Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baseball and Branding

Here's one of the young, no-name Mets hitting a home run. Note the compact, powerful swing.

He leads with the hips... torso follows... then hands... the bat comes last... and BOOM!!

Do you see the parallels to branding?

The hips open first – that's the insight that drives the positioning strategy...

Then the torso turns as the entire organization moves into alignment...

The hands implement by writing the messages and drawing the pictures...

and the bat follows... BOOM!!... making all the noise and stealing all the credit. That would be the advertising agency.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs: Lessons for the business of branding

The withdrawal of Steve Jobs provokes a search for lessons – and editorialists are churning them out by the megabyte.

I’d like to look at the impact of Jobs from the angle of those of us who make a living as professional branders. We who are paid to help companies create, renew and express their brands have our own lessons to draw from this man who has left so many jaws drooping in awe.

Lessons from Jobs specifically for the business of branding:

Lesson 1 – “Market research be damned, full speed ahead.”

How many times have clients asked a brand consultant to produce complex and costly research “because our management team is numbers oriented”? I’m positive Steve Jobs will not be remembered for his reaction to “the top two boxes” in a consumer survey. As the Wall Street Journal reminds us, Jobs built products "that hundreds of millions didn't know they wanted until Apple created them.” His vision and instincts, not his research prowess, drove his success.

The old line from Henry Ford springs to mind: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Is there a role for market research in the business of creating and renewing brands? A role, yes. But not, as so many brand marketers believe, the starring role.

Lesson 2 – “Collaboration be damned. Here’s how we’ll proceed.”

We know that Steve built a talented team at Apple and did not personally design and assemble every iPad. But on good authority we know that the only car in the Apple parking lot that was maliciously keyed was Jobs’ – so unloved was he by colleagues he overrode and diminished. Respect for others’ opinions is the hallmark of some leaders. Not S. J.

Lesson 3 – “Marketing jargon be damned. Speak of machines and people.”

I doubt you’ll ever be quoting Steve Jobs on how to "build brand equity” and or to "turn employees into brand ambassadors.” He commanded the stage with authoritative conviction about what people want and how astonishing his products could be. Skipping the marketing drivel that populates slide shows and annual reports, Jobs’ language has been about the wonderful machines he envisions and the joy they create.

Lesson 4 – "Design matters – a lot – okay, more than anything."

How important is design to the creation and delivery of any brand experience? Just compare the look, feel, touch, texture, color and sound of Apple products to those of competitors. 'Nuff said.

Lesson 5 – “Compromise be damned. Never give up.”

Creating and developing brands can be tedious. In a big organization, getting ideas accepted requires consensus, often achieved via a painstaking process that can lead to improvements but just as often to dilution of excellence.

I don’t want to cast Steve Jobs as our generation’s Winston Churchill but… Wait a minute, yes I do. Starting with his storming of the computer market and moving to his spectacular rescue of Apple and then to his personal battle against dread disease, Jobs has shown the grit and guts of Churchillian caliber. As commander of one of the world’s most victorious brands, Jobs will not be remembered as one of the world’s most tactful compromisers.

Should brand builders follow these lessons of Jobs’ career knowing that we may not succeed as he has? Sure, why not! We know that if we ignore these lessons and follow conventional wisdom, our wisdom will likely turn out to be conventional.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

UBS: Not to be taken literally

The financial crisis reinforced all the ugly stereotypes of Wall Street bankers and their retinues. The public suspected they were a bunch of phonies – and their actions proved them so. Returns on mortgage-backed bonds? They turned out to be phony. Triple-A ratings from S&P – phony. The stability of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. – phony.

I remember the grandiose tagline of Morgan Stanley – “World Wise.” That proved to be false bravado. World weary was more like it, I suggested.

In the wake of the shakiness of capital markets – and the self-deception indulged by bankers – you would think that cautious humility would govern bank marketing.

You would think that bankers and their ad agencies would look in the mirror – stare deep into their own eyes – and vow to find only truth and speak it without qualification. You would think.

Well, take a look at this tagline from the banking giant UBS:

“We will not rest?” Why would anyone promise that? “Oh, Brandsinger, it’s just a figure of speech… not to be taken literally.”

You would think that someone – perhaps an unpaid intern with big eyes and a squeaky voice – would rise from the back of the room and say: “Please sir… We do rest. That makes this statement a false promise. It makes us appear to be liars.”

Richard Nixon once assured us, “I am not a crook.” Morgan Stanley once crowed, “We are world wise.” And now UBS promises: “We will not rest."

Not to be taken literally... not to be taken seriously.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some people are more equal than others

Many years ago my father invited an Englishman to dinner at our New York apartment, and I invited a friend who was from Afghanistan. After the plates were cleared and the Englishman had gone, I said to my friend, “That guy was pleasant, wasn’t he? Told good stories.” My friend from Afghanistan replied: “If I had a rifle I would shoot him.”

I gathered that the legacy of Englishmen is not always positive, especially in lands they once ruled. Is there an inherent trait in the English culture – in the “brand identity” of England – that stirs such anger?

The answer is becoming clear after three full nights of violent rioting in London. I keep hearing this line out of reporters there:

“As if to underline his resolve, [Prime Minister] Cameron underlined ‘nothing is off the table’ — including water cannon, commonly used in Northern Ireland but never deployed in mainland Britain." (AP)

It's shocking that the Brits a) haven't had the will to use water cannon and other serious measures to protect lives and property and b) freely admit that such tactics were never used in "mainland Britain" but only on those lesser citizens, the Irish.

I heard the same sentiment from the Deputy Mayor of London: We are ready to resort to water cannon and other strong measures that have been used in Northern Ireland but not in England.

The Irish must see the ugly implications of this. My cousin Justin has this sarcastic take: The use of water cannon against those who are throwing rocks at the police, setting police vehicles ablaze, breaking into and setting fire to small businesses and large buildings would be cruel and unusual punishment. All you should do is politely inquire of the rioters if they might consider cessation of their actions in exchange for a spot of tea.”

Except if the rioters are mere Irish. Then bring on the high-pressure H2O!

Arrogance. That’s the brand attribute I was looking for.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Can't wait not to see this movie!

According to Bloomberg, “Cowboys & Aliens” had 16 producers and eight credited writers. Eight writers? Did one specialize in verbs, one do nouns, and another handle syntax? "Hey, they stuck me with dangling participles!"

Soon there will be one guy cracking eggs, another flipping them, and a third salting them so that one customer can chew, another swallow and a third digest. Eight writers. Must have been hell reaching the keyboard.