Archives for posts with tag: brands

Two videos touched me last week.

The first video is the NFL Hall of Fame acceptance speech by Shannon Sharpe. It will go down as the best speech in the long history of the NFL Hall of Fame.

Why?

Shannon Sharpe is a good speaker, definitely not a great speaker. He doesn’t have the best delivery, the best technique.

He doesn’t need.

He has a great story.

A story that will grip. Touch you. Make you weep.

It’s a story about decency, hard work, dedication, determination and a lot of love.

Most brands tell story greatly.

They tend to say the same thing than their competitors, their advertising agency just says it differently.

Just look at automotive advertising (turns, horsepower, freedom) or marketing for toothpaste (clean, white, fresh).

The majority of brands utilize position strategies that converge on the same position as their rival, they just look for the agencies to say the same thing a bit different.

Over the years the message gets tired and only updated with new commercial directors, actors or cool CGI. The mini site gets a funky navigation, the Facebook a crazy promotion, the logo a new treatment. The product doesn’t differentiate, leading to improving category consumption NOT brand selection. (“Ok, all toothpaste make me feel fresh but I have no clue what brand to choose.”) Resulting in an enormous waste of advertising dollars. And benefiting the category aka the competition not your own brand.

A few brands tell a great story.

Brands that tell a great story identified a product/service dimension that dramatically differentiates themselves from competitors.

No worries, I’m not going to trot out the tired examples of Apple, Amazon or Zappos.

Let’s talk about The Melt.

Basically, The Melt is grilled sandwich restaurant. Mildly interesting.

Where it becomes fascinating when basic food and technology collides. The Melt is the brain child of Jonathan Kaplan (he made a few pennies with the Flip camera. $590 million dollars to Cisco, to be exact.) His vision is to open five restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area starting in August, with the hope of expanding to 500 locations over the next five years.

The technology angle makes this venture interesting. As the WSJ says: “When customers order using the company’s location-based mobile application, The Melt will fire up the sandwiches as the customers are nearby, and they can pay through their phones and skip a line.”

Bingo.

Disruption.

Differentation.

World Domination. (Ok, maybe)

Great stories are the DNA of your brand.

You need to reconnect with them. Excavate them. Bring them to light.

A lot of people are talking about content marketing and storytelling.

It’s going to be an important part of your marketing mix.

But you need to tell great stories first before you focus on telling them greatly.

P.S.

Once in a while, you’ll discover a gem where people find ways to tell a great story greatly.

They only had $10,000.

And a great story.

They made it work.

So can you.

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Amy Winehouse died last week.

She was an amazing talent. I’ve seen her once in concert and was just blown away by her stage presence and that voice. Oh, that voice.

Sadly, most people will remember her for the drug escapades. For the tortured soul she was. In the age of YouTube, we tend to focus on the negative stuff. On the worst performance.

That happens to many performers. More people know about Kurt Cobain’s demise than his brilliant gift as an artist. Richard Burton, a gifted actor, had a part in Exorcist II. (I hope you didn’t see it.) Buster Keaton performed in Beach Blanket Bingo (!!!!!!!!!) in 1965.

What’s true of actors is true of companies. People don’t just look at your best work, the project you put your heart and soul in. They make a judgement about you based on everything you do and everything you’ve done. (Google never forgets!)

That applies to:

  • Brands with great commercials but horrendous brand experience.
  • Agencies that showcase their best work from small clients while conveniently forgetting about the work they do for clients who pay the bills.
  • Brands with a sophisticated social presence and a phone tree taking you 15 minutes to get to the right person.

In the end, you will be judged by the worst piece of work you ever created. It’s out there for everybody to see. It’s not about what you did 10 years ago, it’s about what you’re doing right now.

Just like any actor in a C-movie, you will be judged by your worst work.

Plan for it.

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I went to see a play in Hamburg yesterday. It’s called “The Last Hour”. You see a couple on stage, both are dressed as if to read the news or attend a press conference. The only other object on the table is a clock used in chess competitions. Behind the couple is a large video projection of the two faces of this same clock.

