Opinion | St. Louis needs to build a new brand. Here’s what it should say.

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Opinion | St. Louis needs to build a new brand. Here’s what it should say.

This article is featured in the current issue of the St. Louis Business Journal printed on April 1st, 2022.

I recently received an email from the St. Louis Business Journal inviting me to fill out a survey regarding how St. Louis is perceived in the business community, the challenges of the region, and possible solutions for addressing those challenges.

 As I was filling out the survey, It got me thinking about one solution that is near and dear to me and my profession. And that is how do we consistently and effectively brand our city going forward? When you think of St. Louis, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Some will say the Gateway Arch, others will say the River City or Budweiser beer. Some, especially those who don’t live in our region, might say crime. 

Our brand as a city is all over the map.

Outsiders like travel writers and historians still refer to us as the Gateway to the West. We, too, continue to use that moniker, which refers to the era 175 years ago when steamboats chugged westward up the Missouri River delivering people and supplies to support our nation’s westward expansion. Some argue that Kansas City was the true Gateway to the West, as it was the last civilized stop-off before pioneers ventured west. I’ll leave that argument to historians.

But I think we can agree that “Gateway to the West” is NOT a key message for how we wish to be known today. In an economy in which global trade and next-day delivery have blurred the lines of geography and bring the world to us at the click of a mouse or tap on a smart phone, this slogan doesn’t resonate any longer. Our “brand” as a city could use a refresh. I think it’s fair to say that today we are building toward being the Gateway to the World.

The formation of Greater St. Louis Inc., over a year ago provides a platform to bring forth a unified economic development effort to attract business. In their own words they state: “Greater St. Louis Inc. brings together business and civic leaders to create jobs, expand inclusive economic growth and improve St. Louis’ global competitiveness.”  Hard to disagree with that statement and we see a global theme being echoed with another organization: St. Louis Regional Freightway. Front and center on their website is the line: “The St. Louis Region — One Location. Global Access.” This translates to the fact that St. Louis is highly accessible to all world markets from the middle of the United States. That’s a pretty good place to be!

In addition to attracting business, we need to retain our highly talented workforce and future workforce. Consider what’s happening in the St. Louis region: for a number of reasons, we continue to lose millennial and Gen Z talent to similar-sized Midwest markets like Nashville, Indianapolis and Kansas City.

If St. Louis was a corporation losing customers, a university losing students, or a non-profit losing donors, management would search out the reasons for the losses and address them. They would then work hard to communicate improvements to their stakeholders in order to win them back.

Our city is no different. We have our challenges and we’re working to address them. We also have so many important assets we can showcase: We’re at the confluence of two rivers used for recreation and shipping. We’re a major hub for transportation, tech, defense, agriculture, plant science, medical research, and startups. We have the National Geospatial Agency, NorthSide Regeneration, Cortex, the Federal Reserve, numerous corporate headquarters and heck, even a strong micro-brewery scene. We’re building protected bike paths, renovating beautiful historic buildings, and juxtaposing new contemporary designs between those buildings, all of which urban planners say are highly desirable features.

If we want to attract businesses and talent to St. Louis and retain the younger generation in our region, we need to communicate what we’re doing and why we’re relevant. And we need to do it consistently over every platform and every economic development and tourism entity. Universities, corporations, retailers and nonprofits can help support this branding by including it as part of their marketing presence.

A brand refresh is in order, one that proclaims who we are – with boldness and self-confidence. One that reflects why St. Louis is a great place to live and work. And for those new to St. Louis, let’s blur the lines of city and county to deliver a unified message. We seem to believe St. Louis city and county are different as they operate under separate governmental authority. To the outside world, we are viewed as St. Louis. Period. I know this is a conversation for another day, but we have one brand: St. Louis.  Let’s proclaim our pride in who we are and what we offer the world. Let’s not stay stuck in the past. Let’s live in the here and now and brand St. Louis as the forward-thinking city that we are today.

