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Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

The topic of “what is a brand” or “what do we mean when we say brand” comes up pretty often, so I am always on the lookout for a clear explanation of the term… or at least an explanation that can help frame it for people who aren’t 100% clear what brand really is. (Is it a logo, symbol or mark? Is it a promise? Is it a marketing gimmick?)  Depending on whom you talk to, you might get a completely different answer.

This time around, let’s have Tom Asacker share a few insights on the subject:

A brand is not a logo, and branding is not a communication strategy. A strong brand is a strong bond, and branding is your business.”“To those with a dated, mass-market mentality, branding is still all about image and awareness. It’s about tag lines, logos, cute little animal mascots or clever jingles. It’s about spending megabucks on Super Bowl commercials, hiring celebrities to sing your corporate praises, and covering cars with advertising banners. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that awareness is unimportant. (…) But, does well-known equal strong? Not any longer. The rise of the global economy [and] the rapid adoption of the Internet have ignited commercial innovation, and put an end to those days forever. Today, like just about everything else, brand logic has been turned on its head.”

“And please, don’t get hung-up on the word brand. Today, the word brand is shorthand for the gut feeling people have about something, some group, or someone. It’s a kind of Platonic Ideal, which stands for the essence of a business, school, organization, person, or even place. If you add up the tangible and intangible qualities of something – the gestalt – and wish to represent the meaning and distinctive character this greater whole conveys to its audience, today we call it . . . brand.

“Think of your brand as a “file folder” in your audiences’ minds (not a perfect metaphor, since memory is malleable, but stick with me anyway.). When they’re exposed to you (e.g., through advertising, design, a salesperson, word-of-mouth, etc.), a feeling is immediately filed away in that “brand file folder.” As time passes, much of what your audience has filed away – the details – will become inaccessible. However, they will remember where they stored the folder: in the front (positive feelings) or pushed to the back (negative feelings). Given the sheer volume of brands trying to find a place in your audiences’ overloaded “brand file cabinets,” you must not only get their attention and be relevant (a file folder labeled with your brand name), but you must also get it placed in the front of their file cabinet (elicit strong, positive feelings of intense personal significance).

“(…) Despite what the Madison Avenue folks may tell you, the strength of your brand lies not in the fact that you own a folder with your name prominently displayed on it. Repetition does not create memories, relevance does. The strength lies in your folder’s position in your audience’s file cabinet (the emotions that linger in their memory). The strength lies in the bond! So make your brand about feeling, not just familiarity. Make it about shared values and trust. About honesty, vulnerability and presence. A brand is not simply a promise. How can it be, with everything changing at breakneck speed? A brand is a living, breathing relationship. Revel in the messy world of emotions and create a brand that’s about leadership and differentiation; about customer insight and radical innovation; and about clarity of purpose, passion and a sense of humor.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wow. Is it really Friday already?

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New York City street, by Olivier Blanchard 2005

Jack Spade’s words of brand wisdom from an old issue of Fast Company finally made their way to me again last week when I found a box of old issues in my garage. Jack’s advice is as relevant today as it was then:

1. The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.
Even if you have 10,000+ employees and offices on all seven continents, never, ever start thinking or acting like a big company. Once you become corporate, you become detached from your customers and there’s no interest in that.

2. Never believe anything you have done is successful.
Challenge yesterday’s assumptions every second, every day. Understand that no matter how good they may make you feel, last year’s successes are in the past. Your job is to build your company’s next successes. No company stays relevant long by resting on its laurels, so don’t.

3. Brand consistency is overrated.
The brand doesn’t have to look the same, but it has to feel the same. An element of newness and surprise is important for any brand.

4. Brands should have some mystery.
Customers should never understand the whole picture of a brand.

5. Your people are your product.
They are the vehicle through which everything happens, and they define what you put out.

These five points probably aren’t the sort of thing being taught in most business schools. On the contrary, if these subjects are even addressed, I’ll bet that in most cases, the exact opposite is still being preached as gospel: Brands have to be consistent. Capitalize on your successes. Brands should be crystal clear. Yadayadayada.

