Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ask Marian

On a recent visit to Cornell University I saw this sign in the engineering school library: "Librarians—the ultimate search engine."  ... followed by the exhortation to "ask a librarian." I could only stare. It was like a scribbled note from an earlier century, from a people so distant that they must have been living in a black-and-white world and cooking extinct animals. 

"Ask a librarian"—such a quaint notion.

"Ask about a new typewriter," the sign might have said. Or this: "Get space in our college of taxidermy."

I walked a step or two away and came back and stared some more. Maybe this was a history exhibit. Perhaps that sign—"Ask a librarian"—was found rolled up in a bottle, having been tossed into the sea by a race of people who once walked the earth and valued physical books, loved the feel of printed paper, were calmed by the sound of pages being turned in a hushed hall, and enjoyed the hunt through a library's "stacks" for surprising troves of knowledge. 

I started off to my meeting... wondering: What would I ask a librarian anyway? Would I ask if she or he missed the sound of hoof-beats on cobbled streets? Would I ask about life before telephones? 

I walked on and rounded a corner. It came to me—what I wanted to know... I would ask the librarian how—in the many centuries before search engines—one ever found any answers.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why invest in a branding program?

Today I fired off this memo to a prospective client who asks, reasonably enough, for "the benefits that companies have realized as the result of a rebranding."

Memo from Claude                                                                                    February 5, 2013

Re: Value of branding programs… 

I cannot go back over the past decades of branding in today’s economy. The reasons for developing and supporting a strong brand are many and compelling – even undeniable in a day of instant communications, myriad choices, bombardment of messages from all sources, and rapid rise of powerful potential competitors. Having a strong brand is a necessity – like having walls during the Middle Ages.

Does anyone else offer what you offer? Is there a risk of commoditization of what you sell? Do competitors have or threaten to have lower prices? Does any competitor have a better-known name? ...established business relationships? Do you need to attract the best talent? Do you want to instill pride in those who work with you?

The answer to these questions in any company, any industry is usually YES. And the best way to have a fighting chance against the forces of destruction is having a strong brand – vibrant, clear, consistent, contemporary, with a glowing personality, a clear value proposition and ability to deliver on the promise.

What does Warren Buffett look for in a target company? Brand. That’s number one on his list of criteria. Without a strong brand, you’re just fighting it out on price. 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Ram commercial INSPIRED

I've always hated Ram commercials—with their cartoon machismo symbolized by the "guts, glory" theme. I also despise Coors ads, by the way... and anything from Prudential and Merrill—since I see them as warped cultures doing no good.

And then—in the midst of Super Bowl's orgy of bad taste—the desperate attempts by advertisers to be funny—this stunning statement appears from Ram. "God made the farmer."

Are you kidding me! Right when the party has become its raunchiest—and teenagers are throwing up on the lawn and screams of "look at me, look at me" echo into the night—in walks the biggest, toughest kid on the block who stops everyone in mid-gyration, looks each person in the eye one by one, and speaks a few simple words from the heart right into that tiny remaining millimeter of our brains where we are receptive to timeless truth and poetry. "...and God made a farmer."

Holy planting time! Some genius on the Ram team (the Ram team!—it's a transparently manipulative name in itself) said simply, "Fuck irony. I'm bringing back sentiment."

So thanks to an advertiser who normally blows millions of dollars filming trucks splashing through mud puddles, thanks to these guys, we were compelled by force of drama to spend a few seconds thinking about duty and love and strength and family and work and anonymity. That's right, anonymity. That commercial was about standing all alone unknown at dawn—in a drizzle.

"To the farmer in all of us." —says Ram, making us stop and think.

Sweat-stained hats off to Ram, says Brandsinger.