The chess clocks are set at 11.30. Each have half an hour to tell the other and the audience the things they never said, things they remember or would just like the other to know before the hour passes. At the end of each person’s half hour, the chess clocks’ red indicator falls. When this happens, that person can no longer speak and has to wait for the other to finish their half hour.

Raw truths are expressed, raw emotions and facts you never shared with anyone before. The relationship edges up to a better, more truthful level. And you wish they didn’t need the last hour to finally reveal things they were ashamed to share with their loved ones throughout their relationship.

Brands should be part of a “Last Hour” exercise

Imagine your brand has only one more hour of life left. Nothing you do will save it. It doesn’t matter why the brand is about to disappear: Competition, comets – whatever. It’s over.

Wouldn’t it be worth your while to get all stakeholders in the same room and to openly discuss things people remember about the brand, what they would have done differently, what was good, what should have changed in time? By having this fictional exercise, people will open up and discuss more freely what should be improved and often isn’t because of internal structures, egos or hierarchies.

The evolving business landscape requires us to work under the “Last Hour” premise

Some call it “Always in beta”, others think we have to innovate constantly, staying agile. Whatever you call it: Brands can be gone within months, killed by more efficient competition, sub-par products, PR mistakes or a changing customer landscape. Not expressing your ideas, sharing your thoughts with all stakeholders, not being able to admit mistakes and move on from them is a recipe for disaster.

There are more innovative ideas waiting to be released from within your team than from outside consultants. Tap into this amazing potential. You never to want to be in the position where the last hour becomes reality.

The “Last Hour” exercise might be just the right recipe to prevent this from happening.

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It boggles my mind how many brands talk a good game about being different, standing out from the competition and somehow they ignore the only effective and valuable way of doing it.

You need to stand for something.

Times are tough, budgets are tight and more and more brands seem to choose the path of standing for nothing. Can you name an insurance company that stands for anything? A car rental company? A TV manufacturer? Technology provider?

In the media world, there are hundreds of ad networks. And when you explore their sites or talk to the sales reps you always get the same litany: “We’re the largest ad network in…” “We have the best technology to…” While they’re talking, they’re also opening the door to competitors to come in and take away their business by doing something better, be cheaper, have a better promotion or more efficient distribution.

Most companies operate under “It’s our way or the cul-de-sac”

Managing, designing or operating by committee puts you at an disadvantage before you even launch a product or launch any marketing initiative. Sure, there are many brands that succeed and prosper by following this recipe. Competition can creep up on them and eliminate the brand from the marketplace in no time.

When you stand for something, when you believe in something that transcends pure profit-making you have a clear advantage. Don’t get me wrong, making money is not a bad thing because it allows to make even bigger and better things. The question is how are you making it and what you do with it once you’ve got it. Is your positioning a committee compromise or a reflection of the values and beliefs that direct your company?

In short: Are you operating under “It’s my way or the highway.”

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It’s a fact: companies have become more accountable because of Social Media. They can’t just hide behind mission statements, phone trees and corporate rules anymore. All of us should love that fact. Embrace it. And we should hold each company to the basic objective of being accountable and transparent.

It doesn’t mean, you shouldn’t be accountable for your own behavior.

The anonymity of the Social Web, the constant avalanche of information often leads to misinformation, skewed messages and subjective interpretations that aren’t based in reality. The need to be heard, retweeted and seen as a thought leader makes it even worse. So-called influentials (sanctioned by Klout silliness) waste all of our time discussing their bad product/service experiences, cheered on by the legions of followers and people that believe everything they say blindly. More importantly, companies waste a lot of time trying to keep these influentials happy and calm down the mob they tend to drag along. It’s easy for anybody now to start a rumor, to share a subjective customer service experience without having to face the consequences. There are always two sides to a story but we tend to hear only one side and immediately blame the corporation.

Recruit your own army of loyal followers

Facing an army of followers as a solitary brand will never end pretty. At best, you will be able to take care of the influential and their followers will disperse, looking for the next victim. At worst, you might start a brushfire. You can’t win this battle by yourself. You need to recruit your own army of loyal customers. People that will stand up for you when something goes wrong. Even to a person with 30,000 followers. The basic task in Social Marketing is to listen and engage. The real task is start building a group of loyalists, your brand guard that will fight for you when times get tough. Don’t try to buy mercenaries, or get professional soldiers. Deliver a great experience, amazing customer service. And, when something goes array, these people will pick up the fight for you.