The truth is that there is no cookie-cutter methodology. Look around. How many major brands are crashing and burning even though they play by the rules? (Perhaps BECAUSE they play by the rules?)  All you can do is build up your toolbox with old and new ideas, with conventional and unconventional wisdom… and learn how to use the right tools in the right circumstances in the right way. The rest is just about inspiration, vision, and fun.

Act small. Look forward, not back. Know exactly who you are. Make sure to always keep things fresh. Don’t lay all your cards on the table. Care. Focus on human needs.

Not a bad start.

Now take these little bits of advice and see if they apply to your company. Which ones apply? Which ones are you missing the mark with?

Welcome to a whole new work week. 😉

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From Brand Building to Brand Rescue: What to do when things go very wrong.

Valeria Maltoni posed a great question on Conversation Agent last week: What happens when brands die?

The topic of the specter of brand death – which visits most companies in a state of distress – is one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, methinks. (Look around. Distressed companies and lackluster brands are everywhere, and they certainly need help.) Symptoms of a dying brand may come in the form of customer attrition, declines in sales frequency or (volume per customer), eroding market share, a negative brand image (as reported through consumer reports, customer feedback and market studies), or even decreasing investor confidence.

The question I guess isn’t so much “how do I make sure my company doesn’t end up in this situation,” but “now that we’re in trouble, how do we keep our sick company or brand from actually dying?”

BrandBuilder conversations usually focus on helping businesses improve their position and reach the next level in their evolution, but what we are dealing with here is an intervention. Emergency care.

In our current economic downturn, this type of discussion might be more relevant than ever: From past experience, I know that helping successful companies become even more successful is great, but where folks like us can really make a difference is in seizing opportunities to partner with businesses that REALLY need expert help today. Especially if you can generate measurable results quickly.

But before this type of rescue/turnaround partnership can take place, managers of distressed brands need to come to terms with reality: Accepting that their brand or company is in trouble. Most companies ultimately fail NOT because they couldn’t be saved, but because their leadership fails to admit that they are in trouble and need help before it is too late. This is the first step in the process.

How do you know when your company or brand is in trouble? Simple: When a preponderance of symptoms from the following list start popping up in your monthly or quarterly executive meetings. The short list:

  • Pricing pressures are eroding your market share (and you can’t seem to reverse the trend without lowering your prices).
  • Consumer preference data indicates that you are no longer either a contender for the top 1 or 2 choices in your product category.
  • Your quarterly net new customer count is either decreasing or stalled.
  • You are seriously contemplating eliminating 5-20% of your workforce to reduce costs.
  • Customer complaints about your brand are increasing. (Quality, service, delivery, etc.)
  • You have lost several of your best (historical) customers in the last 12 months.
  • Your competitors’ products are getting a lot of great press and attention. Yours are not.
  • Your best talent is starting to walk away.
  • You are having a very tough time recruiting talent.
  • You have cut costs by moving your call centers overseas, but now your customer service department is broken.
  • Despite spending an obscene amount of money on marketing, advertising or PR campaigns, your business barely matches your industry’s growth rate. (If you’re lucky.)
  • At least two out of the three cardinal measurements of your sales health (Frequency of sales, Reach of sales and average sales yield) show a flat or decreasing trend YoY.*

* Corporate lingo for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working on the client side: QoQ = Quarter over Quarter. YoY = Year over Year.

Assuming anyone in your company is actually keeping an eye on any of this. You would be surprised how many companies’ sales managers don’t measure F.R.Y. or monitor historical new customer trending, how many marketing managers have absolutely no idea what is being said about their brands or where, and how many HR managers have their hands tied even when they it becomes clear that they are not winning the talent war.

Some of this can be attributed to managerial denial, sure, but a lot of the blame can also be attributed to two other factors: a) a lack of training or sophistication when it comes to establishing adequate, actionable metrics, and/or b) a lack of resources when it comes to managing these metrics with an eye towards regular course correction.

