Tag : hypocrite

69: Retail vs. Wholesale Branding

Shoppign CartsFor Christmas gifts last year, I bought my grandparents gift certificates to Aldi. They love that place—and will sell you on why you should, too. If you’ve never heard of the German-based super market chain, they have a strong American presence. In order to use a shopping cart, you have to insert a quarter into the cart return. You push that cart through warehouse-style aisles of vendor-placed boxes and cases. Some of the canned goods might be missing labels; a good number of items sit on the floor. Stores open at 9:00 A.M. or later and close at 8:00 P.M. or earlier. And they sell stuff cheap enough for my grandparents to forego their local Walmart Super Center and bring their shiny quarter.

My cousin, on the other hand, has been a chef at Wegmans, a very different grocery store—a place so premium it makes Whole Foods insecure. It’s like Disney World for the hungry: multiple specialty cafes, cooking classes, recipe subscription services, gourmet take-home meals, roofs over their parking lot cart returns, online shopping (sortable even by special diet restrictions), downloadable store maps, video tutorials, a food blog, and a magazine. Foodies, yuppies, and French expatriates can walk amidst gastrointestinal delights from 6:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.

I’ve shopped at both and can see how the two extremes have each garnered a dedicated following. Both constituencies know what to expect in terms of cost and shopping experience.

You’ve probably seen auctioneers brand themselves at each end of that continuum, too. Both extremities offer profitable business models and market segments.

We all recognize budget brands with an almost-wholesale/closeout feel. They have cheap, crowded newspaper ads and photocopied posters or brochures. Their liquidations and consignment sales advertise with phrases like “Something for Everyone!” and “Too Many Miscellaneous Items to List!” You’ll see lots of star bursts, thick fonts, and bright colors in their marketing pieces. Their pictures regularly show time stamps and/or harsh flashes from point-and-shoot cameras.

Then there’s the retail auctioneers, who hire professional photographers to capture their items and ad agencies to design their media. They use ballrooms and wedding-style tents, suit-wearing bid assistants and sophisticated multimedia systems. Some even have live music, catering services, drive-through event centers, and/or on-site financing representatives. In their advertising, they implement headlines that describe amenities and features of the auction item(s) and let pictures sell the sizzle. They have uncluttered Web sites, custom auction signs, and advertising-wrapped company vehicles.

The mushy part of the deal, though, is that most small businesses are somewhere in the middle. Wherever a brand is on the spectrum—between generic and niche, budget line or premium exclusivity, family operation and corporate feel—it’s important to know and then guide public perception objectively. If your market is not on the easy-to-segment ends of the scale, you need to determine if you need to move toward one—and, if not, how you are going to differentiate your firm from the rest of the large median? I recommend creating a chart that answers the questions like:

  • What are the common denominators amidst our sellers? Our buyers?
  • What non-auction brands have similar customer bases?
  • How do they market themselves and their products or services?
  • How are we different from other auction firms? From non-auction companies that sell similar assets?
  • How do our differences benefit our sellers and/or buyers?
  • How do we leverage our uniqueness? And how do we then market it?

Another place auctioneers must be careful and self aware is in recognizing when an auction won’t fit within their brands. In my young career, I’ve had multiple occasions when I’ve bit off more than I could chew or chewed something that later soured in my mouth. Shooting for financial security, brand extension, or an interesting challenge, I’ve taken projects that weren’t in my wheel house. It causes brand dissonance in my customers; it has sometimes resulted in less-than-best solutions for their needs; it regularly kills my efficiency and profitability. With enough of these lessons and now referrals under my belt, it’s slowly getting easier to chase the work that best fits biplane‘s core competencies and refer the rest to someone else.

In addition, be careful in presentations and proposals not to promise Wegmans-type results to a client, when you know you’ll be using Aldi-style marketing—or worse yet, giving buyers the impression that they’ll get a steal of a deal while forecasting market-beating results to sellers. Auctions often surprise even the experienced professional, but don’t set yourself up for discontented buyers and/or sellers.

If you want premium retail results from your services, implement premium retail tactics. If you want to develop a low-margin, high-volume work flow, give buyers and sellers premonition of such proficiency. And if you’re somewhere in the ambiguous middle, never grocery shop hungry—especially at Wegmans.

In the final book of the Bible, Jesus communicates that he desires Christians to be hot (close to him) or cold (far from him), because lukewarm makes him vomit. It makes sense. Both religious and secular observers have certain brand associations for the holy and the hedonistic. And they have a big problem with the gray area in the middle, especially when it looks hypocritical.

Hopefully, nobody reading this is wanted for axe murders. I doubt any of us are up for conferred sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI. Are we then all hypocrites? Are we all useless, stomach irritants to our Creator?

