Author Archives: Jake

Branding Ideas for Christmas Gifts

With Christmas right around the corner, you should start thinking of gift ideas for your customers. While this might seem extravagant to some, there are many cost effective ways to provide your loyal clients with an item that has your brand name on it.

Looking for some suggestions? Try any of these, varying from the dirt cheap to the pretty expensive.

Pens: This is a great standby. Everyone can use a pen. Chances are that if you look around your house or office, at least half of your pens have been branded with someone’s logo or business name. These are relatively inexpensive but you can also get some very finely crafted pens for some extra cash.

Glasses and mugs: Coffee mugs are a pretty traditional gift as well. But you may also want to think about shot glasses, tumblers, drinking glasses, wine glasses, and soon. The more unique the item, the more special the gift will seem.

Shirts/Clothing: Here’s another classic. Sure, lots of tee shorts that are given away with a company logo on it has usually designated to yard work attire. But with a clever design and choice fabrics, your gifted shirt could quickly become your client’s favorite shirt.

Ornaments: Not many people have gone this route, but it’s a great way to get in the holiday spirit and can become something of a conversation piece—not only within your office but at Christmas gatherings at the homes of your clients all throughout the holidays.

Calendars: This should be a given. Who hasn’t gotten a calendar in some form from a business before?

Snow Globes: The most unique item on the list is also the most special. Don’t worry so much about getting your brand inside the globe, as you can place that on the outside base. These can be costly but will likely be remembered for quite some time.

What are some other unique gift ideas for branding that you’ve seen lately?





Why KFC’s “I Ate the Bones” Campaign was a Bad Idea

KFC_Ate_the_bonesHave you seen the Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials for their “I Ate the Bones” campaign? It’s for their latest type of boneless chicken wing.

At its base, it does make at least some vague sort of sense. But in reality, it’s another one of those marketing techniques that is backfiring terribly due to the way people are using social media.

Almost immediately after the commercials aired and even encouraged KFC patrons to use the Twitter hashtag of #Iatethebones, the campaign was assaulted. Many people started to tweet links to animal rights videos and even pictures of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. There was also a meme of people choking on chicken bones. In other words, this was a campaign that got the wrong sort of attention.

Sure, it’s hilarious, but those images and videos are now liked intimately with the KFC brand.

You have to give KFC credit for trying. They even went so far as to tweet the following: Fill in the blank.  “My first bite of boneless was ________.”

As you can imagine, the internet went crazy. From pornography jokes to cannibalism references, this was one campaign that was beaten to death. One Twitter user even went so far as to tweet: “They’ll never find that girl’s body.”

Needless to say, if you want something funny to read, you aren’t going to get much better than the Twitter responses to the “I ate the bones” hashtags.

The sad thing of it is that KFC seems to have the fundamentals of engaging with their online audience down very well. This was just one campaign that was doomed from the start even though many people do in fact enjoy boneless chicken wings.

Odder still is the fact that the reputation of the KFC brand itself didn’t appear to suffer from the poorly planned campaign.

What are some other recent popular campaigns that you have seen that weren’t bad as an initial concept was but just executed poorly?

Branding vs. Advertising vs. Marketing vs. Public Relations

zag1a_2Not too long ago, a humorous comic strip made its rounds through the internet and was a great illustration of the differences between branding, marketing, public relations, and advertising. While funny, it raised key point that everyone should realize about these four areas.

So let’s break down a simple comic about love-making into a slightly more detailed approach to understanding the differences between these key areas in running your small business.

If he says “I’m a great lover,” that’s marketing.

Marketing is about getting the message out there. You want people to hear the key aspects of what you are about, letting people know who you are and what it is that you do well.

If she says “Trust me, he’s a great lover,” that’s public relations.

Any review you see on Amazon is a form of public relations. But if we stick to the sex illustration, it could go one of two ways. Either someone is trying to get this man laid and is ensuring to her friend that he’s a great lover, or  she is working for him, trying to help get him laid. Either way, word of mouth of going to help influence the decision of someone else.