In order to connect the dots, you have to know how to identify the dots to begin with.

Getting help isn’t about admitting defeat, it is about getting results.

In order to climb out of a hole, you have to realize that you are indeed in a hole to begin with… and that you probably need help getting out. If you can’t think of a solution on your own, it’s time to get someone who knows how to help you dig your way out.

This topic reminds me of the scene in the 1998 movie “The Edge” (“The Wild” for my European readers) in which Anthony Hopkins’ character gets stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with two companions after a terrible plane crash. Alone in the wild, the three pampered city guys find themselves in an against-all-odds survival situation. The question the three characters keep asking each other – and themselves – is simple: How in the world are we going to survive out here? With no rations, no weapons or tools, no winter gear and chased by a relentless man-eating Grizzly, the three men have to rely on each other to make it back to civilization. About mid-way through the story, as their situation seems hopeless, Anthony Hopkins’ character explains to his lone surviving companion something that is absolutely relevant to today’s discussion of brand survival:

– You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

– What?

– Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

– And what is that, Charles?

The answer in the movie is “Thinking.” The answer in the case of of rescuing a brand is the same: Thinking. The one difference being that brands don’t die because they get lost in the wilderness. They die because their stewards create an imaginary wilderness around themselves. If you’re a CEO or CMO who hasn’t figured out how to rescue yourself or your brand by now, it’s time to break out the emergency radio or start sending smoke signals. If someone doesn’t come help you get back on track soon, your brand will die, along with your career, and the only reason will have been that you were too ashamed to admit that you needed help.

Yes, brands can and do die of shame as well.

Reaching out for help is a tough sale for a lot of managers and business leaders. It requires them to admit two things they would rather not: 1. This brand is in serious trouble, and 2. I can’t fix this on my own.

The trick is to realize that asking for help is not the same thing as admitting failure. Quite the contrary. Hiring someone to help you fix something for you – or with you – is no different from hiring the best copywriter, salesperson or office manager you can find.

Here’s the thing: We are all too happy to turn to specialists when we need help in every other area of our lives: If we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we have a tooth ache, we go to a dentist. If we are out of shape, we hire a personal trainer. If we have psychological or relationship problems, we hire a therapist. If our dog misbehaves, we hire a dog trainer. We all hire people who can help us improve our lives or who can somehow help us do things we can’t do on our own. Landscapers. Attorneys. Consultants. Mechanics. Dry-cleaners. Interior decorators. Plumbers. Electricians. Life coaches. Nutritionists. Masons. Carpenters. Party planners. Accountants. Financial planners. Repairmen. Whatever. Specialists are there to fill our knowledge and skill gaps. Helping you fix a brand in crisis is no different. It’s just that there isn’t a section in the yellow pages for “brand interventionists”.

Hint: Looking for a brand specialist or marketing firm in the yellow pages is a lot like looking for a job in the wanted ads. Unless you happen to live in 1986, you are looking in the wrong place.

Likewise, looking for traditional marketing firms and ad agencies to fill your needs when it comes to the relatively new problem of brand erosion in today’s complex business world can be a risky endeavor. Old tactics don’t necessarily address new problems – at least not on their own. The toolkit has evolved. If your new advisor’s “ideas” sound awfully familiar, it’s okay to get a second opinion. Even a third. We’ll go into what to look for tomorrow.

Okay, so my brand is failing. I have to do “something.” What are my options?

While many marketing firms and departments are great at building strong brands, many fall short of expectations. It happens. Sometimes, they get too close to the company or the product and lose their ability to look at the big picture. Sometimes, they have been doing the same things for so long that they have lost touch with their customers, with new marketing tools at their disposal, or with consumer trends and tastes. These things happen. It’s just part of doing business. If – not when – this happens to your company and you find yourself in trouble, you basically have four options at your disposal:

  1. Fire your CMO or Marketing department (pretty drastic and rarely the right solution).
  2. Spend more money on the same tactics that have failed, but pretend that you are doing something different (the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time).
  3. Drastically cut your marketing budget. Marketing doesn’t work anyway, right? (You might as well update your resume while you’re at it. This is the worst possible thing you can do in times of crisis. Even worse than firing your CMO.)
  4. Seek professional help to assist your CMO. Not just from a firm or agency that will gladly take your money to take approach #2, but from a firm, agency or specialist who will actually focus on getting measurable and immediate results for you, AND educate you in the process. Rescuing a brand needs to be as much a learning experience for your organization as it is an intervention.

