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Archive for January, 2009

pita the bird


“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Thanks to Tom Asacker for digging that one up for us, and for his fantastic post on the very topic I wanted to explore today: What traps should exciting new companies be on the lookout for? As you can imagine, this post was going to be long. (Or at least long-ish.) Thanks to Tom’s impeccable timing, you won’t have to suffer through another endless essay. (See? Your good deeds are already starting to pay off – and it’s only January.)

Check this out (again, from Tom’s post):

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

- Donald Sull
(Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

So… your new mission every day is to keep it fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep it fresh. Shake things up. Kill the routine before it starts killing you.

Ad go read Tom’s full post. It’s very good.

Thanks for reading. See you guys on Twitter! :)


photo by F360: Pita, resident troublemaker.

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Seattle, by Olivier Blanchard - 2008

Check out these great bits of advice from Dave Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog:

“Deciding: ‘Familiarize yourself with common decision-making errors—such as going along with a group choice to maintain cohesion. Watch for tendencies within yourself to commit such errors.’

Leaders make bold decisions. They see them through, and if they aren’t working out, they make new decisions. The worst thing you can do for your career is make no choices or let your choices be made for you. Taking a passive approach to your goals is unlikely to result in success. Even if you make a bad decision, it’s better to mess up and learn from it than to remain stagnant. Failures are great opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world. Move ahead by choosing wisely and boldly.”

(If you’re asking yourself… yeah, cool career advice, but… what does this have to do with branding, hold on. I’m getting to it.)

“It takes someone who believes in herself and her ideas to challenge the status quo. These are the people who shake things up and change them for the better. You don’t have to be contentious to challenge. The best way to suggest changes is not to bash the old ways, but to offer new and positive ideas.

If you are part of a team working on a project that you believe could be going more smoothly, step up and present your ideas. Most likely, everyone will be excited to approach the work from a new angle. And you will begin to earn a reputation for innovation.”

Still not catching on? Okay… Let’s try one more:

“In the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

What separates the dazzling winners from everyone else is that they are able to envision a grand future. What turns them into winners is that they are able to leap into that future and do the hard work necessary to make it great.

Particularly for die-hard realists and people who have been trained (by parents, friends, or spouse) to be ‘responsible’ and ‘stable’, indulging in imagination can be difficult. For every idea that’s even mildly revolutionary, a little voice chimes in, ‘Impossible. You can’t do that. That’s stupid. It’ll never work.’ Quiet that voice and spend some time ruminating on your wild, far-out, fanciful ideas. Great leader do things that no one before them has done.”

Still no? Tsssk… Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Substitute “brand” for “career”. Everything that Dave so brilliantly recommends is exactly the kind of advice that you can put to good use in building strong brands – from ‘brand you’ to the next retail darling, iconic consumer good or dazzling web application.

Brands aren’t built in a vacuum. They aren’t built by functionaries. They do not thrive in stagnant bureaucracies. Brands are built by empowered visionaries. Brands are built on enthusiasm, conviction, and courage… Or they are doomed from the start.

You are the heart and soul of the brand you represent and serve. If you want your brand to be a market leader, you must be a leader in your job as well. Your qualities are your brand’s attributes. Your weaknesses are its flaws. Everything you are, everything you do, affects its success and future.

So… don’t ever let anyone turn you into a tool. Challenge everything. Question every assumption. Wage war on routine and bureaucracy. Accept no compromise…

… and read Dave’s blog. It’s a good one.

Les tags du jour: , , ,

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Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Sometime this year, chances are that you will get a chance to hire one or several individuals to come join your team. On his blog some time ago, Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art Of Recruiting” post gave us some pretty crucial pointers that are worth printing and pinning to our respective office walls.

The first of these is this:

“The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you’re not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product, or partner with you. Instead, you are asking them to bet their lives on your organization.”

Bingo.

But it goes well beyond that. Some companies hire for skills or talent. Others, on the other hand, hire for vision and attitude. The difference is this: Companies that hire for skills and talent tend to attract relatively talented, ambitious folks who do a terrific job… for a while. Until they get bored. Until their work grows stale. Until they start looking for greener pastures. They do great work, and then they leave. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. Other than adding neat pages to their employers’ portfolios (and their own), nothing much happens.

Companies that hire for vision and attitude, however, kick ass. They always do. The people they hire are agents of change. They’re evangelists. They’re contextual commandos. They’re dreamers and groundbreakers. They’re risk takers. They take the companies they work for further than they were when they first landed there. They attract more people like them and build cultures around their companies.

A good friend of mine, Randy McDougald, hires for vision and attitude, and the results are unbelievable. His business is booming. His customer base is growing. His customers are actually creating a community – a culture – even, around his stores.

Resumes are a good first step. Skills are a nice foundation… But attitude, passion and enthusiasm are the traits that Randy considers when hiring new folks. Believe me, I know every one of his employees, and I can tell you this: I would hire them all in a heartbeat.

