What Heavy Metal and Burgers Can Teach You About Branding

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to partake in the wonderful burgers of Kuma’s Too, a sequel to the famous Kuma’s Corner. Don’t worry, this isn’t really a restaurant review but a point about brand identity and targeting.

When you enter Kuma’s (either one), your ears are blasted by the sounds of heavy metal music at an insanely loud volume. And yet, there’s a line spilling out the door. In frigid Chicago temperatures.

Why? That’s easy. The product isn’t just good. It’s incredible. The burgers aren’t just burgers. They’re creations that nobody else can match. They don’t just throw ingredients on a piece of meat like ketchup and mustard. That’s for amateurs. They arm themselves with a toolbox full of ingredients like Cholula Lemon Vinaigrette, tortilla strips, fried eggs, Siracha, red wine BBQ sauce and more. I had a hard time deciding between the burgers of Plague Bringer, Metallica or GoatSnake.

They put a ridiculous combination of goodness together that just works miraculously. Which is ironic, since for a heavenly taste, the place has the address of 666 w. Diversey and you can’t help but think this is a perfect sign for what Kuma’s represents: Raising hell and serving beef that’s incredible but going to blow your arteries up.

Is it for everyone? You tell me if you want to bring your 2-year-old in a restaurant that blares Judas Priest.

But this is the great thing. They have a niche that is so powerful, it’s cult-like in its following.

You don’t like loud music? Get out.

You’re a vegan? There’s no one item on the menu for you and never will be.

You don’t like lines? You want to make a reservation? Too bad.

This excerpt from the restaurant’s Facebook Page says a lot about Kuma’s.

“Our second location Kuma’s Too opens this coming wednesday at 666 W. Diversey Parkway here in Chicago. A few things you can plan on. The food will be the same as it ever was with some choice improvements here and there. We will still be blasting Judas Priest at 1000000 decibels from open to close and we still won’t quote the wait time over the phone. But, that said, we are proud of the work we’ve been doing in the space and we hope you feel the same way. We open there at the same time we open at our location on belmont so please come and bang your head with us. Various media outlets have already written about the change of guard at the Belmont location chefwise so I’m not going to bore you with more of those details. I still oversee everything and the team there is more than capable of holding my standard. You can still email me directly or come visit at either location should you desire to talk shit to my face directly instead of hiding behind a keyboard.”

Brands can learn a lot from this unapologetic approach, particularly small businesses.

Oh, let me guess what the next comment is going to be: “Well, we’re a (insert complex set of professional services here) business. We’re not exactly just serving burgers to customers.”

If you want to hide behind that excuse for not identifying your target audience and who is outside of it, you can keep saying that to make yourself feel better.

But there’s no truth to it.

Complexity of products and services does not change the fact that you need to find your soul. You need to find the people who would wait in that line out the door for you when it’s ten degrees outside. And if you don’t have them or enough of them? That’s a good place to start. Why is that? Are we not clear enough in our message? Are we trying to kiss the butt of everyone who needs our services instead of qualifying them and turning certain unqualified segments away (or referring them out to others)? What will we absolutely not compromise on – and does everyone understand that or is the CEO keeping this set of principles buried in his or her brain?

It’s too bad that wackjobs ruin a perfectly good word like “Cult.” Because forming a cult following behind your brand is worth striving for – not merely to get more people through the door but to transform them into rabid advocates who will promote you, stand up for you, sing your praises in an unsolicited way. It’s not easy to get to this point. It will take serious time and focus. But you will absolutely, positively never get here by having an open door that welcomes anyone and everyone. Nor will you get here by lacking clarity for who you cater to and who you don’t.

Just like Kuma’s would probably not work well for your classical music-loving Grandmother or your vegan girlfriend, you have to ask yourself who you are NOT for. Do you know this? Does everyone in the company believe it? And once they do, do people in the outside world believe it too? Because here’s the thing – you can write it down and pay lip service to this concept internally until the cows come home. But living and breathing it in external settings is the true test. Kuma’s lives it by what’s on the menu and what’s a part of the fabric of the people that they are. You can’t fake it.

What is it that you can’t fake? And when you put that out there, are you willing to stand up for it again and again? Are you willing to turn off people who have dollars who don’t believe in it or you going to bend and bend and bend until you lose your way and your people don’t recognize your brand anymore?

Stand up for your brand is easier said than done. But it’s worth it every time. If you can do it well enough and consistently enough, your most loyal fans will eagerly await to spread the word on how much you rock.

