This is exciting.
Click on the Corante logo (above) and start reading. You can check out the contributors’ profiles, select specific blogs/archives, subscribe to their feed…
Putting so much insight in one place is pretty damn cool.
Read Part 1.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
Now there’s a lesson about the nature of DNA that you can apply to the business world.
No, I am not talking about your customers. I am talking about your clients. Your bosses. The executives of the companies you’ll never think to recommend to your family and friends. The people who choose to make the companies they run, average. The people who talk a lot about their businesses being numero uno, but are perfectly satisfied to be somewhere towards the top of the “also-in” crowd.
Put simply, here’s the sad truth: Some people just don’t get it and never will. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, how smart and insightful you are, or how desperately they need your help. You can lead them through the desert for weeks on end and take them straight to the one oasis that will keep them alive, and they’ll still refuse to drink.
Why? Because that’s how they are wired.
It isn’t in their DNA to ever consider the possibility that the way something has always been done might not be the best way to build a better today and an even better tomorrow.
Not everyone has the kind of confidence in themselves to reinvent the way they live, play and work on a regular basis, just because it makes sense to do so.
Not everyone wants to either.
My mother still refuses to learn how to use email.
My mother-in-law refuses to learn how to use a digital camera.
The business-world equivalent is a lot less cute.
Take Seth Godin’s perfectly timed little post about exactly the type of one-sided dialogue I am getting to today:
“The reason we hear about google and apple and jetblue and starbucks all the time is that these are poster children for re-architecting existing business models into something very different. The marketing is not slapped on. Starbucks is not Dunkin Donuts with a clever sign. If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a “senior marketer” and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change.”
When, like me, you are in the business of helping companies become lovebrands, it is always heartbreaking to find yourself on the receiving end of this all-too-common death-rattle mantra:
“We’ve been doing it this way for 50 years, and it’s always worked great. I don’t see us ever changing.”
Um… ever? Really?
Well, obviously, it isn’t working all that well. If it were, you wouldn’t have to spend the equivalent of a third world’s GNP on ill-conceived advertising campaigns every year. You wouldn’t have to throw money at your customers to lure them into buying your products in July and December. You wouldn’t be so concerned about what your competitors are doing that your strategy for the next five years has shifted from leading the market to copying their every move.
Pick up a dictionary. Flip to “D”. Look up “Denial.”
Back to Seth’s little exchange:
The Other Person: “After much thought I want to go after a senior marketingperson. salary plus percentage of increase in biz and new bizdevelopment.”
Seth: “Do you mean a commission based salesperson who pretends to be a marketer? Do you mean a CMO who comes from ESPN or JetBlue? Or do youmean an advertising person?”
The Other Person: “A strict marketer who can take the existing biz, maximize both ends and find new revenue streams.”
Once again: If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a “senior marketer” and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change. (Seth Godin)
You have no idea how many companies fill out purchase orders by hand.
You have no idea how many companies still don’t understand that the internet is their friend.
You have no idea how many companies still view the HR process as little more than “getting asses in seats”.
The saddest thing I heard all year was this paraphrased comment (from both the VP Sales and the CEO of a major international company): “Our company was never an innovator and never will be. None of our products will ever be cool. Our customers don’t care about our products. They just care about being able to buy them and knowing that they’ll work.”
This is from people who – between the two of them – probably had over 60 years of experience at that particular company.
What’s interesting to note is that the company’s immense success in its first twenty-thirty years was solely based on product innovation. Its ideas and proprietary products actually created whole new markets and changed the way an entire industry operates. (For the better, I might add.)
Having spoken to hundreds upon hundreds of their customers (and their competitors’ customers), what we found was that innovation (in product development, packaging, customer service and access to information) was exactly what everyone wanted.
These people’s customers were begging for cool new products. For a website that wouldn’t be a hassle to work with. For better catalogs. For friendlier customer service.
But nobody was listening.
Ironically, the company (in spite of its uninspired management) experienced a burst of innovation this past year which will delay its inevitable demise by a good decade or so.
This isn’t about being stubborn.
This isn’t about egoism.
“This is the way we’ve always done it” really means “what you’re suggesting sounds like extra work, and I really don’t care enough to go there.”
I guess there are two types of people in the world: Those who will spend their entire careers looking for ways to get better at what they do, and… everybody else.
Each group has its own DNA. While the first tends to be driven by passion, excellence, intellectual curiosity, altruism and the pursuit of evermore rewarding challenges, the second is a lot less… well, noteworthy.
What’s interesting is that both groups can look, sound and act exactly the same. This is not about ambition. It isn’t about greed. It isn’t about pride.
It is about motivators.
That DNA thing.
In yesterday’s Part 1, I promised you that I would give you some profiling tips so that next time you find yourself interviewing a potential client (or employer), you’ll know when to cut your losses and try again with a company worthy of your talents. Since this post is already getting long, I’ll put together a list in part 3. For today though, here’s how to identify the folks who will meet with you and talk about “growth” and “market share” and “exposure” but won’t actually follow your recommendations or do what needs to be done to turn their companies into extraordinary organizations:
1) Instinct. If you’re any good at this, you should know within 5-10 minutes of meeting them if they fall into the first category or the second.
2) Ask them what companies or brands they admire the most. (Netflix, Starbucks, Apple, Virgin = Good. Enron, GM, Disney, Burger King = maybe not so good.)
3) Ask them what magazines they love to read. Fast Company, Wired, Id, Dwell = Good. “I just read the Wall Street Journal” = Maybe not so good. (Bonus: “I subscribe to your blog’s RSS” = Very, very good.)