Okay, okay, we’ll come back to Randy’s golden touch later this week. Right now, here are Guy’s ten bits of advice when it comes to hiring your next team member:

1. Hire better than yourself.
2. Hire infected people.
3. Ignore the irrelevant.
4. Double check your intuition.
5. Check independent references.
6. Apply the Shopping Center Test.
7. Use all your weapons.
8. Sell all the decision makers.
9. Wait to compensate.
10. Don’t assume you’re done.

(You can check out the full version here.)

What Guy hints at but doesn’t get into is the fact that sometimes, you’ll run into enigmas. Multi-talented folks who don’t quite fit any of the profiles that you’re used to running into, like accountants, copywriters, account executives, product managers or media Planners. Sometimes, you meet people who transcend traditional professional roles. People whose impact on their industry or communities could be felt for years. Decades, even. Some of us would call them game-changers, but I guess “change agent” is a little more subtle. David Armano sometimes calls them “T-shaped” and “sun-shaped” people and I kind of like that.

Only when you run into them, they still haven’t had a chance to break out their superpowers, but they’re just about to. All they need is that little extra push. That little extra help and encouragement. Just a sprinkle of faith on your part.

Among the brightest stars in this group are people like Peter Drucker, Lance Armstrong, Sir Richard Branson and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mahatma Gandhi. Steve Jobs. The list is long. To a lesser extent, folks like John Winsor, John Moore, Michele Miller, David Wolfe, Kevin Farnham, Valeria Maltoni, Loic Lemeur and William Gordon also belong on the much longer list of kids who didn’t quite fit the mold and grew up to re-invent (or expand the boundaries of) their respective industries and communities.

Consider that they were all kids once. They all applied for that first job. I’d be willing to bet that a great deal of people on that list were turned down by well-meaning managers more concerned with hiring what they knew and understood than taking a chance on something that didn’t quite fit between the lines.

Shame on them.

Why do you think so many of them end up branching off on their own? It isn’t necessarily because they want to spend years working their butts off to be able to say “hey, I did it my way!” No. It’s because they didn’t have a choice. It’s because the people who could have chosen to take a chance on them didn’t.

You would be amazed at how many companies that sell “different” don’t actually have the huevos to actually practice what they preach.

Trust me, there’s nothing more tragic than to see passionate, talented, groundbreaking kids get turned away again and again and again by hiring managers because they didn’t quit match the position’s profile.

“We’re looking for someone with more experience.”

“We’re looking for someone who’s worked in this specific industry.”

“We’re looking for a carbon-copy of the last guy who sat in that chair… only in a different flavor. Because we like to talk about being different and better and more innovative, but we don’t really have the courage to put our money where our mouth is.”

If your company is guilty of this, it’s time to stop. Right now.

One, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by turning away what could very possibly be the most crucial strategic investment your company will ever make.

Two, unfortunately for you, maybe your fiercest competitor won’t be as blind as you were.

Three, you’re breaking spirits. You probably don’t realize it, but you are, and for that, there is no excuse. None. And the karma on this isn’t something you ever want to even ponder.

So here’s a tip: When a dreamer – one of the crazy ones – comes rapping at your door, don’t turn them away because they don’t quite fit the profile that you had in mind. Skilled is necessary. Different is good. Prolific is great. Passionate is even better. Enthusiastic is magical. Unique is genius.

Always consider the pros and cons carefully, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on the occasional wild card.

If you’re willing to ask your new hires to bet their lives on your organization, shouldn’t you also be willing to bet your organization on them?

This isn’t a rhetorical question.

While you ponder the finer points of your answer, here’s one last thing to think about: Exceptional doesn’t mean “really good”. Exceptional means “unique”. It means “the exception to the norm.”

It means different.

Don’t lose sight of that. That tiny little bit of insight could make the difference between your company becoming everything it could be, or just being… well, what it is.

Remember that your company’s mojo doesn’t come from your products or your logo or your tagline. It comes from your people. So if you haven’t done so already, get out of the skills market mentality and hire like your life depends on it. Hire the best that money can buy. Hire the exceptional. Hire the extraordinary. Invest in your own future.
You owe it to yourselves and to your customers. And in this economy, the difference between survival and failure may very well depend on rethinking what types of people you want working for you.
Related reads: H.R. 2.0 and Innovation Starts Here

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fun in Publix

Sometimes, the secret to crafting memorable customer experiences is simply to build environments that allow customers to create their own positive experiences.

There are no neutral experiences: Only great ones… and the rest.

What kinds of experiences are you crafting these days?

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trendsspotting-mobile-2009

Some mobile stats for you:

People are now using their phones to text more than they use them to make phone calls. (Nielsen Mobile)

The mobile messaging industry was worth$130 billion in 2008. It is predicted to be worth $224 billion by 2013 – 60% of non-voice service revenues. (Portio Research)

On average, US mobile users text twice as much as European mobile users. (Portio Research)

U.S. teens (ages 13 to 17) had the highest levels of text messaging in Q2 2008, sending and receiving an average of 1,742 text messages per month.  In comparison, teens took part in an average of 231 mobile phone calls per month, during the same time period. (Nielsen Mobile)

Mobile IM users will surge from a worldwide total of 111 million users in 2008 to 867 million users by the close of 2013. (Portio Research)

The US currently leads the world in mobile video penetration but with only 5% of mobile users downloading mobile video. France and Italy round off the top 3 each with 4% of users downloading mobile video. (Nielsen)

The typical mobile video viewer tunes into their phone for an average of 3 hours and 37 minutes per month, and 54% of mobile video users spend more than 15 minutes at a time watching a mobile video. (Nielsen)

More great resources:

Download the full TrendsSpotting report here.

