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nov082001gh

I was chatting with a friend about budget-conscious brand revitalization strategies, the importance of creating employee-friendly corporate cultures and how to drive more passionate employee engagement today, and I was suddenly reminded of something John Moore – over at Brand Autopsy – wrote on his blog back in 2007:

“Astonish employees and they will, in turn, astonish customers.”

Simple enough, right?

Yet so rare.

Most companies have fallen into a little bit of a rut when it comes to doing something special for their employees, except around Christmas time or when they’ve had a decent quarter. And even then, we are talking about a $25 gift certificate to The Home Depot or your choice of a company pen, T-shirt or flashlight. Nice, but not exactly stunning.

The term John used is “astonish,” which implies a little more effort and attention than just giving your employees an empty token of “gratitude” that is as bland as it is… (well, let’s say it) kind of insulting.

Note to all department managers: If you’re going to reward your staff with T-shirts, make them the types of T-shirts that you want your employees to actually get excited about. (Hire a hot local graphic designer to design something unique or fun or cool . It’s cheaper than you think, and the impact will be pretty phenomenal.)

But enough about T-shirts. We’re talking about “astonishing” your employees – not merely giving them a perfunctory nod, which is exactly what the folks at Macintosh did a while back when they surprised all of their US employees with a brand new iPhone.

In John’s words:

“Giving every full-time employee a $600 (retail value) iPhone is an astonishing act that will only help to feed the already vibrant evangelical corporate culture within Apple. (…)At Starbucks, we would also spend marketing money on employees. We knew if we could get Baristas jazzed, they would get customers jazzed.”

Think back to an experience you’ve had recently (or not so recently) when you walked into a store or dealt with someone who was absolutely in love with either their job or the company they worked for. How was your perception of that company affected by their enthusiasm? (How likely were you after that experience to a) recommend that business to friends and peers, and b) do business with that company again?)

Now think back to your last experience with a bored, apathetic grocery store cashier, or with an unqualified telephone customer service rep, or with a passive-aggressive waitress who REALLY needs a vacation. How different might your perception of that company be? How likely is it that you will make that business your first choice? How likely is it that you will speak well of this business and recommend it to friends?

All things being equal: Pricepoint, quality of the work or food or product, product performance, cool packaging, etc. – the quality of the experience surrounding human touch-points becomes primordial.

Two average grocery stores can have a radically different image or reputation based SOLELY on the way their employees behave. The same is true with any business in which people (employees) interact with other people (customers): Restaurants, banks, retail establishments, medical offices, auto mechanics shops, etc.

Employee behavior can be radically impacted by their managers’ positive or negative treatment.

Therefore, customer experience can be radically impacted by the way a company treats its employees:

Average treatment of employees = average customer experience.

Good treatment of employees = good customer experience.

Great treatment of employees = great customer experience.

… And so on.

So rather than tossing the occasional cheapo bone to your employees to maintain morale (or whatever,) start thinking of ways that you might make them feel special. Think of ways of rewarding them, or of saying “thank you,” or making them feel truly appreciated that kind of… well, stand out. Get them jazzed about working for you. Make them feel proud and excited and vibrant.

The point here isn’t to bribe them or buy their loyalty with expensive gifts. The point is to show genuine, profound, unmistakable appreciation for what they do and for the importance of their daily contribution. If you don’t have a budget for something like this yet, get creative. Give them Friday off, out of the blue. Give them an extra vacation day, on the house. Mail them a thank you card with a real message inside, not just some cheesy drugstore quotation. Offer to introduce them to people they don’t normally have access to. Bring them into projects they aren’t senior enough to have a voice in.

Though fancy electronics like iPods, Zunes, Flip cameras and the likes usually do the trick as well.

This isn’t “team building,” mind you. This is just saying thanks. This is just giving them a hug and a pat on the shoulder, looking them in the eye and saying “We’re really glad you’re here.” And meaning it.

Every once and again, you have to stop what you’re doing, put off fighting your daily little fires, and remember to make your employees feel that they aren’t just easily replaced pawns. (And if you’re hiring intelligently, they are most definitely not easily replaceable pawns.)

Make your employees realize that you truly understand their value to the success of the brand they help shape in the public’s eye every single day.

The way you treat your employees is the way your customers will be treated.

Perhaps this should be the very first rule of management.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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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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The final Google trends for 2007 were announced on Dec. 4th, and the results are scary… or terrific, depending on how you look at it: As a human being, it’s frightening. As a marketer, this may be the best news ever.

The Top 10 fastest-growing search terms for 2007 were (in order):

1. iPhone
2. webkinz
3. TMZ
4. Transformers
5. YouTube
6. Club Penguin (wtf?!?!?!)
7. myspace
8. Heroes (NBC)
9. Facebook
10. Anna Nicole Smith

(Visibly absent from the list were Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and the rest of the “make bail by noon” celebutante gang.)

Compare this to the 2001 list (the first from Google):

1. Nostradamus
2. CNN
3. World Trade Center
4. Harry Potter
5. Anthrax
6. Windows XP (woohoo!!!)
7. Osama Bin Laden
8. Audiogalaxy
9. Taliban
10. Loft Story

These are two very different lists.

I expected to see at least one non-“product” item show up in 2007, like maybe something relating to Iraq, Iran, Darfour, presidential candidates or even maybe healthcare. Global Warming. Something of substance. Anything.

But no.

Commentary and table courtesy of Jesus Diaz, over at Gizmodo:

Good bye Nostradamus, harbinger of doom and gloom! Hello iPhone, prophet of the second coming of the Digital Age in My Pocket.™ And oh yes, I’m happy to see you too. So long CNN, harbinger of news tickers and dumbified news! Welcome Webkinz, you stuffed rascal that connects to a social networking site you! World Trade Center? Unless it appears in TMZ next to Nicholas Cage and his wig, I say no! And screw that flying broomstick and get me drag queen transforming truckers on YouTube.