4) Ask them what they think their customers are saying about them now. Good and bad. Then ask them what they would like their customers to say about them a year from now. (If they don’t seem to understand the question… maybe it’s time to cut the meeting short.)
5) Ask them what their best customer service experience was. Movie theater, restaurant, hotel, airline, website, retail store, ad agency, whatever. Ask them what made it so great. Now ask them why they think that other companies they deal with on a daily basis don’t provide the same level of excellence. (If they can articulate even a modicum of passion in their answer, you’re probably okay. If not, well… you get the idea.)
A brand’s DNA isn’t something you’ll find attached to a building or locked away in a password-protected file. It isn’t a mission statement or a secret sauce. It isn’t a logo. It isn’t an ad. It isn’t any single product. A brand’s DNA lives inside the people who are at the core of what makes that brand breathe and grow, from its CEO to its executives to its staffers to its customers. I don’t care how big a company’s name is. I don’t care how cool it was in its heyday. You’re not dealing with ten years ago. You’re dealing with now.
I know it’s tempting to try and help companies that obviously could use your talents, but if the people running them are like the proverbial horse, you’ll just end up beating your head against the wall.
Don’t waste your time. Learn to interview. Learn to profile. Learn to find the strength to say no when you know you should.
Learn to identify companies whose brand DNA, whose true potential isn’t burried under layers of arrogance, bureaucratic nonsense and just plain ineptitude.
I don’t care how talented and skilled you are. You can’t help a company that doesn’t want to change, or whose management will make it impossible for you to effectively do your job.
Give your prospective clients and employers the DNA litmus test. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ve noticed that the term “DNA” is finally starting to turn up in a lot of marketing and branding discussions on some of my favorite blogs. That’s good. That’s very good. We’re making progress. If anything, the semantic shift from the term “brand” to the more contextually appropriate concept of “identity” must have gained enough acceptance to warrant a further shift. We’re finally getting to the core of the subject here.
By now, almost everyone in the marketing world should be helping business folks understand that a) in order for brands to be relevant and effective, they have to be authentic, and b) in order for brands to be authentic, they have to be – at their core- nothing less than the articulation of their companies’ identities.
If not, shame on you. If so, so far, so good.
Following the same logical path a little further, it shouldn’t take anyone long to figure out that a company’s identity doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. A company’s identity has a blueprint. That blueprint is itself formed by a variety of elements – or building blocks. Genes, if you will. Among the most common:
The list goes on.
A company’s DNA is the organization of these elements into the blueprint that will define its identity.
Still with me? Good.
Okay… Here’s where it gets a little tricky: DNA is the foundation. It comes first. It is what defines everything about a company. DNA is not an afterthought.
You don’t ever want to try and reverse-engineer a company’s DNA. Trust me. That’s just not the way to go. But I digress.
Check out this exerpt from one of Spike Jone’s latest entries in the Brains On Fire Blog:
“In phone conversations over the past few days, I have found myself saying (almost yelling) that word of mouth HAS TO BE built into the very DNA of an identity.“
Spike is 100% right: Identity crafting and brand-building find their roots at the very core of an organization’s DNA. For our work to be effective, the most important building block of a client company’s DNA must be this: Its principals have to be completely commited to – and passionate about – their company’s raison d’etre. Their company’s mission. Its purpose.
Put in perspective, it means that they have to be passionate about their customers.
Their core users.
Their true fans.
If they aren’t, if all they want is cool ads, stunning creative and expertly crafted PR, they’re going to spend a lot of money on what will equate to very short-term (call them “one-time”) gains.
Now… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Short-term gains are great. They can be worth billions in sales. They can help a company push back layoffs yet another quarter. There’s something to be said for that.
But stringing together expensive short-term solutions one after the other like a barrel of monkeys isn’t something any company can afford to do indefinitely. Without real substance binding cool ad campaigns and promotions together, (like fantastic customer service, cool products or top-notch quality,) the best anyone can hope for is just to keep pushing back the inevitable: Sooner or later, you just run out of monkeys.
There’s a better way. A more cost-effective way. One that builds the foundations for stronger, better, WOM-worthy companies. One that focuses on turning their customers into fans. One that focuses on making these customers come back again and again without having to lure them with lame gimmicks and profit-cutting promotions. One that is more about building relationships than it is about buying the next big superbowl ad.
(More on that in a couple of days.)
In the context of this particular discussion, it begins with people at the core of these companies deciding to take something that’s already pretty good and – with your expert help – turning it into something extraordinary.
You want to find out what’s so special about these companies? It isn’t their advertising. It isn’t their logos. (Okay, yeah, maybe a little… but those are just extensions of their core identities.) Everything that makes these companies extraordinary (and unique) is burned into their DNA: You can start with their obsessive dedication to excellence. Their passion for research and innovation. The importance they place on not ever disapointing their true fans.
(DNA also forms the building blocks of that thing we sometimes like to call company culture.)
But back to the point: DNA isn’t something you can easily change. As I’ve said before, it isn’t an afterthought.
A company’s DNA is in a very real sense its soul. Some are open to change. Most aren’t.
If you’re a consultant, a marketing firm (or an identity company) and your professional mission is to help companies craft strong, unique identities, you have to learn, early on, to weed out the posers and focus on the companies whose principals truly have in their own DNA the drive, insight and passion that their companies will draw upon to become great.
Ultimately, that – above all else – will be the secret ingredient to your success… and theirs.
(Wasting your time on corporate bureaucrats who don’t get it is… well… a waste of your invaluable time.)
Sorry, but you can’t save them all from themselves.
Truth is, if you’re lucky (and really, really good) you’ll only save a few dozen in your lifetime.