If he says “I’m a great lover, I’m a great lover, I’m a great lover,” that’s advertising.

Advertising is all about repetition. Also, he’s probably saying this in church or a funeral, as advertising always tends to pop up in places where we really don’t want it.

If she says “I understand you’re a great lover,” that’s branding success.

This is when the woman has come up to the man from across the room and lets him know what she has heard. This is the equivalent of someone coming into your business and telling you that they came to you because they heard that you are the best in the industry. Of course, in both of these illustrations, this is exactly what you’re going for: winning results and a great reputation.

Does anyone else have any slightly inappropriate metaphors to better separate these four often confused areas?

How Nine Inch Nails Built a Brand on More Than Just Music

nine-inch-nails-logoIn the mid-to-late 1990s, Nine Inch Nails had nearly become a household name. The band’s creator, front man and driving force, Trent Reznor, had become the icon of goth kids and aspiring musicians everywhere. Even today, Nine Inch Nails remain popular and while the majority of their lasting power is located within Reznor’s music, it has also been his ability to genuinely brand his music and band in a way that almost no other musicians has been able to do.

Chances are that even if you’re not a fan of Reznor’s music, you’ve seen the logo for his band. There aren’t many bands out there—if any—that can use a symbol of sorts for their band’s name and have people recognize it.

Reznor was able to do this with Nine Inch Nails because of his devoted fan base, but also his ability to incorporate his base branding efforts into each album and even video that he released. From tee shirts to bumper stickers, from desktop wallpapers to entire websites, his band’s logo is widely known in the music world.

But it’s not just that Reznor has created music that almost two generations have been able to enjoy. He has also become involved in other areas of the music industry. He helped lead the increasingly popular “name your price” downloads direct from an artist’s website, allowing his fans to purchase new albums for free. He also has a platform (also free) that allows fans to download the actual musical tracks from his recordings and make remixes of them.

Furthermore, tired of the way the record company was over-charging his fans for his music, he ended a lucrative contract and started releasing albums for much cheaper under his own label.

And all the while, he even stepped away from Nine Inch Nails for a while to win a Grammy Award for his score on The Social Network.

All of these ground breaking and unorthodox approaches to music are true of his brand because fans of his music know that his music is the same way: ground breaking and unorthodox.

So with Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has created more than just a band—he had created a brand. And that is something that musicians have always tried to do and ultimately failed.

Are there any other musicians that you can think of that approach their music as a brand rather than just something to listen to?

When Weird Marketing (Sort of) Works: Mr. Six

Sometimes brand mascots are so weird and out of left field that they work because of their sheer uniqueness. But on the other hand, they can sometimes be weird enough to backfire.

And, oddly enough, there is even a third category: those mascots that fall somewhere in the middle.

Mr. Six, the mascot for Six Flags, is one such mascot.

sixMr. Six was introduced to the public in 2004. He was a loveable, if not slightly awkward-looking senior citizen that had the apparent ability to make anyone who saw him joyful enough to start dancing and having a great time. He was always dressed in a suit with suspenders and a bright red bow tie.

Here’s the weirdest thing about Mr. Six. While he worked for quite a while, becoming popular is advertising and doing some good for the amusement park, his was a shtick that got tiring after a while.

The successes and failures of the Mr. Sic campaign can be summarized easily yet it still can’t help decide if the mascot was a success or a failure.


  • The commercials were certainly memorable.
  • The character danced to a popular song at the time (and also equally annoying, as the Mr. Six ads quickly became, too).


  • He was sort of creepy. The make-up had him looking almost too old.
  • There was mass confusion among the public why an amusement park would use an old (and potentially senile) man to lure younger people (namely kids) to Six Flags.