Brands making an emotional connection are more important than ever

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Brands making an emotional connection are more important than ever

As we enter into 2022, brands continue riding the pandemic rollercoaster. Continued surges and the omicron variant cause more turbulence than we anticipated.  Booster vaccinations , increased hospitalization rates, and worker shortages continue to be part of the national conversation.  And that has marketers searching for stability in a sea of uncertainty.

That stability comes in the form of empathy.  Marketers continue to be challenged with finding the right brand messaging as consumers become more and more stressed while also dealing with both the impact of and fatigue from the pandemic, with sentiments seemingly shifting even from week to week.

According to Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends Report, “empathy is the future of experience.  Consumer empathy will be used as a differentiator with brands demonstrating knowledge of their customers and the unique way they can serve them.”

As brand marketers, we must be hypersensitive to consumes’ emotional states. It’s essential to understand both their needs and the root causes of the emotions that they are experiencing. At G/L, we have been talking about empathy marketing for the past 24 months. At this point, empathy has become imperative if a brand wishes to hold onto market share and brand loyalty.

It’s fair to say that empathy engenders customer loyalty. Brands that demonstrate, day in and day out, that they “get you” will inevitably come out on top. And with the rise of immersive digital experiences and vast opportunities for discussion on social media, brands that can deliver a consistent, pleasurable online experience that connects emotionally will stand out.

How can you integrate empathy into your marketing? It begins with consistently analyzing consumer insights to determine trends and gain insights into consumer behavior. How do you translate those insights into actionable marketing and communications? We advise you to begin with simply using your listening skills and be human as you create and strategize campaigns for your brands.

If you would like to discover how to empathy marketing improve both your brand and the people in the markets you serve, get in touch. We are truly passionate about adding a big dose of humanity to your brand.

Brands need to take a stand…at least that’s what consumers are saying

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Brands need to take a stand…at least that’s what consumers are saying

As our agency has been blogging and posting about for the last 18 months, brands are being asked to take a stand on social, cultural and societal issues that face our world. Studies have shown that brand loyalty can be positively impacted by brands that take a stand on issues. And consumers want these brands not just to take a stand, but also to take action.

It’s a risky thing but this is a growing phenomenon in the changing behaviors of consumers toward brands. A recent study by SproutSocial of 1500 U.S. consumers reported that 70% of respondents believe it’s important for brands to take a public stand on social and political issues. Roughly half the respondents indicated that they would prefer that brands take their stand on social media.

Here’s the real rub. If a brand takes a stand on social/cultural issues, it needs to align with the brand’s values and mission of the organization. More than half of respondents (53%) believe brands only take a stand for public relations and marketing purposes. As we said above, taking a stand can be risky business for a brand. The study reported that 34% of consumers will decrease spending with a brand whose stances they disagree with. Conversely, 36% say they will purchase more of a product if a brand takes a stance they agree with.

If you go back to Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, the author states that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  So, the mission and purpose of your brand is something that needs to be clearly articulated. If the causes/stances a brand supports aligns with the “why,” I think your message and actions will ring true. Whether a customer supports the same issues as a brand or not, they won’t be able to say that the brand’s stance doesn’t align with the values the brand stands for.

Helping brands find what to stand for and how to get the message out to their target audiences is something G/L does very well. Reach out to Tim Leon at [email protected] if you have any questions.

What is employer branding and why you should care

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

What is employer branding and why you should care

We’ve seen a lot of definitions of employer branding, and many of them can be really convoluted. However, we believe at it’s core, it’s not that complicated. Simply put, employer branding is the way in which an organization portrays its reputation as an employer and the value proposition it offers both team members and prospective employees.

When implementing an employer branding strategy, the communication efforts center around the company’s mission, culture, values and brand personality. There are tons of articles and research out there pointing to the fact that it’s a contributing factor to employee retention and recruitment efforts. One recent article from Career Plug discovered that more than half of job seekers abandon their pursuit of a company after reading negative reviews, and 24% of prospective job candidates left a negative review online after having a negative experience in the hiring process.

And there’s plenty of evidence that this topic is on top marketers’ minds across the country. A recent survey of 300 communications professionals considered employee communications to be of top importance in 2021.