The thing about a company’s DNA is that not all companies have “change”, “curiosity” or “innovation” in their bag of building blocks. You have to accept that. (All it takes is new blood in the skipper’s chair, sure, but even that isn’t a guarantee. Not by a longshot. And who wants to wait around for that anyway?)
My advice: Seek out kindred spirits. They’re rare, but they’re pretty-much everywhere. When you find some, get to know them. I mean really know them. Hang out with them. Let them introduce you to their friends, their colleagues, their business partners. Let them guide you to your next client. (Word-of-mouth, remember?) That’s where you have to start. They’ll enrich your lives, grow your business, and help you spread the good word, one little fire at a time. That’s how the revolution begins.
Remember: It starts with people and ideas. Why look anywhere else?
In tomorrow’s “Part 2″, we’ll look at how to a) become a brand DNA profiler, and b) how to use that new skill to save yourself a lot of grief.
Meanwhile, for some additional insights, check out Alycia Perry’s “Before The Brand: Creating the Unique DNA of an Enduring Brand Identity“.
Thanks to Coca Cola, you can now check the world’s current state of chillness… or bugness, along with weekly trends, % of change, etc.. The site also lets you zoom-in (Tom Clancy style) on whatever little corner of the planet you want, and find out more about unusual clusters of red or yellow (buggin’ and freakin’, respectively).
Cool site? Sure. Cool quantitative tool? Absolutely:
While the site doesn’t actually track Coca Cola Zero drinkers (or Coca Cola drinkers, for that matter), it does geographically track the site’s semi-viral spread. More interestingly, rather than showing you hits, it shows you where web surfers who choose to interract with the site are. Valuable info? In the right hands, you bet. The site literally maps out what you might call viral clusters… which… if you’re into designing viral campaigns, is kind of important. (The lack of data on the map is at least as telling as the actual colorful points of data, by the way.)
For more cool quantitative visuals (but unrelated to Coca Cola), click here.
I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving break was great.
Here are some highlights:
One of my favourite articles of 2004 was a transcript of a speech by Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press. In it he said that “…content will be more important than its container in this next phase [of the Web]“. Why? Because “killer apps, such as search, RSS and video-capture software such as Tivo — to name just a few — have begun to unlock content from any vessel we try to put it in.”
Up till this year, most of us thought of RSS feeds as a way to subscribe to single sources of content. But over 2005 it’s become apparent that content is being remixed, mashed up and re-published across many sources – leading to heated ethical debates over content rights and confusion amongst publishers on how to ‘monetize’ (sorry I can’t help but use that word) their content. Fred Wilson had a nice post on this theme recently, entitled The Future of Media (aka Please Take My RSS Feed).
If you still don’t fully understand the role that RSS feeds plays in your industry (or what their value is to you if you have a company website or a blog), check this out:
Graphic Courtesy of Feedburner
Yep. If you’re in the business of getting noticed (or getting your clients noticed), you cannot afford not to become comfortable with RSS technology. Not anymore.
The list of authors/contributors should look pretty familiar by now. (It’s always nice to see bloggers come together on projects like this.)
Check out the book’s companion site here for downloads and more cool info on the project itself.
Didn’t we just discuss re-branding?
“The new logo reinvigorates the AT&T globe — one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world. The new globe is three-dimensional, representing the expanding breadth and depth of services that the new AT&T family of companies provides to customers, as well as its global presence.”
Tip: When you already have one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world, don’t just change it because… you think it needs to be more three-dimensional… or more appealing to a younger crowd. Your logo wasn’t the problem, AT&T. It’s probably the only thing about your organization that needed to be left untouched. Tsk…
So who’s next? Nike? Adidas? Coca Cola? Mattel? Sony? Volkswagen? Land Rover? Starbucks?
Let’s hope not.
This is too big a topic to try to cover in only one post, but the least I can do is to try and get the discussion started. Here is a short list of what you might call purple cow killers. These business diseases can strike a perfectly cool little company with quasi-infinite potential, and turn it into a bumbling corporate flunkie faster than you can say “I.P.O.”:
People lose their passion for things they love when those things become routine. Think about it. Your first day at a new job. Your first drive in a new car. The first time you see a good movie. A first kiss. Everything is exciting at first… but then you eventually get jaded. The excitement wanes. You lose some of your passion. Details become someone else’s problem. So do your products. So do your customers. Deny it all you want, it’s true… and it’s inevitable unless you do something about it.
The trick is to keep the fire burning by keeping things fresh. If routine is a passion-killer, then build a corporate ecosystem that actively fights routine. Easier said than done? Nope. Quite the contrary. (But that’s a topic for another day.)
The bigger you get, the more you start to rely on procedures. The more you start to say things like “no” and “can’t” and “we’ll have to charge you extra for that”. The harder it becomes for the people at the top of your organization to stay in direct contact with their customers. That’s bad. It shouldn’t take thirty minutes for a customer to get a return authorization. It shouldn’t take seven transfers to get a product manager on the phone. Nobody should ever get the runaround. Ever.
Bureaucracies slow things down and build walls between employees and between you and your customers. As you grow, take the time to develop systems that overcome this problem. Again, this isn’t hard, but you can’t let these things fall to chance. You have to be just as proactive in building your company’s structure as you are in building its markets.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that a company isn’t a building or a logo or a set of rules. A company is always, first and foremost, a group of people united to pursue a common interest. And while you may not think of it that way, this applies to your employees as well as your customers. As a business leader, one of your jobs is to make sure these people are all connected. If your organization disconnects them from one another, you are majorly shooting yourself in the foot.