Branding Like A 2-Year-Old

“I help companies tell more exciting stories about themselves and the people they help.”

That is about as close to the explanation of what I do, created for a 2-year-old, that I can make.

I was thinking about this while looking at a picture of my nephew, who is literally a 2-year-old. He’s a genius in my book. But of course, even he needs some simple explanations some times about how things work in this new world he’s experiencing.

As a parent, a grandfather/grandmother, Uncle, Aunt, friend, etc., surely you’ve tried to explain something complex to a very small child. And in that instance, you know that making things so simple compared to how you’re used to describing them is pretty darn hard, isn’t it?

My college professor once told me over and again, “In Advertising, you never tried so hard to make something so simple.” He was right then and still is.

Whether you work on the client side or the agency side, whether you work in traditional media or online media, try this exercise: Think about explaining what you do to a 2-year-old. Or, if that’s too hard, think about explaining it to these kids in the latest AT&T commercial. Or the role of Aaron Rodgers in the latest State Farm commercial – the poor guy is having a hard time explaining himself to kids in a classroom and he plays football.

It’s a crowd you can’t use industry lingo in. You can’t speak jargon in. They won’t be impressed. They probably won’t even understand it.

Now here’s the crazy part:

It’s not all that different than the audience you’re trying to speak to. 

I’m not trying to be insulting in saying that whatsoever. I’m saying that speaking on our terms rather than trying to relate to their world is a recipe for the attention span wandering quickly.

Some call this Dumbing It Down. Whoa there. Not so fast. We can be clear in our storytelling without losing our sophistication. As I think about my 2-year-old nephew, he’s got a ton of books (yes, these things with actual pages in them, not an iPad) and the ones he chooses to have read to him are the ones that are the most magical to him. The story is captivating and easy to understand. The illustrations are unique. I like to think the tone in which it’s being read is important too.

I can hold his attention for a solid 3-4 minutes, which for that age is amazing. Imagine having that ability with your own audience. Anything over 30 seconds and you’re doing better than most TV spots.

“Are you saying I literally have to say things in their most basic form?”

No. I’m saying to think about how the human mind works. Think about how we make decisions. When we’re making purchases, even of the most complex variety, there is one gigantic motivator that strikes an emotional chord.

You can hide behind bullet points and machine specs and in-depth research that suggests a multitude of positives that should be listed.

Doesn’t matter. There’s just one thing that makes people want to buy. You either hit on it or you don’t. And when you do, it’s about eloquently and powerfully conveying how you have that one thing more so than the other guy.

Anything else that gets in the way of that one thing is a distraction. Which is why it’s so important during strategic planning to strip away all the other jargonistic industry lingo you could be saying and instead envision yourself having a real, honest conversation with that potential buyer.

I have seen respected CEOs have a hard time with this. I have seen those with MBAs and Doctoral degrees have a hard time. And people with 30+ years of experience in their industry. It’s not their fault, really. It’s what can happen when we get so insulated within our own company walls in what’s standard communication (think about how many abbreviations you use that are specific to your business or industry) that we forget there’s a level of Plain English that needs to be spoken in a captivating manner to the world outside.

Your customer may not be a 2-year-old. But you have to communicate company virtues on their turf, around their needs, on their time, in their tone. Not expect them to figure it all out on yours.

It’s that simple. And yet, just that complicated. Need a hand finding that insightful nugget and then explaining why your treasure is important to someone of value? Let me know.

When Social Media Channels Don’t Matter

If you don’t have a brand strategy and rich, compelling content to supply people on at least a semi-consistent basis, I don’t care how many social media channels are out there. You should not be on a single one of them until you figure out what your purpose is and what you’re going to supply in the way of content that people can benefit from.

Until you address that, you have no heart. No soul. No story. No brand.

“Should we be on Facebook?” If you don’t know what you’re going to say there? No.

“Should we be on Pinterest since there’s a lot of women on it and we’re a female-owned company?”
No. You should be on Pinterest if you see an opportunity for people to piece together what you believe and value  as a brand (or as a person behind that brand). The fact you share a gender has nothing to do with it.

“I have 25,000 followers on Twitter.” Am I supposed to be impressed by that, really? You could’ve bought those for all I know. Which, by the way, is really stupid and less than genuine. Now, if you were someone who got to that point of greatness through your constant back-and-forth interaction, I think you’ve got something. More than something, actually. You have a story to tell that provides a continuous stream of content that people can benefit from? You’ve got some meat to go with those potatoes. Some heart and soul. Some vision.