There is no sweeping blanket answer to that. It’s tempting to judge our respective relationships with God by exterior criteria like what we wear to church or the streak of stars on our Sunday school attendance chart, the amount our tax return shows we gave to charity or the stenographer pads of all the notes we transcribed from the pews. Often, our default temperature reading protocol compares ourselves to someone else (other than Jesus) on the continuum until we find someone who makes us feel warmer about ourselves.

As a pastor’s kid, Bible college grad, and devotional book author, I know how to game the checklists. They leave me hollow. As uncomfortable and convicting as it is to ask, I find myself more challenged and authentic when I consider trajectory and momentum. Am I chasing into the Light, as I see shadows in my own heart? Or am I running from absolute truth and supernatural enigmas to be my own god?

As emotional, short-sited humans, we may fluctuate on the sine wave; but is the baseline ascending or descending? Or as gets regularly asked a lot in my circle of friends, “Where are you with God right now? Where do you sense movement?”

[footer]Stock photo used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.[/footer]

“Just Shrink the Logo to Get Everything to Fit.”

You probably already know that your brand—your company’s public image—is way more than a logo. But you probably didn’t know that your logo can be more than a logo.


A professional logo is a great start. If you don’t have one, get one. Yesterday. But the logo “treatment,” its context in marketing materials, can magnify or diminish your logo’s impact.

Skyline Tent

Take this set of samples from Skyline Tent Company. It wasn’t enough to just put their logo on this postcard, magazine ad, and business card. They carefully placed this logo in identical locations and similar proportions. Their logo’s font is the same font in all of their ad text. The colors change to fit the mood of the pictures, but there’s no mistaking their corporate-looking brand that makes them seem some large franchised brand, even as a local small business.

It’s not enough to slap your logo on a piece. In fact, you can be hurting your public persona by branding inconsistency. (I see a lot of this in the auction industry; and I used to be a regular perpetrator of such malfeasance.)

See, “different” stands in your memory better than consistency. Right now, when you hear “David Letterman,” do you think “comedian” or “affair with staffers”? Now, most golf enthusiasts remember Greg Norman for a couple huge chokes more than his string of success as “The Shark.” For a time, Ford Explorers were more synonymous for “rollovers” than “category-leading sales.”

Using your logo flippantly won’t have such draconian effects, but it will separate you from a Fortune 500 feel. That perception of professionalism could be the deciding factor of who someone calls first about selling their property—you or your competitor.

In your local paper, ALWAYS keep your logo in the same place, the same size. If you can, keep the pictures, headlines, and auction times in the same place. On your brochures, brand the consistency of the layout itself. You might have different templates for your each size brochure or postcard, but they should all look like they go together. Your web site should match your marketing materials. Your fonts should transcend media. You should have on record your company colors in RGB, CMYK, and HTML.

You don’t have to exert OCD tendencies on your advertising. You could just cut your commission to get the work that would otherwise go to your better-branded competition.

As Christ followers, we can have one of two responses to our mistakes. We can hide and hypocrisize—and (try to) deceive ourselves and others. Or we can admit and air our errors, acknowledging to others that we stepped out of the Jesus path.

Even the “man after God’s own heart,” David, couldn’t live a consistent life. Why should we think we can? In our marriage with Jesus, we will have both Caribbean-vacation romance and overtime-at-work distance. The world wants to see authentic response to imperfection more than the opaque coating of rose-colored syrup.

I’m not saying we give up on the idea of consistency, just that we embrace our mistakes as learning experiences for us and others. Jesus’ reputation isn’t fragile; he’s not worried about his name. (A day’s coming when every soul that ever lived will get that right.) Rather than run cover for our bare sins, why don’t we embrace the mercy and grace that others need for their foibles and brokenness?

Marketing Can’t Buy Brand Integrity

PilotYou’ve probably heard the adage, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I guess there’s some wisdom there, but I’ve never adhered to that. My mind multiplies that life approach until I get, Frank Abagnale Jr., the true life behind Catch Me If You Can.

Maybe I’m not a good faker. Maybe I don’t trust my acting skills, but I prefer the less poetic mantra of, “Project it, as you grow it.” The difference rests in more than semantics. Projection expands real elements to a grander vision. Faking covers inadequacies and welcomes falsely-acquired trust. It has its place, I guess, but not in ethical advertising.

Entrepreneurs regularly hire me to produce materials that put their companies in the best light. I’m glad to do that. I like helping Davids compete against Goliaths or even just other Davids. Stock photos and some good copy can go a long way, but they can’t make up for deficiency in the actual products or services rendered.

I can help a client magnify their commitment to professionalism, even on a low budget. I can illustrate a company’s growing and potential capabilities, even with a few pages—or less. I can exemplify a firm’s value, even with a short business history. But I can’t guarantee that their clients get what they’re expecting.