If you’ve only worked on the agency side of the business, chances are that you’ve never heard these dreaded words: “We’ve been doing things this way for ____ years, and we’ve been successful at it, so there’s no reason to change.”
(Nails on a chalkboard.)
Yeah, well, in the wise words of Jack Spade, “Never believe anything you’ve done is successful.” The minute you do, you’re dead. End of story. In business, getting comfortable = getting lazy.
Reality check: Markets change. Technologies and tastes change. People grow old and younger ones take their place. Renewal = relevance. Even old-school luxury houses like Bentley and Cartier have adapted to new markets. (If you don’t believe me, watch MTV sometime.)
If you don’t constantly question what you could do better or where you might go next, you’re done. Period.
It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s another thing altogether to promote buddies and family members to positions they are neither qualified for, nor passionate about.
Furthermore, while surrounding yourself with people who won’t ever challenge you might be a nice ego boost, it is certainly no way to keep your company moving in any kind of direction.
If all your key managers are passionate about are their 401K plans and their annual retreats to Tahiti, then it’s no surprise that your company has lost its focus.
“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” (Lou Brock)
The older you get, the less chances you are likely to take with your career. The larger your company is, the less likely you are to risk screwing something up.
Too much to lose, you see.
So you stop taking chances. You start worrying about what your “competitors” are doing. Instead of leading them, you let them lead you. Next thing you know, you’ve exported all of your production power to China, your quality takes a dive, your customer service is anything but, every bit of talent you ever managed to hire has walked out on you, and you find yourself on the losing end of a price war. Other than just plain dishonesty, that’s how great companies fail.
Well, bollocks. Playing it “safe” is the fastest way to screw yourself over. (And your customers.)
If you don’t have the huevos to stretch the boundaries now and again, to be an innovator, a pioneer, and to sometimes be okay with making some people really hate your latest product, then you need to find another occupation. Being a leader isn’t about staying put. It’s about… well, leading.
Most companies who don’t get it think that they do get it. That’s the tragedy. Once your distribution channels are well-developed, once you have thousands of active accounts, once you’ve been a market leader for twenty, thirty, forty years, the sheer momentum of your growth can carry you into another decade or two. As long as your growth closely matches whatever opportune economic indicator you are following, things might look pretty decent.
So what if you haven’t actually spoken to a customer in twenty years? So what if you don’t even bother to use your own products anymore? So what if you’ve chased away companies that could have become your partners in a number of cool ventures, and they went to your competitors instead? So what if your best people are quitting, one after the other? So what if you have absolutely no idea what people are saying about your products, about your customer service, about your company, about your leadership?
No news is good news, right?
How do we end up in sad little places like this? Really. You’d think that by now, we’d ALL know better. Tsk.
Okay. It’s really late, so I’ll leave you with another Jack Spade favorite:
“The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.”
Every C.E.O. on the planet should be required to recite that line a hundred times every morning before they even get to their desk. (Let me propose a UN resolution. Do I hear a yay?)
Before I begin, here is a cool little primer on re-branding that you probably should read. (Just don’t forget to come back.)
Okay, now that you’ve read it, here’s the skinny: Re-branding isn’t really something you want to mess with. Yes, there’s money in it for creatives and consultants and marketing firms. Yes, it’s becoming more and more popular these days. And yes, it’s easy. (Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. Any hack can put together a new logo, redesign your company’s image and put together a whole new marketing strategy for you inside of a week.) But… just because it’s all of these things – and growing in popularity about as fast as our deficit – doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Likewise, if you’re a marketing firm, just because a misguided company is willing to pay you handsomely to spearhead a project that won’t help them much in the end doesn’t mean that you should take it on.
(Or as the often wise Mr. Frank Roth would say, “just because the teet is full doesn’t mean you have to drink from it.”)
Anyway. Welcome to the latest little fad. The next big empty promise. The next billion-dollar bubble. Yep, re-branding is going to be big.
Give it another six to eight months, and you won’t be able to throw a stone without hitting an ad agency or marketing firm that preaches the benefits of updating or tweaking your brand. They’ll make a good argument for renewed relevance and a dozen other cool buzzwords that’ll make a lot of sense to you, especially if you’ve been hit by hard times.
Re-branding… Well, you know… it’s your money. Live and learn, as they say. If after all these years, you still think that spending the equivalent of a third-world country’s GNP to change your logo and tagline will pull your sales out of the gutter, be my guest. Throw money at it. Pat yourselves on the back. You’ll get a few miles out of the whole thing, I’m sure.
When the numbers finally come in though, don’t be surprised if your ROI isn’t exactly what you had hoped for.
Spending obscene amounts of cash to change only the appearance or message of your business without actually doing anything to improve the business itself is kind of like putting a new coat of paint on a car that, instead, is desperately in need of a tuneup.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Your brand is not your logo. It isn’t your mark. It isn’t your tagline. Your brand is a little bit more complex than that. Changing it takes more than a few well-chosen words and the better part of a graphic designer’s morning. (But more on that in a bit.)
Before we go on with this discussion, I want to establish what a brand really is at its core Without a logo. Without a website. Without a tagline. Without ads. Case in point: Chez Fifine.
(Okay, go pour yourself a cup of tea/coffee, because this one’s going to take a few minutes.)
years ago, there was a restaurant in St. Tropez called Chez Fifine. It was in the old quarter, about a five-minute walk from the waterfront, where all of the cool, fancy restaurants shared some of the most valuable business-friendly real-estate in europe. But if you didn’t know it was there, you might walk right past its five or six tables and miss it altogether.
First: Fifine didn’t have a cool logo above her door.
Second: Fifine never spent one cent… err, centime on any advertising.
Third: Fifine didn’t have a website or email or a blog… or even an answering machine.
