Why Do Great Brand Owners tell us that Branding is Not Important and the 7 not so Secret Rules for Success in Business.

Simply because they have got their definition of what branding is completely wrong. They have pursued brand building and developed great brands, but they just don’t call the process by its correct name like brand development.

Why is this important you ask? Because then business owners will find it so much easier to find the right information and educate themselves on the stuff that can make or break their business – marketing!

Here’s a case in point.

I’m reading yet another “Secrets to Business Success” article aimed at small business owners. It’s in the My Business Magazine July 2012 edition, that reviews Mark Bouris’s (the founder of Wizard home loans and subsequently Yellow Brick Road as well as the boss in the Australian version of The Apprentice) speech and advice to the SME business owners given in May 2012.

What gets under this marketing consultant’s skin is that SME business owners are still looking for and hoping for a silver bullet, a magic pill to fix all of their problems.

So what are the secrets and advice given by one of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs especially to the SME sector?
To be fair in today’s live presentation, that I had the privilege of attending in Melbourne, Mark Bouris, a great and inspirational speaker, states that there are no secrets, but it makes for a great headline that publishers love and readers can’t get enough of – something for all entrepreneurs to keep in mind when trying to generate their own publicity.

Before I provide a summary of Mark’s speech from My Business magazine, I have to get passionate, or in Mark’s words “fight” for what I know to be true – the fact that he has inadvertently stuffed up his definition of Marketing and Branding!

As a marketing consultant, I’m amazed that someone like Mark Bouris, can in the same sentence say that “…you’ve got to have something that’s unique. It’s not about marketing and branding; these three things are really important: the idea or concept, how hard you can work and are you more skilled in your area or is your product better?”

The actual word brand is all about being unique. Branding IS differentiation. Branding is already the most misunderstood word in the business language, so having someone who is a brilliant and successful entrepreneur and marketer, someone who has the influence and mass media exposure, muddy the waters, is only contributing to the confusion faced by SMEs!

Branding is what people think and feel about when they experience your product or service. Like most business owners Mr Bouris’s definition and use of “marketing and branding” is completely wrong, in fact the 3 things he refers to ARE what marketing and branding is all about! Marketing is simply about satisfying needs not selling or promoting which is just how most business owners use these terms. In the words of Peter Drucker, businesses about two things and two things only; marketing and innovation.

Now to summarise the rest of the inspirational article.

1. Understand why you’re in business.
-Working for yourself?
-Being successful?
-Helping people?
Ultimately the question is about what drives you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

2. Sheer hard work.
A self-confessed workaholic Mr Bouris concedes that his work habits have cost him two marriages (and a fortune in divorce settlements) and advocates that hard work is the key to being better than your competitors through ongoing improvement.

Although I agree that there is no escaping hard work, unless you enjoy it you simply will not be able to do it day in day out, and this is certainly no secret. The real secret should be to work smarter not harder and focus on the things that will make the greatest contribution to business. And it is this focus that is so damn hard to achieve for most of us, with emails and calls, and more distractions than ever before.

3. Understand what business you are really in.
This is a critical way to examine your business. Is Yellow Brick Road in the financial advice business or the mortgage business? No, that’s how they execute the actual business. Their actual business is helping people achieve their dreams and hopes. It’s the old ‘sell benefits not features’. To paraphrase Max Factor, who when asked what businesses he was is, replied by pointing to the factory and said “…in there we make creams and powders and then pointed to the street and said out there we sell hope to women.”

4. Be involved in an environment that’s a rising tide.
In other words go where the demand is, don’t try to generate it, as that’s not only to hard but also too expensive. Inventing something new and then trying to sell it to everyone is extremely hard to do.

5. Having the right culture is critical.
Without a team that is able to have fun together, take risks and stay together through good times and bad, there is no business.

6. Failures are successes too because they provide an opportunity to learn and adjust your course of action.

7. Having the right business partner, someone you can share highs and lows with, someone to bounce ideas off and to make decisions together with is critical.

I would add that having clearly defined roles will also make a partnership much more effective with each partner being in charge of a separate area will minimize disagreements.