Marketing, at its intrinsic level, is brand building and management. Super advertising proves hollow when not supported by super service. So, the onus for successful marketing lands on both my best efforts and my clients’ execution.

My customers don’t have to be the best in their field, as long as they dominate their niche (no matter how small that niche has to be defined for them to dominate it). They don’t have to have the biggest staff or the highest-grossing sales record. As long as their clients feel well-served, even best-served, we’ve done it. The more of that we’ve strung together, the more indelible that public perception grows. That works both ways; it can kill you, if the shiny brand continually acquires tarnish from substandard devotion to reputation.

So, I tell people that biplane productions is a one-man show in my basement. I don’t hide that I subcontract tasks I can’t do best. And I sell hard the abilities I gratefully own. Perceived inequities between me and my competitors can be my advantage to the right clients. If not, those accounts would only be a strain for me anyway.

So, if you want a glossy brochure that matches your slick new web site or new logo, give me a call. If you want to tout that you lead your market or even your industry, give your prospects proof. A phenomenal reputation can trump fancy advertising. Married to stellar design, though, that brand integrity will stand almost unbeatable.

I know a lot of Christians who think the best way to illustrate God’s work in their lives is to hide their foibles, bury their questions, and sheath their insecurities. This approach, however, shares the same crippling nemesis as communism: sin-bent human nature. Where socialism breeds corruption; plastic Christianity builds toward hypocrisy or sensational failure.

So, why give the secular skeptic ammunition? Why not diffuse their criticism of the infallible with the evidence of our frailty? Why not show them that faith is a journey toward heaven’s perfection, instead of a fault-wiped facade? The longer we fake the holy life, the greater chasm the unbeliever perceives between their life and a Christ-led life—or worse yet, between the religious experience and the abundant relationship Christ offers.

The reality is that Jesus calls, at most, one step away from all of us—whether to the initiation of a personal relationship or to just a deeper enjoyment of the relationship we already have with him. I prefer to project where I want to be, while divulging to any onlookers that my intentions many times outpace my performance. Hopefully, that authenticity will lead to someone wanting what’s real in me.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

13: Got a Milk Mustache?

Super MilkNothing builds brand recognition faster than consistency.

Not even repetition.

If the viewing public doesn’t see the same branding presented the same way, multiple views actually detract from brand establishment and growth. An internal dissonance builds and distracts from your message and image.

Brand management, as it is called, proves more than just using the same logo or having a company color. The design of your advertising should stand as recognizable as your logo.

You know you’ve seen a Milk Marketing Association’s “got milk?” ad, even before you spot the famous logo tag line. While their ads have looked the same for over a decade, they still capture your attention. Same goes for Absolut vodka and Corona, Best Buy and Target, Comcast and Verizon, MasterCard and MINI. All of these ooze creative, memorable images without sacrificing uniformity.

This is the whole reason why franchises can open new stores or restaurants with faster traffic gains than a mom-n-pop opening a new place in a new town. Consistent branding and predictable product create trust as customers order new things or visit new locations. They know what to expect. It goes deeper than marketing, but branding begins that process.

Whether you use a Madison Avenue advertising firm or a local college kid, you can accomplish brand retention by developing a style sheet. Larger auction companies like tranzon and United Country and others have given me style sheets for projects with their affiliates. This includes information such as: official colors [expressed as “PMS numbers”], logo versions and sizes for specific media, font names and usage [terms including “x height,” “kerning,” and “leading”], spacing, line thickness, and other significant—though seemingly small—guidelines.

You don’t have to know what all that means, but you should have it recorded all in one place. This way, no matter who does your design work, you have a consistency safety net. While I recommend using the same vendor as much as possible (whether biplane or not), this can keep internal or vendor transitions from being as noticeable to the public.

Most of all, brand management will help the public absorb and remember your brand quickly—probably faster than your competitor, who thinks their options are pricey agencies or newspaper comp room trainees.

So, let this be our little secret. You can thank me later.

The number one knock on the American Christian and our evangelical churches is hypocrisy. I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment. The longer I’ve lived in the Bible Belt, the more I’ve seen people for whom church is a social engagement or weekly car wash.

The primary way to communicate Christ to culture is through love. Second to that is consistency. Satan knows this. That’s why he works harder on those in the church than those outside of it. He turns holiness into prejudice, passion into faction, failure into duplicity.

Too many believers think they have to impress the secular with goodness or godliness. Pastors can get like this in front of their congregation; laity can get that way in front of their neighbors. Like a Hollywood celebrity, they’re just building the scandal for the next time they trip.

I’ve found that being candid inoculates a lot of that. “Hey, I just messed up. That wasn’t very Christian of me. I’m sorry.” The realness can trump the failure; the honesty can diffuse the impression of hypocrisy. In the end, God can use even our sin to reach people for him.

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