As I recall, she even refused to be listed in the famous Guide Michelin, which… is pretty-much unheard of in the restaurant world. (She would have gotten five stars, hands down, but she refused to be rated. She wanted her customers to decide whether they liked her food or not. They didn’t need a food critic to tell them.)
The point is that all Fifine had was a sliver of a two-story building in a narrow street, literally in the shadow of dozens upon dozens of very hip, well-financed and easily accessible restaurants that attracted millions of dollars in revenue every month. Fifine’s kitchen was smaller than most master bathrooms in modern American homes. She didn’t have a dishwasher. She didn’t have a big commercial oven. She didn’t have a chef. Fifine just had herself, her kitchen, her old building, and a narrow stretch of sidewalk she managed to fit five or six tables on.
For over thirty-five years, Fifine never had an empty table.
She never once had an unhappy customer.
Ages before WOM became a buzzword, Fifine built her restaurant’s legend on word-of-mouth alone. Wealthy vacationers from all over Europe made an annual pilgrimage to her table and forked over some serious coin for the privilege.
What was so special about Fifine? Everything. Nothing. It’s one of those “you have to experience it for yourself” deals.
I guess you could start with the fact that her fish and vegetables were bought every morning at the local market. Except maybe for butter, nothing ever spent the night in her fridge. Ever. The vegetables came from local farms. The fish came from the bay of St. Tropez. When she first opened her kitchen to customers, her husband, who was a fisherman, took care of catching what she needed. When he died, his friends took over the job. Yep, Fifine had the freshest food in all the kingdom, and if you didn’t know that going in, it soon became obvious when you took your first bite… which brings us to the second really special thing about Fifine’s kitchen: In a country that prides itself on the quality and flavor of its dishes, surrounded by some of the best restaurants in all of France, Fifine’s cooking knew no equal.
Take Maxim’s. Take La Tour D’Argent. Strip away the pretentious dining rooms and snooty Maitres d’Hotel. Take away the prestigious namesakes. The world-famous addresses. The decades spent at the very top of every culinary guide’s list of the world’s top 10 dining palaces. Take it all away except for the quality of the food, and Fifine would give their seven-figure master chefs a run for their money.
But you see, Fifine didn’t turn her dishes into elaborate productions. There was no caviar or foie gras on her appetizer menu. You wouldn’t find any rare wines in her cellar. She made fish soup. She made steamed fish and vegetable dishes. She made garlic butter sauces. That’s it. None of it sounds all that fantastic, does it?
Maybe not. But once you sat at her table, once she limped out to explain the menu in her thick Varois accent, once the sauce cooking on her stove reached out to you through her tiny kitchen’s open window, you felt like you had found a home away from home.
I kid you not. French, American, German, Japanese, it didn’t matter.
And once you took your first bite, that little old lady had you hooked for life. You would never forget her name. You would never forget the sound of her voice. The way she wore her scarf on her head. The way she smiled when she asked you how you liked your dinner and you gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up. You would never forget how absolutely amazing everything tasted. Most intriguing of all, even without an exact address, you would always be able to find your way back.
Chez Fifine was a temple of culinary perfection, of unquestionable authenticity… and of unapologetic simplicity.
If Fifine had a brand, she never knew it. And walking by her restaurant, you wouldn’t know it either. No awning. No logo. No sign. Nothing to even indicate that there was a restaurant there, except for a few old tables and chairs. But man, did Fifine have a brand, in the purest sense of the term. Her brand lived in every little detail of your experience as one of her guests: The food. The street. The building itself. The stories she would share with you once the cooking was done. Fifine herself. It was a million little things.
A brand isn’t a logo. A brand isn’t a mark or a tagline. It isn’t a color. It isn’t a T-shirt.
A brand isn’t what you say. It’s what you do.
Your brand is your company’s soul. It shapes the design of every single product you put out, of every single thing you do as a company, from the type of flooring in your main office to the way you answer the phone. Your brand flows outward from your core.
Remember the whole ripple and pond thing.
Your logo, your tagline, your advertising, your packaging, your press releases, your website, your POP displays, all of these things are extensions of that core.
The folks at Brains On fire prefer to use the term identity. More firms should do the same.
Brand. Identity. Essence. Soul. Promise. Raison d’Etre. Once you understand that all of these terms are interchangeable, you’re already half-way there.
So. Re-branding, you say?
I think that what you really mean is regrouping.
Think about your core competencies.
Think about what you are truly passionate about.
Think about what led you to start a company to begin with. Why are you here? Why are you in business? These are the first questions you have to ask yourselves before going in for a facelift.
Making a change isn’t about doing something cool and creative just for the sake of doing something cool and creative. It is about doing something relevant. It is about reconnecting with who you are as a company. As a brand. As a company of talented, passionate people. That means understanding what you stand for. What your value is to the world that your customers live in.
In French, we call it a “retour aux sources”.
A return to your source.
For the change to work, it has to come from the inside. Superficial changes don’t work on their own.
You don’t fix a car with a new coat of paint.
A few years ago, Burger King changed its logo. Wanna guess how much it cost them to do it? Wanna take a stab at how many digits ended up at the bottom of the bill for the ad campaign that came with the new identity? In the end, did anyone care? Did Burger King gain market share? Have the BK execs learned anything from that little endeavor?
Greenville’s own baseball team just suffered a lousy rebranding too. New logo. New name. New “identity”. Bleh. Why?