Employer Branding for Recruitment Campaigns

As a marketer, you must influence how your brand is being represented in recruiting efforts. After all, you have a brand positioning and value proposition developed for your target audiences (at least you should!), so it is important to implement your brand messaging in any communications to employees and prospective employees.

And while employee recruitment efforts may be driven by human resources, marketers should be included in the marketing and communications. The messaging, graphics, and tone should be on the brand. While most of the job seekers might take help from experts (such as Career Climb), as an employer, you have the opportunity to educate, inform and motivate these prospective new employees. In addition, you need to provide them insight on what your brand stands for, what makes the brand compelling, and their role as ambassadors of the brand’s value proposition.

Employer Branding for Your Workforce

In terms of employee retention, employees are critical to building a strong brand. They are on the front line of delivering the brand experience and fulfilling the brand promise both for customers and prospective employees. It’s imperative to train and motivate employees to embrace and live the brand values, not to mention finding prospective employees whose values reflect those of your brand. Many brands also tend to use job management software australia or elsewhere to guide the employees and to help in increasing their overall efficiency. In our brand development work for clients, we always stress the importance of communicating to employees about the role they play in the brand experience.

How to Implement Employer Branding

For Your Employees:

  • Provide ongoing training for employees on all aspects of your brand
  • Clearly define each employee’s role in delivering your brand promise
  • Develop an ongoing employee communications plan, including newsletters, social media posts, events, internal PR, etc.

For Your Employee Recruitment:

  • Develop an ongoing series of employee testimonials to use in print, digital, website, etc.
  • Roll out a recruitment campaign theme that is in alignment with the current brand positioning, brand graphic standard and messaging. This is accomplished by marketing and HR working together!
  • Create brand messaging that internal HR can use when doing introductory meeting with candidates

Check out Employer Branding in Action

We recently developed a recruitment campaign for our client, Harris Products Group, built around look that is consistent with the customer-facing branding creative while using the theme, “We Make the World Run Better.” Creative included brochures, images to be used within job postings on LinkedIn, recruitment booth signage for job fairs/tradeshows and a corporate overview video to introduce new employees to Harris Products Group.

Of course, each brand is unique, requiring its own unique solutions. That’s where we come in. We have over three decades of branding and marketing communications experience, so we are well suited to creating an employer branding plan and executing it. Get in touch to see how we can ensure that brand consistency and brand experience are woven into your employer branding efforts.

The Addition of 300 words to Dictionary.com

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

The Addition of 300 words to Dictionary.com

A recent article from Dictionary.com raised a lot of discussion within our agency about the new words that have been added to Dictionary.com in 2021. Granted, 2020 brought challenges on all fronts and also created a myriad of words as a result of Covid, social struggles, racial injustice, and the ever-changing technology space. Our group had mixed feelings on whether some of these words should really be added to the dictionary or instead should be considered trendy slang words that will be out of fashion by next year.

While I can’t think of a better word to sum up 2020 than “sh*tshow,” I don’t think that term belongs in the dictionary. Call me old-fashioned, but that feels like slang, plain and simple. Also, we are welcoming the new pronoun, “Y’all.” Really? Do people really need a substitute for “you all”?

Other words that have been added feel much more substantial and necessary, such as “ghost kitchen” and “side hustle.” They describe concepts that didn’t previously exist but will most likely have some longevity in our lexicon.

As a marketer, here’s what I do know. It was brilliant for Dictionary.com to publish this article.  It truly brings relevance to their product…and just as importantly, great publicity! They know how to market, and I especially liked the line, “A changing world means a changing language, and a changing language means a changing dictionary.” It’s like the dictionary can release a sequel every year! Happy viewing!

What next? Let your customers and employees know your plans moving forward.

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

What next? Let your customers and employees know your plans moving forward.

As organizations are navigating how to operate in this new environment, it’s critical to let their internal and external audiences know what to expect. In these uncertain times, employees and customers want to know there is a plan in place to deal with unexpected business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Geile/Leon Marketing Communications is helping clients address these challenges. Questions and issues our clients are dealing with include:

Employees

• What happens if a co-worker tests positive to Covid-19?  

