The Ad-free Brand

This tag is associated with 18 posts

The Ad-Free Brand on The New Media Radio Hour


A few weeks ago, Rey Ybarra of The New Media Radio Hour conducted an interview with me about The Ad-Free Brand. If you want to check it out, you can listen to it here.

In other news, Susan Cain, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in my post about introverts, had a nice “behind the scenes” piece about the prep she did before her TED talk in the New York Times Sunday Book Review yesterday. Very interesting. Check it out here.

That is all.

Branding tip: Calling a duck a duck, Bahamas-style


One of my favorite branding rules is a very simple one that I’ve written and talked about a lot over the years:

Call a duck a duck.

What does that mean?

If your brand actually represents something very simple and clear, yet you:

a) overcomplicate or confuse a simple story or
b) describe yourself as something that you are not

you are not calling a duck a duck. Read more about how this applies to both brand naming and brand positioning here.

Chat 'n' Chill

The aptly named Chat 'N' Chill on Stocking Island

It’s a pretty simple rule. But every day you run into a “duck” brand that is trying to pass itself off as a canary or an ostrich or a flamingo when it is actually… say it with me… a duck.

Fortunately you find great examples of simple, smart, and descriptive branding in the most unlikely places. I happened to visit one of those places over the holiday break—a town of less than 1000 people on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas.

George Town is a wonderful and unassuming town with sweet and interesting people. It’s a bit far off the normal tourist grid too—there are only two big resorts within driving distance, and the people who stay at them don’t seem to leave the property much, so George Town is mostly pretty quiet.

But what those who don’t visit the town miss is how the locals seem to have mastered the art of branding simplicity.

For example, my favorite place we visited on the trip was a little bar across the harbor on Stocking Island serving conch burgers and cold beer, in no particular hurry, to faithful customers who come back year after year from all around the world.

What is it called?Chat 'n' Chill Inside View

The Chat ‘N’ Chill.

Now that is calling a duck a duck. I can tell you from spending the better part of two days there that chatting and chilling describes about 95% of the appeal.

In fact, if you have an inability to chill, you probably would hate this spot. If you place a food order, you can expect to wait at least an hour before you get it. This is not fast food.

But what’s the rush? After all, you’ll have the best time here if you keep things simple:

Step 1) Chat
Step 2) Chill

At the risk of brand nerding out a bit too much about what is a really amazing and magical place, I just have to complement the folks who run the Chat ‘N’ Chill. They’ve built an extremely passionate and loyal community by developing a simple brand promise and name, and then delivering on it exactly as you’d dream they would. What more could you ask for?

Peace & Plenty view

Peace, as seen from the Peace & Plenty

A second example of simple branding done well is the historic old resort we stayed in called the Peace & Plenty (for all their branding genius, the folks in George Town do seem to have an aversion to writing out the word “and”). The picture to the left is the morning view from our room at the Peace & Plenty.

It was a pretty nice place to spend some quiet time. The Peace & Plenty has been getting the “peace” part right for more than fifty years, with the help of a staff of long-time employees like Lermon “Doc” Rolle who have kept the experience unique and intimate amidst the clutter of cookie-cutter tropical mega resorts you’ll find elsewhere in the Bahamas.

But “plenty” is also an apt descriptor. The Peace & Plenty is the only resort located right in the main part of George Town, easy walking distance from pretty much everything you might want to visit, including the ferry to Stocking Island. You can walk around the pond to Eddie’s Edgewater (a restaurant that is across the road from the edge of the water, as you might expect) for some great ribs on Friday night, you can go across the street to Minn’s Watersports to rent a boat for bonefishing, you are a few steps away from the town library, city hall, and a grocery store.

Peace & PlentyIt’s a perfect spot: Peace, amidst plenty.

In the introduction to The Ad-Free Brand, I point out that some of the best and most clearly positioned brands are built by people with little or no branding experience at all, and I share these examples here as inspiration: anyone, anywhere can build a great brand!

I’m sure you have your own examples of simple, elegant branding, naming, or positioning, and if so, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Sighting: The Ad-Free Brand in Panama


Last week, my friend Trey Morrison sent me this picture of The Ad-Free Brand sunning on a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Panama.

Trey and his business partner Coley have recently launched a community-based brand of their own. They call it The Resilient Family, a community bringing together people and families looking to escape the rat race of consumption we got suckered into here in the United States and live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle—whether in the US or elsewhere in the world.

Trey and Coley are both part or full-time expats, and are eager to share and discuss what they’ve learned in making the transition from a consumption-based lifestyle. Learn more about them and their work here.