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Typical enterprises are organized to be effective. Deliver reliable shareholder value. But never delight.

American Airlines, Burger King, Hilton and their ilk mostly focus on output. They bring in the Six Sigma experts. They bring in the efficiency guys with white lab coats, clipboards and stopwatches.

While they make an enterprise more efficient, they also turn the whole brand into a factory. Red bricks, mindless cogs going to work from 9-5, improvements are measured by minute advances: “Oooh, the burger was delivered in 30.5 seconds instead of 30.4 seconds.”

More importantly, they never focus on delight. They make sure to answer calls efficiently but never in a way that people want to spread the word for you. They process customers. Their manuals are lengthy but the delight factor is slim.

Enterprises like to avoid problems, fix them with coupons or other short-term solutions. And, ultimately, they don’t want to hear from people. Playing this game becomes riskier by the minute.

People expect more from brands than just to be processed. They want brands to deliver delight.

Delight has many faces: Make my life easier. Make it more profitable. Make it more efficient. Make it more enjoyable. Entertaining. Engaging. Valuable. Rewarding. Delivering delight is an on-going journey and the journey never ends. Do you want to go on that journey or continue your race to more efficiency?

You have a choice: You can focus on internal efficiencies and deliver incremental improvements. Or you can deliver delight and implement performance leaps.

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You can partner with or hire the best people in the world. You can work on the greatest product/service idea ever. It all will go nowhere if you don’t have a great culture.

Your culture will determine how much energy people put into their work. Your culture will determine the attitudes of everyone in your company, how they interact with all stakeholders. The more you care about what you’re making and creating, the better your work will be. And you want all your employees to care about the company as much as you do.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s driven by your culture. Companies with a great culture attract people who have passion for what their employer is creating. And they are passionate about making their company’s brand their own.

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It’s one thing to expect Starbucks in every country in the world. They have become the McDonalds of coffee. We all just expect them to be there and spread their message of mediocre coffee. But, “The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf”? Had no clue they had a global footprint. I always thought of them as a West Coast brand. Not anymore.

What’s even more surprising to me is the fact that people in Dubai even bother going to these chains. I mean, the idea of roasting and drinking coffee was basically invented in Arabia. Yemen to specific. That’s like trying to convince Germans to drink Budweiser. Oh, you mean, somebody tried that? Silly me.

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Imagine three different people:

  • A is focusing on his strengths, basically ignoring his weaknesses.
  • B focus on his weaknesses, overseeing his strengths.
  • C is aware of his strengths and weaknesses and attends to both.

Which one would you like to hang out with?

I know, a pretty easy choice.

It’s not about strengths and weaknesses. It’s about loving oneself.

No brand is perfect. All have flaws. Apple is not social. BMW can be too German. But the great brands embrace both their strengths and their weaknesses. Including the parts where one is inferior and sometimes even socially unacceptable. They understand that these weak parts of their brand personality are burdensome and intolerable. And they need to change. But they carry this burden with a smile and acceptance: Yes, things must change but we’re still happy about where we are. Trying hard and letting go at the same time. Being always the harshest judge of themselves and the best friend.

Brands have real problems embracing weaknesses.

Proud brand managers and their agencies crave perfection in their charges.  But I think weakness, or even fallibility, is a great thing in a brand. Shared weakness is something we bond over, which is why brands often bounce back so well from a seemingly calamitous public failing – just think Jet Blue. They were dead in the water. And now they are stronger than ever. Brands become much easier to relate to, and embrace, when they don’t pretend to be perfect. Because weakness, at least as much as love, is the universal language. It frees us to acknowledge the obstacles we face and build the capacities we need to perform at our best.

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“Advertising says to people, “Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it’ll do for you. Here’s how to get it.” – Leo Burnett

I’ve been in advertising for more than 15 years. I believe good advertising can enrich people, it can inspire them and I regard advertising as a noble profession. If there’s a better way to showcase to people what your brand has to offer, explain the benefits and ways to get the product/service, I haven’t experienced it. Nobody has.