Another great resource if you are looking for actual mobile statistics: mobileisgood.com

A great place to get killer insight into the world of Mobile Marketing: MobileMarketingWatch.com

Killer white paper on the importance of having a solid SMS strategy (yes, even YOUR business): MobileStorm.com

So with all this growth and reach potential, what’s your mobile strategy? What do you mean “we don’t have one?” Ouch! Maybe it’s time you started looking into the mobile market, dontcha think?

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America, rebranded.

Financial Times, UK

photo credit: Financial Times, UK/Reuters

The CEO changed.

So did the website. Immediately. It now talks about things like transparency, which is pretty refreshing.

And now the corporate office is on Twitter too.

The logo and trade dress stayed the same, which is great because they mean so much.

And today, the new leadership introduced a whole new mission statement that paves the way for what the organization is about, what it stands for, and what it aims to accomplish. Check it out:

America, rebranded -

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Lean on me.

barack obama

Mr. President, none of what you do after today would have been half as relevant had you not started with everything being so broken… so take solace in the knowledge that your talents and hard wok will not have been wasted on an easy presidency.

That you are the right man for the right job at the right time is what most of us are betting on, and political, religious and philosophical views aside, my money is on you. Quite literally.

Truth is, this isn’t going to be easy. It isn’t even going to be all that enjoyable for you. The next four years will be the most trying of your entire life…  But know that rain or shine, many of us – most of us, in fact – will be beside you every step of the way. When the burden gets too heavy for you to carry, don’t think twice about leaning on us. We’ll be here for you.

Now get out there and make us proud. We expect nothing less and nothing more. ;)

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twitter-designs

Thanks to InstantShift.com for including @thebrandbuilder’s design in its Top 125 best Twitter themes! (Look for #104.) I am very flattered to be in such great company. For the full show, click here.

Some of my favorites…

twit-05twit-04twit-03twit02

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Martin Luther King - photo by Flip Schulke/Corbis

Martin Luther King - photo by Flip Schulke/Corbis

Management lessons from the Rev. Martin Luther King (Jan 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

The time is always right to do what is right.

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We must use time creatively.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Amen.

Happy Martin Luther King Day, everyone.

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Via OrangeYeti, from AdPulp, here is a little bit of an interview given by Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) to Scott Donaton (of Ad Age). If you’ve ever worked for a company that was so set in its ways that it had grown stale, you’ll understand what Levy is talking about:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.”

“Without change, there is fossilization,and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas,are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it: As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected. Recruit adventurously. Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways. Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation. Decentralize “meetings”. Deconstruct the project ideation process. Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products, business improvements, and creative work.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people. Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Ideas are fragile.

Without change, organizations die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone, or a magazine, or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Chew on that. Have a great Friday. ;)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

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mardis-gras-08

Okay, so… you need to go here and read this.

If what Guy writes is news to you, welcome to a whole new world of happy customers and business bliss. Really.

If what Guy writes describes what you’re already doing, then you are on the right track.

Either way, your business will be a whole lot better off in 2009 if you follow those simple recommendations.

:)

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Some recent discussions I have had on Twitter have directed me back to the relationship that brands have with archetypes. This isn’t a topic that has received quite as much attention as it should unfortunately… Ind I say “unfortunately” because the secret to creating dominant brands may very well lie in a brand strategist’s ability to combine anthropology, the human brain’s hard-wired need to interpret the world through symbolic imagery, and the relativity of relevance. Let me frame this: Whether we like it (or understand it) or not, the human brain needs symbolism and metaphor to function properly. The creation of archetypes helps us classify and make sense of aspects of our lives that would otherwise be too overwhelming or confusing to deal with on a conscious level.

Every ritual we have, every religious ceremony, and even every iconic figure, product or brand is tied to the hard-coded subconscious need to map and make sense of the world around us through the help of easily identifiable metaphors. These are complex systems, with simple interfaces which remain remarkably similar from age to age and culture to culture.  We use these metaphors as vessels for everything from love, passion and mercy to hatred, war and evil. This helps us put a face to values which otherwise be too complex to define and redefine on an ongoing basis: The Romans and Greeks had gods for every human trait. Christians have their patron saints. We have pop culture and brands… among other things. Pop culture idols (movie stars, musicians, sports heroes) are all vessels for us in the same way that Aphrodite, Hercules and Zeus were vessels for the Greeks. Same need, same structure, different packaging. Brands have now become part of this value-mapping system.
Filling The Contextual Void:

Ever since a friend convinced me to read Robert Johnson’s “He,” I have been fascinated by the role that archetypes play in the genesis of mythology, relationships, personalities, pop culture, and even brands.Given my profession of choice, perhaps especially brands.
I was reminded of this connection a year ago when I happened on John Howard Spink’sUsing Archetypes To Build Stronger Brands.
As John himself notes, surprisingly, not a lot of work is being done on this front. Knowing what I know about the role that mythology and archetypes play in cultural identity, it surprises me that very few brand strategists and Marketing thought leaders have made the connection between archetypes and brands – or at least that most have not worked to incorporate the notion of archetypes in their operational brandbuilding methodology.
Per John:

Though the development and management of brands is central and fundamental to everything we do, are the tools we use up to the job? Or do they do more harm than good? Brands are complex, abstract and difficult to pin down. However, in endeavoring to define them we often forget this. With techniques such as brand pyramids,we take something wild and untamed and attempt to constrain and control
it. Rather than trying to understand brands in their natural habitat, we put them in a zoo. I recognize that pyramids, onions and similar techniques can be useful internal disciplines. But do they really help define the unchanging core values of a brand? We spend weeks debating the nuances of synonyms, performing
semantic gymnastics to prove that Brand X is different from Brand Y, and agonizing over whether something is an Emotional Benefit or a Brand Value – a distinction we struggle to understand in the first place. At the end of the day, what does this get us? More often than not, a pile of disconnected words that
looks like nothing less than an explosion in a bombed thesaurus factory.

Unfortunately, having built our pyramid and agreed that our brand is contemporary, stylish, relevant, inclusive and other usual suspects, we fall into the trap of thinking our job is finished. Usually though, we are no closer to articulating ‘core essence’ than when we began – even if that particular box
has been filled in. What should be rich, complex and, by definition, hard to articulate ends up neutered and subjected to death by a thousand adjectives. Ironically, our supposed unchanging brand template is reduced to a fluid selection of meaningless or un-differentiating words that even those close to the
process interpret in different ways.

The result, to quote Shakespeare, is a brand which is ‘…a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.You may feel this is harsh, but ask yourself how many walking shadows there are out there, and if we struggle to find meaning, think how consumers feel.

Amen.
Enter the archetypes:
There are certain basic characters and storylines that appear regularly in myth, fairytale, literature and film; archetypes that represent core aspects of the human condition, and tap deep into our motivations and sense of meaning. When we encounter these, they resonate in powerful ways that transcend culture and demographics.
This is why, when penning the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas turned to Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to help him understand the archetypal narrative structure and characters found in these mythic stories, and why these three films enjoy such strong and enduring appeal. Whether Luke Skywalker, The Man With No Name, Red Riding Hood, Harry Potter, or real people such as JFK, Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, there is something primal in archetypal characters and situations that stirs our emotions, stimulates our memory and sometimes changes lives. In developing and managing brands, are we really so different from George Lucas or a budding Barbara Cartland?
Ironically, in this postmodern age when people are supposedly no longer interested in meta-narratives with common understanding, brand development is nothing short of creating a story that people want to be part of; a character with values that have deep resonance which our target audience want to emulate or be associated with.
This is why a Harley-Davidson marketer can say: ‘what we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him’ Or why Scott Bedbury, in his time head of marketing at Nike and Starbucks, believes that: ‘a brand is a metaphorical story that … connects with something very deep — a fundamental human appreciation of mythology … Companies that manifest this sensibility … invoke something very powerful’.
Bingo. Right from the horses’ mouths.
What seem like “intangible” elements of a brand are really very precise sets of contextual values, emotions, aspirations and projections that can easily be not only identified but plotted, graphed, and inserted into a brand’s identity. (All you need is the key – the actual archetypes – and a clear understanding of the role they play in the psyches the folks whose culture you are trying to intertwine your brand with.)
This is actually VERY easy to accomplish. Some brands even achieve this without even realizing it. They instinctively tap into something primal and culturally relevant without really knowing or understanding why or how they did it.
Take Nike, for example: The Nike brand appeals to the “champion/hero” and uses sports as the medium for its allegorical language. The very choice of names – “Nike” the Greek Goddess of victory – has immediate Archetypal implications:
A) Nike is a Goddess. A creature straight out of Mythology – in which every character, god, human and everything in between is the embodiment of a specific human archetype.
B) Nike symbolizes victory. Victory typically comes from bravery, sacrifice, courage, strength… all being the attributes of the brand – or rather, the symbolism that the brand aims to help consumers project onto itself and every product it stamps with its sexy little swish mark.
Once the brand takes on the attributes of the desired archetype (or two, or three), then people begin a sort of projective identification dance. They first project their wants and needs onto the brand, in effect using it as a vessel for the qualities which they cannot articulate or completely manage on their own. They then become patrons of the brand in order to possess these attributes in a form they can understand, use, and express. Once a brand has achieved this type of relationship with the public, it becomes alive. It becomes part of pop culture. It becomes relevant on a level that surpasses traditional marketing, messaging and business-speak. It becomes a power brand.
Understanding archetypes and using this knowledge to build powerful brands is kind of a no-brainer… but still, very few agencies, marketing firms and brand boutiques use this simple tool. Strange.
I’m glad to see that John has tapped into this, and I hope that more of you will as well. Aside from the books mentioned in his piece, I also encourage you to read Robert E. Johnson’s “He.” It’s a quick read (less than 200 pages) that will help you not only understand the roles that archetypes play in our everyday lives, but also understand human behavior (particularly in the Western world) in a way that no other book or university course can. It is pure genius.
The Messaging Crutch:
About two years ago, I found myself having a conversation with a couple of self-professed “branding experts”. We were chatting about projects that I had worked on, and I sensed that the methodology behind the successes that I’d had in the last few years wasn’t clicking with them. Three or four times, they asked me about messaging.
“Yeah, but… what about the messaging?”

