to what you’d want it to be?)



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Either they trust you or they don’t

May 3, 2011



  • Marketing
  • The art of selling
  • Customer loyalty
  • Brand promise
  • Social credibility

All very important concepts on this blog.  And in your organization. At the core of every one of them is trust.  Or the lack thereof.

Think of any relationship you have — personal or professional.  How close you feel to that person is directly correlated to how much you trust them.  The deeper the trust, the deeper the relationship.  And the deeper the relationship, the more likely it is to be long lasting.  Which from your business’ point of view translates to more profitable. (This works the same with employees, by the way)

The only thing more painful that being in a relationship where you are not trusted… is being in a relationship where you cannot trust.  In fact, no real relationship can exist where trust does not.

So sooner or later… it will go away.

Notice that I didn’t say like, love, respect, or admire.  We can like or even love someone and not trust them.  We can respect someone’s work or intelligence and not trust them.  We can even admire someone’s abilities or talents and still not trust them.

I can be the most innovative, proactive, on the cutting edge, smartest marketing guy in the world — but if you don’t trust me and believe that I have your best interest at heart — you simply won’t be able to do business with me over the long haul.

Why?  Because there will always be that nagging doubt.  You will always question my sincerity.  You will see hidden motives and meanings, even if they don’t exist.  Even when I offer rationale and truthful explanations — you’ll wonder what’s underneath.

Trust defies logic, fact and truth.  It’s all about the gut.  Factually accurate or not — it is innate in nature.

I know with certainty (and you know this about your company as well) that clients hire us based on how they feel about us.  And in our case, being a marketing agency — they are bringing their hopes, dreams, fears, baggage, dirty laundry and secrets with them.  They are hoping like crazy that they can spill that bag onto our conference room table and let us see it all and help them sort it out.

But first, they need to decide if they trust us.  Do we really care or are we just trying to get their money?  And your clients are asking themselves the same questions about you.

So how do you create an atmosphere of trust?  How do you reassure prospects and current clients that you’re worthy of their trust?

Be human: We make mistakes.  We don’t know all the answers.  We forget things.  When any of those happen with a client — say so.  And point it out before they notice.

Example:  I honestly don’t know how to get our software to give you the information you need.  But, I’m on it and will report back.

Be honest about what you can/can’t do: You’re not the best at everything.  You have strengths and weaknesses as an organization.  Disclose those and show how you overcome them.

Example:  Our strength is really in the writing and directing sides of things.  We partner with a very good videographer to shoot.  Their costs are already included in the estimate.

Care: Don’t say that you care — actually care.  And caring is an action verb.  Do things that demonstrate that your customer’s best interests matter to you.  Go out of your way.  Regularly.

Example:  We didn’t replace the gasket because we couldn’t get your car to act up the way you described.  So, we called the dealership and they didn’t know.  Then, we called Ford and they faxed us some information and it turns out, it was your flibberdejibbit.

Behave in a way that creates trust: Trust is strengthened or weakened by actions.  There’s a reason we all know the axiom — actions speak louder than words.  It’s harder to mask true intentions in a behavior than it is to sugar coat some words.

Examples:  Create simple, easy to understand invoices.  Always be happy to over explain when a customer has a question about your process, your costs or your intentions.

We want to create love affairs with our customers.  That can’t happen without earning their trust.  Trust is what drives word of mouth.  Trust is what earns loyalty.  And trust is at the heart of any relationship worth having.

Note: Today (May 3rd) is the International Day of Trust.  You can read more about it on the Entente site or their Facebook page.  This also ties very nicely into a project I’ve been working on with some friends — the Connection Agency.

So today — imagine a world built upon trust.  Feels pretty cool to me.  Maybe tomorrow we can start to build it?

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Someone has to hate your brand

April 10, 2011

A brand…if it is going to be effective, has to be bold.  It has to stand for something.  It has to plant a flag into the ground and stake out its territory.  A brand cannot be neutral.

Your brand loyalists will love you. But, there’s no ying without the yang. In other words, if some love you, others will hate you.  You can’t be everything to everyone and be a strong brand.

Which is of course, why we have so many “mushy middle” brands — companies who are afraid to take a stand, so they try to be everything to everyone.  Or they try to be a liger brand…a little bit of everything all mashed together.  At McLellan Marketing — we tell clients, be bold or go home!

No graphic states this more eloquently than Kathy Sierra’s visual below.

Love, love this explanation of why your brand can’t live in what we call the mushy middle!


Which is why I *love* the new Miracle Whip campaign.  They’re basically calling us out — and saying, you either love it or hate it.  Declare which side you’re on.  They totally get that some people absolutely hate their product.  And they’re fanning those flames.  Why?  To get the people who love their product to take a stand.

Check out their current TV spot and enjoy smart branding.  But then come back… because of course, we need to talk about your brand.



Okay — time to look at your own brand.  Can you define who hates you or at least who should?  And don’t get all “people who don’t want quality” should hate us.  Lame.

Seriously — it’s time you step out of the mushy middle and be brave enough to take a stand.

By the way — check out all of these stories, stats and results from Kraft’s gamble on the Miracle Whip brand.  Do you think they would have generated this kind of buzz if they did a mushy middle “everyone loves us” campaign?

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There’s actually a person on the other side

March 24, 2011

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You can’t do it all from the box

It’s incredible that you can now do business with anyone on the globe.  It opens up amazing possibilities for all of us.

It also creates some new challenges.