• What is the company doing to keep us safe? This is especially important for organizations deemed “essential,” where employees are continuing to come to work.

• How will the company be communicating with me and how often will they be providing me updates?

• What will change while working from home? What solutions will be implemented? Will you be using Skype or Teams to communicate? Read More about making this change here.

Customers

• Will your company’s supply chain be interrupted, and will I still be able to get product?

• Does your company have contingency plans in place to remain operating through this crisis?

• Are you changing hours of operation, ordering procedures, etc. over the next few weeks?

These are just a few of the communication challenges our clients have experienced. Being out front and more proactive in your communications is important, as well as delivering clear and concise messaging. G/L can help you determine a strategy and appropriate communications channels for your audiences, taking into consideration media relations, video, email communications, town hall meeting, video-conferencing, etc.

As we see crisis communications ramping up for our clients, we at G/L are ramping up our service offering to meet their needs. We are partnering with our former client, Tom Lange, who brings a wealth of crisis communications experience from his previous positions as Head of Communications for Union Pacific Railroad (a Fortune 150 company) and as Director-Public Affairs and Communications for Smurfit-Stone (formerly a Fortune 500 packaging company headquartered in St. Louis).  

We are thrilled to have Tom consulting with our PR team and helping us bring proven crisis communications strategy, messaging and plans for clients that will move their businesses forward in the challenging weeks ahead. Just email me at [email protected], and we can set up a phone call or video conference to discuss your communication challenges.

The New Normal: Empathy

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

The New Normal: Empathy

Let’s get this out of the way: this is a blog concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. But I’m hoping it provides marketers a simple solution to how to address your marketing and messaging for the next few months. It may not be a cure-all, but there is a way to move forward – a way to adapt your marketing to the new normal and connecting your brand to customers in a way like never before.

It boils down to one word: empathy. 

Now is the time for brands to be empathetic to their stakeholders, their prospects, their long-time customers and their employees. I believe brands can get out in front with a marketing strategy that is right for the times. What do I mean?  Here’s a couple of great examples.

A local magazine Time Out New York is transitioning to Time In New York as their name temporarily to address New Yorkers who are not out on the town, but are hunkering down and staying indoors. Time Out New York’s website is currently emphasizing stories such as “The best takeout and delivery restaurants in New York” and “The 40 best movies on Netflix right now,” as well as “The latest canceled events and closures over coronavirus in NYC.

On an international level, Guinness sent its loyal fans a special St. Patrick’s Day message in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a powerful video and my favorite line was “Let’s not forget that on St. Patrick’s Day, we are all Irish…. But every day, we are all human.” The message being that we have a responsibility to be there for each other during these times. And while this new video was being unveiled, an announcement confirmed that Guinness made a major charitable donation to the on-going efforts to tack coronavirus in the U.S.

So, empathy always wins and we find the best way to express it in our brands by listening to our customers…not just in times of crisis but every day. There’s no great compliment when someone says about a brand, “They really get me.”

So, for the next few weeks, I would ask that you consider a new marketing metric…ROE. Return on Empathy. The brands that will stand out over the next few months with be those brands than can connect with the needs of their customers. And that empathy will result in maintaining/growing market share, increasing customer loyalty, generating high employee satisfaction, and much more. The brands that can lift their customers and their employees up during this pandemic will be remembered for a long, long, time. As the Guinness video so aptly stated, “When we lift a pint of Guinness, let’s remember to lift each other up.” 

Now is the time for brands to rise to the challenge and truly deliver on the ROE. Being an empathetic brand will help you win the hearts and minds of your employees, customers, and the world. And those brands that empathize and show it won’t be forgotten. At G/L, we can help you find the best way to generate ROE for your brand. We’ve done it for many brands and would be happy to share our insights.

Is Ad Tech Overrated?

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Is Ad Tech Overrated?

It seems like every day there’s a new marketing technology that is the new biggest and best thing. And some really are great. At the same time, we marketers are overloaded with new technologies hyped as a “must-have” if we want to survive in the industry. In fact, ChiefMarTec.com added more than 200 new solutions to their list in 2020.

