Category Archives: Branding

Branding for Referrals: Think Networks Instead of Markets

Scott Degraffenreid of Necessary Measures and author of Embracing the N.U.D.E. Model: the New Art and Science of Referral Marketing has a interesting perspective on niche marketing for referrals.

He contends that markets and market segments are no longer the best way to define marketing targets. Now, with the Internet and wireless media accellerating, a more precise and functional way to approach the marketplace is by identifying, and then identifying with, networks of like-motivated people.

It’s not just a semantic thing. There are real differences between a market as traditionally defined and a network.

Defining “Market”

A definition of a good market has always meant to me, at the consumer level, a group with demographic and psychographic similarities that meet four criteria:

1) The group is large enough to be profitable for me and my competitors.

2) The group has a desire for products/services in my selected category.

3) A major part of the group has the means to buy my offering.

4) I am able to identify and reach them economically.

Using this set of criteria I begin to define a market by the members’ age bracket, income level, family size, geographic location, abode type and special interests.

The market segments based upon special interest in a particular activity or event, i.e., golfing, gourmet cooking, first-time parenting or owning 10-year-old luxury cars, may only have that special interest in common with others. If so, you’re getting closer to marketing to a network of like-minded people. Here you’ll likely find both formal and informal gatherings and communications around shared interests.

Let’s take golfers. First, they play together. They also network in club houses, pro shops and clinics. Because of their common golfing interest they are likely to pass on referrals for my stroke-reducing gadget – if it meets Scott’s N.U.D.E. model of Novelty, Utility, Dependability and Economy. They also have tons of sources of information available including magazines, TV shows, and most importantly lately, the Internet. And they’re willing to share it, to help other network members.

Major Difference Between a Market and a Network

Here’s the big difference between a network and a market: Members of a network have opted to be part of the network whereas marketers dictate who will comprise their market(s).

If you are seeking out and immersing your company in a network, you are in a sense practicing “permission marketing” even though it may not be exactly what Seth Godin had in mind when he coined that phrase and book title.

The thing about networks is that if you’re an active part of the network, you belong. You will share common interests and concerns. You will not be an outsider attempting to “sell them something”.

Networking Implications for Branding

So as far as branding is concerned, There are three major considerations if you wish to before a marketer to network members. This is particularly applicable to the local, service-oriented business, but by breaking your organization into networking groups at local and regional levels, these precepts will apply.

1) Build relationships. The main objective is to become a relationship-building entity. Your people, whether it’s only you or a whole division of sales reps, need to become part of the network. Your people need to share info, participate in conclaves and tournaments, contribute to forums, volunteer to lick stamps, provide a venue, sponsor an activity.

2) Personalize the brand. Bring it down to local personalities. In a larger organization, this may mean finding and hiring only certain personality types (within the law of course) that will both represent the brand by being a spokesperson and by genuinely conveying the brand personality through their own personality. Honesty and relationship-building needs to replace “salesmanship”.

3) Walk the walk. A level of openness with employees and with prospects needs to emanate from “headquarters”. There must also be a “brand story” that is simple enough for every employee to convey with ease. There must be a code of ethics and a deep understanding that in effect, the brand is the individual employee. All these efforts must be honest and true. Management must “walk the walk” as well as employees. Finally, the branding activities must make it easy and natural for employees to take on and express the brand persona. 

Now with that said, there are still basic branding tenets to be observed, the most important of these is consistency. Every decision should be filtered through the “how will this affect the brand?’. Also, the traditional branding elements need to be in sync with the brand story and personality. There should be no disconnects or confusion. This is way a brand platform, brand story and code of conduct need to be integrated and communicated to all.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

I hope that thinking of branding for marketing for networks will begin to pervade your branding thought process. Please let me know how you’re changing the emphasis from internal constructs of market segments to serving networks of living, breathing souls.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 31 in a Series

Continuing in the brand name evaluation process, Metaphor Naming Consultants  suggests the following five questions be asked about any name candidate whether it be for naming a product, service or company.

  • Is it appropriate and credible?
  • Is it appealing – pleasing to the ear and the eye?
  • Is it distinctive and unique among competitors?
  • Is it unambiguous – easy to spell and pronounce?
  • Is it available – can you legally own it?

Certainly these criteria can and should be applied to any name. You may add a criteria or two based on your particular market and/or offering , but as a general evaluation measure, these five criteria are essential.

But if you’re after a GREAT name, Metaphor suggests the following criteria be added to the evaluation process:

1. Does the name speak to the target audience? Does it address market needs/expectations?

2. Does the name illuminate the company/product positioning? Does it advance marketing objectives?

3. Does the name evoke a unique character/personality? Does it provide the cornerstone for brand development?

4. Does the name communicate key benefits (not features) to ensure longevity?

5. Does the name inspire promotional/advertising campaigns? Does it generate market interest?

Now these are difficult criteria to measure. You’ll argue among your team about certain candidates meeting them. But by asking the questions, you’ll easily eliminate many good-sounding but irrelevant candidates and discover an elite list of potential winners. They also provide a filter to reduce the reliance on emotional name selection.

As with other selection criteria, you may want to weight each in importance for your particular naming project. And in the end, you may even have to sacrifice one or two significant criteria because of a candidate’s strength in others.

Best of luck.

Martin Jelsema


Make it simple to refer a brand

I’ve quoted Scott Degraffenreids’s book, Embracing the N.U.D.E. Model: The New Art and Science of Referral Marketing, as it pertains to branding.

One of his basic assumptions is that people refer products and services to their friends and acquaintances in order to look good in the eyes of the referee. Referrers like to be thought of as experts and purveyors of inside information.

So if I were to set as a goal for my brand that it enable people to refer others to it, I’d make it as simple as possible to do so.

I’d first look to the name of the product or service. First, it must be memorable. People won’t refer a product without naming it.

Second, and the real subject of this blog entry, people must be able to pronounce the name.

Both of these tenets seem obvious, but look what a recently introduced prescription drug did.

They named their product AcipHex. Their commercial voice-over pronounces the word as if spelled “acifex”, using the “ph” as a voiced aspirate (according to my old copy of the American Heritage Dictionary). In other words, “ph” sounds like “f”. But look at the way they present the pH. They’ve done that to be “creative” since the pharmaceutical addresses acid indigestion. So it starts with “acid”, adopts the measurement for acidity (pH) and ends in the ever-popular “ex”.

But I have a difficult time pronouncing the word while looking at how it’s spelled. I want to pronounce it “acip-Hex” not “aci-phex”.

I think they’ve given up a lot of referral opportunities because of the name. People unsure of the product’s pronunciation are more likely to remain silent than to risk looking like they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The answer, beginning with the name, is to use brand elements that are simple, memorable and clear.

Combine that piece of advice with Scott’s N.U.D.E. Model (standing for a product or service that is Novel, Utilitarian, Dependable and Economic) and your chances for referrals will increase considerably.

Martin Jelsema


Brands and Color:number seven in a series

Still going around the color wheel, we’ve finally come to primary color, red.

This is a color of mixed messages and associations.

First, red is powerful and aggressive. It tends to dominate other colors in combinations. We all know it’s a warm color. And at its most intense, red is associated with hot. It invokes excitement and action.

Red is the color of blood and violence. But it’s also the color of romance and valentines. And Santa Claus wears a red suit. It’s the traditional color of fire engines, rescue efforts and traffic signs/signals meaning “stop”. In nature, healthful fruits and veggies are often red.

 Apple red

We speak positively of red-letter days and the red carpet treatment. Negative expressions include: seeing red, being in the red, red tape, a red flag and a red herring.

Red’s cultural meanings and associations vary worldwide but are generally positive. Brides in Hindu, Islamic and Chinese cultures usually wear red. In India, a red mark on the forehead purports to attract good luck. Red in Singapore symbolizes joy. It is associated with good fortune in China.

Because red is vibrant and powerful, a little dab might be all you need to convey a message of action and vitality.

Green is the complement color to red. Orange and purple are analogous to red. Names for different shades and hues of red include scarlet, crimson, maroon, burgundy, ruby, flame, vermillion.

If you are looking to associate your product/service/organization/event with a festive, forceful, hot, bold, and/or dynamic color, red would be first choice. Brands associated with sports, energy supply and youth often look to red.

Logos using red

Those people who prefer red are usually impulsive, athletic and sexy. They are optimists and passionate about their activities. They want to experience life to its fullest, even though they will have swings in their emotional natures.

Although red is a popular color for branding, there are some darker shades that are not used as often that will also impart the associations provided by bright reds.

Martin Jelsema


A Trademark is the Narrowest View of a Brand

At least that’s the way it’s viewed by intellectual property lawyers and the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). Not being a lawyer, or ever wanting to be, I’ve never attempted to advise clients on the legal aspects of protecting their brands.

But recently I ran across a small book – if it were a large tome I’d have left it on the shelf – entitled Protecting the Brand and subtitled A concise guide to promoting, maintaining, and protecting a company’s most valuable asset. It was written by Talcott J. Franklin, J.D., M.A..

I learned some interesting things and got clear on a couple of others. So I’d thought I’d pass some of that wisdom on.

First fact: A company’s name cannot be trademarked. Well, it might be in some cases but probably wouldn’t stand up in a federal court. The valid trademark is an adjective whose sole purpose, according to trademark law, is to identify the source of a product/service/entity/event rather than the object (or company) itself.

Thus, I cannot trademark my company name, “Signature Strategies, LLC.”

But I can trademark “Signature Strategies” as a source of branding and positioning knowledge and experience. That means I can’t use it as a noun, just as an adjective. In other words, I shouldn’t say, “Signature Strategies® is a branding firm”. Instead I should say “Signature Strategies® services are multitudinous”. In this way it identifies to the source of a service.

Incidentally, you can legally acquire the “®” only by having your trademark registration accepted by the USPTO. You can use the mark “™” even if you haven’t applied for a trademark.

Not even the most diligent of corporate brand police can always catch the misuse of a trademark in this way because people being people will use shortcuts. But a company must demonstrate its intent to comply if it ever comes up in court.

In a very practical way, business cards and stationery can comply by adhering to this simple rule: Keep the trademarked designation away from the legally adopted name and address, and  if you use the trademark be sure to use the legal name as well.

As I say, I’m not a legal eagle. So I’d say its best to get advice from an intellectual properties law firm before tackling the USPTO website and their “simple” registration process.

Martin Jelsema

Branding a Car Dealership –Ugh!

This will be the most negative blog I’ve written to date.

That’s because I can’t foresee a branding project that’s as hopeless as automotive dealerships.

We’ve all had our “war stories” concerning dealerships, whether on the sales floor or in a service department. I won’t bore you with my own – I’m sure they’re similar to your own. They all center upon the fact that the dealer is out to get as much from your wallet as he/she possibly can without regard to customer satisfaction or long-term relationships.

Now I know Saturn dealerships and one or two other dealers in the Denver metro area proclaim to be “different”. But I don’t believe it. And that’s where the rubber meets the road – customer perceptions. We’ve come to believe an auto dealership is the place you go to get screwed.

That’s why I’m going to use a car buying service the next time I shop for a new car. That’s why those customer-oriented businesses are gaining such popularity and success.

So how would I, as a branding professional, advise a car dealer? Well, I probably would turn down the opportunity except that our assignment this month as a member of the BrandingWire posse is to advise a generic dealership on branding.

Here’s the problem: the dealership that wants a “brand” that helps them get people into the dealership so they can be fleeced won’t last too long. Word of mouth, Internet rating services and blogs, BBB and other consumer advocate groups will soon expose their true nature. (You won’t see too many derogatory news reports because radio, TV and newspapers make a lot of money from dealer advertising.) Yes, I am cynical.

Dealers need a new way of thinking

A successful new agency brand must start with a new way of thinking about running a dealership. The owner must embrace a new business model based upon customer satisfaction, honesty, ethics and a long-range view of success.

This will take guts. Even though customers and prospects hate the old business model, it has up ‘til now been successful for most dealers. High-pressure, don’t let the prospect leave the showroom without a car mentality still works. Selling high-priced financing and insurance is still profitable.

Also, the car makers have high expectations and training programs based on the traditional model. And car salespersons, by and large, are single-minded in making a sale because of the commission/compensation plans they are presented. Another factor is the perception that car salespersons are only interested in money and possible recreational drugs. Now that’s a perception and not necessarily a fact or even an educated observation. But perceptions drive customer activities just as frequently as facts and expert opinions.

We all know any business wishing to establish a successful brand will need to have a brand champion in the CEO’s chair, and that the brand must be communicated and absorbed by each and every employee. Everyone on the payroll is an ambassador of the business and must personify the brand. Then, it’s making your vision, your value statement and your code of conduct foremost in all dealership activities.

It’s in these areas that a dealer needs to differentiate the business. Assuming these activities are customer-driven and based on a true desire to serve a market, there’s a chance to establish credibility over time. I’d say it’s worth exploring.

Some specific branding suggestions

Okay, let’s assume a dealer has adopted and instilled a code of conduct and in-store practices to differentiate itself from the ordinary car dealership. Now what?

Here are a few suggestions. Avoid the temptation of the owner, or a close relative of the owner, becoming the spokesperson for the franchise. I would hire a spokesperson full time. But this person will be an ombudsman (or woman) expressing customer concerns and explaining how the dealership avoids or eliminates the problems customer usually face in dealership experiences.

Next, I would make sure I did not shout at people through my radio, TV or print ads. I’d establish a strong individual graphic presence, but it would be a graphic identity that’s warm and understated. My ads would feature auto-buying hints, safety and teen driving tips, how-to articles about insurance, financing, maintenance and acquisition options. Yes, I’ll feature cars and special incentive programs and sales, but each ad would have an educational element as well.

I’d adopt a tagline that might be constructed as a challenge. “We’re on your side” might be the theme. But it will take time for that or any other theme to gain credibility. So expect this to be a long-range, relationship building experience.

One other thing: I’d become a major and visible community source of contributions in the form of cash, and more importantly, in people giving of their time and knowledge for everything from Scouts and Junior Achievement to runs for a cause and crisis relief. I’d contribute cars for student driver education. I’d help schools fund manual arts programs. I’d become a “soft touch” for one-time charitable activities.

Get prepared for a long period of relationship-building

In summary, I’d make my agency as human and warm as possible by adopting a low-key approach to promotion, by hiring and training compassionate people, by giving to the community, and by being patient.

I may be naïve in my recommendations. Car dealers will follow their tried and true methods as long as they work. But I’m afraid that old model will change as one, then another, and another dealer find the old way no longer meets their expectations, their auto maker partner’s expectations, and most important of all, their customer’s expectations.  

Now, please go to the BrandingWire to read what the other members of the BrandingWire posse have written about auto dealership branding. If I know this bunch, you’ll find new perspectives, challenging ideas and well-formed opinions that branders in general and car dealers in particular will find helpful.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 30 in a Series

As promised, I’m setting down criteria for naming companies and brands in a sub-series within the Naming Tips Series.

This time I’m displaying the criteria for naming small businesses as proposed by Bill Gallagher, writing for Guerrilla Marketing.

Here are his “Seven Secrets to Great Business Names”.

1. Make sure the name tells what you do
2. Make your name expandable (timeless)
3. Avoid name trends
4. Make it an easy name (to pronounce, to spell, to remember)
5. Make it clear (see 1.)
6. Make it define or pre-empt you market niche
7. Make it easy to find in directories (if appropriate)

Now remember Mr. Gallagher is writing for small businesses that are looking to minimize their marketing expenses and still get a good ROI for their dollar.

Because of that, I can excuse his first and his sixth criteria.

Generally, I would look beyond a name that describes what you do or defines your market niche. Not only is that limiting, it really makes it difficult to differentiate your business if you confine yourself to business/niche descriptors. You’ll run into conflicts and names that sound very much like the one you select. Customers won’t make the subtle distinctions. And as we all know, confused prospects won’t become customers.

But I will make an exception for small businesses with limited markets, both geographic and functional markets. If your targets are small enough (and will only be those markets in the future) you can probably get away with it.

I would, however, be more comfortable replacing number 1) with “Make sure the name conveys your business personality”, and number 6) with “Make it reflect the major differentiator for your business”.

Now I have criteria that will enable my company to grow larger and prosper without having a restrictive or banal name.

The other criteria I can embrace without reservation.

Martin Jelsema

How will Murdoch Affect the WSJ Brand?

Today’s news: Rupert Murdoch is about to acquire Dow-Jones and the Wall Street Journal. He claims there won’t be any change in the editorial approach or content for the WSJ.

OK, I take him at his word.

But in the minds of readers and observers, will the Journal lose credibility just because of the association with Murdoch and his New York Post approach to sensational “journalism”? How can two such disparate publications reside in the same house?

This is why mergers and acquisitions raise such havoc with the brands of the combined organizations, particularly when there’s a leader with a branded personality all his own.

The portfolio components get blurred and superseded by the leader’s brand.

The individual brands have a problem maintaining their brand identity no matter how strong that brand was when standing on its own. They tend to become associated with each other and with the parent.

We’ve all observed respected brands diluted, absorbed and/or deleted from a company’s portfolio after they have been acquired by a company that’s not invested in the brand’s uniqueness. Look to Nabisco and Kraft for instance.

I have no answers that will allow strong brands to reside side-by-side within a combined organization coming from different cultures, serving different markets and advocating different values. If it’s possible, I’d keep the component organizations as far apart as possible in every aspect of their activities. I’d not emphasize any connections. I’d attempt to disassociate my name (i.e. Murdoch’s) from the Journal. I’d bend over backwards to maintain the independent editorial practices of the Journal.

The Murdoch empire – splashy tabloids, Fox News and the Simpsons – just doesn’t align with the Wall Street Journal. Only time – and profitability – will tell if the WSJ brand can maintain its clear and respected identity in the house of Murdoch.  

Let’s hope Murdoch has the insight, expertise and patience to make this seeming mismatch work so the Journal does not diminish in credibility or in brand identification.

Martin Jelsema