Archive for April, 2006

Let’s close out this “let’s see what other people have to say about branding” week with this awesome post from John Winsor:

“In this quickly changing environment in which we live today, where customers are acquiring the tools to become producers, especially of media, companies that get involved and thrive on the inspiration that the market provides them, can interpret it into something real. Such companies have ingrained this approach into the philosophy of their brands – it goes deeper than any individual or hired agency.

“These companies all share some common attributes based on good listening to their key voices and understanding how to leverage the networks that exist in their markets. Companies that strategically find inspiration time after time – from Apple to Nike – follow some of the same steps. They include:

Be Curious – Have you ever spent time with someone who always knows what the next trend will be? The biggest factor is usually their sense of curiosity. Companies, as well as people, can be curious. The problem is that static systems stifle curiosity. Reintroduce curiosity into your company by changing the way you’re looking at the world to a more dynamic perspective. Instead of focusing on controlling the outcome when developing new product and marketing ideas, focus instead on thinking in dynamic terms and accepting many possible outcomes. Such an outlook, in and of itself, will go a long way in making your team more curious.

Be Keenly Aware – Part of finding inspiration is being keenly aware of subtle changes in your surroundings. Companies that are good at it spend a lot of time deep in their market’s network trying to find inspiration. Only by getting out of the office and living within the network participants’ worlds will you really be able to notice the subtle changes that magnify inspiration.

Do you know Jake Burton? What makes Burton Snowboards so dominant in their market is that they are intimate with every aspect of the marketplace, and know what network to tap into to find inspiration for new product and marketing efforts. As we discussed, at Burton it starts at the top, and that means that Jake is snowboarding 100 days a year. When your CEO is that well connected to the marketplace and keenly aware of the subtleties of the market, always knowing where to find inspiration, it’s hard for your competitors to keep up.

Use Your Imagination – I’m always amazed by the imaginations of my two little boys. They really started talking around Halloween last year. One of the first full sentences both of them could say was, “Oh, no! Ghost coming! Scary!” After saying it they would run around the house, laughing and laughing. One of the things that I am most struck by with small children around the house is that we, as adults, have lost our imaginations. The world is a serious place, whether it’s business, world affairs, the economy or, for that matter, our entertainment. Companies can take things way too seriously.

It seems that in today’s business environment, recovering from a recession, there is a lot of underlying stress making everyone more serious. One of the key ingredients to finding inspiration is to have an active imagination. We all have imaginations but, like a muscle, you’ve got to use it or lose it. Turn on your imagination by doing creative things. Get your team together and have some fun. Do things that encourage people to find inspiration through the use of “out of the box” thinking. When you support this kind of thinking by not criticizing it, new inspiration will really start to flow.

Have A Human Touch – I’ve been on some explorations with clients where some team members are so focused on accomplishing the task at hand that they act more like robots than humans. When looking for inspiration it’s essential that you do so with a human touch. When you’re out trying to explore newly formed network connections, you’ve first got to gain the trust of those in the network. If you’re only there to complete your business task, it’s obvious to others and doesn’t engender trust at all. Being human means taking the time to really care about the people from whom you’re trying to gain the inspiration that you’re after. That requires sharing a part of yourself. Being more human means being more vulnerable, and that’s a very hard thing to do – especially in the context of business.

Be Patient – The most important thing to remember about finding inspiration is that it’s a journey with no beginning or end. Like anything else, most of us can’t find real inspiration the first time we try: the first time you see someone, you’re not going to ask him or her to marry you, are you? Well, I guess it does happen… but that’s pure chance. Finding true inspiration is something that you’ve got to spend every day doing, a little at a time. Probably the most important way to make finding inspiration happen is by integrating it into your daily schedule. Read magazines you don’t usually read, go to new restaurants, stay in a different hotel each time you travel, and most importantly, talk to new people. It’s one step at a time.

Always Stay Connected – Apple is firmly connected to the creative graphics community, Nike has a support system of athletes, and Patagonia is connected with outdoor adventurers. Who are you connected with? Are you networked intimately enough to your group of trend translators that you can call or email at any time to explore a couple of new ideas? Do you know them well enough that if they don’t know where to find the inspiration you’re looking for, they will turn you on to their network? Not only are Apple, Nike, and Patagonia connected, but they have become a vital part of their network’s community, allowing them to consistently find inspiration for both products and marketing much faster than their competitors.”

I wish I had something to add… but I really don’t. This is one of those “amen” posts you just want to read and nod to.