No, really, why? Okay, I know: New ownership. New team. New stadium. I get that. But instead of tying the team’s identity to the community, to its future fans, to the people who will eventually come to call it their own, why did whomever came up with the Greenville Drive’s identity choose instead to cater to the area’s growing economic ties to the automotive industry? (The official story is that there is no connection whatsoever. Yeah. Uhuh.) Why did the logo have to be so ugly? Greenville’s history has a lot more to do with textiles than cars. The Greenville Weavers might have been a little bit cooler, but whatever.
This is what happens when you don’t understand the connection between brand and identity and raison d’etre.
Any hack came put together a new logo for you. A new tagline. A new gimmick.
Any hack can cash your check.
On the other hand, not everyone can actually help you find your way again. The kind of insight and wisdom that it takes to do this – and to do it right – is kind of rare. Think Tom Peters. Think Tom Asacker. Think John Moore and Kathy Sierra. Check out my blogroll and you’ll find a fairly decent who’s who of people who fall into that exclusive little group of talented brand strategists.
The problem is that we can’t help everyone. There aren’t enough of us. Someday maybe, but not yet. And for every one of us, there are easily dozens of outfits ready to deliver the next subservient chicken and Greenville Drive to an unexpecting client.
So look… For your own sake, before you start forking-over good money to a marketing firm that promises to deliver what seems to be an attractive re-branding package or ad campaign, give one of us a call. Shoot a couple of us an email. It really doesn’t matter who you pick as long as you get a second opinion. A third opinion, even. With the money you’re about to spend, you really owe it to yourself.
You owe it to your customers too.
And you know what? It may very well be that your logo needs to be tweaked a little. The design of your stores may have to change. A new tagline might be in order. A new advertising campaign may indeed be right for you. Every company is different. Every situation calls for its own remedy. The possibilities are endless, but you have to do the real work first. The core work.
The creative interpretation of your brand’s message is something that grows out of this process. If you’re lucky enough to have serious talent on your team, that process might only last a few days. If you’re less lucky…Well, I guess you’ll end up with, um… a new logo.
Maybe a new tagline or something.
An advertising gimmick.
Woohoo! Money well spent.
Okay. So, seriously. If an old fisherman’s wife and her ratty kitchen can give the best restaurants in the world a run for their money – and do it without a logo, without PR, without advertising – surely, given your resources and your budget, you can do a whole lot better than you’ve been doing. Don’t you think?
So… tell me again… What exactly do you think re-branding will do for you?
I keep running into this every few months or so. It always makes me smile because it’s so true:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction
between his work and his play
his labor and his leisure
his mind and his body
his education and his recreation
his love and his religion
He hardly knows which is which…
He simply pursues his vision of excellence
in whatever he does
leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing
To him he is always doing both.
- Zen Buddhist Text
If you’re any good at what you do, and by good, I mean really good, work is play.
If you aren’t already reading Tom Asacker’s blog, you need to. Here’s why:
1) It’s good for you.
2) It’s free.
Dare to inspire? You bet.
You don’t build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn’t.
Welcome to the fabulous world of the “also in”.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the “why bother”.
Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that’s a lot like Newsweek or Men’s Health or Fast Company… only more “average”. You could set out to produce a movie that’s a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but… you know… more “average”. You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s and make a subway sandwich, but… just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you’re at it. I guess that would be swell.
To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.
Yep, you could do that.
I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just… um… average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?
Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It’s okay. Average is good enough.
Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it’s okay to go that route.
It isn’t like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn’t like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that’s the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.
You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that’s how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn’t it?
Or is it better design?
Or is it because their stores have red walls?
Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?
Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we’ve learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it’s safe to try it too?
Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?
You don’t have to answer that.
Not if you don’t want to.
Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.
(For the sake of expediency, let’s just say that there are LOTS.)
How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?
Only a handfull?
Why is that?
Of the thousands of companies you’ll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?
Why is that?
Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?
Again, why is that?
What does that tell you about average?
What does that tell you about the value of average?
Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.
What is it about these brands that makes them so special?
Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.
is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um… who would that be?)
Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.
Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target’s clothes are no better than old Navy’s. BMW arguably isn’t Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft’s sales. Pixar doesn’t always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most real runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.
So what is it?
Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that’s only a symptom of their success.
What’s key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won’t be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.
That’s the promise of these brands.
When you buy me, I promise that…
You will look hip.
You will sleep better.
You will save time.
You will smell fantastic.
Your cold symptoms will vanish.
You won’t have to worry about quality.
Without a promise, a brand isn’t a brand. It’s just a mark.
There is no such thing as an “also in” brand.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, say it.
Really. Say it outloud:
“There is no such thing as an also in brand.”
When you’re an “also in,” what is your promise? What is your purpose?
“We’re kind of like Subway.”
“We’re kind of like Power Bar.”
“We’re kind of like CNN.”
Think about it.
I don’t care if you’re a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren’t there for a reason (other than just making money), you’re doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.
It’s just a matter of time.
If you’re going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.
If you’re going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.
If you’re going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.
I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I’ll save that for another day.
The point is that being an “also in” company doesn’t cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.
Not if you want to survive.
Copying other companies isn’t a strategy, it’s a death sentence.
Word to the wise: Don’t be a follower. There’s no safety in being second.
The minute a customer accesses your website, calls your toll-free number, walks into one of your locations or opens a box with your mark printed on it, the experience begins. This isn’t something you can leave to chance. You have to think about every little detail. You have to know what will make your customers smile and what will make them frown. You have to anticipate that there will be problems and that customers will look to you to fix these problems for them. How you deal with these situations is as much a part of the experience as anything else. Perhaps more so.