We launched a very complex and challenging project with a new vendor recently.  It was complicated by the fact that it’s outside our area of expertise — but we still needed to drive it from a project management and brand perspective.

What we needed was very specialized and there aren’t too many proven choices out there.  So we selected a vendor who clearly had the skills we needed.  We contracted with them and the work began.  Then, this sequence of events happened.

  1. They sent us an e-mail, outlining what they needed from us.
  2. I sent an e-mail back, admitting that I was nervous about the project due to our lack of knowledge — and could we please talk it through on the phone.
  3. They wrote back and said they preferred to do everything via e-mail so there was a record and no details would be missed.
  4. I said… I was all for capturing the details but I have some overarching questions and want to give them a better sense of what we’re trying to do, big picture.
  5. They wrote back — great, e-mail us your questions and tell us about the big picture.
  6. I did this to the best of my ability — which I believe wasn’t all that hot.  I just didn’t know enough.
  7. They asked us how we wanted to handle a technical issue.  I said…I have no idea.  We need your recommendation.
  8. They gave us a recommendation and we took it.
  9. 2 weeks later — it turns out their recommendation was wrong.  Had we talked on the phone and explored the project together — they would have made a different recommendation.
  10. We have to make a change, based on a new recommendation.
  11. Oops…turns out their 2nd recommendation was also not quite right, because they didn’t know enough about what we were trying to do — and I didn’t know enough to tell them what they really needed to know.
  12. 3rd recommendation is fine.  Project is complete.  But…they had to do a lot of extra work and take a lot of extra time that they could have saved — if we’d had that initial phone call.

Every project should begin with a phone conversation.  I don’t care how tech savvy you are.  I don’t care how simple the project.

Do not hide behind your computer with the excuse of capturing details or efficiency.  I don’t care how much you prefer e-mail — when a client asks to talk to you on the phone — talk to them.  They are no more interested in chatting than you are.  You will learn so much more in a phone conversation — because you can ask questions, and based on those answers — ask more questions.

Even if it’s just because the client is worried — talk to them.

It sounds pretty basic doesn’t it?  But it’s happening more and more.   I can hear you in the comments section now — “duh, Drew.  When they wouldn’t talk to you on the phone — big red flag.”

I know it.  I knew it then.  But, I kept trusting their process rather than that nagging voice in my head.

My mistake is your marketing lesson.  Don’t do this to your clients and don’t do business with anyone who does it to you.

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Is your brand an April Fool’s joke?

March 21, 2011

Some brands are better suited at being playful than others.  The same is true of their customers. With the pending arrival of April Fool’s Day, you may be thinking about pulling a fast one on your unsuspecting clients.  Tread slowly…


While most people enjoy a good chuckle… you walk a fine line when it comes to practical jokes.  Some people like to laugh but really hate it when the laugh is on them.

Last year, several big name brands shouted “gotcha” at their loyal followers and it seems like none are any worse for the wear.

Google asked members to sign up to test the newly unveiled “store everything” feature in Google Docs. Google Docs was allowing users to store more than documents; they could store their pet rock collections, winter clothes, apartments and even their pets for a competitive price.

Starbucks announced that in response to customers requesting more beverage sizes, they were introducing the 128-ounce “Plenta” and the 2-ounce “Micra.” Starbucks explained that the additions were a result of direct customer feedback from and a year’s worth of research.

As seen above, Nike released a video revealing the secret behind where they get the air for Nike Air shoes. The video explains that the air is collected from star athletes to help you perform at your best.

GameStation added an “immortal soul clause” into their terms and conditions in which consumers surrendered their souls to the company if they chose not to opt out of the clause. GameStation collected a total of 7,500 souls who decided to skip the terms and conditions (or didn’t mind the new clause).

Coldplay revealed on their website that they had released a perfume called, “Angst.” The  bottle was featured in the band’s online store but unfortunately it was all sold out. Frontman Chris Martin said, “This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. People like to smell nice and we thought we could help them out.”

What do you think?

  • Is this a gimmick that only works for big consumer brands?
  • Can you see this playing well with your customers?
  • Is the risk of it backfiring worth taking to create big buzz?
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The Swahili take on branding

February 21, 2011

Shutterstock_1482262 Swahili proverb:  A boat does not go forward if each is rowing their own way.

Any good crew team will tell you that they rely on the coxswain to keep them in synch.  During a race, the coxswain shouts commands, keeping the crew on course.  No matter how polished or experienced the crew, they would not be successful without hearing the same commands over and over.

Branding works pretty much the same way.  No matter how talented your team is or how many years of experience — they need a brand champion who will serve as coxswain.  Someone who runs a long side them and keeps them on course, shouting directions and encouragement.

What does it take to be the brand’s coxswain?

Discipline: Sooner or later, your brand is going to put you in a spot where you have to make a tough decision.  For example, do you honor the brand or just hire any breathing body because your understaffed?  Branding is fun when you’re creating the logo.  It’s not as much fun when you’re making difficult business decisions.

Perseverance: Branding really is for the brave.  It’s a long-haul sort of proposition.  So your brand champion needs to be willing to go the distance.

A learner’s heart: Leading a brand effort is often uncharted waters.  So you have to enter into it accepting that you don’t know it all and will learn along the way.  You need to be curious, ask a lot of questions and listen to every perspective.

A welcoming spirit: You can’t build a company’s brand all by yourself.  You need to inspire others to join the cause.  You need to help them understand why it matters and how they can be a part of something meaningful.

What else do you think it takes to be a brand champion?

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