Saturday, September 26, 2009

Judging the brand – large and small

What makes a brand better? And what are the criteria we use to judge a brand's level of greatness? What makes it interesting and larger than life?

Does it need to be national, used around the world or consumed by millions? Does it have to be a household name? It is imperative that its name be part of culture or play a part in the social consciousness? Is it crucial that the marketing budget be huge?

Not really. Many great brands meet none of these points and many would prefer to keep it that way. So often folks talk about the big brands. The exciting initiatives developed, produced and sold on a national level to everyone. We'd agree, there are some big brands on the market doing some amazing things. But there are also tons of small to medium-sized companies putting together some great stuff too, right? And the point here is that we can learn from all of them – large and small.

Brands that resonate with consumers in a ways that are real. Brands whose very essences are continuing to connect with individuals on a daily basis. These are the brands that are establishing the Authentic Dialogue (see our post on 7/27/09). In each case, the brand is bigger than its name. More meaningful than its mark. Measured by more than just its shelf space. Bigger than just its ad budget. A product or service that has become meaningful in people's lives.

And it isn't necessarily some formulaic equation that results in the ultimate product or service with a cool name. It isn't always about the results from a pricey research study. No, in fact, in many cases it is more about a brand's purpose in the marketplace and perhaps in society. These are the ones to pay attention to – and some of the most interesting to follow. Brands that know their raison d'etre.

There a few brands that seem to know why they are here. Those responsible have a good idea about why this brand exists. Why it matters. Why you should care. It does not mean all things to all people. It is not trying to please everyone. Those involved are trying to be true to the brand (whether we are talking about owners, brand managers, marketing directors, assistants or warehouse folk). You can feel the passion they have when they talk about these products or services. They are speaking in a unified manner. Because these are brands that are the true reflections of a company's core values. These are the small and the large. The local, national and international.

Here are some brands that we admire in this respect.
  • Green Living, right here in Dallas, Texas, has known what it has stood for for years. The folks here at this local eco-shop were very green before green became mainstream. "Earth friendly goods for the home" sums it up quite nicely.
  • Tom's Shoes sells shoes and takes care of the less fortunate. They have a "One for One" policy. So with every pair of TOMS shoes you purchase, the company will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.
  • Crooked Tree Coffee House sells a great cup o' joe, supports the city's artists and gives entrepreneurs an affordable alternative to office space. Oh, and on top of that they sell well-intentioned brands that help feed to the hungry and do right by fair trade and the environment.
  • Method, is not only a brand that is "against dirty", but one whose core values tie to leaving things better than they found them. Yes, the design is amazing. Yes, this brand has become "big time." But in all of their communication (whether in packaging, on the web or wherever) this brand doesn't stray from a sincere reflection of its core values.
  • Rogue Ales has a brand purpose that is much deeper than just an extremely tasty brew (and they are damn tasty). As the folks at Rogue say, they are "a small revolution." Check them out, they are definitely true to their movement.
The above may or may not have made your list. And there are so many more to discuss. So many interesting brand stories. So, we want you to contribute to this discussion. Thoughts?

Monday, August 31, 2009

A prime opportunity – marketing in a tough economy

Stop – and think about everyone else in your category. Are they playing it safe? Have they dialed back their marketing communications efforts completely? Have they stopped softening the beaches for their salespeople?

In other words, are they giving YOU a huge opportunity, wrapped up all nice and pretty, with a bow? Why yes, yes they are.

So you've identified this opportunity. And this, in combination with the cautiously optimistic idea that the economy is crawling back (evvvvvvverrrrrr so slowly) means that NOW is not the time to chicken out. NOW is not the time to dial it all back. NOW is not the time to resist the opportunity for greatness.

NOW is the time to push it a bit more than your competition. NOW is the time to get creative. NOW is the time to get the word out.

One of the biggest mistakes brands make is to be cautious-to-a-fault during tough economic periods. So they disappear from the public discourse, from the playing field, from the marketplace. They lose ground. They wither away only to have to mount a resurgence in brand equity later (unfortunately, this happens all too often). And hitting the restart button is expensive in branding. We all know that.

Instead, maintain your presence in the marketplace even during tough times. NOW is the time to demonstrate that your brand is healthy, a player and part of the dialogue. You brand diagnosis, following a pretty brutal recession, will be all the better for it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Slight Turn (or Wings Flapping on a Fruit Fly)

Ok. So something feels a bit different. More folks seem to be a tad optimistic. You hear on the streets a buzz (oh, it's not much more than the flapping of a fruit fly's wings...but it's there). New business appointments are starting to pick up. Some clients are increasing their spending. And some clients' clients are increasing their spending. Folks are collaborating and innovating. Things may be looking up a bit.