So, why does Adland have such an image problem? Why do 76% of Americans think companies lie in ads? (2009 Yankelovich study) Why do people have problems trusting any of our communications? And, why are we starting to see real recruiting challenges in an economy nobody would describe as humming?

Some blame holding companies and their pure focus on shareholder value, rather than focusing on reinvention of the agency model. Some blame the compensation structure that rewards bodies and time, not great ideas. Some blame the split of media and creative. You ask people in the industry, everybody has a different explanation for the current state of the ad industry.

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The problem goes much deeper: people have lost trust in institutions and business. And, let’s be honest, businesses and institutions have betrayed that trust. BP, Enron, Vioxx, Facebook, Catholic Church, Congress, your local city government: We’re surrounded by brands and institutions that betrayed us, lied to us, treated us like dumb sheep, acted like they were above the law. And advertising provides the background noise to that sad drama with exaggerated product claims and photoshopped models. The threat to advertising and our industry is a threat to capitalism. And, just like advertising, I haven’t seen a better system than the capitalistic system.

But, it’s time to change both.

We need to make the advertising industry better. And, at the same, improve the overall capitalistic system. Just like capitalism, the advertising industry needs to cut its worst excesses or Uncle Sam will do it for us. ( In case, you don’t believe me: Have you seen the FTC proposal for a ‘Do Not Track’ option?)

Our future will not look like the past. The past was based on a model of industrial production, the new model will be based on a globalized, collaborative information model. It can’t be about more stuff and pure growth. It has to be about being better, kinder, lovelier and inspiring. It can’t be about targeting consumers, it has to be about collaborating with all of our stakeholders. Ultimately, we have to change our vision and mission of the advertising industry:

  • Our main goal is to make the world a better place. Adding value, inspiring, enhancing life experiences. Making money is a by-product, not the overarching goal.
  • A brand is developed by all stakeholders. Not the marketing department.
  • Business is about fairness, joy and love. Not cut-throat competitive tactics.
  • We work with human beings. Not human resources.
  • We collaborate with competitors to enhance each other’s products/services. Not buy them out to eliminate their intellectual work and the value they could have added.
  • Customers are all people affected by the creation of the product or service. Not just end users.
  • We will communicate values that brands stand for and live. And not some fake world that never existed.
  • Advertising is helping to change the world. Not just change behavior for more consumption.

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The belief that this is just a bump in the road and everything will get back to normal at one point is the biggest threat we’re facing. The new normal will be completely different from the old normal. The demands and expectations on capitalism and our industry will grow, just like people expect more and more from brands and institutions. If you think the last decade was filled with change, you ain’t see nothing yet. Think about it:

  • How ware we going to deal with India and China as the new dominant forces in the global economy?
  • What are you going to do when your competitors 2015 come from Vietnam, Spain and Nigeria? Not New York and San Francisco.
  • How will we replace dumb growth with smart growth?
  • How will we strengthen our country’s fiscal future while investing in our people?
  • What types of jobs will we offer to people that had jobs that will never be replaced?
  • How are we going to deal with the demographic challenge?
  • How are we going to revive the middle class?
  • (Insert 500 more urgent questions here.)

The next decade will bring a collision of forces that that threaten to disrupt the Western system, and call into question capitalism, a force on which our prosperity and stability have rested for decades. Forget the financial crisis, the debt crisis, all these political fights pundits tend to focus on. These are just precursors. We’re facing graver economic challenges that are long-term and threaten capitalism as a model for the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher: if we don’t maneuver successfully through the coming storms, we’ll face a major backlash against our economic model. If the world loses faith in capitalism’s ability to improve the lives of everybody, we will have failed miserably and doomed the developing world to infinite poverty.

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We really have no choice: All of us have to create a better form of capitalism. And our job as advertisers is to create a better form of advertising and being a support pillar for the new, more human form of capitalism. We are building this new reality with every decision we make, with every ad we create, with every product purchase we make. For years, we mistakenly believed we had ascended to the zenith of modern capitalism. We knew all of the answers and just need to optimize a little bit here, increase efficiency there and everything would be fine. Events and facts taught us that the journey of capitalism might have just begun. And we need to ask that age-old question again: How can we make the world a better place?