Thanks for sending the picture, Trey!

I’m really digging getting these images of The Ad-Free Brand from cool and interesting places around the world.

So if you find yourself reading The Ad-Free Brand somewhere other than Raleigh, NC, send me a picture! For some more information on what I’m looking for, go here.

And with that, Dark Matter Matters is going take a vacation for the rest of the year. See you again in 2012!

Ad-Free Brand Challenge #1: A picture is worth 1000 words


Over the past few weeks, I’ve had folks share sightings of my book The Ad-Free Brand in Malaysia and Singapore, which was super cool. Since I love to travel and see new places, but can’t do it as much as I like, I thought I’d issue a challenge and see if I could convince anyone to take me up on it.

The Ad-Free Brand, spotted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Here’s the challenge: If you have a copy of The Ad-Free Brand in your possession, take a picture of it for me.

In what context? That’s for you to decide. I’d just love to see the book in a setting other than our office here at New Kind.

Do you live in some cool place you think I might have never seen before? Go to a local landmark and take a picture of you or a friend and the book in front of it. Do you run a business? Send me a picture that showcases both the book and your office or building.

Take a picture from your favorite hangout spot. Take the book on vacation with you and send me a picture from there. Take a picture of the book performing a death-defying stunt. Dress it up in drag, I don’t care.

I’d love to see whatever creative idea you have. Bonus points if your picture helps communicate a concept behind the book.

So what’s in it for you? If I receive some cool pictures (and I have no idea if anyone will actually take me up on this), I’ll write a blog post featuring each picture and the person who captured it.

In this post, I’ll share not only the picture, but also some details about you: where you are from, what you are passionate about, why you took the picture, and whatever else you’d like to share. Also, if you have something that you think people who check out my blog might be interested in, perhaps it is your own blog, your business, a charitable cause you are passionate about, or a project you think people might be interested in joining, whatever, I’d love to help point some people to it.

I don’t have any strict policies or rules for this challenge (after all, New Kind has a tightly-enforced No Policy Policy), but I do have some friendly suggestions that you should consider:

– Ensure that anyone featured in the photo is OK with it being shown on this blog.

– Don’t send pictures that may offend my readers (but don’t worry about offending me, that’s fine).

– Don’t hurt or desecrate the book unless it is totally worth it.

– Be sure to include not just the book itself, but some context in the picture so people might be able to guess where you took it (in case it isn’t totally obvious). I may want to do some Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-type games if the opportunity arises.

– Even if you think you live in a place you think is totally boring, take a picture anyway. Find a spot to take the picture that says something meaningful about your town or that shows off your own personality or tastes.

So that’s pretty much the challenge. If you want to take me up on it, send your picture to me at chris(at)newkind.com along with the following information:

1. Your name, email, and other contact info (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
2. Place where you took the picture
3. Any information about yourself or things you are passionate about that you’d like to share (including your blog, company information, a project, charity, or whatever else you think might be relevant)

There is no deadline for entry. Just send your picture whenever you have it.

Happy photographing!

Seven great books for people interested in branding their small businesses


I tend to read a lot of business and marketing books (stop laughing at me) and over the past few years, I’ve noticed one important group that I don’t think is being served well by the existing books out there: small business owners.

Some branding books are too theoretical or philosophical, with little in the way of practical tips or tangible projects. You end up nodding your head a lot, but have no idea what you should actually do when you are finished. Other brand books are too technical or jargon-y and require you to already have an MBA and twenty years of marketing experience to understand them.

Yet branding and positioning are critical tools for anyone with a small business to master. If there are 10 other dry cleaning chains in your town, how do you ensure yours stands out? If you are about to open the fifth Mexican restaurant on the street, what makes you different or better than your competitors?

I believe that the rise of Groupon and other deep-discount social coupon services are a direct result of small businesses grasping at straws because they are struggling in tough times, looking for answers, and don’t understand the basics of branding and positioning that could really help them stand out without destroying their margins.

The Ad-Free Brand was a direct response to this dearth of branding books that spoke to small business owners. My goal was to write a book that provided a clear, simple process that anyone could follow, filled with plenty of tips and the absolute bare minimum of marketing jargon. My hope was that it would be just as understandable and useful to someone with no marketing experience as it is to a brand professional (if you’ve read it, let me know how you thought I did).

Out of all of the branding books out there, I have seven that I recommend regularly to small business owners who are interested in going a little deeper into branding issues. I thought I’d share the list with you here.

1. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier: This is probably my favorite simple branding book of all time. It is very visual, can be read in an hour, and is great for sharing and discussing with colleagues.

