Most believe B2B branding is unique; we believe that’s BS

Christian Markow and Barry Saunders have spent decades thinking about brand strategy and customer experience while working on top-notch brands, such as GE, Chick-fil-A and Target. They also lead Joe Smith, Padilla’s brand consultancy. I sat down with Christian and Barry a few weeks ago to discuss how B2B companies should approach branding.

Christian Markow

Christian Markow

Barry Saunders

Barry Saunders

Q: How is digital disruption affecting B2B branding?

B2B customers have been influenced by extreme improvements in customer experience and design on the consumer side. Everything we deal with in our daily lives – from the way we pay bills, buy stock and order sandwiches – influences how we think about our business relationships. So we have wonderful, dynamic, interesting and joyful experiences that are equally influenced by both digital and human interaction on the consumer side, but then our B2B interactions are total “BS.” They’re laden by horrible procurement processes, impossible invoicing and a customer experience with sales people who just spit stuff at us. Or we end up in the silo the salesperson represents when we need…


The Winners & Losers of Ad Bowl LI

A big thank you to my co-author, PadillaCRT Chief Creative Officer Heath Rudduck (@HeathRudduck)!


20141118_PadillaCRT_Richmond_Parrotte_0010Nikki: Each year, we marketers anxiously await the Ad Bowl (and the chance to write about it: 2016, 2015). It’s an invaluable opportunity to callously throw around judgment be entertained and educated. The ads that score excite and inspire us, while the ads that flop… well, same. And these days there’s so much more to witness than the good, bad and ugly commercials on TV thanks to brands’ bold adoption of the second screen. Like the good marketer I am, I was extending my ad-viewing experience not on my smartphone, but my laptop, frantically taking notes with one hand, clasping a glass of wine in the other. My colleague Heath was tuning in, too:

20141112_PadillaCRT_MNPLS_Rudduck_0040Heath: What a game. Despite the fact I was hoping for a different result, I couldn’t in any way discount the incredible effort a comeback of that magnitude took. What a brilliant game. Strangely enough, the advertising left me feeling a little the same way. I had high hopes for the showing of some brands. Was I going to be entertained or enticed? Who will grab my


Why Strong Brands Will Win the Wine Game

image: shutterstock

Millennials are changing the face of the wine world. And they’re doing a pretty kick-ass job of it.

Propelled by a thirst for authenticity and discovery, this new generation of drinkers is embracing both old-world traditions and experimental styles. They’re not just drinking more, they’re drinking better.

Producers around the world are eagerly trying to engage this lucrative yet elusive market. And overall, they are not doing such a kick-ass job.

With a mass of curious new-comers on their doorstep, most of those trying to sell to them are doing so in the cryptic lingo of the wine aficionado—with promises of “bramble berries,” “old saddle leather” and “forest floor” as an attempt to start the conversation. While others, fueled by trends reports and superficial demographic data, are pursuing an opposite yet equally flawed strategy, of bending over backwards to show their audience how well their wine will fit into a mundane, millennial existence. (“You can pair it with pizza! You can take selfies with it!”)

“This wine pairs perfectly with my ADD, you guys.”

Neither strategy is…


New Year Prediction: Brands with Conviction Will Thrive

As we approach the new year and a new president, the country remains divided, the future most uncertain and for many, the threat to American democracy unthinkable.

As the public or shall we say consumers, become increasingly incited by the social environment, brands will be forced to take a stand. Those that toe the line of neutrality may end up vulnerable for remaining agnostic in relation to civil rights.

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far.

BuzzFeed terminated a $1.3 million dollar ad deal from the Republican National Committee over Donald Trump.

Tecate, a Mexican beer company, mocked Trump’s proposed border wall with a Tecate beer wall in the spirit of bringing people together.tecate

When Donald Trump Jr. compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles,” Wrigley brilliantly responded with the following statement: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”skittlesAmazon released an important ad featuring the friendship between a priest and an imam to promote Amazon Prime, but


Brands, politics and painful presidential elections


Guys, the end is near.

No, not the apocalypse (though it feels like it at times). The 2016 Presidential Election is next week, offering us sweet, sweet relief from the chaos of these campaigns. We as consumers have been feeling the effects of this tumultuous election cycle for what seems like forever.

Alongside us, brands have been feeling those effects as well. Here’s a few ways how:

1) They spend a ton.

Given the exponential increase in political advertisements over the past decade, commercial advertising was bound to be impacted. One way is “political crowd-out” – competition for airtime is fierce, causing brands to purchase spots months earlier than usual. Brands that were looking to run advertisements during the Olympics or promote summer-themed products (such as sunscreen) likely went through a different ad purchasing process than in most years.

Additionally, brands fear a “spillover” effect – a negative political advertisement’s tone can be pervasive and a significant percentage of consumers are likely to change the channel, meaning they fail to absorb the message of the brand’s advertisement that immediately follows. And, if they do keep the channel on, a recent study from JWT showed that brand advertising that airs right


What’s in a Name? Everything.