The result? A recent survey found that 18% of respondents said their biggest challenge was simply trying to figure out all of these “must-have” technologies.

It should be no surprise that, according to Marketing Charts, 68% of marketers and brand professionals expect to increase the number of marketing technology providers their brand uses this year. Unsurprisingly, many marketing professionals found quite a few of these technologies riding the wave of ad tech to be wholly overrated.

The article is spot on in identifying that the biggest challenges that these marketing are becoming more and more technology-oriented. However, the biggest problem may just be the skill gaps in their marketing teams. As technology develops so rapidly, that has led to a high demand for those who can skillfully utilize and integrate ad tech. That’s led CMOs to cite data and analytics as not only one of the most needed skill sets, but also one of the most difficult to find.

But let’s look at the big picture. Yes, we should be making full use of the technology available to marketers. Not everything can be solved through technology, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for finding these solutions. No matter what, finding effective solutions for marketing challenges requires tried-and-true thinking, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills…from humans.

The bottom line is that marketing technology can be amazing. It helps us make decisions and understand data. However, there’s only so much that it can do. If you believe that it’s the end-all, be-all to solving your marketing challenges, then prepare to be disappointed.

That’s what we’re here for. Get in touch and we will find the right solutions and the right technology for your unique marketing challenges.

Ryan Reynolds and Aviation Gin Strike Again

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Ryan Reynolds and Aviation Gin Strike Again

Ryan Reynolds just can’t stay out of our trend discussions.

Leave it to the actor-turned-ad-mogul to find a clever and timely way to create an online video for his Aviation Gin brand. Online video that truly taps into the zeitgeist can provide a lesson on what online video and content marketing should be. 

Since 2020 is a leap year, that means those who have a February 29 birthday are celebrating their true birthday for the first time in four years. And so Arlene Manko, who is 84 years old as far as Uncle Sam is concerned, is technically only celebrating her 21st

Enter Aviation Gin: 

This Aviation video follows in the footsteps of their Peloton parody and their cross-promotion-within-a-cross-promotion video with Deadpool and Samsung. In it, the 84-year-old Arlene has her first “legal” drink, an Aviation Gin and tonic. It’s a great example of putting the viewer first and finding a natural opportunity to tie in the brand. 

Many content marketers struggle to find that fine line between entertainment and branding. It’s a tough one to walk. If that struggle sounds a little bit too familiar to you, then get in touch and let’s talk about content marketing opportunities of your brand. 

Is Email Marketing Effective? Depends on Where You Work.

The Blog

Tim Leon
President/Brand Strategist

Is Email Marketing Effective? Depends on Where You Work.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way. Email is important to digital marketing. Really important. There, we’ve said it. But recent benchmark statistics from Campaign Monitor reveal some really interesting trends

These 2019 statistics show that, in terms of open rates, the public sector is head and shoulders above private sector companies. That means that categories like government, non-profits, education and others are really outpacing private sector companies like those in retail. 

So why is that? 

I’m thinking that is because consumers are simply more likely to open emails that aren’t trying to sell them consumer goods. Think about all the emails you get from all the brands you’ve purchased goods from in the past. That doesn’t even mean that you’re not receptive! But there are only so many times I can buy a new truck. Sorry, Chevy, those sales look good but I’m set for a while. I’ll check out your deals in a few years. 

But the good news is that open rates aren’t really the important statistic here. Opening an email is nice, but taking action is what really benefits brands. That’s why clickthrough rates are what really matters to me, and I’m sure many other marketers, as well. 

The average clickthrough rates across ALL industries is 2.4%. And the industries that beat that average? They include media, entertainment and publishing companies, with Thursday being the best day for clickthroughs. Maybe that’s because consumers are planning their weekend and lining up their entertainment activities for the weekend. I know I’m getting my Neftlix queue primed for the weekend. 

All in all, the rumors of email’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase our neighbor up north in Hannibal, Mark Twain. It just depends on what industry you’re in. But the one thing that holds true for any industry is that compelling content, placed where and when is best suited for the target audience, is always a successful strategy. Get in touch and we’ll find a digital strategy that is perfectly tailored to your industry and your customers. 

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