It's A Brand New World

It’s A Brand New World

The other day I made the mistake of coming home from the store with a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. As I unpacked the groceries, my wife gave a little gasp. “Eat those quick,” she whispered, “I don’t want the kids to see that brand around the house!” Part of me wasn’t surprised. I get the “Don’t feed our kids crap” message, but since when is a potato chip brand on par with pornography? Seems a little severe to me, but for my wife it makes perfect sense. She wants our kids to share her values about healthy eating. For her, Lay’s stands for junk food and unconscious eating habits, and we don’t fly that flag. My parents would never have had a discussion like this. For them shopping was simple: “What is it and how much does it cost?”

These days the shopping experience is so complicated, it took a sociologist and a psychologist to come up with a name for people like my wife. It became the title of Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s best selling book, “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.” But that was ten years ago. A lot has changed. Now we just call them “Whole Foods Shoppers.” And marketeers aren’t interested in “Cultural Creatives” anymore. My wife and I are obsolete. Now it’s all about “Millennials.” Millennials move so fast, they can’t even hold onto the label “Generation Y.” If you’re 25 to 35 years old, you can call yourself a Millennial. And you know why we baby boomer marketeers are so interested in you? Because you went blazing off onto the Internet and we can hardly keep up with you.

The ability to instantly access information, easily share thoughts and ideas, and broadcast opinions, enabled a kind of consumer insurgency. To understand what I mean, all you have to do is Google “United Breaks Guitars.” Maybe you’ve already heard of this. One guy gets pissed because United Airlines smashes his guitar and customer service treats him badly. A clever song about his experience posted on YouTube gets him a half million views and an invite to tell his tale of mistreatment on Good Morning America, all in the span of three days.

So why is this a big deal? It means companies can’t control their own stories anymore. Now the customer owns the story. The whole concept of what “brand” means is changing fast. We used to think of “brand” as marketing identity; a device used to further the sale, nothing more. Now, thanks to people like my wife, the United Breaks Guitar guy, and a billion others who are out there chatting away on the internet, companies are realizing that maybe they need to engage with their customers more openly and honestly.

Something called “The Sustainable Brands Conference” popped up a few years ago. It’s all about helping companies incorporate this idea of larger purpose into their brands. Here’s how the organizers define a Sustainable Brand: “A better brand that endures by respecting, serving and delighting all stakeholders in current and future generations.” Man, my wife would definitely invite that brand into the house. And don’t think big companies don’t get it. Coke, Ford, 3M, Target, Dell – they are just a few of the sponsors.

All these big brands want to do good so you won’t think they are bad. Including Frito Lay. It turns out my wife was too hard the Lay’s Brand. I went to the Frito Lay Web site. The company talks about healthy eating habits. It has a sustainability program focussed on reducing its energy use. The company seems to be making a real effort to be a good citizen. And it must be real. Why? Because we old Cultural Creatives, and now the new generation of Millennials, are demanding it.

And companies beware. You’d better actually be doing what you say you are doing because we will actively look for the truth. And we will blog about it.

Mythmaker Designs Money

Mythmaker Designs Money

The North Coast of California is home to many organic farmers and artisan food producers who’ve work hard to sustain a right livelihood. Jay and Dana Nichols, residents and environmental activists in this Northern California coast bioregion, wanted to inspire a local, community-based economy around the North Coast Agri-Artisan culture, and asked us if we could help them with the design of a local currency.

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

A good brand is like a bonfire. People want to gather around it. Here are four simple touch points to help you create a tone and feel that people want to engage with.

1. Make us feel smart. Deliver the facts without scolding. Watch for words that might feel like guilt tripping, such as “should” or “everyone must have”… Stay positive.

2. Inspire us. Communicate a larger purpose beyond making the sale. Show people that your organization is working to make the world a better place in its own unique way.

3. Demonstrate connection. Introduce me to people who share my world view and interest. What do they have to say? Promote conversation. Invite questions.

4. Make Us Feel Recognized. Reflect back what you hear. Speak the language of the audience you are trying to reach. Look for opportunities and creative ways to say “thank you” to the people who buy your product.

mastronardi-tote - Making a Shopping Bag

Making a Shopping Bag Sing

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“You stopped us in our tracks!”  said the folks at The Core, when they came across the bag we designed for Mastronardi Produce. “We are always roaming the show floor looking for good story telling, and we thought Mastronardi hit the nail on the head with their super colorful and informative shopping totes.”  The Core is digital publication focused on fresh produce marketing. Check it out.

Why Content Matters

Why Content Matters

If you haven’t already heard the term “Content Marketing,” you will. It refers to the changing nature of advertising and marketing strategies, driven by the social networking power of the internet. The days of interruption advertising are dying fast. The rise of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and self publishing tools open up whole new possibilities for reaching and engaging targeted audiences.

The media love to hype the power of Facebook and Twitter, but really these are just tools and they are meaningless without the right content. Anybody can learn to use the tools but it’s the content that will win you customers. Don’t get hung up or intimidated by the technology. Put your efforts into writing and producing relevant, rich, meaningful content. Figuring out how to use different channels for delivery comes second. So what is content that works? Here are ten ideas to help get you started.