2. Zag by Marty Neumeier: Another great book by Marty Neumeier, Zag is also a quick read with plenty of ideas that will help you think about how to differentiate your business from your competitors.

3. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries: This is the book that defined the art of brand positioning, still just as relevant as it was when first published 30 years ago. In fact, in The Ad-Free Brand, I drew inspiration from the thinking of Trout and Ries, just updating the way positioning is implemented for a post-advertising era.

4. Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout: Another classic, in my view the best of several other positioning-related books published by Jack Trout over the years. An easy read.

5. Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler: This is the guide to building out the brand identity for your business. It is an elegant and beautiful book, filled with useful case studies—you may be able to find an example in here that you’d like to emulate for your business.

6. Brand Atlas by Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz: Alina Wheeler’s newest book is an overview of many of the most important issues in branding today. Simple descriptions of the key concepts, featuring quotes and insights from leading practitioners, are paired with simple, beautiful diagrams and illustrations by Joel Katz.

7. Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller: When you are ready to move beyond the basics and want to attempt a graduate-level curriculum in branding, head directly for this book. It is the textbook used on college campuses around the world for brand management courses, and it is about as comprehensive a guide to brand management as I have ever encountered.

I’ve also compiled these books into a guide on Amazon here in case you want to buy the whole library (just for convenience, I don’t get any commission since Amazon doesn’t like North Carolina, my home state).

Happy reading!

How to test your brand positioning: is it desirable, deliverable, and differentiated?


Once you and your positioning team have determined what the positioning for your brand should be and identified the points of difference, points of parity, and maybe even a brand mantra, consider checking your work with the following approach I learned from branding expert Kevin Keller.

Write up your key points of difference and points of parity (and your brand mantra if you have it) where you can see them together, representing the sum of your positioning. When you look at these pieces as a whole, does your chosen positioning pass the following three-question test?

1. Is this positioning desirable to your brand community?

Does the positioning reflect characteristics your brand community would want? It isn’t enough just to be different—the positioning should show that you are different in a way that people would value.

2. Is this positioning deliverable by the brand?

Does your brand experience already deliver on this positioning? If not, and if you’ve identified aspirational points of parity or points of difference, can you make changes to the organizational strategy that will ensure this positioning will reflect the actual brand experience at some point in the near future? If your brand can’t deliver on the positioning, it won’t feel authentic to your brand community and may actually do some damage if people perceive it as false or misleading.

3. Is this positioning differentiated from your competitors?

Does this positioning distinguish your brand from everyone else in the competitive frame of reference? Even if the positioning is desirable and deliverable, if it is indistinguishable from the positioning of your competitors it won’t be effective.

Desirable, deliverable, and differentiated: great positioning will be all three at once.

Sighting: The Ad-Free Brand in Malaysia


Thanks to Pip Kasim, an MBA student in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for sharing this picture of her friend Jojo Ds and the book!

Kevin Keller’s five favorite classic brand mantras


If you’ve read any of the previous brand positioning tips here on my blog, you’ve heard me mention Dr. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management (the classic textbook on building brands) and professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Kevin Lane Keller, E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and author of Strategic Brand Management

For The Ad-Free Brand, I asked Kevin if he’d share his five favorite examples of real brand mantras. He not only provided the mantras, but also included a few sentences describing why each works so well. Here are his choices:

1. Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance

One of the best brand mantras of all time, developed by Nike’s marketing guru Scott Bedbury in the late 1980s (he would later become Starbucks’ marketing guru). Bedbury actually coined the phrase brand mantra. It did everything you would want a brand mantra to do—it kept the Nike brand on track, it differentiated the brand from its main competitor at the time (Reebok), and it genuinely inspired Nike employees.

2. Disney: Fun Family Entertainment

Adding the word magical would have probably made it even better, but this brand mantra—also created in the late 1980s—was crucial in ensuring the powerful Disney marketing machine didn’t overextend the brand. Establishing an office of brand management at that same time with a mission to “inform and enforce” the brand mantra gave it real teeth.

3. Ritz-Carlton: Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen

The Ritz-Carlton brand mantra has a clear internal and external message, an especially important consideration for services brands. It is simple but universally applicable in all that Ritz-Carlton does and highly aspirational.

4. BMW: Ultimate Driving Machine

BMW’s brand mantra is noteworthy in two ways. One, it reveals the power of a straddle branding strategy by combining two seemingly incompatible sets of attributes or benefits. When launched in North America, there were cars that offered either luxury or performance, but not both. Two, it is also a good example of how a brand mantra can be used as a slogan if its descriptive nature is compelling enough as is.

