Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Citi never sleeps (we pile on)

It's unfair to make fun of someone's slogan... a cheap shot. A company tries to be friendly and distinctive... Its marketing people brainstorm themselves into a frenzy trying to come up with a new tagline. Uh... how about... "Your dreams, our reality"???.... no, no it should be, "We dream to realize your reality"... no, no, I've got it....

And so it goes, until a smug head of a business unit saunters by and suggests that the company use its OLD slogan – "My kids loved it. Let's use it again!"

Is that how they brought back the line "Citi never sleeps"? Well, today, Citigroup is standing before the world pleading for help, having stayed doggedly awake while losing tens of billions of dollars. Is it fair for the Wall Street Journal to take a shot at 'em? You betcha...

From today's editorial: "'Citi never sleeps,' says the bank's advertising slogan. But its directors apparently do."

Brand consultants warn clients: Whatever your brand promise and however you express it, be sure you're able to live up to your claim. I suppose it was not foolish for Citigroup to proclaim its commitment to be awake somewhere in the world at all times... and to be tireless in service of clients. But you know, it's better to shut down and go to bed for 12 hours than to stay awake in the groggy execution of bad decisions.

Okay. We piled on.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Law firms shape brands in time of crisis

You might think that economic hardship is the perfect environment for lawyers – like Mother’s Day for florists or floods for looters. In fact, the current crisis hurts law firms. They are laying off associates, cutting bonuses and elbowing weaker partners out. Some firms have folded.

Who knew that litigation is discretionary? Some specialists are thriving, it seems. Firms that handle employment law are helping companies lay off workers and, on the other side, helping workers fight layoffs. According to Am Law Litigation Daily, intellectual property litigation is also booming as “companies suddenly see more clearly the value in their technology – and try even harder to extract revenue from it.”

But industry-wide, the economic malaise has left lawyers with a lot less paper to shuffle. The meltdown of credit markets and consolidation in banking has short-circuited law firms wired to financial services.

As firms compete for fewer dollars, the strength of their brands comes into play. No one wants to look like a purveyor of commodities. Clients ask, "Tell me again how your firm is different and better? And why should I pay your fees?" As the crisis sets in, managing partners and their marketing teams must sharpen their brand stories and have close alignment between excellent marketing and professional excellence.

Here’s the challenge for law firms: Although talents vary and cultures differ, major law firms present themselves in similar ways – and suffer from brand sameness. Most vow to fall on their swords for clients (calling it "client focus"). All claim to have specific areas of expertise and a love affair with collaboration. “No one owns a client here,” they say. “If I need advice I just call a dear colleague who lives only to help me build my practice."

In these times, law firms need a clear, DISTINCTIVE brand in order to attract top talent, appeal to merger partners, shore up and unify cultures under stress, and move into suddenly inviting markets. What face do law firms put on their organizations? Here's a quick tour of a few digital doorways:

Marketing professional services is tricky.
So much depends on the quality of talent. Brilliant, charismatic people generate new business and client loyalty. Professional ability trumps market-ability. Success carries the day and feeds on itself. Hence, the approach of the beautifully blasé leader, Wachtel, Lipton.

Lesson for the industry: It's best to have, like Wachtel Lipton, the highest reputation, the juiciest clients and the fattest salaries. Without that, at least you can package your people and practices proficiently. That’s where brand marketing come in.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chicago Booth

I don't know the back-story here, but on the surface this seems to be a happy tale. A man named Booth gives his old business school $300 million – and the school gratefully tacks his name onto theirs. It's a well-earned purchase of brand immortality – though for a gift of $300 million I think they should have renamed the entire university – heck, the city itself – after this Booth guy. The amazing thing to me is how he managed to parlay a Chicago MBA into such an incredibly profitable T-shirt business.


A LIVELY book on branding

What could be duller than a book on branding? Let’s see. How about a car commercial? A tall glass of skim milk? Or this: A BLOG on branding? Sorry, it’s no contest. Most BOOKS on branding are as thrilling as a lawn covered with soggy leaves.

Ah, but I've found one that sings – Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap (New Riders, 2006). Neumeier takes recognized lessons on branding, stirs in prejudices favoring clarity and emotion, and serves up a lively sermon on building brands.

The premise is that strategy must be integrated with creative design (bridging the gap). But that’s merely a convenient theme. Neumeier deconstructs the process of developing brands, analyzes each step in a few words and illustrates his lessons with superb graphics.

Why is this not dull? Good judgment, sharp style. You’ve got to appreciate a critic who admits that “when the Nike folks say “Just do it,” they’re peering into my soul.”

Neumeier runs a consulting shop called Neutron. I’ve assigned his book to my grad class in brand strategy. You can read the thing in a single rainy afternoon. Its truths will resonate… and the writing will spark insights.