You might have thought they were asking me “where’s the beef?
“Messaging”… Hmmm… It hadn’t occurred to me until I was asked the question that “messaging” had stopped to be all that important to my process in quite some time. Messaging. Yeah. In truth, messaging seemed almost superfluous. I explained that with every single project I had worked on since 2004, messaging had been secondary at best. In most cases, when dealing with branding projects and even most effective marketing campaigns, the strength of the product, brand or idea was easier to understand viscerally than when articulated. The clever taglines, the tight copy, the words on the page or the poster or the screen were almost completely irrelevant.
What I found is that the strength of a brand often lies in its power not to have to be explained or articulated. In a way, defining a brand too well may actually hurt it.
No, forget that. Replace may with will. Does Apple need a tagline? Does iPod need messaging? Does Starbucks? Does Nike? Does Porsche? Does Halliburton? Does PowerBar? Does Disney? Ben & Jerry? Staples? Ferrari? Cartier? Target? Heineken?
Many PR pros will argue that they do. The reality is that they don’t.
If the brand you create is powerful enough – inside and out – then messaging is barely frosting on the cake. Heck, it’s little more than the colored sprinkles on the edges. The messaging is nice and it dresses things up a little, but… if you create a power brand or a love brand, it might as well be an afterthought.Using archetypes in your brand development process can help you tap into the raw nature and identity of a brand better than any brand pyramid, onion, pie chart or whatever cookie-cutter technique you are currently using. It’s okay if you don’t believe me. But… for your sake (and more importantly, that of your clients), at least look into it. It might be the one thing your practice was missing. At the very least, it will become a great new tool to add to your brand-building toolbox.
Breathing Life into the branding process:

I’ll let John make one last important point before we close the book on today’s topic:

I find it more exciting to think of myself as the author of eternal brand stories than as someone who writes strategy documents and brand pyramids.

Well, um… yeah. I can relate. I hope we all can.
Truth: Brands live out there, in the collective ocean of pop culture that we all share, swim in, and contribute to. (Wait… that sounded kind of gross. Sorry.) Where brands don’t live is inside agency meeting rooms or in the heads of creatives living in the ad world. They don’t live inside your market research or on pie charts or inside brand pyramids. They don’t live in your taglines or in your copy or in the dialogue of your spokespeople. Your brands live in the same world as Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, Hercules, John McLane, Rocky Balboa, John F. Fennedy, James Bond, Paris Hilton, Rintintin, Britney Spears, Spiderman, Godzilla, Jack Bauer, Cinderella, and Tony Soprano.
Maybe it sounds like a stretch to some of you, but if you look into this a little more closely, you’ll start to see it. Some of you may have to look a little more closely than others… but it’s well worth the extra effort.
Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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Geno Church speaks at SMC Greenville

From Lydia Dishman’s piece on FastCompany.com:

Energy. Enthusiasm.  Optimism.

Hardly words that come to mind when describing a 7:30 am meeting on a chilly Monday morning.  But the main dining room of Soby’s on South Main Street in downtown Greenville, SC fairly crackled with the energy of the 100 people packed in for the inaugural meeting of the Greenville chapter of the Social Media Club (SMC).

Live feeds made the meeting available to groups in Shanghai, China and Orlando, Florida. A welcome message by Steven Weathers, an American professor currently residing in Shanghai, kicked off the high-octane feature presentation by Geno Church, “Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer” of Brains on Fire, a local branding agency in Greenville.

Using slides, film clips (including the hilarious “These go to eleven” sequence from This is Spinal Tap), and stories, Church chronicled the success of campaigns such as Fiskars “Fiskateers” and the Park Angels in Charleston to illustrate how social media played a role in the viral building brands. As enthusiasts connected to each other, relationships grew and consequently strengthened the brand’s image. “Community loves company,” explained Church… Read the rest of the article here.

(Then recommend it and come back.)

So what do you think really motivated 100 people to get out of bed a lot earlier than normal on a freezing cold Monday morning to come hang out together? (Aside from Geno, of course.) Do you think it was to talk about FaceBook or Twitter? Do you think it was to exchange tips about apps, widgets and how to get more followers? Do you think what brought these people together – not only in Greenville but all around the world in this case – really had anything to do with Social Media tools or tech talk?

Or do you think that maybe, just maybe there is something a whole lot more relevant and important going on? Something much more human and powerful?

I welcome your thoughts.

To connect with the Greenville Social Media Club, go ahead and say hi to @SMC_Greenville on Twitter. The group will follow you back. :)

Event Photo Galleries: @nullvariable, @linkerjpatrick, @thebrandbuilder (If you have more photos of the event, we’d love to share them here.) Also Check out Channel 7′s coverage of the event here.