5. Betty Crocker: Homemade Made Easy

Another example of a brand mantra that was effective as a descriptive ad tag line, Betty Crocker’s brand mantra remarkably staked out three points of difference (“quality,” “family,” and a “rewarding baking experience”) as well as a crucial point of parity (“convenience”) at the same time.

Thanks to Kevin for providing these awesome brand mantras for The Ad-Free Brand. If you want to learn more about brand mantras, please see this post (or check out Kevin’s book Strategic Brand Management).

Where can you find the data that will inform your brand positioning?


In a recent post, I highlighted the four key questions that your brand positioning research must answer. And I promised a followup post showing you some of the places you could find data to help inform your brand positioning. Here it is!

To review, great positioning is found at the intersection of the answers to the following four questions:

1. What does the brand community currently believe about or value in the brand?
2. What might the brand community believe or value about the brand in the future?
3. What does the organization currently claim about the brand?
4. What would the organization like the brand to become down the road?

So to make things as simple as possible, I’ve made a chart below that will show you many of the places I look first for data to inform brand positioning. At the top of the chart you’ll find many things you probably already have access to and just need to analyze through a brand positioning lens (like marketing materials or website copy), while at the bottom of the chart you’ll find some more complicated research sources that will take a bit more work (like surveys or interviews you’d need to conduct, for example).

Continue reading

The low-cost, high-value approach to brand positioning research


In my last positioning post, I discussed the four key questions you must answer if you want your positioning research to lead you to effective brand positioning. So how exactly do you discover the answers to the four key questions? Do you need to hire an expensive market research firm and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on surveys and focus groups?

Here is how I think ad-free brands should answer the question “how much should I spend on research?”

I always answer that question with an astoundingly simple approach that became the backbone of our entire brand strategy during my time at Red Hat. I call it the low-cost, high-value approach, and if you were to illustrate it, it’d look something like this.

The low-cost, high-value approach means that you always analyze potential strategies in terms of their cost and value. You then default to choosing strategies first that are inexpensive in terms of time and money yet bring you a lot of potential value, before selecting strategies that cost more, even if they bring you great value.

Pretty simple, huh?

For example, hiring a research company to set up a brand tracking study with 10,000 potential customers for your brand might provide you with a lot of useful information (high value). But the study can also cost you a lot of money and take up a lot of your team’s valuable time (high cost).

If you have the time and money, you might still decide to field the high-value brand tracking study, but only after you have exhausted all of the low-cost, high-value strategies that might help answer those questions more inexpensively.

So, the essence of the low-cost, high-value approach is to default to spending as little time and money as you can and consider high-cost strategies only when there are no other options that will get you the information you need.

You’d be surprised how many organizations are essentially blind to an entire category of low-cost, high-value research options because they prefer to stick to practices they used in the years before better options became available.

The reality is that the last 10 years have given us a variety of low-cost, high-value digital media tools and resources that are perfect for doing brand positioning research and for rolling out positioning effectively. We now have low-cost, high-value alternatives that can provide data that helps us effectively position brands, many of which were not available before the Internet.

Doing research for positioning a brand is less expensive than it has ever been in history. Some people just haven’t received the memo.

So how much should you spend on research?

When you keep the low-cost, high-value approach in mind, the answer to this question should be clear: balance the amount of time and money you put into the research with the value of the brand you are positioning.

If you are trying to position a small web-based business just getting off the ground, you might attempt to answer the four questions with data you already have at your disposal. Perhaps you’ve already done some customer surveys; you’ve just completed a formal business plan; or you and your team even have strong, well-informed ideas about the direction you want to take the brand. You can use all of this preexisting information to answer the four critical questions I listed in the previous post.

But if you are attempting to position or reposition a brand where the stakes are high, especially if the brand is already generating significant amounts of revenue, the information you have at your disposal might not be enough.

If the stakes are high, but your time or money is short, don’t despair. The ad-free brand positioning approach really shines in low-budget situations because you can always take advantage of the “release early, release often” principle that this open, transparent positioning process embraces.

Don’t have any money to invest in research? You can still create a starting brand position by answering the four questions with the best information you have at your disposal. Then immediately start testing the positioning with others in the organization and potentially even in communities outside the organization. Incorporate the feedback, revise the positioning, and try again.

So if you are positioning a small brand, please don’t feel like you need to break the bank doing research. If you consider the low-cost, high value approach while always keeping the investment you are making in line with the value of the brand you are trying to position, you’ll be nicely set up for long-term positioning success.

This is the fourth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.


Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: