Branding: Thinkering and Tinkering
Sometimes companies can spend way too much time dithering. You know how it goes; you've been there: Lots of corporate nods to and fro in meetings spent jockeying for departmental positions, followed up by numerous CC'd emails where the actions agreed upon in the meetings end up diluted or vetoed by rounds of inaction before they're forgotten or trampled over by the next day's crisis.
Instead of wasting a company's precious resources—time, energy and enthusiasm—dithering, I encourage clients to put that energy into "thinkering" and tinkering with this simple exercise from my BrandAbout process.
Play With Two Powerful Letter Combos: 'RE'
"Thinkering" and tinkering does takes time—"stop and think" time! Both words contain two of the same lowly 1-point Scrabble letters as are in "dither"—"E" and "R"—but thinkering and tinkering are much more productive. Tinkering requires hands-on action and involvement. Why not have your brand team play with those two letters as a prefix or suffix and create as many word possibilities as you can imagine? I've provided a few examples (in the box on the right) to get you started.
Next, write your team's top 12 favorite "RE" and "ER" words on separate index cards. Pass out one card per team member and have each one develop three ways your brand could "recalibrate" an aspect of itself or become "simpler" in some way that is truly meaningful to your customers. Now, take some "thinking" time to mull over your tinkering and see what happens. And then find out which brand leaders want to sign up for spearheading some of these key initiatives. Spend no time dithering, just get busy doing!
Real-World 'RE' and
Here are a few examples of companies that have used this BrandAbout exercise to take these two little letters seriously:
Smaller, Lighter, Faster,
• Nothing stops Amazon from continuous improvement. Despite the Kindle's phenomenal success since its launch just two years ago, Amazon's latest version is smaller, lighter, faster and with 50 percent better contrast. That's four "ER" words the firm's e-readers truly care about! Sometimes companies stop tweaking their best-selling products. That's simply a wrong strategy.
• Bose—which uses the tagline "better sound through research"—knows that its customers care deeply about noise. For 20 years, this manufacturer has been the pioneer of noise-canceling technology research, and its headphones are a traveler's dream on loud and crowded planes. However, the company continues to pursue the next level of noise canceling perfection and has recently introduced a product that's even "quieter than before."
If you are not paying mindful attention to making your bestsellers even better, rest assured that your competitors are! What can be done to enhance your product "rockstars"?
• I smiled when a pharmacy direct mail piece from my local Walgreens arrived in my mailbox this month. Not only did the drugstore remind me it was time to think about flu shots, but it made it as easy as possible for me to be motivated to go there by pre-filling out the vaccination form and giving me another one for a friend. What could be easier? Customers are all about easy these days. Eliminating time-consuming and redundant forms is certainly the ideal, but providing pre-filled out ones is the next best thing.
• Office supply company Staples even makes being the easier brand to do business with part of its brand strategy with the tagline "That was easy!" and its infamous bright red "EASY" buttons. Is there anything about your brand experience that makes your customers weary? How can your brand make life less complicated for your customers?
• Pepsi decided the world had enough of the Pepsi vs. Coke conversation and decided to do something much bolder. The company started its Refresh Project, which took its brand story out of soda machines and grocery store aisles and notched it up several levels. The beverage giant connected with its customers' intrinsic desire to make the world a better place. By daring to reposition its brand as an activist—one out to not only quench thirsts but refresh communities—Pepsi changed the game. What can your brand do to refresh the playing field it competes within?
Reintroduce and re-educate
• Sometimes bad brand experiences make customers shut down from a category altogether. It's the beleaguered "who wants the hassle … every company is the same" mentality.
If your brand indeed plays differently from all the rest, you may have to spend some time reintroducing yourself to lapsed customers or even introducing yourself in a whole new way to prospective ones. That's exactly what Chase did with its "We'll have you at 'Hello'" campaign for the Sapphire credit card, which promises that an expert advisor will answer customer calls, and there will be no machines or buttons to push. The bank strives to stand out on service and developed a clever approach to reconnect to jaded customers.
• Financial services firm ALLY uses a three-word, short and sweet headline to tell a story that will stick with customers: "Best Savings Account" (as ranked by Money magazine). That's it. A straightforward and clear reminder of why you should do business with it versus all of its competitors. Do you need to remind your customers you're not like the rest? How will you do it in a memorable way?
• We all know that a picture speaks a thousand words. But how well do we put that concept into practice when telling our brand story? Major Mom, an entrepreneurial professional organizing company, knows that the business it's really in is the revitalization business … the revitalizing of people's spirits! Its testimonials include sentiments like, "This has been a very freeing experience," and "I now feel I not only have more space everywhere, but also I can breathe better." And "Thank you for giving us our sanity back (whether we realized it was missing or not!)" These before-and-after stories in words and pictures convey the real essence of the company's brand mission.
What needs to be revitalized in communicating your brand message? Does your brand specialize in before and after stories? Are you leveraging their potential to pull customers into your brand's real story?
Just Do It!
I hope these examples have provided the inspiration you need to engage your team in a little productive "thinkering" and tinkering. Go ahead and play with those two simple letters and see what kind of brand revivification you'll experience!
Andrea Syverson, author of "Brand About: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants," is president of IER Partners, a strategic consulting company specializing in innovative brand and merchandising directions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.