As one of the leading indicators in the inevitable economic roller coaster, the marketing communications firm has an obligation. An obligation to help, not hinder, as we experience this slight turn in the right direction. Words of encouragement? Yes. Our clients need to hear those. But to be blindly optimistic or to stoke the coals of false hope? Well, come on, that's just downright counterproductive.

Now, more than ever, we owe it to our customers to be transparent. And to take measured steps based on the economic environment in which we now all play. With the understanding that many companies have been through the ringer (a ringer that includes the worst economic downfall since the Great Depression), we will come forth with thoughtful, necessary, effective and appropriate programs. Does that mean that these programs should not and cannot be aggressive? No, absolutely not. In fact, appropriate may very well mean aggressive. Aggressive enough to beat the competition to the punch perhaps? Maybe aggressive enough to allow for a faster category recovery. Or aggressive enough to provide a head-start. But knee-jerk? No, we will not go there. At this turning point, we will skip any temptation for the short term gain. The bigger picture AND the longer term demand this.

I'll end with one related thought – let's keep this little fruit fly buzz going. In fact, let's enhance that buzz. Remember what Mom used to say about the contagious nature of a good attitude. Well, it is so true. We all have a stake in this, the American economy. We, at Pilot Light, as communications experts, will use our gifts to get the good word out. What can it hurt? Hmm...just saying that felt good.

Yes indeed, something it starting to feel a bit different.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pilot Light World Wide Headquarters

The move has been made. Pilot Light has its new digs.

Great location. Great view. Inspirational surroundings. I mean heck, Ed has palm trees just out his window (and if you've seen Ed's island shirt collection, you know how much he appreciates the palm tree). On top of that, the friendly McKinney Street Trolley even slowly rumbles past our window throughout the day. This is a pretty cool little place.

We think that all of this matters because as an agency, we will be able to collaborate, strategize and create in a space that was destined for big ideas. It means we now have an ideal environment to meet with our clients (over a cold adult beverage, if they prefer).

The space reflects our culture and our brand. It isn't particularly flashy, but it has character and an atmosphere conducive to hard work.
As we look out our windows at Ed's new found palm trees and the downtown Dallas skyline, we can't help but think, this agency is steppin' it up.

So please, come visit. The location is 2531 B McKinney Street in Uptown...Dallas, Texas...75201.

"World Wide Headquarters"? Well maybe not. But my friends, Pilot Light has its new digs.

P.S.: A sincere thanks to Group Bolton for allowing us to share their space for the past 2 years.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Authentic Dialogue

It's tough. Being a marketer and coming across as real to the customer. It is tougher yet, to have a real conversation with a customer. They, more than likely, think that you have an ulterior motive in mind. They think, and rightfully so, that you want their money. But, you, as a marketer, can be better than that. You can do better than that. You can carry on the Authentic Dialogue. It is difficult and takes time to cultivate the kind of relationship that results in a chat, a debate, or even a civilized argument.

But give it time. Show the true desire to understand, to listen, to want to know...that which is buried in the psyche of your customer. They are after all human beings. Let's start with that. Your product or service can serve a role in their lives. But that really can and must be secondary to a long term relationship. Dare we say friendship? Probably not. But relationship, we can all shoot for that. Because that is, ultimately, where the lasting conversation materializes. That is where the Authentic Dialogue resides.

So how to get there, how to get there? Listen don't force. Talk, don't push. Relate don't brag. Try to understand where they are coming from...where they want to go. Then offer some advice to help get them there. Maybe your product goes along for the ride. Maybe not (or maybe not on this trip). But you have established something special. A real moment in time with your potential customer. Do they trust you yet? Not the point. Do they need something from you or will they buy something from you? Who cares at this juncture. If you have truly done something to become part of their universe (even in a very limited way), you have made great strides.

Let's talk specifics. Try giving something away. Advice or expertise – that nudge that makes them that much better at something they love to do. A connection. A forum to gripe. A free pass. A chance to try your product and to give back an honest opinion. Or something completely unrelated to your product. Something that makes them laugh. Something that they will pass on to their friends. Something that is a conversation starter. Become part of their universe. Do not interrupt it – but rather enhance it. Offer your product later. If it doesn't fit in their life right now, maybe it is something they'd recommend to their network (never underestimate the power of a network).

Show them that you are there for them...then back away. You'll be surprised.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thanks for checking this out.

Hey there,

Just wanted to say 'thanks' for checking out The Blue Fire Notebook.

This spot gives us, as agency guys (Ed, Alan and Dayton), the chance to vent when we are grumpy and to share when we feel there is something worth talking about.

So, there is no real format here. Just a blank sheet to write on, wad up and throw or fold up and let fly (if you are into paper planes).

By the way, Pilot Light is a Dallas ad agency. You can check out our work at

We appreciate your time.


The Authentic Dialogue

The Authentic Dialogue
Striking up a real conversation with your customer can be tough.