“Should we be on (insert any social media channel you want here) since our competitors are there?” No. At least not for that reason alone. Because all you’re doing is playing monkey see, monkey do and following their every move. Do you want to have a purpose or do you want to be a puppet?

Social media is the megaphone. But without knowing what to say and how to say it, all that comes out of it is noise.

For some of you, this may be elementary. If so, my apologies. But there’s still a lot of people out there who are putting up Facebook pages, Twitter handles, YouTube channels and Pinterest boards…without knowing why. Don’t put up a social media channel because everybody’s doing it. Be able to say “We put up a Facebook Page because our audience is there, it’s the best place for us to convey what our brand is trying to say, it’s where we’ve seen strong interaction, etc.”

It’s like buying a house and saying afterward, “Why did we buy that?”

Your spouse looks at you and says, “Well, because everybody said we should.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t fit with our life’s plan or our goals. I don’t even know if I’m going to like this neighborhood a few years from now.”

“Well, jeez. Why are you telling me this now after we just invested in one of the most important purchases of our lives?”

It’s not easy to walk away from that decision, obviously. Once you’re in, you’re there to stay for a while. It’s not that different from the social media commitment in a way. If you’ve already “bought” a place on social media, it’s hard to suddenly say, “You know what, online universe? We don’t want to be on this channel after all. Never mind.”

It’s not too late to turn that ship around. But take a look in the mirror and ask why you’re there and what you want to say. Everyone should do this self-check regularly, myself included.

The story of your brand can never stop being told. Don’t waste another moment finding out what yours is.

Political Candidates Must Vote For Social Media Early and Often.

No matter what side of the left or right you sit on issues, the actions of one candidate pose a good lesson about where social media should rank in terms of political campaign clout.

Even though he’s running a distinct 3rd (or 4th if you were looking at his results here in Illinois), it’s a tad mystifying to me that Newt Gingrich has decided to pour so much of his budget into social media at this late stage of his campaign. Not that this is a bad move at all but the timing of it is unfortunate for him as it appears in his case that using social media seems like a method of last resort when campaign staffs get slashed and budgets dwindle. If so, that’s a lousy view of how to use it. If we didn’t learn anything from 2008 politics, it’s that social media has officially arrived as a standard and absolutely essential component of any campaign’s success, Republican or Democrat.

Regardless of whether you’re running for President or Alderman of Chicago’s 44th Ward, you can’t see social media as an afterthought. You have to see it as a vital investment right out of the gate to help mobilize your supporters and encourage fluid communication. Without it or without much consistent use of it, you’re pinning too much of your hopes on traditional methods. And while you still have to get out there and press the flesh of potential voters to be relevant, you can’t ignore the undecideds behind a computer screen who might be searching for clear positioning points of view of your candidate.

It just proves once again how important it is to have good planners behind the scenes who can truly make or break these “brands” with how they select media and craft the right message. It’s really not that far removed from how we strategize the success of products and services.

5 Cheap Moves Your Brand Can’t Afford

There’s savvy spending and then there’s cutting corners you don’t need to make at the risk of looking shabby in front of others. Avoid these moves to prevent yourself from making a really cheap first impression.

1) The non-company e-mail address

When I see someone with the email address of @aol.com, @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc., I have to wonder. It’s perfectly fine to have personal email accounts with something outside of your company name, but it’s not OK in a company email. Do you do this in your spare time? And even if you do, do you want to give that appearance?

No. You don’t. It’s not expensive to get an email with your company name, tagline or some variation. Reserve one and start using it. Now.

2) The off-the-shelf logo

I can appreciate budget-consciousness. But you can differentiate without spending a fortune.

When you buy clip art or off-the-shelf logos from a company, you’re defeating your brand’s ability to stand out before you get out of the gate. It’s important to strive for a look that feels original, not like other brands you’ve seen. You don’t get the attributes of that other brand by association. You look like you wish you were them instead of who you are. Not a good move.

Consider working with a logo designer you can sit down with who has been referred to you from someone you trust. You know – a human being. Not a website that doesn’t understand your goals. When you’re upfront about your budget, you might find some flexibility on their end. Especially if you can be flexible in terms of number of logo options you get.

3) The dime-a-dozen business cards

While your business card may not tell the whole story of you, there’s no reason to go cheap on it. If you give out a card that has a unique texture, shape, embossing and hear them say, “Wow, cool card,” you’re laying the groundwork for a solid first impression – no small thing.