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Sometimes, Seth Godin is dead-on. Sometimes, he isn’t. Lately, he’s been posting some pretty cool stuff on his blog. This piece speaks to one of my favorite BrandBuilder themes: Saying no to average. Here’s his post:

“One of my favorite conversations goes like this.

“Oh, by the way, I read your book Purple Cow. I liked it a lot. I even underlined some paragraphs.”

“Thanks!” I say. Underlining is the goal of people in my line of work.

“I can imagine that it’s really helpful to a lot of people. Unfortunately, in my [business/organization/line of work], most of what you write about doesn’t really work.”

The reason it’s such a good conversation is that people in every possible line of work have managed to tell me that the ideas don’t apply to them… and that gives me a chance to ask them more details about what they do–and within a minute or two, we’re both jumping up and down, excited with the possibilities of how it does work in their line of work. Ministers, freelance photographers, real estate agents, middle managers, web site marketers–doesn’t matter, it always seems to come down to one thing:

Say no to being average.

This morning, Bradley was explaining to me that it couldn’t work in his profession as a freelance writer. It seems that almost all the clients want average stuff. Which no surprise, since average is, by definition, the stuff most people want. I asked, “Are there any writers in your field who you hate because they get paid way too much compared to your perception of the effort they put in and the talent they have?”

“Sure,” he said, feeling a little sheepish about being annoyed by their success.

“And how do they get those gigs?”

It’s because they stand for something. Because they are at the edges. Because if an editor wants a ‘Bob-Jones-type’ article, she has to call Bob Jones for it… and pay Bob’s fees. Bob would fail if he did average work for average editors just to make a living. But by turning down the average stuff and insisting on standing for something on the edge, he profits. By challenging his clients to run stuff that makes them nervous (and then having them discover that it’s great), he profits.

This is scary. It’s really scary to turn down most (the average) of what comes your way and hold out for the remarkable opportunities. Scary to quit your job at an average company doing average work just because you know that if you stay, you’ll end up just like them. Scary to go way out on an edge and intentionally make what you do unattractive to some.

Which is why it’s such a great opportunity.”

Right on. The trick is to understand that reputations take a while to grow. If you’re a photographer, a writer, a web designer, a massage therapist or a fitness coach, it is going to take longer to become known as THE (insert your profession here) than, say… if you’re a store or a bank. The smaller the business, the smaller the exposure. (Yes, that’s changing, but it is still the reality in most markets.) It takes time. If you can afford to take the time, if you have the courage to stick to your convictions and grow as slowly as you need to, do it. Don’t compromise.

All you have is your reputation. Your brand. The promise of what you stand for. Produce average work, and you will become known as the “average” (insert profession or business type here). Believe me, you dont’ want to be an average anything.

You owe it to yourself not to be.

If you lose jobs or clients as a result, so be it. You have plenty of average competitors out there. Let them fight over the lousy projects. Focus on the ones that you will absolutely knock out. The ones that allow you and your clients to shine. The ones you would want to work on – even for free – just because they’re that good.

Get off the crowded blue train and carve your own path.

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Evan (Orange Coat / Orange Yeti) pointed me to a pretty interesting article about energy companies and branding on the Nobrainer’s Hate Capacitor blog. Here’s the premise:

“In the debates over technology for energy, the final yardstick is usually the actual cost to produce a unit of electricity. The inherent assumption is that the consumer will choose the electricity that costs the least. If that idea were applied to food, alcohol, clothing, or even water, the assumption is proven horribly incorrect. Why is it people are convinced to over-pay for Starbucks, or Pepsi, or Aquafina — and do so happily — but we assume that the same cannot be true in the electricity markets?

“To mind, there are two issues that need to be addressed. Many of us are not exactly subjected to open markets, from which we can choose from whom we purchase our electricity. Secondly, electricity doesn’t carry a brand very well.

“Let’s creatively solve both problems simultaneously. Concerned parties may argue that removal of price caps will lead to increased prices across the board, thus hurting everyone and regressively hurting the poor. Or they’ll argue that consumers will merely switch to the cheapest option (presumably dirty coal) which would be an environmental nightmare. This of course is the crux of our energy debate: cost vs. cleanliness.”

Click here to see a cool comparative table designed to help consumers choose the right company and service. (It’s a good idea.)

“Once the consumer is able to make the right choice, it’s up to the marketers to create brands and make the consumer make the right choice. For example, right now I can opt to purchase wind power at a net price increase of about 50%. At least two problems remain: I found this information on my own and not because someone marketed it to me, and I’m not convinced that I should pay a 50% markup, even though I pay huge markups all over the place otherwise. I lied, there’s one problem: marketing — or a lack thereof.

