Archives for posts with tag: brands


Let’s talk about soccer, shall we? (Worst introductory sentence ever. I’m sure 99% of my readers just ran away screaming.)

Germany always had a good soccer team. The Brazilian team in 1974 was so wonderful to watch but Germany won the cup. England played more exciting soccer in 1990 but Germany won the cup. South Korea played inspired in 2002, Germany beat them and went to the final. You can’t argue with 3 World Cup titles, 4 second places and 4 third places in 17 appearances.

Germany didn’t play the most exciting soccer. It wasn’t artful. They had a strategy and they stuck to it. No matter what. That’s why they won 3 titles and are one of the most admired national soccer teams in the world. You might not like them. You might even hate them. But you have to respect them.

What brands can learn from the German soccer team

It never ceases to amaze me how often brands express a viewpoint that goes against their carefully constructed brand strategy. They spend time and precious resources on a brand strategy, just to throw it in the trash bin when there’s a chance for short-term profits or an implication they don’t like.

Nobody says brands should stick to their strategy, no matter what. When you’re 4 goals behind, you better change your strategy or go home. The reason why brands invest in strategy is to achieve their goals in the most efficient and effective way possible. It’s a guide to make the right decision, to be reminded of your strengths and weaknesses. Strategy is the independent voice that hits the buzzer when you’re about to make idiotic, short-term decisions. If you don’t have a strategy, you can justify any tactic, any investment.

Too many brands play to the cheap seats. I’d rather play for the cup.


In 5th grade,my history teacher was a relic with a red book and pencil. At the end of each lesson, he gave us homework: “Memorize page 23-25.” At the next lesson, he would open his red book, close his eyes, drop the pencil on one student’s name. The remainder of the hour, that student was questioned for 1 hour. The outcome of that questioning determined the the grade for the remainder of the semester. When your name was called early in the year, you never opened the book again. When your name was called late, your short memory was on fire for 6 months. None of us really learned anything during that year. None of us liked history.

In 6h grade, a new history teacher was introduced. In the first hour, he recreated in vivid details life in ancient Rome: How the upper class lived, how the slaves suffered, what it was like to walk the streets of Rome. On that day, history became my favorite subject.

There are teachers who teach subjects. And teachers who teach students.

The same division can be found in advertising. Most brands teach subjects. They have an agenda, a curriculum. They need you to know about the torque of their cars, the silkiness of the product, their fat percentage. They look at the world like the relic teacher: You listen to what I have to say and you will learn.

The second category of brands are concerned with what their audience wants and needs. They develop a narrative, they are involving and entertaining. They care to educate their audience in ways that suits them best.

What’s mind-boggling about our business is that we all encountered terrible and great teachers, representing the most basic rules of communication and salesmanship. Still, the majority of us act like relics.


I love coffe. I get a coffee twice a day. And every other month, I switch coffee shops.

It’s not that I don’t like these coffee shops, or I don’t like the atmosphere, I just don’t want another relationship in my life. I don’t want to commit to a coffee shop. I don’t need the ‘Cheers’ moment where everybody knows my name, knows my order, has it ready for me when I stand in line. My coffee is not important enough to me for me to have a relationship that revolves around it.

Many marketers find that odd.  Because a lot of marketers act as if the end all and be all of their existence and their brands is a relationship.

Sure, there are maybe masses of people so lonely that they need to converse with toilet paper or beer or cleaning supplies. Maybe relationship marketing works with these people.

There are masses out there who want to be left alone. They don’t want anybody to know their name. They are the ones at the self-checkout counters at airports and stores.

Sometimes the best you can do for customers is just to leave them alone.


Brands are empty containers of meaning. Companies and marketing departments have a meaning they want the customer to  believe, and customers develop meaning through interactions, both good and bad, with the brand.

This kid has a clear view of brands she has interacted with. She has a totally different meaning than the one intended to brands with which she has little experience. The brand is empty of meaning until we fill it.

A brand is meaningless until both the company and its customers create meaning through a relationship or experience with each other. Important to note: meaning is created by both the brand AND the customers. Understanding how your followers view you is critical to developing a successful and beloved brand.

You won’t be able to understand your customer by conducting focus groups, online surveys or social mentions. You need to talk to your customers. Which means getting out of your office and meeting customers in their environment. Experiencing how they engage with the product. Self-awareness is one of the most difficult aspects of branding.

It shouldn’t be about approval. It should be about learning.


Most companies fail because they treat headaches. Not broken limbs.

I have more than 100 apps on my iPhone. I use 10 of them regularly because they solve an important problem for me. All the other apps are nice to have and relevant but their solution lacks true urgency.

The majority of companies/brands that didn’t make it through the Great Recession or continue to struggle are companies that treat headaches. Nice to have a pill or massage to battle the head pounding. But not life-threatening. You’ll make it through another day with a headache, hard to imagine when it comes to broken limbs.