The correct answer, of course, is option #4.

I cannot stress this enough: Do not hire a specialist, firm or agency that will take option #2 to get you back on track. I have seen it happen too many times, and it is the easiest trap to fall into. This will solve nothing, and waste precious resources on your end. Don’t do it.

Tomorrow, we will go over the second step in your brand intervention: Hiring a practitioner or specialized firm, and letting them help you diagnose and clarify the problems facing your brand.

Part 3 of this series will focus on developing a treatment for your brand.

In Part 4, we will go over how to best administer the treatment, and we will wrap it all up in Part 5 with long term strategies to kill the possibility of a relapse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: Methods for diagnosing and understanding what is killing your brand.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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As a reformed meat eater (I’ll eat anything that swims, walks or crawls in the water but not on land – at least not anymore) it seems strange for me to get excited about a burger joint, yet here we are. I just caught a glimpse of this incredible little Kansas “fast food” restaurant on Sundance (yes, the TV channel), and all I can say is this: I wish I didn’t have to drive all the way to Lawrence, Kansas to eat there. (They have non-meat items on the menu.)

Hey, at least Local Burger gives me a reason to go to Kansas someday… Though I hope someone with deep pockets will catch wind of this incredible concept, take the time to go eat there, and make it possible for Local Burger to open more restaurants around the country – starting with wherever I happen to be living.

Why am I so psyched about Local Burger? Simple: I happen to think that the old adage “we are what we eat” is true on every level. I care very much about the quality of the food I eat. I am not a big fan of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers or food additives. The more natural, sustainable and respectful the farming techniques, the better.

Evidently, the folks behind Local Burger feel very much the same way, which is rare for… a hamburger joint.

From their website:

“Local Burger is leading the evolution of fast food with fresh, organic, local, and sustainable fare that is free of unnatural additives and preservatives. At Local Burger, we consider the special diet, the environment, the economy, animal welfare, and the health of everyone who eats our food. At Local Burger, you’ll always know where your food came from and exactly what’s in it.”

Music to my ears. Here’s more:

Local Burger is the brainchild of chef and entrepreneur Hilary Brown, who fulfilled her vision of offering healthy fast food in a casual environment by opening the first Local Burger on September 14, 2005.

Established in historic downtown Lawrence, Kansas, the restaurant sources all of its meats locally and features a variety of burgers, including elk, buffalo, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, and emu, and is home of the World’s Best Veggie Burger (it’s gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, corn-free, soy-free, yeast-free, nut-free and DELICIOUS!).

At Local Burger, Our Mission is to serve delicious food at a fair price with impeccable service while creating a culture of passion for knowing where our food comes from and how it connects us to our world, to our communities, and to ourselves.

Local Burger’s interesting, seasonal, and eclectic menu offers something for everyone, carnivores and vegetarians alike, and is super Celiac friendly. Enjoy local gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns, hemp-milk smoothies, and vegan Caesar salads along with sensational sides like quinoa-millet pilaf and Stevia-sweetened cinnamon applesauce. Those with food intolerances and allergies will find Local Burger heaven on earth… an organic Garden of Eden!

Fast food can mean good food. Who knew? At Local Burger, we can pronounce all of our ingredients. Our food is good for you, good for the community, and good for the environment.

We support local farmers, advocate for the humane treatment of animals and workers, recycle right in the dining room, and compost our organic waste, all while serving food that tastes good and is good for you. Eat here, eat well, and enjoy.