“Part of the marketing is branding. The non-minimum paying consumer wants, nay needs to be able to show off his or her choice. This may be done by simply putting a sign in the window, or a bumper sticker on the car. Let the consumer declare “I BUY BIG GREEN ENERGY.”

“What’s more, the marketers need to make being green more than being environmentally aware. Make us want to do it because it’s cool. Don’t tell us it’s cool; show us it’s cool. Make guys think they will get laid.

“Have a commercial with the Super Bowl winning quarterback surrounded by scantily clad women read:

“I buy my electricity from Big Green. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s worth it for the future. Plus chicks dig it.”

“Can we at least agree that guys will do it if they believe it leads to sex?

“Obviously I’m being a bit facetious, but I truly believe that we can be convinced to pay higher energy prices. What’s keeping us from it?”

I was just thinking… Can energy companies actually be sexy? Absolutely. (And it’s genius.)

Basically, here are the three platforms of energy company branding:

– Reliability: “We promise less outages than anyone else, and/or the fastest response time of any company in the unlikely event of an outage. If we can’t get your power restored in x hours, we’ll have one of our service crews come to your home or office and perform a stripapologygram for you. (No tipping required.)

– Greenkarmatude: “We love trees, fishies, black bears and critters so much that our energy actually pumps clean air right from the power lines back into the ambient air and actually restores the ozone layer. Studies also show that our electricity cuts pollution and smog by 17.8%, and turns the sky in our service areas two whole cleaner shades of blue. As a bonus, our special super-energized blend of clean energy and good karma actually makes butterflies more colorful and kittens 32% cuter than normal. Isn’t it about time an energy company actually helped the environment instead of destroying it? Right on.”

– Value – The Kilowatt Holy Grail: “Sure, our energy costs are 20% higher than XYZ, but our customers are healthier, smarter, hipper, happier, live longer, and get swarmed by hotties every time they go out in public. Without dieting, most of our customers have reported an average annual weight loss of 2lbs for every 40 megawatt hours, and a 7% increase in bone density (especially in women ages 45 and up) for every 100 megawatt hours. In 2005, 32% of our customers also reported clearer skin, a reduction in wrinkles, larger, perkier breasts in women, and reduced hair loss in men after just six months of switching to our energy service. If that isn’t worth an extra 20% on your bill, I don’t know what is.”

iPod. Diet Coke. Diesel Jeans. Volkswagen. Revlon. Nike. Axe. Victoria’s Secret. Gucci. Your energy company? Why not.

All joking aside, perhaps the time has come for a new business and regulatory model when it comes to energy companies? I don’t think it would be far-fetched to envision energy company brand advocates if the product, company philosophy and marketing all delivered on something that legions of customers could find themselves being passionate about.

Think about it. We get passionate about cars. About Mp3 players. About computers. About shoes. About underwear, cooking pots and even toothpaste. Is energy really that different?

Of course not.

People are keen on self expression. Being able to declare that you belong to a clean energy movement, that you are one of millions of energy customer revolutionaries, that your identity is tied to that of an energy company that promises to be to the energy market what Apple was to the PC world is a powerful and very realistic premise. Could an energy company trigger a sweeping sociocultural movement? A cultural and economic milestone like the introduction of iPod or MTV or Google? You bet.

I like to think about that kind of possibility as a giant breath of fresh air.

In this climate of rising energy costs, global warming, corporate malfeasance and increasing consumer demand, it shouldn’t be a question of if, but rather of when.

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So… our ranking in the Technorati top Branding blogs kind of slipped to the low 30’s several months ago (sigh), but we just made the Viral Marketing’s Top 25 Marketing blogs!!!! The list is based on Alexa’s ratings.

All together now: “Huzzah!”

Thanks to Coolzor for the heads-up.

Considering who is on that list, I am so beyond honored to be in such good company that I can’t even think of something clever to say about the whole thing.

(And no, I don’t mind being dead last on that list, either. – Whew. Just made the cut!) Listen up, kids, because this is important: Top 25 lists are a whole lot easier to get into than Top 10 lists.

(You can quote me on that.)

Here’s the damage:

1 – Seth’s Blog
2 – Guy Kawasaki
3 – Gaping Void
4 – Duct Tape Marketing
5 – Creating Passionate Users
6 – Marketing Shift
7 – HorsePigCow
8 – Brand Autopsy
9 – Church of the Customer
10 – What’s Next
11 – Coolzor
12 – Emergence Marketing
13 – Jaffe Juice
14 – Marketing Roadmaps
15 – Beyond Madison Avenue
16 – Diva Marketing
17 – Jack Yan
18 – Johnnie Moore’s Weblog
19 – What’s Your Brand Mantra
20 – Marketing Begins At Home
21 – Decker Marketing
22 – Being Reasonable
23 – The Origin of Brands
24 – Crossroads Dispatches
25 – The Brand Builder Blog

Wow. I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something today. 🙂

Okay… almost.