When the Great Recession started, businesses that treated minor head pressures disappeared overnight: the 100th clothing store, the 51st coffeeshop, the 11th video store. Over the next years, businesses went belly up when they treated minor headaches. In early 2012, businesses are starting to disappear that treated major headaches.

It’s part of the de-leveraging process our society is going through. We cut the fat, only invest in necessities. At this point in time, people don’t buy products or services. They buy solutions.

Be brutally honest

Are you solving a significant problem? Did you identify and quantify a real problem worth solving? If you answered at least one question with a resounding “Yes”, you will succeed.

If your answer was a whimper, a muttered “I don’t know” or a loud “Yes!” – time to start rethinking your business. We don’t know when things get really better and luxuries are affordable again. We know businesses don’t have the luxury to wait until then.


We wait to win the lottery. The screenplay that will make you a Hollywood star. The blog post that will lead to a book deal and speaking engagement. The woman of your dreams. The dream job. The end of the world.

We tend to waste a lot of time waiting.

Companies wait for the new product to turn everything around. The new marketing campaign will change everything.

It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Brands succeed one person at a time. You make one person happy, they will tell others. Rinse and repeat. If you disappoint your customers, they will leave one at a time. Drip, drip, drip.

One at a time is not as cool as the big bang. But it’s the way the world works now.

Social platforms are “one at a time tools”.

You show up every day. You tweet. You blog. You give to the world. Over time, you build a body of work, leading to trust.

Many marketers want to use these tools for breakthrough efforts. Let’s get a million followers and then convert them into a sale. They don’t understand that you have to build trust, one at a time, to earn the right to make a sale. You need to build that trust over time, tweet by tweet, post by post, interaction by interaction, one person at a time. Trying to build trust right before you want to make the sale is a foolish undertaking.

Build a foundation of trust now before you really need it.


Your digital campaign represents your company, it’s the public face of your company. Just like your website, your store, your packaging, your employees, your phone tree (Let’s hope you have none.) Your digital campaign might be the first encounter of a prospect with your brand. Or it might be a visit with an old friend. Have you ever looked at the personality of your digital campaign?

All brands and their agencies design campaigns with best intentions. Sometimes they succeed. Often they fail and end up where they never wanted to go. I’ve been part of those and I’m not proud of my personal train wrecks. Advertising intends to motivate behavior change. Can you be motivated by an unlikeable person to change behavior? Shouldn’t we all try to be more likeable to customers?

Well, let me introduce you to a few of these people brands create every day.

The cheesy salesman

His perfume is cheap and strong, his clothes outdated and loud, and his pitch is annoying and even louder. Whenever you see him, you try to run away as fast as you can. He tries to sell and upsell anything, as long he profits from it: He doesn’t care.

That’s the digital campaign with huge “Buy” or “Click” buttons, takeovers, pop-unders, scams to make you”like” the brand: Any trick in the book is good to make you buy. Or at least to make you show some interest. That’s the least you can do to keep the cheesy salesman employed.

The creepy guy

You meet him at a party, have a brief chat with him and he believes you want to get married to him. Wherever you go, he’s there: At the gym, at work, in your home. He continues to ask the same question: “Why don’t we close the deal?” He’s the guy that makes you feel uncomfortable, a Big Brother always watching. If you could, you would punch him in the face but he might take that as a sign that you want to close the deal.

As a digital campaign, these are the re-targeting slaves. Yes, I showed interest in your airline 1 week ago but that doesn’t mean you need to remind me on every page I visit, thanks to your massive ad network/retargeting buy. A friend might have sent me a link to your offer, I checked it out and didn’t care. Make me care even less by retargeting me 5,012 times. Maybe it works at the 5,013th impression. Who knows?

Paris Hilton

Ok, she looks good. But, ask her what time it is and she needs an assistant because her brain is permanently turned off. Ask her to do anything and she’ll answer with a frozen smile. She’s stupid, she can’t do anything, the world adored her at one point. Oh, did I mention she’s pretty?

As a digital marketing campaign, that’s the flashturbation campaign. So much Rich Media, you can pay the global debt with it. Too bad it doesn’t work on all devices, crashes your computer and serves no conversion purpose. Oh, did I mention it looks pretty?

The cheerleader

Who doesn’t love cheerleaders? Your team sucks, no one in the stands, it’s raining, they ran out of beer and the cheerleader is still smiling, yelling: Go team. They don’t understand why you don’t like their team, why you don’t share the same level of enthusiasm. No matter, in their mind the own team will always be the best. Even though they haven’t won a game in 10 years.

As a digital campaign, this is the campaign that doesn’t get why you wouldn’t “like” their Facebook page even though there’s no reason for you to like it. No value proposition. Why wouldn’t you follow a Twitter stream brimming with promotional messages? Why do you need motivation to change your behavior? Isn’t our presence  motivation enough?