#1. Avoid the hardsell! Solve a problem, entertain, educate. Provide real, useful information. Focus on the needs of your audience, not your own objectives. Make the content relevant for people with a specific need. If your content does not do any of these things, it will be more noise that gets you ignored.

#2. Focus: Target, find a niche, identify your audience. The more specific, the better. “Dog training tips” is too broad. “Training tips for Toy Poodle Owners,” much better. Develop content your niche audiences want.

#3. Be Reliable: Don’t start a conversation you aren’t willing to keep going. Let’s say you sell dog biscuits. You set up a blog about training Toy Poodles and after a year, a few thousand people are checking-in and trading tips on a weekly basis. Then, the budget gets a little tight; the Blog has to go. What happens to all the nice people now gathered around your little bonfire? Better not to launch the initiative at all rather than piss off a few thousand possible customers.

#4. Listen. Pay attention to how your audience responds. The point of Content Marketing is to engage with your audience. You listen and you respond. If you hear something you do not like, ask questions. A friend of mine was recently stranded in an airport due to a problem with Delta. He began tweeting his frustrations with how the situation was being handled. He immediately received a tweet from Delta. “What can we do to help your situation?” The company had established “listening posts” in all the right places. They turned the conversation from a bitch session into an example of first-rate customer service.

#5. Hire reporters instead of marketeers. I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again. Marketing is now about effective story telling. Reporters know how to find and tell authentic stories. What’s the difference between a reporter and a marketing copywriter? Reporters think about the questions their audience might have. Copywriters focus on delivering a message. We are all sick of talking points and sales pitches. We want information and answers.

#6. Use video. Here are three reasons to use more video. One, it’s a very efficient medium for explaining how to do something. People like to learn by watching. Two, video lets people see faces, hear voices, get a real sense of place. It’s a fantastic story telling medium. Three, in the right creative hands, video can be very entertaining and engaging. “Will It Blend?” Need I say more? If you don’t know about this case study, Google it.

#7. Set up “Listening Posts.” People are talking about your product. Are you listening? It is relatively easy to use existing on-line tools to monitor chatter that happens around what is relevant to you. It’s also possible to set up blogs and on-line forums to encourage comments and conversations of interests. RSS feeds, Google Alerts, Twitter Grids, are all tools that you can use to monitor conversations of interest.

#8. SEO = Content. Want to make your website more visible? Create better content. Google looks for two main things when ranking websites: 1) Content with “key words” that are actually relevant to what people are searching for. And 2) Links pointing back to your website from other sites. Great content helps in both cases. If you write something interesting and it gets picked up and blogged by others, Google notices. If certain key words are associated with links back to your site, Google notices.

#9. Look for strategic partnerships. Find ways to partner online with people, causes, or organizations that can build and support your brand vision. Share your content and possibly other resources with organizations that have an active on-line community. They will notice and spread the word.

#10. Don’t fake it. Be honest, or run the risk of starting the kind of online conversation marketing departments dread. People growing-up in the internet age are not passive when it comes to information. They know how to find answers fast. If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it. If you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know and find out. Be transparent because these days, it’s impossible not to be.

Going Off-Road

Going Off-Road

GOTthumb_thumbWe are best known for our work in the natural food and beverage industry thanks to our history with Odwalla but actually we do a lot more. Mythmaker has created brands and helped position everything from ethanol companies to cloud computing services. We just finished creating the identity and website for Garrahan Off-Road Training. Check it out.

Brand Design Mistakes

Top Ten Mistakes By New Entrepreneurs

Back in 2011 I collaborated with Brian Lovejoy and Corey Comstock  on this illuminating list for a presentation at Expo West. Brian is a brilliant product formulator and founder of Drinks That Work and Dr. Kiefer.  Corey is a General Partner at Sherbrooke Capital, and former CEO of Oregon Chai. Both have had their share of success and failure. Here’s some of their hard won wisdom.

1. Unrealistic forecasting, especially cash flow projections. Your forecast WILL BE wrong. Know that your customers will pay late and pay short. Your suppliers will want to be paid now. Your costs will be higher than expected. Your sales might be lower than expected. If you plan with this in mind you may not run out of cash.

2. Lack of a 1-3-5 year “business / strategy plan” and the annual updating thereof. Many entrepreneurs become so enthusiastic about the business day to day they forget that a measured / methodical approach to the long term strategies increases the viability of the company and in turn creates a stable foundation

3. Not building the right team, internally: Unwillingness to hire expert team members that are smarter, more proficient, and higher skilled than the entrepreneur.

4. Not building the right team, externally: Unwillingness to hire expert external support advisors such as attorneys, accountants, tax advisors, IP council, marketing and PR professionals, etc.

5. Not knowing when to say no: There is a tendency to want to please every account, especially the big ones. If each account doesn’t make you money or if the sales and promotional costs “required” to maintain that account are too costly, be willing to walk away…for now.

