The simple truth about Google’s home page

What makes Google’s home page a lesson for businesses everywhere? Probably a lot of things, but I’m focusing on three because keeping it simple is the point.

Pac-Man Google doodle

But first, how many of you played the mini Pac-Man game Google converted their logo to Friday and Saturday? I did on both days. And I left smiling. (See where I’m going with this yet?)

How many times do you walk away from an interaction with a company or website smiling?

How many times do your customers walk away from your company or your website smiling?

For Google, this type of positive experience stems from their  “Ten Things” philosophy. But before you start thinking of 10 things your company should be doing, let’s just start with the 3 lessons you can learn from Google’s home page. (#1 comes directly from Google’s own list.)

1. Focus on the user (customer) and all else will follow.

On their website, Google says, “We’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible.” Even better, they add that they “take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.”  (Ah, refreshing!)

So many companies serve their own profit first and put their customers further down on the list. But if you’re not serving your customers, they will go away—and so will your profit.

Is your number one priority your customers? Don’t just say it is, because if it’s not, they will know—and they will go.

2. Keep it simple.

How can you focus on your customers? Make it easy for customers to find or get what they need.

Google has the cleanest home page around. What are you there to do? Search. Google doesn’t get in your way.

Think about your own website or your store. How easy is it for customers to find what they need?

How do you speak to your customers? Do you tell them they can leverage the bandwidth of your expertise to maximize their optimum experience? Or do you tell them they can use what you know to their advantage?

Simplicity sells. Ask Nike. (Or, better yet, read Jack Trout’s The Power of Simplicity.)

3. Remember the fun.

Be creative! No matter what industry you’re in (well, almost), fun can boost your brand. Why is Google better than any other search engine? There are a lot of reasons, but one is that they make it so that people look forward to going to their site.

Google doodles (their word for their different logo designs) have always been a hit. I know I look forward to seeing what they will think of next. Google doodles celebrate all sorts of occasions in countries worldwide.

Cookie monster Google doodle

Simple fun, like this, makes people smile, and incorporating fun into your business can:

  • Make you more memorable
  • Put customers at ease
  • Promote a positive experience

Isn’t that what you want?

Remember this: The atmosphere you promote internally in your company, leaks out and infects your customers. Laughter and fun are just as contagious as misery and negativity. Which are your customers walking away with?

Ask Zappos how much positivity and creativity pay off. Why are they known for excellent customer service? Because they make it a priority and they treat their employees well. In fact, their philosophy, like Google’s, is based on 10 things too.

Oh yeah, both of these companies make billions—but if you want to argue and go a different way, be my guest. I mean, who wants a billion dollars, right?

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Speaking of Zappos, don’t forget, I will be posting a review of CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, June 7th. I was sent two advance copies, so I will be giving away one to a lucky reader. Stay tuned!

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Marketing with one hand tied behind your back

Whether you work for a large corporate marketing department, run a small business or work for a city that depends on tourism dollars, you often have to work with some challenge that makes you feel like you have one hand tied behind your back.

Marketing challenges

Corporate budget cuts—In a recession, marketing departments are often hit first and hit hard. Both layoffs and shrinking budgets can stress already overstressed workers. How do you continue to market well to bring in more business?

Small business vulnerabilities—Simple road construction can put a small business out of business. Closing a bridge or closing a road for 3 weeks, 3 months or more can have a devastating impact. How do you convince customers to make the extra effort to get to you?

City disasters—Nashville, Tennessee is a recent example of how quickly a city can be at risk. Nashville depends on tourism dollars. Opryland Hotel alone brings in 25 % of the city’s convention business and 20% of its hotel tax revenue, and it will be closed for 4 to 5 months. How do you keep business travelers and tourists coming?

What’s the solution?

AT&T tells you to “Rethink.” KFC wants you to “Unthink.” I’m telling you to think –think ahead.

Really, bad economic turns, construction detours and natural disasters shouldn’t be a surprise to any organization. Stuff happens, right? It’s our job to be prepared.

Make these actions regular practice and you’ll be ready for (almost) anything.

1. Nurture creativity.

  • Encourage your creative professionals to present ideas that don’t always match your preferred style.
  • Be willing to take creative risks. Go with some of those ideas that are out of your comfort zone.
  • Give all of your employees a channel to contribute their own ideas to make your company better (like Dell’s EmployeeStorm).

Creative employees can solve almost any problem, with or without a budget. Encourage participation and collaboration so employees feel like they can be important parts of a solution when a problem arises.

2. Build relationships.

When people love you they want to help when you’re in trouble. But you can’t start building all your relationships when you get in trouble.

This is particularly important for small businesses. If you give great service and build a loyal customer base, you will have half the battle won if a crisis hits.

Knowing your customers is key. If a bridge near the main access route to your store or restaurant is out, you will have loyal customers still willing to come in. It’s up to you to make it easy for them and reward them for their effort. If you don’t know your customers, how will you do this?

3. Do your homework.

  • Stay on top of (or ahead of) marketing trends.
  • Know what the best way is to reach your customers.
  • Understand different types of marketing and how to use them.
  • Test, test, test. Find out what doesn’t work and then focus your energy on what does.
  • Tap experts to learn what you don’t know how to do.

Obviously, You can’t do only these three things to solve all your sales and marketing problems. But, you do need to do these three things to have your best chance at success.

If you start taking these steps when you are already in crisis, not only will you have a much tougher time, but you may not make it through.

So, what are you waiting for? If you don’t prepare and think ahead, you might as well tie your own hand behind your back.

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Speaking of Nashville, if you’d like to help, go to Nashvillest and scroll down to the fantastic list of the many ways you can help. Thank you.

