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Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

Spokespeople are No Substitute for a Strong Identity

We have encountered prospective clients who believed that the best way to build awareness and enthusiasm for their corporate identity or brand was to find a charismatic and compelling spokesperson to represent them.

My personal favorite Spokesman is George Foreman. His delivery and personality are infectious (See his current TV pitch for Inventhelp), but when you sign up with George Foreman, you get a human being who could become inappropriate despite his charm.

Hiring celebrity spokespeople can be a dicey strategy. People, or their circumstances, can change. Consider the following situations:

When Lance Armstrong finally admitted cheating, he was dropped like a stone by all his sponsors. When Tiger Woods was caught cheating on his wife, however, Nike stuck by him.

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Great Branding Starts with a Promise

Recently in Fast Company Design, I read an article that claims “great branding is invisible,” and goes on to make the point that the little details, like the satisfying thunk of a closing BMW door, or the stitching in a Gucci purse, create and reinforce our relationships with great brands.

The article also makes the point that a catchy tagline or attention-getting logo is relatively unimportant in establishing that brand relationship in the first place.

I agree with these observations, but there’s something missing. Thoughtful details – the “invisibles” that create great brand experiences – are only meaningful if they come from a unique and meaningful central promise. What do you aim to provide that nobody else can? Why does it matter? If you don’t have an answer to these core questions, all those details have no center of gravity. They become tactics that can be easily copied and commoditized.

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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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CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand Win

CVS Quits Smoking, Scores Rebrand WinMy mom quit smoking recently, after fifty years of it. The fact that CVS is no longer selling cigarettes had nothing to do with this, of course. But the company’s decision to go smoke-free, now—a month ahead of schedule—had particular resonance with me.

Opponents of this move argue that it’s hypocritical, a stunt. They have a point—but in that case it’s a pretty expensive stunt (more than $1 billion in lost annual revenue). This is a clear example of a brand-driven business decision. In addition to pulling tobacco, CVS has changed its name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, indicating a commitment to something bigger than themselves.

So how much financial loss is CVS willing to sacrifice for a bold brand promise? Does that mean they’re pulling Frito’s and M&M’s off the shelves? (I hope not.) The store will still carry plenty of products that contribute to major health problems, so can it really be the flagship of health it’s aspiring to?

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Brands in Crisis: You Can’t Hide

Malaysia AirlinesAfter the back-to-back tragedies of Malaysia Airlines flights MH17 and MH370, we’ve seen some news reports that the airline is looking to rebrand and change its name.

While I can understand why a brand in crisis would want to distance itself from these terrible events, I think it’s a mistake. Here’s why:

The damage is already done: These tragedies have dominated the news for many months, and the misfortunes of Malaysia Airlines are seared into the mind of the world’s population.

Superficial rebranding looks like hiding: When a brand has been through a disaster, a superficial change in identity makes it look like you’re trying to hide something. Instead of helping, it can backfire, provoking condemnation that further sinks the brand’s reputation, revenue and market value.

What really matters is demonstrating integrity: Instead of hiding, brands going through disasters need to demonstrate a real and total commitment to making meaningful change. For Malaysia Airlines this means rethinking every aspect of the airline and implementing major changes in critical areas (safety, management, training, operations, policies, service and transparency). In this way the brand could signal its commitment to ensuring that these tragedies did not happen in vain.

Brands in crisis can turn tragedy to triumph. But doing so requires investment and integrity. Malaysia Airlines could successfully change its identity and name if they introduce these changes as a high-visibility sign of their commitment to completely re-vamp their airline, and to be held to the highest standard. If the airline is truly changed, its identity could be changed. Handled correctly, that’s an opportunity.

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The ‘Best’ Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most Beer

Best Designed Beer Can Is the One That Sells the Most BeerI recently read an article in Adweek called “What Are the Best Looking Beer Cans in America.” Apparently we are in a Golden Age of beer can design. And some of them are pretty fun (see a gallery here). But I believe that while these designs are creatively interesting, they divert from a beer can’s real job, which (aside from its function as a container) is to get beer drinkers to buy the beer.

Design should have an objective. Design is purpose-driven and client-driven, and these qualities are what differentiates it from art. Good design can certainly enhance our lives and create an aesthetic response in its beholders. But I believe the best design is the one that sells the most product and builds the biggest market.

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High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?

High-Risk Naming: Can Google Trademark “Glass”?Google, which we’ve held up as an example of both good and bad when it comes to branding and brand naming, recently applied for a trademark for the word “Glass.” Not Google Glass, just Glass. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not going to give in so quickly. Everyday terms, such as glass, are usually not ownable by any one company, especially when they are descriptive of the product or service itself.

Trademarking Generic Terms
Generic terms are typically difficult to trademark, and for good reason. They are undifferentiating and cause confusion in the marketplace. The reason Apple was able to trademark an everyday word was that a word for a fruit does not in any way describe computing hardware. Glass, however, describes the appearance, apparent composition and function of the Google product. (Although, as this Mashable article attests, the product is not actually made of glass)

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Color and Your Brand

color and your brandUsing color to form an emotional association with your brand

What can profusion of color tell us about our relationships with brands? We form all kinds of emotional associations with color, and research has shown that the use of color can “increase or decrease appetite, enhance mood, calm down customers,” and even affect how long people think they’ve been waiting for a service.

Some brands hang their hat on color. ING Direct changed its name to Tangerine when it was acquired last fall and embraced verbally what had previously only been a visual part of the brand experience—the ING logo. The French telecom giant Orange built its brand around the color. This may be limiting (you’re unlikely to see a blue logo unveiled anytime soon), but if it’s done right and with commitment such an investment might be worth it.READ MORE

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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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Did the Olympics Help Russia’s Brand?

Did the Olympics Help Russia's Brand?

Philip is an Olympian who represented the U.S. in rowing.

By most accounts, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were very well run and thoroughly enjoyed by athletes and spectators with a minimum of protests or distractions. A recent poll conducted by the Guardian asked “Were the 2014 Winter Olympics a success for Russia?” According to 77 percent of respondents, the answer was “Yes.” And with the games coming in at a reported cost of $50 billion, Russia certainly spared no expense.

However, I’m not sure Russia got the beneficial image impact such an effort should have yielded. That’s because Russia was sending out two powerful and opposite messages. Never a good strategy.

Unrest Detracts from Impressive Games
The Olympics surely helped us admire Russia and Russians. The sheer scale of the undertaking in Sochi was impressive. And the Olympics are always a chance for the host country to show off its best qualities.

But even as the Games were being played, images of chaos and discontent in Russia’s sphere of influence undercut the general goodwill. The continuous shipment of armaments and ammunition to the Syrian government for use against its citizens continues to hurt Russia (at least in the West and among supporters of human rights). So does support for the authoritarian regime and strong-arm tactics of recently ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

Less than a week after the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Russia is conducting military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and the cover of The Economist shows a figure silhouetted against a flaming backdrop with the headline, “Putin’s inferno.”

The Sochi Olympics have been the most expensive Games ever. From such an expenditure, one would expect a benefit to the host country’s image. And that has generally been the case. But while the Olympics are likely to offer a short-term benefit to Russia on the world stage, its geopolitical tactics will continue to be a long-term problem.

The lesson here, for all organizations, is that your organization’s behavior will have more long term impact than any short-term communication initiative. Ideally, your behavior should be consistent with your communications.

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