Want to know the top-secret recipe to create a name for a new brand? Great. Here it is: Grab a few creative folks, lock them in a quiet room and toss in a case of beer before you lock the door. Give them a couple hours. Presto, new name!

Easy. That is, if you only want a name. If you want a GREAT name—one that is memorable, meaningful and steeped in your business; one that can spark and sustain an emotional bond with your target audience—well, then there’s a little more to it.


Great names don’t inspire standing ovations, but sneakily take up residence in our brains, influencing how we think, speak and behave. It’s hard to imagine a time when people used cotton swabs, adhesive strips and facial tissues instead of Q-Tips, Band-Aids and Kleenex; a time before anyone Googled, Swiffered, FedExed or Venmoed.

The hidden power of a good name helped transform these brands from a product to a staple in our lives; filling everyday activities like cleaning our ears or looking up directions with a little extra magic and meaning. But creating a name with that kind of power


Little Brown Lies: Craft Whiskey’s Dirty Little Secret

Distiller Dave Cuttino leaned back in his stool and pushed a short pour of bourbon in my direction. Yet, the way his words punctured my perception of reality, he could have been Morpheus, extending a handful of red pills.


Dave Cuttino of Reservoir. Basking in artisanal opulence.

Cuttino and his partner Jay Carpenter are the owners, distillers, managers, and pretty much the everything else-ers behind Reservoir distillery in Richmond, Virginia. A tiny operation that has found big success by defying a dirty little secret at work throughout much of the whiskey world.

The craft whiskey renaissance that we appear to be living through, is in many ways one big hand-crafted lie. Or at least, an act of artful artisanal misdirection.

Most of the whiskey brands on the market today don’t actually distill their own stuff. Odds are your favorite “small batch” whiskey actually originates from a company like MPG in Indiana, where oceans of bourbon, rye, vodka and gin, are distilled for dozens, if not hundreds of brands. If that doesn’t take the wind out of your flannel, know that, at the same location, they’re producing “food grade industrial…


Brand Takes a Stand: Ben & Jerry’s on Black Lives Matter

While most companies aim to remain apolitical, Ben & Jerry’s throws neutrality to the wind, brazenly using their brand platform as a soapbox for social and environmental justice for more than 20 years. Last Thursday, Ben & Jerry’s released a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, garnering widespread traditional and social media attention.

Is taking a political stance such as this befitting of the Ben & Jerry’s brand? Absolutely.


The brand mission scoop
Back in April, I had the pleasure of hearing Ben & Jerry’s Grand Poobah of PR (yep, his actual title) Sean Greenwood speak about mission and social entrepreneurship. Greenwood explained that the company had an established mission from the get-go. The first 10 years of business focused on the product, but these days, the folks at B&J consider themselves a social justice company that happens to sell ice cream. “We ruffle feathers,” said Greenwood. “We support same sex marriage, climate change, democracy. We’re going to lose some and we’re OK with that.”

Ben & Jerry’s three-part mission

  • Product mission: to make fantastic ice cream – for its own sake.
  • Economic mission: to manage our company for
  • Branding

    Defenders of the healthcare brand


    How healthcare communication professionals can drive the top line while protecting the bottom line.

    For healthcare PR and marketing professionals, intentional communications has never been more important to the brand. Unprecedented consolidation in the industry continues as providers shift their business models from being rooted in volume to driving value. What’s more, technology has changed the way consumers, patients and even employees communicate, seek information and define “the news.”

    For healthcare communicators, these changes will fundamentally impact the way people perceive and experience your brand. Not to mention creating new risks to manage. The way you communicate can make or break your brand. In fact, according to a report published by Harvard Business Review, based on a global survey of nearly 600 executives across health and other industries, effective communications was identified as one of the top three factors most likely to bring success. And it’s worth noting that it ranked second only to delivering a high level of customer service.

    The good news is that most healthcare providers already are focusing on delivering a higher level of service, primarily through patient experience initiatives. The bad news is that most are not investing in enhancing communications. So while healthcare communicators have traditionally been thought of as promoters of the top line, today’s healthcare market requires them to be equally adept at protecting the bottom line.

    Building reputation through change
    If there’s


    People are the New Media


    Afdhel Aziz, Director of Absolut Labs, said, “Any marketer who wants to succeed in the future needs to think in these terms: people are the new media.”

    Gone are the days when big brands could develop a catchy jingle and it’d echo in consumers’ minds on repeat. Today, consumers are inundated with sales pitches and marketing ploys alike. They’ve developed a heightened awareness, borderline paranoia, of what is genuine vs. what is paid for. With geo-targeting tracking not only your purchases but every move your mouse makes online, consumers are demanding transparency and authenticity from brands.

    One way brands are building trust and staying relevant is by working with influencers. From cooking to fitness, dads to moms, health to technology, there is an influencer out there who has a network of trusted peers looking to them for advice, inspiration and/or guidance. To peers, they are not seen as spokespeople of a brand, but rather real, authentic people who believe in a brand.

    CEO of Intuit, Scott Cook, said it best, A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is–it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

    Here are…