Is Marketing Dead? Marketing Consultant says…


Of course a marketing consultant is not going to admit that the profession is dying as proposed by the now famous article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review blog, titled “Marketing Is Dead.”

This particular marketing consultant is certainly jealous of the controversial title of the article and the publicity it has received but has to disagree vehemently with the proposition that marketing is dead, not just to defend all marketing consultants and our profession, but because the claim is simply not true, especially when you examine the small business segment, which is yet to get a handle on the basic principles of marketing in general, let alone the more complex issues.

Firstly, lets recap the main points made by the article and then look at the so called evidence, to see whether I personally and my fellow marketing consultants in fact died on the fateful day of August 9th when this outlandish claim pronounced us dead.

Proposition 1:
Studies have confirmed that buyers are no longer paying much attention and  traditional marketing communications (Traditional marketing as defined buy the author — includes advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications)

Buyers are checking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews.

Rebuttal 1:
You don’t say! Wow, we marketing consultants have had our head in the sand all this time!?

For SME’s, based on the 2011 Hubspot Study, Inbound Marketing (prospects find you; Social Media, SEO, PPC and Blogs) has a 62% lower Cost Per Lead than Outbound Marketing (Direct Mail, Trade Shows, Telemarketing).

The situation is similar at the top end of town, with more and more companies investing less and less into traditional media and more and more into online and social media marketing, where dialogue can be had with their customers and prospects.

And whether the author, Bill Lee, likes it or not, all of these in-bound efforts still need skills of advertising, PR, and marketing communication professionals, albeit skills that now need to be upgraded through ongoing professional development, but again this is nothing new, it’s called change!

Additionally, Mr.Lee needs to be reminded that ‘branding’ is not a ‘traditional marketing communication’, but the result of them. Here are 2 articles on ‘what is branding’ – the most misused and misunderstood term in business today!



Proposition 2:
Studies show that CEOs have lost all patience with marketers and say they lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and are sick of all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.

Rebuttal 2:
Marketers are losing out to the bean counters in the boardroom, however assuming brand equity can not be linked to organisational success, which it actually can be:
http://www.slideshare.net/coolstuff/the-brand-gap and
the CEO’s and their distinguished consultants do not have anything to replace the old world marketers with!

Additionally, and especially after the spate of recent global meltdowns, everyone is questioning the value of these overpaid CEO’s. So who cares what they think? Let them like sheep cut their marketing budgets which they regularly do during every economic downturn and they can then watch their competitors who keep investing into marketing pass them by:

1. A number of studies conducted since WWII showed something that marketers have known all along – keep marketing through the downturn. The following quote is from Professional Marketing, Oct-Dec 2008 – article titled “All Hands On Deck”: “…companies that increased marketing spend (relative to market size) during a recession, increased their return on capital employed by 5% in the recovery, compared to a 1% decline for the budget cutters”

2. Recent UK research, “Values of Design FactFinder by the Design Council” has shown that:

  • Rapidly growing businesses are nearly six times as likely as static ones to see design as integral.
  • Shares in design-led businesses have outperformed the FTSE 100 by more than 200% over the past decade.
  • For every £100 a design alert business spends on design, turnover increases by £225.
  • Businesses that add value through design see a greater impact on business performance than the rest.

And design is an integral part of the brand communication process, the very process that Bill Lee proclaims as a dead discipline.

Proposition 3:
In today’s increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn’t work so well, it doesn’t make sense, because organization hires people — employees, agencies, consultants, partners — who don’t come from the buyer’s world and whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned with his, and expects them to persuade the buyer to spend his hard-earned money on something.

Rebuttal 3:
This one is the simplest proposition to shoot down. Obviously the problem is not hiring the right marketing people! Part of being a good marketer is the ability to get into people’s minds and hearts. Regardless of whether the marketing consultant is a user of the product or service they are promoting, the value of a marketing consultant is to be able to see challenges from the customer perspective and bring new solutions to the problem. If Apple asked their customers to design an MP3 player and a new phone they may have ended up with better products rather than the revolutions that were the iPod and iPhone. Great marketers have been able to give something of value to customers that customers didn’t even know they wanted.

