Author:@MarshallStrategy

A Truly Universal Name

A Truly Universal Name

There is wide frustration with how difficult it is to find a name that is legally available and protectable in any product category or geographic market.

As a challenge, our naming team set out to see if we could create a name for a product or a company that would be legally available in every product category worldwide.

And we have succeeded! The name we created is:

Qwxzyo   

Pronounced QWIX – zee – oh

There are several reasons why a name like this could provide strategic advantage:

  • It is completely distinctive
  • The iconic letter Q is memorable
  • It is surprisingly easy to pronounce
  • The unexpected letters have impact when assembled this way

When companies have global ambitions to build a multinational, diversified empire, the ability to own an idea worldwide gets tougher and tougher. The coined-word route is a viable direction to consider.

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One word is critical to M&A Success – CULTURE

One word is critical to M&A success – CULTURE

We learned last week that Hewlett Packard Enterprise is merging its enterprise services unit with Computer Sciences Corp (Read the full story). This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the consequences of mergers on identity and brand, and how having a solid strategy for both is key in your merger’s success.

Research has shown that as many as 83 percent of mergers fail to achieve their original business goals. Brand value, or goodwill, suffers right along with business value, often destroying the appeal and premium that might have inspired the acquisition in the first place. Why is this? Because culture, and the purpose behind each organization being combined, is often ignored in favor of the numbers.

These deals are put together by attorneys and investment bankers, who fail to consider the cultural implications of the merger. These people think in terms of “synergy” and 1 + 1 = 3, when the real goal should be 1 + 1 = 1.

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Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Many organizations – whether corporations, non-profits, or educational institutions – develop broad stables of identities to segment their offerings to different audiences. Some of them succeed with this strategy, but many of them do not. Our client, The University at Buffalo (UB)’s recent success can help explain why a singular identity lends more collective strength to an institution than can a handful.

UB is an AAU institution, which means it has been carefully selected to sit among only 61 peers in the American Association of Universities. It is the largest and most comprehensive research university in the SUNY system, and has multiple nationally ranked departments. Over the years, however, UB has had multiple names, and adopted specialized identities for athletics and other departments. These changes had a dampening effect on awareness, appreciation and internal pride.

Now, the university is committing to a singular identity, backed by a strong and unifying brand strategy, and is already reaping huge rewards in local pride and national momentum.

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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Has Lost Its Brand

Although we understand the critical importance of trademarks in preventing others from profiting from your intellectual property, we are disappointed in the move by Delaware North to try to extract $51 million from the National Park Service for a shortlist of iconic location names in Yosemite Park. To us, Delaware North is holding these properties for ransom from the American people, for a few historic names that will have little to no value anywhere else.

Let’s back up a minute – last year, Delaware North lost the contract to run hotels and concessions at Yosemite National Park. Shortly thereafter Delaware filed suit, claiming that the Park Service (or its new contracted vendor) no longer has the right to use the familiar and iconic names of historic park facilities (Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Park, Badger Pass, the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, and Wawona Hotel). It turns out the Park service had never trademarked the names, so Delaware North took advantage of the situation and trademarked them themselves. Rather than pay a ransom to use the names, The Park Service has agreed to create new names for the facilities.

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Building a Strong Corporate Identity

Most organizations realize that having a strong brand identity brings many benefits, among them more motivated employees, competitive advantage in the marketplace and a clear brand promise to engage customers and stakeholders.

But it’s not always clear how to build a strong identity if you don’t already have one. What does it take? And how do you know what to aim for?

 

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Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of Youth

Relevance: A Brand’s Fountain of YouthRecently I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Leah Garchik. She recapped a story that involved a pilot, who, while navigating a flight to the East Coast, suggested over the intercom that passengers look out the window for a scenic “Kodak moment.” As Garchick reported, one flight attendant then asked, “What’s Kodak?”

Once a ubiquitous tagline, “A Kodak Moment” made its way into casual speech to describe a moment worth remembering, but awareness of Kodak’s popular tagline, as well as its brand relevance today, has almost completely evaporated.

This is a huge lesson. Success can be fleeting, even for the most iconic brands; The question is, how can you prevent that from happening?

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An “Olympian” Brand Attribute

An “Olympian” Brand AttributeHow much do you really think about the words that you use to define your brand? What are their definitions, what feelings do they inspire in people?

As the excitement of the winter Olympics fades—a week spent watching some the world’s best athletes compete against each other—I’ve thinking about the word “Olympian.” What does it mean to be an Olympian?

The American Heritage Dictionary lists “Olympian” as both a noun and an adjective. In the context of the Olympic Games, the noun is the literal definition: “A contestant in either the ancient or modern Olympic games.” To be an Olympian is to be recognized by your country as the best they have in a given sport at the time of the Olympic games. It is an elite circle and the level of athletic excellence, competitive drive and dedication to their sports that Olympians have is unquestionable.

The more interesting expression of the word for me, though, lies in the adjective’s definition: “To surpass all others in scope and effect.”The highlight Olympian moments are the ones that demonstrate a courage, determination and desire to leave it all on the field—the ones where the athlete finds an inner strength to rise beyond the competition, despite all obstacles.