Love him or hate him, he was axed a few years after he was introduced as shareholders found him annoying and confusing. Yet, in another strange turn of the Mr. Six story, he was brought back a few years later. The reason given by the company was that the guests apparently loved him. It was a physical representation of their brand that people related to and recognized easily…even if they don’t really care for him.

Given this peculiar story, would you say that Mr. Six was a branding mistake or a branding success?

Be a Branding Hero

super-heroEveryone loves a great hero story. From Beowulf to The Avengers, heroes are ingrained in storytelling from all periods of human history.

Did you know that you can sort of take advantage of this fact when it comes to branding? It’s true. If you can cleverly see your business and brand as a story that had yet to be told, you can experience a hero’s journey within your workplace.

The Transformation

In any good hero tale, the hero is usually changed by the end of the story. The goals he set out with, whether accomplished in the end or not, are often changed in some way. Turned on its head in the marketing worlds, this can be used in terms of your band’s adaptability. Make sure your goals adjust accordingly to the other factors of your story…factors such as client needs, technology, finances, and so on.

Sharing the Hero’s Duty

At the start of your journey (or, for those already lost in the metaphor, the opening of your business) you need to be the hero. You need to be the little guy with obstacles to overcome. But as you gain experience and your goals shift (see above) it may be time to hand the reigns over to a new hero. And that new hero should probably be your clients. Make them feel like they are the hero in a story that you are helping them tell through your goods or services.

Making a Good Hero

The best heroes have their faults and are, at their base, very much human. For you, this means to remain relatable and available to your customers. And while superheroes often have secret identities, you may want to leave the “super” out of things when it comes to branding. You want people to know who you are at all times.

What other heroic attributes can you find in proper branding?




Striking Up The Brand

BrandingLet’s get back to basics and face the fact that some people in the small business environment still don’t have a proper handle on what branding actually is. This is that day in class where we review stuff from the beginning of the year, but try not to tune out here. It’ll make the other student’s look stupid…

Branding is not just about getting your audience to choose you over the competition. Rather, it is putting it into the heads of the public that you are the best solution to their need. Think about Starbucks…love them or hate them, their name is not just synonymous with coffee—their logo is just about the only one that comes to many people’s minds when they think about coffee.

So what can your brand do to gain that sort of power? It really all boils down to sticking to the three most basics of branding.

Clearly Deliver Your Message: Don’t be vague or overly poetic. Let people know who you are and what you do without complicating things.

Connect With Your Audience: If you can connect with your audience on an emotional level, you’re golden. What is it about you that your audience will relate to? Find that factor and enhance it to fit into your band and drive it forward.

Create Customer Loyalty: Delivering beyond expectations and enhancing the customers experience will ensure that your new customer becomes a loyal customer. And the more loyal customers you have, the stronger your brand becomes. Remember: when it comes to pleasing customers, there is no such thing as going “Over the Top.”

While there are certainly more detailed in successfully building your brand these three are the most fundamental. If you aren’t sure how to go about achieving these three factors, take a step back and re-evaluate what you want your brand to be about.

What are some of the more important factor you’ve stuck closely to in shaping your brand?

Why The Top Brands Are At The Top

Image converted using ifftoanyRecently, a survey of 70,000 consumers revealed the top 100 brands in the world. Some of the results were surprising but some were very predictable. Before taking a look at some of the results, it should be noted that the factors involved in the survey were as follows: understanding, relevance, admiration, approachability, curiosity, identification, empowerment, and pride.

That’s right…all emotional cues and factors.

So what can we learn from the results? Well, take a look at the Top 5.

  1. The Walt Disney Company
  2. Yahoo!
  3. Google
  4. Sony
  5. Nestle

Google is no surprise, but not many people expected Yahoo to top them. Some believe it is the ever-evolving model of Google’s mail systems that caused the slump. As for Disney being at the top, the fact that they own damn near everything probably helped in this regard as this makes them relatable in more ways that any competitors can manage.