The author then proposes solutions that every marketing consultant would certainly agree with as they have always been the backbone of successful marketing such as building passionate communities or tribes around your brand, targeting customer influencers, looking after VIP’s and assisting them to become advocates.

Marketing is evolving!
In conclusion, let’s put things in perspective – Marketing is not dead or dying, it like most other professions has some problems in the board room, but at least we don’t have a problem of image in the bedroom, as marketing is still seen as a sexy profession, albeit probably for all the wrong reasons.

Judging Australian law firm marketing – Guilty on all counts!

First of all, we should acknowledge that marketing in general, and branding in particular, for any professional service organisation has its own unique challenges. The offering is intangible, so you can’t pick it up and compare it feature for feature with a competing offering. The service also relies on humans to deliver it each and every time; it is subject to a lot more variability in quality than a physical product. This means that the quality of a service offering is based mainly on perceptions and external artifacts such as expensive offices, tailored suits and a difficult to complete degrees. The business is also based heavily on personal relationships and the collective intellectual property/knowledge base that a firm can build.

“…branding, a word misunderstood and misused more than any other in business”

Acknowledging these challenges, however, does not change the fact that the major role of branding is still fundamentally about articulating a clear point of difference, one that is valuable to a clearly defined audience. Now let’s examine branding, a word misunderstood and misused more than any other in business.  The goal of branding is to become the name people think of immediately when they want what you sell. The purpose of a Brand is to differentiate between products and services and meet aspirational needs as well functional requirements. Brands are the source of a promise to the consumer.

Exhibit A.

The following is a quote from the 2nd of March 2007 Australian Financial Review article, titled “Skills before Thrills” and worse still made by a principal of a marketing firm that conducted research into the marketing of law firms in Australia:

“Over the last 5 years law firms invested significantly into building their brand….While buyers of legal services are more aware of the number of firms they can choose from, they don’t know what these firms stand for, what differentiates them.”

Do we need to shout it out loud? – BRANDING IS DIFFERENTIATION! Maybe the author shouldn’t have skipped Lecture 2, Marketing 101!!! Maybe what they meant to say was that these firms ‘misdirected a lot of their marketing investment’ or ‘have spent a lot of money making prospects aware of their brands’ which is not the same as ‘building their brand’, in fact in fairness, the author alludes to this by calling it “empty awareness”. Building a brand means that your prospects know the difference between you and your competitor so well that they can clearly articulate it!

Why is it not surprising that the so called ‘branding efforts’ by the aforementioned law firms yielded poor results? Could it be that the advertising agencies and marketing consultants involved also missed a few lectures in Marketing 101? Or is it that they do not have the professional fortitude to stand up to their clients and insist that all drab, boring, chest beating ‘corporate speak’ communication must go?

It seems that Australian commercial law firms have either confused branding with visual image which is only a very small sub-set of the branding discipline (but hell who can blame them, marketing fraternity from practitioners to journalists don’t seem to understand the difference!)  or they are collectively too conservative (scared) to really take a stand that makes them different and superior.

 Exhibit B.

An article from Lawyers’ Weekly May 2008 cites a number of “re-branding case studies”, one of which is:

“We were keen to come up with an understanding a meaning of the brand that related to everyone. It really came down to two things that were really important to the firm. One was the quality of the work that we do and the second was how we do that work and how we relate to the people we’re doing that work with,” he said. “So for us [the issues were] excellence in terms quality of work we’re doing and building real rapport with our clients, with each other, and with other professionals involved with our work.” Blake Dawson worked on the project with brand consultants, Principals, for the best part of 18 months and it was officially unveiled on November 5 year. The effort paid off, and the re-branding was recognized as one of top five of the year in the 2008 ReBrand 100 Winning Brands awards.”