Sometimes Olympian efforts are gold medal winning, like ski racer Mikaela Shiffren’s cool recovery to win the slalom. “No matter what else was happening, I kept thinking that I had to keep my skis moving down the hill. Keep going, don’t quit, don’t stop…Then see what happens.” Other times they display a fierce resolve, like Jeremy Abbott, the American ice skater who fell disastrously early in his routine, but got up and finished to a standing ovation with some of the most spectacular jumps of the evening.

Why do these definitions matter? In our business, we often describe a brand with key attributes or personality traits; words that capture the essence of a brand. Often these words are descriptive, but not deeply meaningful. I’ve never seen “Olympian”used as a brand attribute, but maybe in time. A brand that included “Olympian” as one of its attributes and aspirations would be inspiring, and one I’d love to be a part of.

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Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

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Brand Positioning: What to Convey vs. What to Say

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splitsWhen it comes to positioning and messaging, there’s a fundamental distinction between “the idea” and “the message.”

We sometimes work with clients who come to us for positioning help, but then ask us to tell them what to say as their message. This typically happens after we’ve worked together to drill down what their complex organization does into a single, compelling idea. We’ve helped them articulate who they are, what they do and why they matter to their critical audiences, and it’s at this point where they run into trouble. We hear comments such as, “this positioning statement doesn’t just roll off the tongue.” Our clients are hoping they can take the positioning statement we’ve given them and simply drop it as messaging language into communication material. It doesn’t work like that.

Positioning vs. Copy
The position of your company sets you apart from everyone else. Used strategically, positioning should be the foundation for the messaging and communication that comes next, such as taglines and tactical advertising slogans. Positioning is internal and timeless—it is what you want to convey holistically, not what you literally say in each communication piece.

The message you then put forth should reflect your position and target the key opportunities and audiences you want to address. If every message comes from a common conceptual foundation and engages with its target audience in relevant ways, the effect of the brand will be greater than just the sum of its parts.

A good example of this is when Volvo Trucks wanted to highlight the precision and dynamics of Volvo Dynamic Steering in 2013. Volvo produced a memorable commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving semitrailer trucks. Volvo is famously positioned around safety; the ad effectively conveyed both the company’s positioning and the key point they wanted their customers to understand using inspired, memorable imagery.

Tips for a successful positioning/messaging relationship

  • Treat your positioning as your galvanizing idea. Once you’ve identified what you want to convey, you can take creative latitude to express it based on specific communication needs.
  • Don’t use positioning as your communication boilerplate. You should always be thinking of what you want your audience to understand, instead of simply looking for language you can plug in.

When used effectively, positioning and messaging takeaways are the litmus test for brand communications. They help guide communications—they are the key ideas, not the literal words.

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Need a Creative Breakthrough? Reframe Your Approach

Leonardo da Vinci challenged convention with his thinking, as he demonstrated in his drawings of his flying machine. Similarly, we must be creative thinkers as we work to position our clients. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Leonardo da Vinci challenged convention with his thinking, as he demonstrated in his drawings of his flying machine. Similarly, we must be creative thinkers as we work to position our clients. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

At Marshall, we’re not designers, but we appreciate the creative problem solving approach that visual designers employ. When we are called upon to position a client, we must find a way to describe their complex organization in a single compelling thought, which requires similarly creative thinking.

This can be a daunting task, especially with the multifaceted clients we work with. For example, we have several higher education clients, such as UC Berkeley and Caltech, who are known for being leaders across a breadth of disciplines. When we work with them on positioning, our goal is to develop one defining thought that’s clear enough for the organization’s audiences to understand, but broad enough so they aren’t limited by it. We call this strategic ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean that this thought can be vague. It still has to be true, differentiating and meaningful.

Along the way we might get stuck as we work to distill this “big idea” from the many important facts we hear. When we get stuck, the key is to approach the problem from a different perspective—to be unconventional.

Getting Unstuck

There are a few tips we can share that will help pull you out of your creativity slump, reframe your position and move ahead.

  • Do your homework. Early on, we immerse ourselves in the client’s world as deeply as we can—interviewing people inside and outside of the organization, spending time in their environment and looking for as much insight as possible. Then, if we need to shift the direction, we have plenty of research to go back to.
  • Listen for the truths. Identify multiple insights at the beginning of the process, instead of beginning the project with one narrow insight. It’s smarter to begin the creative process by thinking of all points of entry into an issue.
  • Go big right out of the gate. Keep your thinking as high level as possible. Look for analogies in other businesses or industries. This will enable you to rise above the details and look for organizing principles.
  • Make sure you’re solving the right problem. Sometimes we end up wrestling with issues—such as organizational or operational problems—that can’t always be solved through positioning or messaging. If you try to resolve the wrong problem, the solution will always be at odds with it.

Early on in our work with UC Berkeley, we saw them as a uniquely unconventional institution. But the idea of “challenging convention” was divisive, as for many it tied the school to the rebellious era of the ’60s and left-wing protests. We reframed our thinking and thought about Berkeley’s excellence across every discipline—a truly renaissance institution where breakthroughs often happen because disparate ideas collide daily. If Berkeley were a person, we thought, it would be someone like Leonardo da Vinci. We found Berkeley’s bigger promise in this renaissance spirit—reimagining the world, by challenging convention to shape the future.

Creative problem solving begins with being well informed, then taking a step back to free oneself of the details. When you let go for a minute, and look for the unconventional approach or reframe your path, new avenues will open.

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