Of course, if you want real excitement in life, put MOLASSES in your skim milk, shut off the car commercials and keep reading this blog.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Restoring the Republican brand

Amid the shambles of defeat, Republicans tear their hair, rack their brains and stab one another in the back. They fight over the soul of their party – fight to shape its future as a brand. Some cry out for Reaganism and an agenda of small government, low taxes and big militaries. Others call for realistic reform – a modernized conservatism of investment in education and new technologies and a more flexible foreign policy.

Brandsinger counsels Republicans to renew their original nobility and moral power: Look to Lincoln, I say. Look to your party’s founder and leader who guided America through the tempests of the 1850s and ‘60s. Look to Lincoln’s policies and principles, to the qualities he embodied as leader and man.

Honesty – Extending Lincoln’s reputation for principled behavior, Republicans should proclaim zero tolerance for cronyism, corruption and double-speak.

Justice – How did the Great Emancipator’s party lose 90 percent of the African-American vote? Republicans must renounce religious and racial intolerance and cast themselves as fighters for the poor, the immigrant, the stigmatized and the minority – for equal rights before the law.

Opportunity – As champion of white homesteaders and of industrious young people like himself, Lincoln should inspire Republicans to invest in schools and to create incentives to extend economic opportunity to young people, struggling families, outcasts and immigrants.

Humanity – By Lincoln’s humor, compassion and visceral hatred of slavery, Republicans can be shamed into softening their Manichean righteousness and into opening their party to all. Honoring the newly defeated South, Lincoln told the band: “Play Dixie.” Toward anyone different from themselves, next year’s Republicans should say, “You’re okay too.”

Strength – Under Lincoln the nation was re-united by force of arms and energized to become the world’s industrial powerhouse. In Lincoln's name, Republicans can continue to support military and economic strength – as well as the nation's cultural vigor and intellectual power.

Republicans: Barrack Obama is not merely an amiable new presence whose candidacy benefited from the economic bust. Obama is a threat to your party’s very identity. He has emerged from Illinois reading books on Lincoln, quoting Lincoln and inviting comparisons with Lincoln – TO STEAL YOUR HERITAGE. Republicans, you will have NO future unless you renounce Reaganism and the religious right and look to Lincoln for the inspiration to regain your heritage and to redeem your future.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brandsinger reviews corporate tag-lines

At the 70th birthday bash for Alan Siegel (extraordinary man, extraordinary party), brandsinger bumped into the magisterial Herb Schmerz. Schmerz is the brilliant, blunt former head of Mobile Oil public affairs who championed the school of pubic relations known genteelly as "confrontational" and informally as poke-out-your-eye-with-your-own-pen-you-obnoxious-reporter.

Schmerz looked at me, heard me say “blog” – and said, “Why don’t you review the tag-lines of different brands?”

Tonight, leafing through a copy of Fortune, I read and counted tag-lines – getting up to 39 before my second glass of rye whiskey ran dry.

We’ve talked about tag-lines here before. The best tag-lines take care of three jobs: 1 Express a brand’s personality – 2 Suggest what the outfit does – 3 Keep the CEO from looking like a dope.

No stars – CEO not embarrassed because obviously cannot read
Emcor – Build. Power. Service. Protect.
Do these four flat words represent four lines of business? When Emcor buys a lawnmower company, they can add Clip.

Zurich – Because change happenz.
Ziss tagline iz juzt zilly.

Time – Inside. Insightful. Indispensable.
Is Time magazine indispensable? No, water is indispensable. Time is in decline.

Veolia – Preserving the environment is our universal challenge.
What the heck does “our universal challenge” mean? Tag-lines must mean, not be.

Lanxess – Energizing Chemistry
I never heard of this company but guess it was named by an intoxicated German.

CDW – The Right Technology. Right Away.
Are we talking pizza delivery? If your technology isn’t here by 7:00 you get three free bytes.

One star * – Passable work by committee of boring staff
Allianz – Financial solutions from A-Z
If the name were Ali-babba, the slogan would have to be "Getting nowhere fast."

Montblanc – A story to tell.
Romantic, perhaps. But help us tell the truth.

Cargill – Nourishing Ideas. Nourishing People.
Stiff and forced – but deserving grudging respect for relentless symmetry.

BASF – The Chemical Company
Something touching about this ultra-descriptive phrase. How about this alternative: “BASF – A bunch of letters strung together because we’re focused on chemistry not communications.”

Citgo – There at every turn.
The obvious message – that Citgo facilities are everywhere – is prosaic. Beneath the surface is the suggestion of reliability no matter where life takes us.

Lufthansa – There’s no better way to fly.
Infantile, dull but believable.

Two stars * * – Good work by team of colorful oddballs
Northwestern Mutual – the quiet company
Really wealthy people don’t like it when their advisors’ shoes squeak.

UBS – You & Us
I hate to give these guys credit, but they have a right to be smug to have solved the problem of their sad name with this happy tag-line.