Is this another case of “Emperor’s New Clothes”? We tried to find evidence of the 2 key messages – quality of work and rapport with clients – that supposedly make Blake Dawson unique, communicated on the company website but with no success. Furthermore, the firm’s Positioning Statement “Would you like to grow a little faster?” unfortunately in no way reflects these 2 key messages. But at least the firm has a Positioning Statement and maybe this will focus the efforts of the company to deliver on their promise and assist clients in growing their bottom line. Additionally, Blake Dawson – www.blakedawson.com is one of the few firms to have at least tried to establish some kind of differentiation by incorporating cartoons in the firm’s marketing communications; however this great idea seems not to have been given enough oxygen. There are only 2 pages of the company’s website graced with this simple, humanizing and differentiating concept – unfortunately allowing a great opportunity go untapped.

The trouble is, all the big commercial law firms seem to be working from the same play book and to have taken the road more traveled – and have ended up being both boring and unfocused in their message.

Little wonder market research suggests that clients don’t know what differentiates one firm from another. Now, at the risk of offending people who know how to sue us for defamation… go to the web sites of the major players and look for a clear positioning statement, or anything that is “benefit focused.” If a first year copywriting cadet from AdSchool submitted any of these web sites for an assignment, they would fail because its “all about me” copy doesn’t give any clear differentiation from the competition.

What’s more, they generally try to be all things to all people. They all say, in effect, “we have a bunch of smart people and lots of offices and know the law and care about excellence…” yawn. 

Why do Law Firms have a serious misunderstanding of what branding is and how to do it well?

A joke or reality?

A young lawyer, starting up his private practice, was very anxious to impress potential clients. When he saw the first visitor to his office come through the door, he immediately picked up his phone and spoke into it,” I’m sorry, but my caseload is so tremendous that I’m not going to be able to look into your problem for at least a month. I’ll have to get back to you then.” He then turned to the man who had just walked in, and said, “Now, what can I do for you?” “Nothing,” replied the man. “I’m here to hook up your phone.”

Q: What’s wrong with Lawyer jokes?

A: Lawyers don’t think they’re funny, and nobody else thinks they’re jokes.

At the risk of pissing off the very people who can test our Professional Indemnity insurance cover limits, we decided to examine the web sites of the top Australian law firms as well as look at their public relations communication in the business press. What became blatantly obvious was that there is a serious misunderstanding of what branding is and how to do it well, especially amongst the Tier 1 law firms.

Perception is Reality! And the reality is that:

The following quote is from Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon’s incredibly passionate speech to Australian Women Lawyers’ Conference – 29th September 2006, titled – The People Vs Lawyers: The Case For An Ethical (and Influential) Profession. Ms. Roxon was an industrial lawyer and senior associate with the law firm Maurice Blackburn and a judge’s associate to High Court. She is now Australia’s Attorney-General

“…public do not have a warm and loving feeling about lawyers. To say, in political spin, you have a “PR issue” is an understatement. So who are the non-lawyers or the good lawyers these days? Reflecting back through the centuries, lawyers seem to have always been disliked – for their fees, their ability to argue their client’s case (and therefore be seen to believe in nothing) and their skill in employing technicalities to wriggle around truth or responsibility. On the other hand, if ever in trouble, everyone wants one in their corner.”

If you take a look at the web sites of the “leading” commercial law firms in Australia, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Law Institute had issued “good website guidelines” and all the major firms followed along like lemmings.

In terms of their branding – that is a defined point of difference – it is almost impossible to tell what benefits one firm offers over another.

All firms have lots of smart people, do some pro-bono work and have won awards. But what makes you tick? Who are you? How can you help me sue someone’s pants off or protect myself from same? Why would I use you instead of the other 8 glass-tower, high priced legal eagle guns for hire in town?  At least when watching Boston Legal, one knew that Crane Pool & Schmidt represent only the most weird and wonderful.

Interestingly, the personal injury “fight for the battler” type firms seem to have a better grasp on their branding (differentiation) and speak to an audience (as opposed to an enterprise) than the “corporate” firms do. Almost without exception, the commercial firms have dull messages that are all about them, and provide no compelling reason why a client should choose them over their competitors.

How do you differentiate your product or service when there is little or no difference?