If you appreciate quality, sustainability, and flavor, you’ll love Local Burger.
Ahhhhhhhhh…

Seriously. This may warrant a pilgrimage.

All in all, a great concept, a seemingly fantastic execution, and even terrific branding to boot. I’ll bet Local Burger even has a small army of very loyal fans.

I expect great things from this brilliant little startup over the next decade.

Please comment from the main page, not the permalink. Thanks. 😉

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Click on the dot.

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One of the perks of being a blogger is that I occasionally receive advance copies of marketing books. So far, they’ve all been good, but I received one about a month ago that kind of stands out from the rest because it is so well put together. Part cofee-table book, part textbook, part collection of case studies, Design Matters// LOGOS is also a beautiful book: On top of being smart and informative, every layout is eye-candy, which is a very nice touch. (It makes the book engaging, at the very least.)

If you are in the Marketing business – whether it’s in graphic design, brand management, brand planning, copywriting, or even in the world of sales – you owe yourself to get your hands on this book, and add it to your working library. You will find yourself going back to it over and over again, either for inspiration or reference.

Design Matters//LOGOS covers brand strategy, planning, research, understanding customer cultures, collaborating with other businesses and groups, typography, logo creation, logo evolution, logo flexibility, and dozens of other elements of any successful brand management project, including some excellent case studies that help you put everything in context. Essentially, the book is a step-by-step “how to” brand communications strategy guide for both strategic and design-minded brand managers everywhere, and will hopefully show up in college and Masters level Marketing programs across the English-speaking world very soon.

Buy it here.

(And no, in case you were wondering, I am not being paid to tell you any of this.) ;D

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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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 and of mythology, relationships, personalities, pop culture, and even brands.

Given my profession of choice, perhaps especially brands.

I was reminded of this connection yesterday 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 endeavouring 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 recognise 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 agonising 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 undifferentiating 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 a week ago today, I found myself having a conversation with a couple of 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?

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, Sony Bono, Spiderman, 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 Tuesday, everyone. 😉

Image by Tom Gauld, via the meme huffer blog.

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So… How is your brand doing?

I don’t mean your company. I mean your brand.

Are people talking about you, or are you another name in the crowd? Do you find yourself having to cave to price pressures, or are you comfortably charging fair prices (or even a premium) for your products and services? Are your customers enthusiastic about your brand, or could they care less? Is anyone wearing your T-shirt… or your competitor’s? Are people proud to tell their peers that they do business with you, or are you not important enough for them to really waste their breaths?

Good questions all. If the first portion of each of these questions had you smiling and nodding in the affirmative, good! You’re on the right track. If not, perhaps it’s time for a little annual brand checkup.

No worries, you don’t need to go see a brand practitioner quite yet. A little private self-exam is all that’s required at this point. Here is an easy place to start:

Understand who you are, what you do… and clarify it.

Brands aren’t just logos and taglines. Brands, at their very core, have a very specific identity. Even if it isn’t easy to attach words or adjectives to a brand, everyone who comes in contact with a strong brand should have an immediate understanding of what that brand’s identity is.

If not, somebody is dropping the proverbial ball.

Here’s a little warm-up exercise for ya – Quick: Define McDonald’s. Define BMW. Define Calvin Klein. Define Nike. Define Ben & Jerry’s. Define the Wall Street Journal. Define AT&T.

In fifteen words or less.

Note: It’s okay to be subjective and biased, but be ready to back up your claim if someone calls you on it.

Examples: Cervelo makes the fastest time trial bicycles in the world. Garmin makes the most dependable personal GPS systems on the market. Volvo makes the safest production cars in the galaxy.

Okay. Your turn. McDonald’s. BMW. Etc.

One of the most grossly overlooked elements in most brand evaluation initiatives is the part that deals with clarity: The questions you want to ask here are “do people (inside the company and outside of it) understand the brand? Do they understand its identity? More importantly, can they define it?”

Do they understand the brand’s place in not only the world, but their world?

