Brand For One, Brands For All: A Manifesto

Perhaps the most powerful tool that any B2C company can have to drive sustainable growth for their business is a strong brand.  Rooted in consumer insights, brand strategy, and compelling creative, a brand is a vehicle that both disseminates critical product and retail information, but also packages it all in an emotional/aspirational frame that, if done well, inspires greater consumption and loyalty.  A strong brand, by definition, moves product.  Just ask Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc.


Unfortunately brand-building, which was already a complicated and difficult process to start with, in recent years has become insanely complex.  This is particularly so for small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs)  that typically don’t have the luxury of a fully staffed in-house marketing department.  The onslaught of new online, mobile, and social interaction/advertising on top of the more traditional ad tools, has brought about a veritable explosion of commercial messages that saturates consumers.  To cut through the clutter, marketing messages have to be extraordinarily focused - deeply grounded in brand strategy - to touch on the precise functional and emotional chords to move consumers to act.  If not, there’s a much higher chance that the work will just blend into the background of marketing mediocrity.  Companies may brilliantly execute the fundamentals of their core business, but if they don’t have staff who’ve been trained in brand management at classical consumer packaged goods companies like Coca-Cola, P&G, and Kraft - then chances are high that they are not going to be best equipped to create and manage a brand today.   

Compounding this is the reality that most smaller companies can only afford comparably sized advertising and creative agencies.  Unfortunately, many of those firms don’t offer the blend of both creative and strategic capabilities required to do consistently great work.  They may be extremely creative; able to write very innovative copy and produce brilliant visuals - but if the work does not have sound consumer insights and brand strategy at its foundation, then it’s a ‘crap shoot’ if it will actually ‘move the needle’.  This is particularly the case at the less than overwhelming media weights that most smaller companies can afford.  So, if the creative partner can’t get the appropriate strategic direction from the client, they are left to, essentially, guess about some of the critical strategic drivers that are so important to their clients’ brand.

Thus, something of a conundrum exists for smaller companies where despite the fact that a strong brand is the single greatest tool they can use to grow their business, far too few have the capability to create and manage one.  

Some early research of marketing managers that we’ve done puts some teeth into this problem.   While only directional at this point, the research is nevertheless illuminating:

  • Only 11.1% of those surveyed are confident that the work that their marketing partners do for them is actually driving sales
  • Only 12.5% are satisfied with the way advertising agencies work - the business model, their fees, the results they get, etc.


So, while most understand the impact that a strong brand could have on their business, there seems to be considerable dissatisfaction with the over-all process of trying to create one.  

If you think about it, the fact that it's so difficult for companies to build strong brands may be one of the greatest single problems facing business today.  For example, if only one in three small businesses could hire just one additional person, unemployment would be eradicated in the United States.  If small and mid-sized businesses could more effectively build strong brands, think of the impact not just in growing individual businesses everywhere, but in creating wealth, stimulating employment, and reviving economies.  Even for Fortune 500 brands, think of how more effective their marketing could be if they had turn-key access - not just to the creative talents of their particular agency - with whom they might be generally quite pleased, but to the entire universe of creative talent with which to source innovation and ideation.

This is where I’d like to try to make a difference in the next stage of my career.  I’ve had the benefit of seeing branding and advertising from all angles; from large Fortune 500 companies, from start-ups, and everywhere in between.  I see the obstacles and the opportunities inherent in the current way of doing business - how both companies and creative resources could benefit from something or someone that could bring them together - and smooth out the historic “speed bumps” that retard their collaborative effectiveness.  

People have been talking for awhile about the “death of advertising”.  While I think the over-all notion is nonsense, I do think that there are a couple of things happening that are creating something of an inflection point in the industry.  First, there has been a growing discomfort - on the client side - with the current way of doing things.  Clients frequently feel disappointed in the quality of the work they get and seem to be rather universally irritated by the terms that agencies bind them with.  They’re not sure that their precious investment in branding delivers the ROI that it should.  Moreover, things like retainers, mark-ups, and the over-all creative process - to them - can seem more about the agency’s best interests than theirs.

Second, and compounding the above, is that there is so much change in the ways that companies are marketing to consumers these days.  The advent of the social and mobile phenomena, in profound ways, is adding some important new chapters - if not rewriting - many of the traditional rules in brand building.  Despite almost universal haziness about these issues, companies are forced to reevaluate their marketing plans and media allocations to include these new and powerful ways to connect with consumers.