Marketing vs. Branding: One muddy mess

The strangest thing is happening on LinkedIn. And it all started with one question:

What's the difference between marketing & branding?

As of May 10, there were 61 replies and very little agreement about the answer.

That, to me, suggests a problem. No wonder so many companies have trouble marketing and branding successfully.

Wouldn’t we all be better at marketing and branding if we could agree on what marketing and branding actually mean?

My answer, I thought, was a simple response to a simple question:

Marketing is more about the product, how you position it and promote it. Brand is more about tone and values and the voice you use to convey concepts to the crowd. Brand is the consistent umbrella under which your products and promotion live.

I’d say that brand is even more than that. It’s how you run your company. It’s how your treat your customers. Marketing is just one component of your brand.

Then, a bunch of other answers poured in. Some said marketing was a subset of branding, and some said branding was a subset of marketing. (Really, is anyone else seeing the problem here?)

Maybe the dictionary definitions will help:

mar·ket·ing

  • the act of buying or selling in a market
  • all business activity involved in the moving of goods from the producer to the consumer, including selling, advertising, packaging, etc.

brand·ing

  • the practice of marketing products by associating them with a widely accepted brand name so as to distinguish them from other similar products that are sold

Hmph. I don’t think that clarifies the issue either. Branding is about more than just a brand name. It includes:

  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • Customer service
  • Company policies (internal and external)
  • Correspondence
  • Conduct of executives

Everything a company does helps determine its brand.

If branding were a subset of marketing, as some people suggest, then a company’s brand would only be about marketing. (That would be wrong, right?)

These comments sum up the difference nicely:

Defining the brand helps define who your customers are and what it is you want to say to them. Marketing is then the process by which you do that. (Jonathan Staines)

Branding is the management of a promise to ensure it remains relevant, competitive and authentic… Marketing is focused on communication of the promise in a way that influences the target’s choice. (Ed Burghard)

Brand is your identity. Marketing is telling the story about your identity. (John Meyer)

And Andrew Shea makes a great point:

I am disappointed that so many of us consider marketing to be all about communication and promotion. Let’s not confuse marketing communications with marketing…

That’s a very important point. As someone who works in marketing communications, I sometimes need to be reminded of that.

But here, I think the above comments, including my own, say more. We talk about communicating in some way, but we’re not talking only about communications.

For example, when John says “Marketing is telling the story about your identity,” he’s not just talking about marketing communications. The decisions a company makes about the 4 Ps of marketing—product, price, place and promotion—all come together to tell your story.

You use product, price, place and promotion to entice your customer too. As Rob Linden says so simply (in what might be my favorite answer):

Branding is what you stand for. Marketing is how you entice consumers to purchase.

So, what do you think? Do you agree, or is the difference between marketing and branding still as clear as mud?

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Check out all the comments in the LinkedIn discussion (you need to be registered to LinkedIn to see it). For other opinions, go to BrandConsultantAsia blog, Buzzworthy Branding, JustBrand.Me, and for a cool visual representation see TNW Shareables.

AT&T: Rethinking their brand

The smartest thing AT&T has done lately is rethink their brand and advertising strategy. Yes, I know I’ve talked about them before, but these changes warrant a revisit.

“Rethink Possible” is more than a new tagline—it’s a new strategy. But is it the right strategy?

According to AT&T, “Rethink Possible is a promise to our customers about what they can expect from us and what we can achieve together.”

I’m sure iPhone users would like AT&T to rethink whether it’s possible to keep a call from dropping without customers having to pay extra for a MicroCell power boost.

Another statement on their website says, “Our brand promise is Rethink Possible. But it’s more than a slogan—it’s the expression of what we stand for. It’s what we strive to do every day so you can stay connected to the people and things that matter to you most.”

So here’s my question: Should a brand be something you strive for? Or should it be something you already do and do well?

AT&T’s Esther Lee (Senior Vice President of Brand, Marketing and Advertising) said, “There’s so much innovation happening at the company that I think people don’t know.”

That sounds like a problem to me. If AT&T truly is innovative, why wouldn’t we already know?  (And why wouldn’t the intro on their website be better?)

Let’s compare them to two companies with similar taglines.

Apple: Think Different

Apple claims to be innovative (or revolutionary) and consumers agree because Apple regularly introduces new products that change the way we think and act. “Think Different” works because consumers know Apple thinks different and acts different than most other companies.

Is AT&T trying to pretend they’re Apple? Worse, are they trying to take on Apple?

I hope not in both cases. But it does look like AT&T is hoping for the same type of turnaround Apple got from Think Different.

Adidas: Impossible is Nothing

This tagline works because it expresses an attitude athletes and other people who buy Adidas products already have or want to have.

It expresses an attitude their consumers strive for compared to AT&T expressing something both they and their consumers strive for. Hmm, am I being unfair by saying AT&T is not ready for this tagline yet?

AT&T: Rethink Possible

Rethink Possible to me, for AT&T, sounds a little cart before the horse and chicken before the egg. Rethink Possible is also what you want your employees to do, especially in a company that seems to be stuck in a rut.

In fact, I think it makes a terrific internal slogan that would motivate their employees to come up with new and better ways to serve their customers. I just don’t think they have proven enough yet to have that as their brand.

I do applaud AT&T for finally focusing on the customer instead of the competition. As Ms. Lee said, it’s time to “get past the competitive conversation and talk about what’s in it for the consumers.”

Agreed. The Verizon battle was killing them. It was time for them to rethink their brand, rethink their advertising, and rethink their future. I don’t think they were ready to claim Rethink Possible as their new brand.

And until I actually see innovation from AT&T and witness that customer focus, I’m not yet convinced. Are you?

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Interested in other blogs on marketing and innovation? Check out FutureLab.

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