(In other words, are your branding efforts actually sticking, or are they floating away in the breeze?)

And by the way, we aren’t talking about clarity in advertising.

Try it on yourself. In fifteen words or less, explain who your company is. Define your brand.

Here are some examples:

We’re the hottest design studio in Paris.

We’re the largest manufacturer of spark plugs in the world.

We’re the guys who strength-train the US Olympic team.

Hopefully, your identity isn’t along the lines of…

We’re kind of like H&R Block, but with an orange for a logo.

We’re the electronics store on the corner of Broad Street.

We’re a consulting firm with a full portfolio of business services.

Your identity is more than just what type of work you do. It is specific to YOU.

Your identity isn’t defined by A. It’s defined by THE.

We are THE (fill in the blanks).

If you still have a hard time with the exercise, start with your job: I am the person who does XYZ. Then work your way up to your department or division: We do ABC for our company. NOW define what your company does. Start small, and work your way outward.

Now go ask ten of your employees and co-workers to define your company. Ask ten of your customers or clients to do the same. Ask ten people off the street as well.

For better or for worse, the results of your little experiment might surprise you… which is why it’s worth your time.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 😉


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I just recently discovered Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni’s blog, but it is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Check out this post about AT&T… ooops… at&t’s decision to nix the Cingular brand and take over its wireless biz. (I am actually shaking my head right now.) I could sit here and write a ten-page essay on why that isn’t a good idea at all, but Valeria beat me to it,complete with bits of commentary from Brandweek, Fast Company, Note To CMO, Steven Colbert (via Techno//Marketer), and The Viral Garden. Check it out here.


David Armano’s Logic+Emotion continues to amaze by posting gold almost daily. Just this week, check out these posts about blogsourcing’s effect on planning and innovation, Agile Creativity, Brand Affinity through stories and experience, and Macro Design. That blog is like candy for my brain.

Also check out Simple+Loveable‘s Support Ideas First – Critique Second, which elaborates on Seth Godin’s observation earlier this week that “The devil doesn’t need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics”. Ah so. Good stuff if you work in a team environment.

The Jason’s Recliner‘s Do Agencies Give A Shit? post outlining Jason’s experience with brand planning as a freelance consultant.

And finally,Jaffe Juice‘s An ad Capable of destroying any loyalty or patronage in just one viewing, which spells out what everyone who recently endured the oddly creepy Orville Redenbacher clone meatpuppet cgi zombie-on-Red Bull creature featured in the pop corn giant’s latest ad. The most amazing thing isn’t that it was pitched in the first place… but that it got as far as to get aired. Also from Jaffe, this post which shares Max Kalehoff’s 10 critical attributes and capabilities of what an agency of the year might look like:

  1. Foremost, agency staffers must be passionate about acting in the interest of consumers as much as they are in the interest of paying clients.
  2. The agency must drop tactical communications from its core positioning and instead embody the value of creating great experiences, with tactics following.
  3. The agency must embrace a world where paid media placements lose overall traction, and instead master the new currency of word-of-mouth, where reputation and propensity to recommend are earned.
  4. The firm must strive for everlasting client partnerships, not because of insatiable desire for ongoing revenues, but because it understands that programs which achieve deep, ongoing customer experiences and loyalty are incompatible with a start-peak-end model.
  5. An agency of the year should be one that first evaluates the client’s internal processes and culture, to ensure those dimensions optimize opportunities for greatness, not hamper potential.
  6. The agency must gain expertise in areas of innovation, product and customer service–versus solely on marketing communications.
  7. The firm will value institutional customer-listening as a core competency far more than institutional speaking.
  8. Enterprise creativity will stem not from a creative department, but collectively from a group of staffers with diverse disciplines, each with the ability to think creatively, abstractly and from different vantage points.
  9. The agency may get out of the advertising business, for the most part, and perhaps outsource the more tactical aspects.
  10. The agency increasingly will recognize and organize around you, the individual.

Cool stuff. Have a great Friday, everyone. 🙂

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