Gillette – The Best a Man Can Get
I like this realistic line because it hints that we’re not magicians here. "You can only look so good, pal."

Waste Management – Think Green.
Hey, this company does the dirty work for the rest of us. Consider the benefits.

Three stars * * * – First-class phrase by suicidal genius working from home
Allstate – You’re in good hands.
Evokes fatherly strength and motherly tenderness. Not bad for an insurance bureaucracy.

Lincoln Financial – Hello future.
Simple, reflects the business, inspiring. Tag-lines get NO BETTER than this. The gold standard.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Dunkin' Donuts is quaint – but wrong

There is something QUAINT about the Dunkin' Donuts claim to have beaten Starbucks in a scientific coffee-a-coffee taste test. It's like a cheap PR STUNT from an old black-and-white movie. "Here's the ticket, JB – we dress a beautiful babe in a lab coat and tell the boys downtown that she's discovered a secret formula for changing oatmeal into silk... Then we..."

The flaw in Dunkin's campaign is the premise – that competition with Starbucks is "all about the coffee." If that were true, you could sell a great cup of joe straight from a garden spigot for LESS money and make a fortune. No, you good-hearted Dunkin' bozos. It is NOT "all about the coffee." It's about Starbucks' creation of an urban refuge in a menacing modern metropolis.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We Salute Minot State University at Bottineau

What happens when a friendly little university starts thinking about changing its big, clumsy name? Here is a poignant example: Way up in Bottinneau, North Dakota, a little town on the Northern Plains a stone's throw from Canada, Minot State University-Bottinneau is pondering its brand identity. 

About 550 smiling, hardy students call Minot State University-Bottinnea their citadel of higher education, and some have voted to change the name Minot State University-Bottinneau to something briefer, we presume, and "more distinctive," according to university officials who've posed the question. 

At the same time, other students – as well as some teachers, staff and alums – oppose changing the name. So far, no consensus has been reached.  

Brandsinger salutes the gallant participants in this struggle. As a grizzled veteran of many agonizing debates over whether to change an institution's name, I have seen the captives of nostalgia battle the eye-rollers of reason. One group honors the past and respects the inherited name. The other cringes indignantly at a name that broadcasts a dated, irrelevant image. 

It's not fun! And now that a survey of interested parties has been conducted, it ain't going to be easy. 

Branding professionals recommend conducting a thorough analysis of the current name – its origins, uses, value and disadvantages – and then evaluating a series of strategic options that would address identified problems. 

In this case – in every case! – the ultimate solution depends on what the institution wants to be – and who the audiences for its programs are. If little Bottinneau is stable... the college functioning peacefully... people content... little change ahead... then the clumsy name can stay at little harm.

But perhaps Minot State University-Bottinneau lies in a region bursting with growth. Perhaps its curriculum is evolving to meet market needs... Perhaps  expansion is in the winds... with new funding... and plans to attract students from, say, faraway Florida? If strategy demands the support of a new brand image, then a new name is needed. 

Though unasked, brandsinger endorses the word Bottinneau. We savor the sound... the Frenchy-ness... the bursting B and the cavalier ending. A lot can be done with this word... There is something rock-solid and noble-sounding in Bottinneau State or Bottinneau Polytechnic or Bottinneau Institute of Natural Studies or The Bottinneau School of the Arts... or perhaps THE BOTTINEAU SCHOOL OF BRAND SCIENCE.

If strategic change is in the wind, brandsinger urges the university to drop the "Minot State" part – What is this, imperial domination of a sister town? – and build the big, beautiful, boisterous Bottinneau brand. 


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rename Ted Stevens International Airport

In his gut, my cousin Justin feels that convicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens might be innocent. Heck, reasons my cousin, the senator's wife paid $179,000 for work on their home. Maybe the senator did NOT know that the contractor threw in a few fixtures for free. 

But we're a branding community here, and I'm more interested in the fact that Sen. Stevens flew home to be greeted at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Did you get that? Doesn't that say it all about the man and our culture? The pomposity of naming a public airport after a single, mortal politician. What is this, the US of A or Imperial Rome? 

That airport should be named John Doe International – or Joe Sixpack Airport – or Everyman Field – in honor of the ORDINARY CITIZENS whose taxes paid for the flight radar in the tower and the fixtures in the restrooms. 

Let's stop naming public facilities for politicians – honest or not – avuncular or not – snowy haired or bald – and start naming them for the PEOPLE who paid for them and the VALUES we live by. 

Brandsinger issues the following challenge to the nation: Commission my team to re-brand EVERY public facility named for an elected official. Pay us a flat fee to transform all the Laguardias, Kennedys and Reagan Airports into facilities whose names honor their communities, reflect our values as a people, and inspire future generations. 

Once we've re-named Ted Stevens International something more fitting – say, Midnight Sun Field... or Cultural Gold Rush International – then I say, LISTEN TO MY COUSIN and set the ol' senator free.