There were a few other interesting things of note scattered throughout the list. A few examples:

  • Coke was 3 spots ahead of Pepsi
  • Facebook was ranked at Number 81—probably because of the approachability factor
  • Whole Foods came in at number while McDonald’s came in at Number 68.
    Proctor and Gamble was listed at Number 28 while Johnson and Johnson was Number 47.
  • Despite their vast popularity, Starbucks only managed to land at Number 96.
  • Lowes came in at Number 10 while their closest competitor, Home depot, me in at Number 54.

So what can we learn from this? Maybe a lot. In the case of Starbucks, maybe it’s a case of over-saturation. They are everywhere, after all. And McDonald’s coming in so far behind Whole Foods is a key example of how the public is becoming health conscious.

More than anything, the list shows us that popular opinions concerning brands can fluctuate at the drop of the hat.  Find your favorite brand on the list and compare it to some competitors to see how you might be able to better build your own brand to reflect the successes of these brands and prevent the failures of some others that didn’t make the list.

Carving Out Your Niche

The number of people that are going into business for themselves is growing every year. Because of this, the online working environment is getting more competitive than ever. Freelancers in particular really need to find a way to make themselves stand out.

109888391But with such a diverse range of skills that people are looking for, how can you make yourself stand out in what often appears to be a depthless sea of candidates?

Well, for starters, use all of that vastness to your advantage. You can do this by focusing on your strengths and building a brand within a niche that is much less crowded.

For instance, if you are a copywriter don’t just sell yourself to potential clients as a copywriter. If you do, you’re going to drown in a sea full of copywriters. Instead, focus on what you know the most about and what you know you are good at.

Let’s say you know a lot about pets. And let’s also say that your educational background was in professional writing. In this hypothetical situation, you would likely be best served to sell yourself as a copywriter that specializes in the area of pets. But more than that, you would want to look for jobs such as articles, blogs, e-books and so on. However, if you’d gone to college for marketing, basic copywriting for ads and more market-driven copy would be better suited to you.

Or maybe you’re a graphic designer. Where do you really shine? Is it in web development and site design or is it in marketing pieces? Don’t try to cover the entire spectrum all at once. Find the one facet of your area of expertise and hone in on that. If you can build a brand on a niche specialty, you’ll find success faster than you will by labeling yourself under a more basic title.

So while there may not be a title like “pet copywriter” out there, you may be surprised at how specific some job descriptions can be. And the more specific your bio is, the better chance you have of landing those more specific jobs that can help to build your portfolio.

Maintaining the Real World Office

MPD-Office-StudioLAB7Sure, the majority of small businesses are run online these days. But there are still small businesses all around the world that are doing very well via either traditional or “hybrid” means.  For these businesses, they not only have to worry about maintaining their brand’s integrity and reputation online, but in the physical world as well.

So for those business owners that are operating the bulk of their business out of an actual brick and mortar storefront, what are some of the ways that you can keep your business attractive to your customers in the physical world as well as online?

Check the Exterior:

  • Make sure you have signage out front. It should be colorful, easy to notice, and a great visual representation of your brand.
  • If you have financial means and if your locale allows for it, invest in some landscaping. Nothing fancy—just something to make your business stand out from those around you. If your business is on a block where there are only sidewalks and streets, think about a potted plant outside your door.
  • Keep your windows and doors clean. Dirty and unkempt exteriors make people think it will be much of the same once inside.

Look Inside:

  • Unless you’re running a cocktail lounge, make sure your office is always well lit for customers. Make them feel bright and comfortable whenever you can.
  • Keep the clutter to a minimum. While you want people to see that you are bust, you also want them to see that you take pride in your workspace.
  • If possible, try to have out examples of your work. Let people see right away—without even speaking to you—that the quality of your work is exceptional.
  • Don’t skimp when it comes to maintenance. If you know that rear wall needs a new layer of paint, do it as soon as possible rather than putting it off until later. Take the same pride in your office as you do in your home when you are entertaining guests.

What are some other ways you can think of to keep a business looking attractive in the physical world?