The convergence of these factors, for many, just throws the whole exercise of branding into an anxious blur.    Many think of marketing as a mystery to begin with.  They feel overwhelmed by the new technology and mediums, they feel financial pressure to maximize the ROI on marketing investment in these uncertain times, and the variability of agency work - plus their fees, retainers and contracts etc. - put a decidedly bitter taste in many companies’ mouths about it all.   I can speak from personal experience about this.  A few years ago, as a new CEO of a small CPG company, I had to make the difficult decision to not rehire our advertising agency at the time because there seemed a disconnect between our priorities and capabilities and theirs.

From this spark, enter a new idea, a new way of solving the branding problem in the form of B2C Grid - a platform that intelligently connects companies and creatives to build stronger brands and to sell more stuff!

What if there was a trusted resource that was dedicated to connecting companies and creative resources (anyone developing marketing and advertising - agencies, design & ad shops, and freelancers) in a way that got the companies the strong strategic branding  that they need and the creatives a healthy flow of new business?

 

What if no longer was a company bound by the creative capabilities of one agency or freelancer, but had a turn-key way of accessing a global pool of creative resources to get the best person or team to work on each specific project (advertising, web, social etc.) that they may have?

 

What if there was a free resource that helped those working with and on brands to gain critical strategic brand insights; a source sharing information that typically is available only to those in Fortune 500 companies?   


B2C Grid delivers on these points in a clean, efficient way.  I’m terribly excited about the possibilities to positively touch companies, as well as the compounding impact that stimulating growth will have.

This opportunity is hitting me at precisely the perfect moment.  A bit earlier and I was deep in the middle of a meaty professional challenge.  A bit ahead, and I’d probably be enmeshed in someone else’s company doing something else.  The time is right to try to make this happen.  Now.  With four youngsters, the mouths to feed will - before too long - evolve into mega college tuition payments to make as well!  Equally as important, a “startup” is a rather big thing to get off my bucket list!

On an even more personal note, over the course of my career,  I have struggled with how best to do well, and do good.  I come from a long line of family who have made meaningful contributions to this country.  They have dedicated themselves to helping others; I have lamented that rising through the business ranks, the opportunities to also make similar kinds of contributions have not been as plentiful.  Tackling this challenge is a way to share my business experience and vision to help companies and creatives - and perhaps even infuse a bit of innovation to an industry that needs it.  

So, the onus is on B2C Grid to create a high-performing platform.  To attract phenomenally talented creative people.  To support them in a way that helps them do their best work, both with us - and outside of their relationship with us.  And then feed them a steady and healthy stream of new business!  

As well, it is our job to establish a strong community of client companies.  To support them with information and tools to make the job of managing their brand  far more transparent and intuitive.  And then , of course with our service, to help them by delivering consistently effective advertising - and in so doing, transform their brand and therefore their business - perhaps even their careers and lives.

So, I launch B2C Grid.  Like any new endeavor, it is in its infancy.  It will, no doubt, grow and mature like any business, although - to be sure -  I have heady aspirations for its future.  Our plans include cutting-edge technology that both automates much of the strategic function involved in the marketing mix as well as permits the business to scale smoothly.  It includes attracting and nurturing among the very best creative talent in the world.  It includes connecting with our clients not just around providing them with compelling advertising and marketing, but also in adding value to them via conferences & seminars, various contributions to industry thought leadership via white papers, blogging, and even an upcoming eBook that I’m putting the finishing touches on.  

B2C Grid is about meaningfully democratizing the brand.  It is about putting a strong brand within comfortable reach of any company or organization - no matter the size or resources.   It contemplates our having an impact on businesses everywhere - and therefore positively impacting employment, putting food on families’ tables globally, etc.

I’ll keep you in the loop on our progress.  In fact, if you have anything to do with a brand, you can be sure I’ll need to talk to you about what we do.  I hope you’ll take my call and respond to my email.  (Please don’t make me go take another j.o.b.)  Either way, I promise to make you proud!

I invite you to peruse our new site and let me know what you think. There's a video on the front page that explains the company and its approach a bit more.  www.b2cgrid.com

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Tags: advertising, b2cgrid, innovation, marketing

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