Note: Sorry about the re-post. The image was so HUGE it was screwing up my page. Blogger is having hiccups this week.

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Okay. Reality check. You can’t be Mr. Innovator every day. You can’t be 100% brand you every day. Every once in a while, even if you love what you do for a living, you’re going to get to work and wish you could take the day off and… go ride a bike. Or go surf. Or just stay home and read a good book. Whatever. The point is that some days, no matter how dedicated to your job you may be, no matter how professional you are, you aren’t exactly motivated or inspired to be your awesome self and give every moment of your day the usual 110%.

What should you do when those days come to smack you in the back of the head? (Other than treating yourself and a co-worker to a particularly cool lunch?)

Dave Lorenzo has a pretty decent suggestion:

“Think of an area of your work that needs improvement. Are you always 15 minutes late to work? Do you make small mistakes when working on detail-oriented assignments? Are your colleagues not getting the information they need from you?

Whatever it is, spend today (and the week to come) focusing your effort on doing a great job in that area. Get to bed half an hour earlier, and get up on time. Not having to rush in the morning gives you a sense of peace and control. Check and double-check your work. It doesn’t take long, and you end up saving a lot of time in the long run. Make the calls you need to make to communicate about your project. It only takes a minute, and it introduces a bit of variety and social interaction into your day.

If you’ve been falling slightly short in a particular area for a while now, you may feel that it doesn’t matter anymore and no one notices or cares. This is not at all true. When the person who always comes in late suddenly starts arriving on time, people do notice. If your work is suddenly consistently free of errors, business partners notice and appreciate it. When your colleagues start hearing from you regularly and getting what they need, their opinion of you improves and they enjoy working with you more. All these things help build your reputation and establish your personal brand.”

In other words, just find something that you could be doing better, and focus on fixing it. Take some extra time to identify one problem, and take care of it. It could be something as simple as tweaking your schedule, or cleaning up your active files folder, or taking a few hours to completely unclutter your workspace (that means your computer’s files as well). Return all of the calls you didn’t get a chance to last week. Take on a very small project you’ve been putting off, and spend all day working exclusively on it.

It could also be putting all of your work aside and helping a colleague work on a project that has nothing to do with you. Just to do something different. Just to learn something new. Just to do a good deed. (Remember good deeds? They’re invigorating.)

You can kill two birds with one stone: a) turn a less than stellar day around by accomplishing something productive that you hadn’t anticipated, and b) earning some extra style points in the process.

And remember: Days like this aren’t the norm. Things will get back to normal before you know it.

Even when you don’t feel like it, every day can be extraordinary. (Or at least memorable.)

Have fun. Even on blue Mondays. 😉

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Marketing Remix

Thanks to Guy for the heads-up on this great piece by JJ Sviokla and Antony Paioni on what’s happening to the four P’s of Marketing:

“The entire science of marketing has been developed to understand who buys, why they buy, and how they buy. The traditional marketing mix is made up of product, place, promotion, price — all consistent with a positioning for the product or service. The power of this model was to point out the key tools that firms have to bring their product or service to market successfully.

Each of these concepts becomes much more complex and diffuse in this new world. “Place” is not so obvious, for the place where people shop is now a combination of physical and informational environments.

Promotion is not so clear, because while formal, outbound efforts like advertising and couponing will continue, marketers must also acknowledge the self-organized nature of user-defined ratings of products and services. These are influential and out of control of the marketer. It is now much more about word of mouth — turbocharged by peer-to-peer communications like the phone and the internet.

Product is still vital, but the service wrappers around product, and the ability to have that product be easy to purchase is more critical than ever.

Lastly, price is much more dynamic than it used to be. Price comparisons are much more transparent than just a few years ago, and getting more so. In many markets, from books to used cars, the influence of the used market is completely changing the pricing dynamics — with new products competing with used substitutes that can be from 25% to 99% cheaper than their new alternatives.

What’s a poor marketer to do? Well, it is time to do a remix of the marketing mix. Just as in any remix, the old notions are still there, and underlie the remix, but the new layer on top is hip, and makes the old song come alive again — with a new audience, new buzz, and new power.”

Interesting stuff. Read the entire thing here.

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“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 today, 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.)

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.

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

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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