If a customer leaves your store or website angry, you will never see them again. They will drag your name in the dirt, and your reputation within their sphere of influence will be destroyed. For every customer you lose, they take perhaps ten more with them. The negative word-of-mouth they generate could spread to twenty. A hundred. Possibly more. Families. Communities. Corporations. You never know the impact that one person’s negative campaign against you will have. Ultimately, nobody wins. Your business loses revenue and gets bad publicity. Your customer leaves angry and frustrated. Nobody wins.
Still, many companies today allow this to happen.
Crafting a positive customer experience isn’t rocket science. Mostly, it’s about attention to details and about showing that you care. That’s it. It is never about going the extra mile. The extra mile concept is a myth. It’s more like going the extra inch: A twist of lemon in a glass instead of a wedge. An extra two seconds to call a customer by her name. An extra three calories burned to produce a friendly smile. An extra thirty seconds to upgrade a frustrated guest to a better room or a better table just because they had to wait longer than they should have. A friendly “sure, let me do that for you” instead of a “No, you’ll need to take this piece of paper to the third floor and fill out a request form.”
It doesn’t have to be about flat screen TVs above the urinals and Champagne fountains in the atrium. Most of the time, it’s simply about treating customers with respect, kindness and care. People just want to be taken care of. They don’t want to have to deal with rules and bureaucracy and disappointment. They probably already get that at work. Whether they are buying a car, a meal, a spa treatment or a gallon of detergent, when they come to you, they just want to have a pleasant experience that they can tell their friends about. Say “yes” to them more. Make it impossible for them not to love your products, your services, your brand. Make them excited about doing business with you.
“These guys have a really great website.”
“They are just so friendly there! It’s so refreshing.”
“I was in and out in five minutes. That’s pretty cool.”
All you have to do is get to know your customers better. Not just through online surveys and customer satisfaction cards, but actually sit down with them. Buy them a drink. Listen to them talk about what they like and dislike and why. Music. Movies. Trips to the DMV. The lawnmower they just bought. Find out what they’re about. If you have a handful of contextual interpreters on your team, you will be able to translate what they tell you about themselves into insights that will help you serve them better.
It could be something as simple as a cleaner bathroom. Free ice cream for the kids. A wider selection of organic foods. A wider selection of T-shirts. A simpler registration process. Friendlier salespeople. Cool music in the background. Vintage couches with TV’s and Playstations between clothing racks. Remembering a customer’s name when they come back. Being treated like a regular, even when you aren’t. Giving your customers simple ways to customize their own shopping experience.
More often than not, it isn’t about going the extra mile. It’s about going the extra inch.
I need to address the subject of value today. More specifically, I need to address the role that value plays in presentations made by an agency to a client.
If you are an ad agency (big or small), it doesn’t really matter how smart you think your strategy is. It doesn’t matter if you have the coolest ad concept in the world. It doesn’t matter if your superpowers have created the ultimate idea. No, none of that matters…… unless you can $ell it.
It’s incredibly frustrating for creatives and strategic thinkers alike to bring to the table the ultimate plan for world domination and watch it be ignored or misunderstood or trivialized in some way. No, let’s just be honest, it sucks.
(And yeah, we’ve all been there.)
Is it because the plan or the idea weren’t as good as we thought they were? Maybe… But if you’re reading this blog, it’s unlikely. Let’s assume that your idea is indeed the shiz and the nit. So what happened? Why didn’t everyone jump up and down at the thought of the happiness and success it will shower upon them?
Because you didn’t sell it. That’s why. You expected it to be so good that it would just sell itself.
Truth? A great idea + your enthusiasm aren’t usually enough. The people sitting in those chairs across the room don’t necessarily have your marketing or design savvy. They may not understand their own market the way you do. More importantly, they probably can’t connect the dots between the key elements of your presentation and their many layers of positive outcomes. Not really.
Here’s the thing: You’re not giving any of this away. You’re selling it. That means your clients are paying for it. Whether it’s in the form of a check for your services or an investment on their part, it’s going to cost them. They’re thinking about ROI. They’re thinking “do I really need to do this?” “Is there something else I could spend this money on?” “Should I spend this money at all?”
You’re selling something. Make sure they know it’s worth every red cent.
Your first mistake is probably to broadside your client with an “unveiling” of what you’ve been working on. Classic. You’ve just asked them to completely switch gears at a moment’s notice. No matter how good of an intro you’ve put together, they’re automatically going to be disconnected from it.
See, the many crossroads that have led you down the road to your idea, plan or concept are completely and utterly foreign to them. You’ve connected the dots for yourself over time. Even you, as smart as you are didn’t put this whole thing together in ten minutes… Yet you expect them to be able to do just that. Though possible, it’s kind of unlikely. Remember that they aren’t looking at your work the way their customers will. They aren’t able to. That’s why they came to you in the first place.
To overcome that, you have to involve key individuals within your clients’ organization, in the process of connecting the dots long before your presentation. You have to help them help you come up with goals, identify obstacles, and come up with creative ways to get around them. While the cooperative environment you’re creating will help you a) narrow-down the best strategy possible and b) gain more insight into your client’s world, your main objective in terms of selling your solution is to prep them for the big day. By the time your presentation comes around, they’ll be ready for it, and they’ll be your champions inside their own organization.
You can’t just throw the whole thing at them at once. They’ll go into shock. They just won’t be able to relate. The more brilliant and original your idea is, the harder it will be for them to digest it in one sitting.
Okay, that was part 1, in a nutshell.
Part 2 is all about building value… because guess what: If you don’t build value before you tell them how much it’s going to cost, you’re done. Dead in the water. Kaput. Finito.