Social Media Club Greenville

Cheers!

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brandbuilder-word-cloud

Suggested by David Bernardo, who created his own resume cloud. (Very cool concept.) Go make your own fully customizable word cloud – about anything – here.

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image by andrew testa

image by andrew testa

Welcome to episode #2 of our weekly series now, where I feature a handful of my favorite posts, articles, studies or websites discovered via Twitter. (Or as I like to call it: It’s Friday and I have too much work to do before the weekend to actually write a meaningful post.)

To start us off, via @armano (David Armano) is this incredible FEED piece by Razorfish’s Garrick Schmitt and Malia Supe on brands that are getting it right:

When we think back on the relationships we have with brands, it seems that the ones that run deep are the ones where we are emotionally or rationally invested in the brand. Whether it is a running shoe, a favorite beer or even a hotel chain, there are some brands that matter to us and that we choose time and time again. The reasons for our loyalty differ and in some cases the relationship is built over time through experience while in others it is love at first sight. But for today’s marketers creating loyalty or even preference with consumers is a difficult task – one that is increasingly challenging.

The sheer number of brands vying for attention is overwhelming.  Old brands, new brands, celebrity brands, corporate brands and even country brands are all hawking products that in many ways are very similar to products we have already seen and may already have. Marketers keep trying to drive differentiation for products (that are often at parity) with messages we have all heard before.

Digital has also made marketing more complex. For one, it has splintered broad, traditional and easy to navigate channels into micro channels or micro interactions that are built for people not advertisers and their ads. Digital has also fundamentally changed how we view media. It is no longer a channel but rather an entity in itself – something we don’t just watch or read but create, participate in, or share with others.

And lastly, influencers are everywhere – disrupting the most holy of conversations – the one between consumers and the brand. These influencers are impossible to control (much less influence) because they are everywhere and everything and they aren’t necessarily consumers – they are media, other brands, products, design, culture — all the fluid forces that surround the world in which the brand lives.

So what’s a brand to do? (read the entire post…)

That one’s going to be tough to beat, but let’s give it a shot. Let’s see…

Via @guykawasaki: Advertising Age’s “The difference between building a business and building a brand.” A pretty interesting take on brand valuation through market share:

What’s the most reliable measure of the power of a brand? It’s not making the Interbrand list. The most reliable measure is market share. Powerful brands dominate their markets.

In the U.S., Tabasco has 90% of the hot-pepper-sauce market. Campbell’s has 82% of the canned-soup market. TurboTax has 79% of the income-tax software market. Starbucks has 73% of the high-end coffeehouse market. The iPod has 70% of the MP3-player market. Taco Bell has 70% of the Mexican fast-food market. Google has 68% of the search market.

When your brand dominates a market, it is in an exceptionally strong position. In a mature market, a dominant brand is highly unlikely to ever lose its position. (Think Kleenex, Gatorade, McDonald’s, Budweiser and many other dominant brands.) [...]

You can’t dominate a category if you expand your brand into many other categories. You can only dominate a category by keeping your brand focused. (Read the entire post…)

Via @conversationage (Valeria Maltoni), Hello Viking’s Tim Brunelle argues against growth:

I’m beginning to think we’ve reached a point where advertising as it is currently practiced has become an exercise in futility—not unlike some aspects of the current credit crisis and the bailouts. Is there an apt metaphor in the unraveling credit markets to describe what’s happening in advertising?

[...] We have reached a saturation point here in the U.S. where more messaging growth doesn’t mean anything more than more advertising. I sense the budget-holders might agree. Noreen O’Leary’s recent piece in Adweek, “Ad Industry Preps for Pain in ‘09,” notes, “Even the quadrennial stimulus of the Olympics and presidential election couldn’t boost spending this year in the world’s largest ad market.”

What’s needed are fewer ads, and greater “development,” which I define as relationships, community and consumer empowerment. As Daly points out, “If economists really believe that the consumer is sovereign then she should be obeyed rather than manipulated, cajoled, badgered, and lied to.” (Anyone hear echoes of Howard Gossage and David Ogilvy?) In other words, let’s cut the growth of blunt messaging and focus (i.e. limit) our persuasive efforts towards developing more robust conversations with our audiences. (Read the entire post…)

Via BryanPerson, by way of @Armano: IBM’s social computing guidelines. Great little document for any company to look at when considering developing Social Media guidelines for their own employees:

… We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM. Nothing gains you more notice in the online social media environment than honesty—or dishonesty. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. But also be smart about protecting yourself and your privacy. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and also be judicious in disclosing personal details. (Read the full document here…)

And finally @marenhogan’s (Maren Hogan) brilliant discovery of the latest technology in Social Media. This is going to be HUGE! Check it out.

Honorable mention:

Cory O’Brien’s Lifestream

Via @shannonpaul: Google Reader for Beginners

Via @nicheprof: Plurk vs. Twitter

Via @Armano: “What is Online Authority, really?

Via @karllong: “New rules for building brands…”

l

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image by ilisu

I don’t always agree with Seth, but sometimes, he completely nails it:

“As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Chances are that you’ve forgotten what made your company or services or products so different. So unique. So good.