I’ll bet you don’t get that kind of response when you order 5,000 business cards for $50. If you’re getting a whole lot for a little, there’s a reason for it. So you’ll have your cards, which I suppose is better than absolutely nothing, but the opportunity to impress won’t happen. Better to invest more in your business card than less.

4) The static direct mail “explosion”

Oh good! That printer is offering you thousands of direct mail postcards for next to nothing.

But wait.

Are you opening a club or trying to establish a solid personal brand? Before you blanket the world with 5,000 direct mail pieces/flyers, consider this: If it’s a non-personalized piece (or a “static” piece), you may get a response that is less than 1%. So let’s say that takes you down to about 50 pieces that won’t get immediately thrown away. Then let’s say that you chose a broad list of addresses to mail to rather than something targeted around your ideal customer. That takes you down to about 10 pieces.

But among those 10, there are a bunch of variables – timing, budget, competing options and more. All before you’ve taken a first meeting.

This is where the “What have I got to lose?” mentality can take over where numbers and percentages are played, but don’t let it. What you’ve risked is the opportunity to form a first impression that’s customized, such as what printers can now do with personalized printing, even a web address on the piece that sends the recipient to a special landing page. These are the tactics worth spending more on, including list development, which leads us to…

5) The list of “anybodys” in your database

A lot of companies can promise you a list of prospect names for purchase, but be careful. All are not alike. The cheapest might not be offering you the best quality based on your specific criteria, such as a collection of names. How many of those names have been “scrubbed” or updated? And even if they are, are they the right names you’re trying to reach?

Your customer database can be your lifeblood and the less input you have on creating that database, the more you’re leaving to chance. And that’s hampering your efforts early on. When you cut corners by purchasing a list without knowing this information, you’ll not only hurt yourself with a less-than-ideal list, but you’ll also be impacting the things you use that list for.

Wow, the cost of being cheap sure can get expensive, can’t it?

The “Word of Mouth” Trap

Let’s get this out of the way: Positive word of mouth is terrific. I can think of nothing more powerful than an instance where one reliable source tells another person how great a product or service is. It’s instant credibility for your brand.

Unfortunately, there are people who don’t know how to make word of mouth all that it could be. Word of mouth can build business but it can also build complacency in people that benefit from it because those same people believe they don’t need to do anything else or that everything they’re doing currently is just fine. But in time, that kind of philosophy can result in decreased market share or worse.

Still, maybe you don’t see the big deal. All is right with your world. Good things are being said about you, customers seem to be consistent…so who needs anything else when word of mouth is pulling in people for you and the numbers are up?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’d rather have more money than less of it. Which is why I offer forth this little scenario about two companies for you.

Company A has 200 customers. Company A provides great service and a great product but does nothing to encourage its customers to put in a good word about Company A to someone else, like a friend or family member. Still, let’s say that every single customer tells 1 other person about how great Company A is. Those people become customers too.

Company A’s year-end total: 400 customers.

Company B has 200 customers as well. They provide great service and a great product. But they implement a referral program that rewards its customers for referring three friends to become qualified customers – Company B offers a pretty good-sized prize for doing so, but then, the return on investment in getting three new customers for every one is well worth it. PLUS for every successful referral, the customer gets a smaller, intermediate prize. PLUS Company B’s program allows each successful referral to count as one entry into a grand prize drawing, which means the more referrals you make, the better your chances to win.

Company B’s year-end total: 600 customers (at least).

I’d say the difference between doubling your customer base and tripling it can be mighty big, wouldn’t you? Everybody’s company is different, but my point is that while both companies shown here use word of mouth, one chose to cultivate its customer relationships off of that word of mouth with far better results than the one that stuck to the status quo and did nothing.

And by the way, the referral program idea is only one potential way of building on what you have.

Remember, word of mouth is a foundation, not the end result. It’s a springboard for even better results to occur because what you have is a happy customer base – however, just because that’s something that many other businesses would be jealous of doesn’t mean you should sit still.

Specifically, think about two things:

1) Where does your audience interact with your brand?

2) What will your reward for making a successful referral be when you get in front of them?

A better reward does not have to equal more money either. It can be a discount off of one of your products or services (perhaps a discount off of a new product or service you’d like to introduce?).

Word of mouth gives you the opportunity to be proactive and make that goodwill work for you even further. Otherwise, there’s only going to be so many words about you passing through so many mouths.