6. Undercapitalization: Undercapitalizing the business and misjudging the amount of capital it will take to sustain a brand and company until consumer / customer adoption is achieved.

7. Falling in love with your own ideas: Know when your ideas on product, packaging or marketing are not working and be willing to move on.

8. Not knowing your market: Know your competition, the market and all of the differences between your product and other similar items. Never be surprised about what else is out there.

9. Being too opportunistic: When starting a new enterprise, entrepreneurs find opportunity everywhere – just because an opportunity may exist, if it doesn’t tie in to the business plan and mission – ignore it.

10. Trying to have your product sold everywhere – “boiling the ocean”. With any product or brand having ubiquity is hard to maintain without large capital budgets. With that said, most acquirers would rather see strong performance in specific markets with “white space” available for them than mediocre performance in a broader market.

The Name Game

The Name Game

What’s in a name? Everything when it comes to a product. A good name is a balancing act of several needs. It has to communicate to a specific audience through its tone or “personality.” Ideally, it should suggest what the product does and indicate its benefit or a “big idea.” Professional namers are a unique breed. Their craft is a blend of art and science; in effect they are strategic poets. Expert namers define a rigid set of objectives before they brainstorm, then use their creativity and language skills to deeply explore any and all ideas, usually generating thousands of names. Seasoned namers are savvy about what works, what doesn’t, and what’s already been done. Without structure and expertise, a company can waste considerable time and money noodling ideas that will never fly. Or worse yet. Click here to see just how bad it can be. (Naming contests are a great way to get stuck with time bombs.) As brands evolve and product lines grow, it’s important to stay ahead of the pack with innovative, powerful names that go beyond clever. A facilitated naming process can help identify and clarify fuzzy positioning and undefined goals.

kids recycling & Sustainable Packaging

A New Generation Demands Sustainable Packaging

The other day, I was doing some grocery shopping with my eleven- year -old son. I reached for some pre-packaged strawberries and he stopped me. “Too much plastic. Get those,” he said, pointing to the bulk berries. Trying not to look too shocked, I headed for the bulk berries. After a little investigation I learned that this new vigilance came from his school, which now has an on-going packaging awareness program. It includes guest speakers, contests to see whose lunch box has the least left over garbage, and anti-plastic posters in the science lab.

Old habits may be hard to break but a new generation is growing up with a whole new understanding when it comes to choice in the market place—and environmental awareness is starting to play a significant role. Just look at bottled water sales, which are significantly down for the first time in five years. This is partly due to the economy, but also to an aggressive anti-plastic environmental campaign. Some health foods stores have even stopped selling bottled water. In response, Coke recently launched a new PET plastic bottle made with 30% recycled waste material.

When it comes to sustainable packaging, there are basically two strategies. One, use less material, and two, use recyclable or biodegradable material. From what we’re seeing out there, one shouldn’t assume that eco-friendly means a compromise in aesthetics and functionality.  Pangea soaps and Straus Creamery, for example a have distinguished their brands from the pack by pioneering ecologically smart, really cool-looking alternative packaging.

But as I said before, old habits are hard to break. Recently a client was exploring an on-the-go snack idea. The company’s consumer research showed that people wanted less packaging. The marketing department’s answer was to shrink the paper tray that carried six plastic cups. When I showed the concept mockups around the office, the general response was, “Looks like a lot of plastic.” In this case, “less” is not enough. I encouraged the client to find an alternative to the plastic. The response was, “But, people also said they want to see the product, so we have to use plastic.” Actually, they don’t have to use plastic. How about PLA (biodegradable ”plastic” usually made from corn or even better, molded paper with a PLA lid or window? That is a 100% biodegradable container. Would it add to the cost? Maybe, but factor in the added value of building a brand awareness strategy around the company’s environmental efforts. Or, forget the PR value. Factor in my eleven year old son. It won’t be long before he’s doing his own shopping.

Venture Socialists?

Venture Socialists?

Two years ago I attended an “Entrepreneurs Forum” hosted by Sherbrook Capital at the Expo West Natural Food Convention. It featured a panel made up of people from different VC groups charged with identifying promising young companies in which to invest. I asked the panel this question: “How much value do you place on cause related marketing strategies or values based marketing positions when it comes to assessing product potential?” There were seven panelists and they all agreed on the answer. “None. Product appeal and margin potential are the big drivers.”

Now this would not have surprised me if I were at, say, the National Association of Food Manufacturers convention, but this is Expo West – ground zero for the natural product industry. A community that owes much of its success to the LOHAS consumers… those erstwhile hippies (us) and their children (ours) who shop with principles of health and environmental sustainability in mind. “How times change,” I thought.

Fast forward to this year’s Expo West. Another Forum. This one for entrepreneurs looking to learn how to raise capital for their fledgling businesses. What was the basic message this time? There is real value in principled positioning. Consumers are actively looking for companies that connect with a larger purpose. VCs want principled visionaries who understand business.  “It’s an emerging and hot trend.”  How times change.