I mean, is this really what tickles the human race? Who can possibly remember stupid TV reality shows like Loft Story, Osama and the Talibans when we can entertain ourselves with MySpace, Facebook and Club Penguin? For shame! I would rather play topless Wii. [Reuters and Google]

Retailers and marketers rejoice: You have our complete and undivided attention. Every single item on the list is a brand name (yes, even ANS). Well played.

Mother Theresa and Al Gore, sorry: War, famine, poverty, terrorism, substance abuse, ethnic cleansing, corruption, pandemics and the slow choking death of our little blue planet aren’t cool enough to grab our attention anymore.

For better or for worse, I think brands can pretty-much claim victory in the bandwidth war – at least this past year.

Note: As always, don’t try to leave a comment on the permalink. To leave a comment, go to the main page and click on the comment tab at the bottom of this post. Thanks. 🙂

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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 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.)

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.

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂


photo by F360: Pita posing for the camera.

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I found this nice little list of reasons why designers rule over at Design Stamp. (Thanks, Gagan.) While the argument in and of itself is saddly not proven in the world of business (Walmart being the biggest retailer in the galaxy kind of disproves the notion to some extent), it’s hard to argue with Gagan’s points:

Read the latest headlines or examine the recent product evolutions around us and you will soon realise that all major developments have one driving force in common. Design. From gook-less mustard caps to renewable toothbrushes, the power of design is being used in unlikely places and creating competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Design has the power to change (even save) lives and create a more functional economy. Here are 10 reasons why designers rule…

1. We are curious. The best designers are those that bring knowledge to a project but gather perspective from the end-user. Designers are trained to know that they don’t know all the answers and the best solutions to problems lie in examining context and defining the target. To design for a better future, a designer must uncover how the people lead their lives today. Ask questions, uncover truths and dig to find out who they should be designing for.

2. We create brands. Don’t hire a designer who uses the words logos and brands interchangeably. Instead look for designers who think logos are only as important as lipstick on a beautiful woman. Creating a brand means adding true market value that transcends features or benefits. I paraphrase and borrow liberally from the Brand Gap but the idea is that imagine Coke without it’s brand. It would be worth half its current market value:

3. We create distinction in crowded marketplaces. Clever design and niche products have made Apple successful again. Good design has always been the cornerstone of what Apple has been known for. Everyone knows that the soon to be available iPhone has nothing amazingly new about it. But we also know that Apple will make access to the features and the shear visuals so appealing that the iPhone will make other phones look like Stone Age tablets. Apple understands and leverages the fact that design is the ultimate competitive edge.

4. Designers are excellent translators. Got business goals? Got technological constraints? Designers can uncover user goals and then find the sweet spot where business goals and user goals converge. Even better, they can ensure that technology can be leveraged to meet those goals. Designers help business dream big and beyond what exists today and also ground those dreams by presenting a set of very real, tangible user goals. Sure you want to build a flying pig but no one wants one! Good design means building products and services that are useful. Less wasted time, less bad products.

5. Design = Innovation = Design. When Business Week wanted to launch a section on design their research told them that their readers assumed that the section would be all about architecture and interior design. So they renamed that section to be called Innovation. A sign of the times we live in. Design walks around wearing a veil called Innovation. Whatever you call it, you are dead in the waters without it. Design not keeps businesses alive, it helps them float to the top and be seen as victorious over their competition.

6. Design saves lives. My Treo’s tiny buttons have caused me to have many a close-call car accidents (I know, I know, no multi-tasking while driving). That said good design has probably saved my life many a time. From my steering wheel car stereo controls to the 3 point safety belt that keeps me from kissing my windshield. ABS brakes that don’t require me to do anything different than just use a brake like I always would. Designers dare to think different and when they do; they reward us with products that work. While your badly designed website may not kill people, it may contribute to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) or just good ol’ web rage.

7. Designers are user advocates. If you ever have the pleasure to be in a feature discussion meeting, they start to sound like a religious debate. I would never…I always…My mother has said…My girlfriend swears she would never…People use whatever anecdotes they possibly can to prove their point of view and ‘win’ the debate. A ‘good’ designer would bring good research to the table. Research based on fact, research based on user goals to validate direction. Use your designer as your stand-in for the user you should be designing for, and trust that they are the voice of the people. That’s who they want to please. That’s who makes you money and keeps you in business.

8. Designers make things pretty. Human nature: “If it looks good, it must be good”. We are highly visual creatures who make snap judgments on the basis of how things appear in that moment. This is how we survive, hunt and gather and marry people who will make use beautiful babies to carry forth our civilization. Designers understand this and use this knowledge to make us products that fit in with our idea of beauty. Beauty is not skin deep, it is the knife’s edge.

9. A design process is a good process. You don’t develop a brand, you design a brand. You don’t develop a software application, you design a software application. Having a user experience focused design approach means that the entire production cycle should have design validation at key points throughout the entire process. This keeps the focus where it should be. On the paying customer.

10. Designers love constraints. Tell a designer that they have complete freedom to do what they want, there is no target market and there are no financial or technical constraints. They go crazy. They literally go nuts. They become artists creating for themselves. Designers are defined by constraints and embrace them with open arms. After all, to design for a fixed target, to design for a set of rules and goals is what defines design. It’s what we do.

So I propose to you, get designers to rule the world and we will be happier, waste less by building products and services that we actually want to buy and use well. Fire your local self-serving politician, hire a designer and we will live in closer harmony with the planet which we happen to inhabit.

Yep. You’ll get no argument from me. Have a great Friday, everyone. 🙂

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