Chances are that your success has driven you away from those early days, when being different from everyone else, when being better was what it was all about.

Back when taking care of every new customer was like going out on a first date.

Chances are that you’re more focused on aligning your pricing to that of your competitors now than you ever were.

Chances are that you’ve started to copy their every move. You advertise where they advertise. You offer the same services they offer. The closer you get to beating them, the more like them you become.

Chances are that you are slowly becoming a clone of the very people you once thought sucked.

Here it is again, with just a slight little change:

As soon as you start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, you become indistinguishable from them. As soon as you decide that you can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Stop.

Take a breather.

Go back to the start.

Are your products still the best? Are they still unique? Is your company still unique? Are you who you promised yourself you would be when you started?

Are you still earning attention, or do you have to resort to buying it?

As Mike Wagner would say: “Own your brand.” Don’t give it away. Don’t hand it over to your competitors or your marketing partners. Don’t let it get beaten up by market pressures or other dark ‘mysterious’ forces beyond your control, whatever they may be. Choose to be great. Choose to be the best. Choose to be remarkable. Choose to make the right decisions, even if they tend to be the most difficult, and even sometimes the scariest.

Owning your brand is tough work. It’s passionate work. It’s nothing short of a damn life-affirming mission – but it is the only way it works. If you aren’t fully committed to it, if your people aren’t fully committed to it, then you’re already treading precariously along a very slippery slope. Stop. Find your footing. Turn around. Go back to the start. Learn to be great again.

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For a little while, the folks at BrandPerspectives.com had a great little blog on Branding. They haven’t posted to it in a very long time, but some of the stuff they did post there is still up and well worth a look, so go check it out.

One of their last topics dealt with Developing a Culture of Brand Performance Accountability (which… was actually the title of their post. Ahem.)

Here’s the meat of the post:


“Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (…)

Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
ongoing research.

For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
level.”

There you have it. Too few companies focus on assessing where their brands stand… And it’s obvious which companies do it, and which companies don’t. For the first batch, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Apple and Virgin, for starters. In the other batch… well… throw-in the companies you’ve never heard of.

There is, however, one thing that struck me about the post. In its original version, it mentions (customer) loyalty twice. Hmmm… Loyalty… That tricky little word.

There seem to be two schools of thought in regards to customer loyalty, these days: The first believes in it. The second thinks it’s dead. Both sides have very smart and insightful things to say on the subject. But… who’s right?

Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. Think sports teams. Think Ford vs. Chevy. Think Playstation vs. X-Box. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.

Think dog people vs. cat people.

Think Republicans vs. Democrats.

Yeah, brand loyalty is alive and well. But unless you have two superbrands battling it out and inviting you to take sides, forget it. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.

Without the element of archetypal supercompetition, without a corporate nemesis, brand loyalty is simply irrelevant.

Here’s a simple example: Most people love Google… Most of the searches that lead people to this blog come from Google. But because Google doesn’t have an arch-nemesis, no one is driven to be loyal to it. People simply use it. Loyalty isn’t an issue.

What you might mistake for brand loyalty is a lot more likely to be about customers’ habits, penchant for convenience, and comfort.

Remember that customers are people. People like patterns.

Once customers find something they like, something they can incorporate in their routine, that’s exactly what they do. Even I, Mr. Agent Of Change, Mr. Try Something New, shop at the same stores regularly. I read the same blogs. Return to the same TV shows every week. Hang out with the same friends. I even like to get gas from the same places.

You get the drift.

We’re humans. Ergo, we are creatures of habit.

Here’s how it works: You have your routine. One day, your routine gets disturbed. You alter it and try something new. (The store was out of your usual brand of olive oil and this forces you to buy another brand. Your favorite airline doesn’t have any flights available, so you have to book with another one.)

Outcome A: You like the new brand better and adopt it.
Outcome B: You don’t like the new brand better and return to your usual one next time around.

In other words, it takes a significant event for us to CHANGE our habits.

It takes a catalyst.

That catalyst could be a glowing recommendation from someone we trust. It could be a really cool ad. It could be the result of an unexpected shortage in the original product. It could be an accidental discovery. It could be the influence of a cultural phenomenon.

Check out the wheel of brand interaction. What it shows is a complex but repetitive pattern of purchasing behavior. The slinky-like spiral is a brand exposure/interaction pattern we go through either daily or weekly. Some brands are closer to our comfort zone (and lifestyle) than others. (Some brands, we have only superficial contact with, while others we have regular contact with.)

Occasionally, a catalyst will force one of the tentacles of slinky-like spiral pattern to either shift, or reach out a little further than normal.

Marketers spend most of their time focusing on designing some of these catalysts: Think POP displays. Advertising. Package design. PR. Promotions. Coupons. “Branding”. “Co-branding”. Licensing. Sponsorships. Establishing a presence at trade shows and special events… or just across the street from your office. Sampling. Buzz marketing. Giveaways. Swag. New product features. New product styling. New technology. Special edition releases. You get the idea.