The cheapskate

He’s the guy occupying the parking lot of Best Buy the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He’s the guy that occupies the coffee shop for hours with an order of a miniature coffee. He’s the guy sitting next to toilet, the guy that gets the worst seat in the bar. He doesn’t care. As long as it’s cheap, he’s happy.

The digital campaign you don’t see. Cheap inventory equals invisibility. Banner ads below the fold on sites you don’t dare visiting because they look like malware-infested 1990 designs. The cheapskate loves the cheesy sales guy on the publisher site. It’s a mutual feeling: the sales guy sells garbage and the cheapskate sifts through it, filled with happiness.


Thank you, Dr. Seuss.

Think about:

Make the board happy.

Make the shareholders happy.

Make the R&D department happy.

Make the customers happy.

Make the employees happy.

Make the sales department happy.

Make the marketing department happy.

Make the focus groups happy.

Make the stakeholders happy.

Make the audience happy.

Make your career happy.

Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody has a different definition of happiness.

If your business is about keeping many different audiences happy, how can a brand have a meaningful and touching point of view?

Happiness used to be a by-product for many brands. Now, it has become the main goal. Is that why most marketing has become ineffective and so bland?

Most brands are like toddlers: If you don’t give them guidance, they’ll just end up eating candy all day. Just to be miserable at the end of the day.


When you need somebody that listens to you without an agenda, who do you ask for an open ear?

When you feel like there’s nobody in the world besides you, who do you call to get out of this solitary confinement?

When you need somebody to set you straight, who do you call?

I’m pretty sure the majority of you will answer this way:

Best friends and family.

Not acquaintances.

Not weak ties.

Best friends and family.

People you trust.

People that saw your good and your bad side.

People that have your best interests on their mind, not their selfish desires.

It’s a mutual experience.

You would do the same for them.

Because you love each other.

Because you deposited over the years in their trust fund.

There were some withdrawals.

But the trust fund is strong and filled with trust and love.

Think about the opportunities for brands.

Imagine your customers not being targets you need to hunt down.

Instead, consider them as best friends and family.

Can you imagine the trust you could build?

The honest conversations you could share?

The collaborative awesomeness both of you could create.

When we treat people like users or consumers, we limit the relationship potential dramatically.

Why not regard your customers as best friends and family?

Have you even imagined the potential?

Why not?

A short movie produced by the Dutch producers Joep van Osch and Casper Eskes asks good questions: What the hell are we actually doing on Facebook? Does it make any sense? Should we “friend” people we barely know? Are we creating a virtual character just to please your Facebook friends?

Rethink your personal Facebook Strategy

A Facebook strategy, really? I thought it’s about sharing  whatever you want to with your friends?

No, it’s not.

You’re developing a virtual brand. Don’t think you can be real on social networks. You shouldn’t be. You don’t want to air your last fight with your spouse on Facebook. Have a serious discussion about your relationship on Twitter.

You gotta be careful.

Never say anything about your clients. Ever.

Never say anything real about your relationship. Ever.

Never be real.

Be Facebook real.

Showcase your strength. Showcase what you want to stand for. So many people talk about authenticity. It’s all garbage. You don’t want to be real on Facebook. You want to be Facebook real.

Don’t share everything. Especially the negative parts.

Share enough. Especially the negative parts.

Don’t convey the Unicorn world.

You’re better than that. You’re real. Just be real in the limits Social Networks put you in. Don’t go all out.

The semi-reality of Facebook

Nobody is a real person on Facebook.

You push your all-time-best pictures in albums. Or on Instagram.

You showcase your best thinking, your best information you gather.

It’s not enough.

You have to refine your Facebook strategy even more.

Don’t define authenticity as a picture from a party.

Define it as new way of thinking, ideas you want to share with people.

Make your own Internet better than just a reunion-stirring-memories-hurting platform.

Make it a platform to define yourself. You can change any day and become some other person. (At least, we in Los Angeles can.)

Why not change your presence on social platforms. Try to be the person you want to be.

More helpful.

More value-adding.

Just a better person.

You don’t become a lesser person because of this.

You become a better person.

Because you are aware.

Because you are.

That’s enough.

What about brands?

The same applies to brands.

Authenticity and transparency doesn’t mean you have to share everything with everybody. People don’t really care about all the customer complaints you field each and every day. They don’t want to hear about the tiny details of your production process.

They want their problems solved.

And they want to find out if your brand matches up with their Facebook persona.

How does your brand fit into their Facebook being? How does it make them look better?

No wonder so many people click on or “like” charity/CSR initiatives. It makes them look better. (“I care. I’m not one of these mindless consumers. I’m a responsible customer.”)

Highlight things and initiatives that make the customer look better. That’s what Social Media marketing is all about.

Make the customer look better.