People know value. That’s what they’re after. That’s what justifies the investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the client side of a presentation which completely failed to build value… to generate excitement… to touch core motivators with the decision-makers. The plans, the strategies, the ideas were all great. Some of them were often fantastic. But you have to present them in such a way that everyone in the room relates to how great they are. You have to make people understand where they come from, how they will solve their problem(s) and what they will do for them. You have to make them want them. Crave them. You have to make people drool – not at the ideas themselves, but at the benefits they will shower upon them and their business.
Sales are emotional, boys and girls. You have to reach into every single chest in that room and make a connection with the beating hearts within. Some in your audience love revenue. Others love whooping the competition. Some just want to see you come up with something cool and inventive. Others don’t care as long as there’s no chance that your plan will backfire. You have to consider all of these things – expectations, motivations, fears – and then you have to find in your work the elements that will best address them.
What you have to come to terms with right now, right this second, is that selling isn’t about the product or the idea. You can sell a terrible idea. People do it every day. (Don’t get me started. It’s a pandemic.)
Selling isn’t about dissecting and explaining what you have to offer. It isn’t even about how cool or original something is. It’s about making people see, feel and relate to the actual value in it, which is kind of a personal thing. It’s about conveying the promise that your idea will achieve not only results, but the results that matter to your client. It’s that simple. (Well, easier said than done, but whatever.)
Wanna know how to do that? That’ll have to be another post. In the meantime, take a few steps back from your plan, squint at it until you can barely see its edges, and focus on the effects it has on your client’s world. Focus on the results. That’s really what you’re selling in there.
Look at it this way: People don’t buy cars. Cars are machines with axles and engine parts and undercarriages. What people buy are those elements of the car that will enrich their lives. They buy comfort, style, power, speed, safety, status, image, freedom. They buy the color red. This is no different.
It’s an art, this sales thing. It really is. So all of you frustrated geniuses out there, take my advice: Talk to sales professionals. Pick their brains. Learn their trade. Not the sleazy ones, mind you. The ones you trust. The ones who sell with confidence and insight, not clever little sales tricks. Watch people you consider great public speakers. Study folks in your circles that people listen to and seek advice from. Learn to sell and close, Jedi style. You’ll be doing yourselves, your clients and even the world a huge favor.
Why? Because the more good ideas you sell, the less bad ideas will make the cut this year. And next year. And the year after that.
They ought to give out medals for that.
PS: Wanna read more on the topic? Check out Kevin Hoffberg’s piece “The First Rule Of Selling“. His 11 lessons are as quick to flip through as they are dead-on.
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Hop on over to buzzdoodle for a short but sweet little post about the simplicity of word of mouth marketing. Because… yeah, it’s simple.
Here’s how it works:
You make a great product.
You get people to use it.
They love your product so much that they tell their family and friends about it.
They try it.
They love it.
They tell their family and friends about it.
It starts with the great product though. Always. No exceptions. That product can be a piece of software, a car, a bike helmet, a customer service department, a window display, a story, a photograph, an ad, whatever.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought stuff based on recommendations from people I trust. As a matter of fact, I hardly ever buy anything now without asking someone what they think of it. A new triathlon bike. A pair of running shoes. A digital camera. A movie ticket. A video game. A cell phone.
Sometimes, those recommendations come unexpectedly:
“Oh my god. You HAVE to try a bite of this apple pie.”
“You HAVE to see this movie!”
“Don’t buy that bird food. This one’s much better (and it costs $2 less).”
Every lasting relationship I have ever had with a brand or a product has either been an accident or the result of a recommendation by someone I trust. My favorite restaurants. My favorite books. My favorite bath soap. My favorite wetsuit.
If you want customers for life, that’s the approach you need to consider. Again, without a really great product, forget it.
You can’t fake word-of-mouth marketing (well, you can, but it doesn’t work for very long, and it is sure to come back to haunt you). You can’t force word-of-mouth marketing. And you can’t really buy it either.
You can only facilitate it.
How? From Buzzdoodle, here is a list of things that are helpful (and in some cases vital) to a word-of-mouth friendly environment. Think of it as the building blocks of a WOMM/WOM ecosystem:
- Help other people be successful
- Superior Customer Service
- Superior Product with unexpected benefits
- Do the unexpected and make someone’s day
- Publicly recognize other people
- Introduce people that you know that should know each other
- Be open, honest and human
- Ask people what it would take to have them recommend you or introduce you to their friends
- Constantly perfect your networking and communication efforts
Recap: Be helpful, be friendly, be transparent, and dedicate yourself to making people’s lives better. Always.
One last thing: Your product isn’t there to make money. Your product is there to fill a need (and do so better than anyone else’s). Making money is just one of many positive side effects.
If you ever want WOM (and WOMM) to work for you, that’s the attitude you need to adopt. If you see WOMM solely as a means to an end, you’re probably better off spending your marketing budget elsewhere. (Not everyone can be the best at what they do. That’s okay.)
For anyone out there who isn’t content to be successful as an “also in” company, there’s your ticket to a bright and exciting future.
PS: Follow this discussion thread down into the marketing trenches.
The major reason why word-of-mouth hasn’t taken off is not because marketers lack the metrics to measure it. It’s because most products, services, and businesses simply aren’t worth talking about.
Marketers should worry less about the metrics of “WOMUnits” and more about the message of the word-of-mouth activity. The more compelling and interesting marketers make the “WOMUnit,” the more people will talk about it.
Also marketers need to realize word-of-mouth is more than a marketing issue — it’s a business issue. Marketers cannot simply sprinkle magical word-of-mouth marketing dust to create long-lasting word of mouth. For endearing and enduring word-of-mouth to happen, the activity must become part of the company’s culture. Sustainable word-of-mouth is much more a way of doing business every day than a component to a two-week heavy-up marketing blitz.
Read the full post here.