It’s kind of a three-tiered cycle:

Phase 1: Building the brand’s contextual foundation – The idea is that exposure to brands will make us more likely to incorporate them into our routine. Familiarity, after all, breeds trust and comfort. (As in “oh yeah, I’ve never tried it, but I know that brand.”)

Phase 2: Triggering the change in purchasing habits – Give people a reason to try your product, and make it easy to do so. (Note: Some companies purposely bypass Phase 1 and focus their energy on impulse buyers.)

Phase 3: Cross your fingers and hope the product is as good as you claim it is. You only get once chance to make a good impression. The best marketing in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Read ground zero brand-building to know what I mean.

People buy what they know, like and trust. They also tend to crave what they think will make their lives better. (That could be a red BMW convertible or a chrome-plated iPod or a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses.) More often than not, purchasing habits are based on perceptions, expectations and experience, not loyalty.

Put simply, we tend to buy what we know only until we find something we like better. Brand loyalty is really brand comfort.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: What are you doing to make your customers not want to consider switching over to other brands?

(Or if you’re trying to attract new customers, what are you doing to make your competitors’ customers want to consider switching to you?)

Does your brand evoke the same level of excitement and customer comfort as Target, Starbucks, Apple, Whole Foods and Virgin?

If not, why not?

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illustration by Tom Fishburne

illustration by Tom Fishburne

The value of being ordinary is exactly zero.  Here’s what Tom Fishburne has to say about it:

“Blending into the herd” feels like one of the most common responses to the recession.  2009 is full of so much risk on its own, businesses are becoming even more risk adverse than usual to compensate.  The first projects to get cut are the speculative ones.  Many companies are pulling back on innovation as a way to batten the hatches.

This defense is illusory though.  If anything, retailers are facing even greater pressure to rationalize their shelves.  Redundant products are in danger of getting cut.  Consumers are shifting to cheaper private label if there’s no compelling reason to buy branded products. Differentiation is more important than ever.

I think this climate creates a lot of opportunity for brands that are willing to try something new.  The ones that can adapt the quickest and offer something truly unique have the potential to not only survive, but thrive.

Amen.

Not that there isn’t value in commodity products. (Check out the crowds at Wal-Mart and Costco.) But not every brand is a commodity brand. Not every company’s model meshes with the 99-cent value meal. And for those millions of companies – big and small – for whom being in business is about more than offering the cheapest product on the market, differentiation matters. If grabbing wallet-share was a struggle before, it has now become a knuckle fight to the death. Being better, smarter, faster has now become a matter of survival.

And kids, being better, faster, smarter takes a lot of work. And deliberate focus. It doesn’t happen by accident. Likewise, it sure doesn’t happen by “blending in” or “Playing it safe.” In this economy, value isn’t just your competitive edge, it’s your lifeline. The more unique you are, the more outstanding your value, the greater your opportunity to thrive in any economy – perhaps particularly a distressed one, when clients and customers are particularly careful when it comes to how they choose to spend their money.

Standing out has its advantages: When you stand out, you stand for something. When you don’t, you stand for nothing – and there isn’t much value in that.

Think of innovation and differentiation as your double-sided ticket out of this economic mess. Companies that will create unique value, unique products and unique experiences will lurch ahead, while companies that focus on trying to survive by contracting and blending in with the masses will be lucky to last the year.

After all, then the going gets tough, the tough don’t wuss out and blend with the herd.

Have a great Monday, everyone.  ;)

(Hat tip to John Moore for hooking us up with this via Twitter.)

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Happy New Year!

olivier blanchard

Welcome to a whole new year! We only have 365 days to make it rock, so we’d better get started.

So let’s see… war in the Middle East, North Korea boosting its military, famine in Africa, a global economic crisis, rising unemployment… At least we’re off to an interesting start.

So what’s the plan for this year? On my end, here are a few goals that relate to our typical discussions:

1. Help businesses thrive, even in this economy. To that end, I will be launching the marketing management and consulting arm of the BrandBuilder blog later this month. I have been testing the waters by working on the DL with a few clients over the last couple of months, and I am VERY excited about where this is going already.

The coolest part about the BrandBuilder business model is that it will allow me to work not only with business clients but also seamlessly with their PR firms, ad agencies and other marketing service providers. (Collaboration rather than competition. What a concept, right?)

2. Help create jobs: The faster we can help companies do well again, the faster they will start looking for talent to fill their empty desks. By helping clients grow, I can help create jobs. That motivates me a whole lot.

3. Finally partner with some of the smartest, most talented marketing and business professionals on the planet: Web designers, graphic designers, copywriters, social media strategists, marketing consultants, etc. If I haven’t had a chance to chat with you yet, get in touch. Let’s find ways to work on something together. :)

4. Continue to somehow come up with half-way decent content on the BrandBuilder blog. And the time to write it.

5. Continue to learn, learn, learn.

6. Resist the urge to be snarky, even when I’m in a mood.

7. Keep getting back up, no matter how many times I get hit. (Rocky Balboa suggested that one.)

8. Somehow make myself more available to you, my very own international brain trust.

9. Stop being so damn French all the time.

10. Keep my posts under 30,000 words.

Have a great new year, everyone! :)

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