Messaging Tag

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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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’s 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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Winners in 2013

Managing Director Ken Pasternak

When we look back at the client relationships we’ve enjoyed over this last year, there’s one word that sums up our experience: Inspiration.

Our clients have shown both resilience and initiative in a time of uncertainty and recovery. In coming to us for help, they’ve shown they are committed to a renewed identity, a stronger position, or a clearer message to communicate to their audiences. We have been thrilled to assist these groups through this process.

There are several examples from this past year of clients doing extraordinary work to further their missions, and build their brands in the process. Our higher education clients, such as Georgetown and Caltech, set examples everyday of their innovation and thought leadership. UC San Francisco and Highmark, our clients in the healthcare field, are working to improve the quality of care and increase patient satisfaction. And in the technology sector, VMware is technology that makes any service ubiquitous, efficient and within reach.

It is easy for an organization to tolerate fuzzy thinking, let costs rise and lose sight of their mission. We’re proud of the committed work our clients do remain at the vanguard of higher education, healthcare and technology, and we see many good things ahead for them. We are inspired as we go into 2014.

Highlights from our clients’ 2013:

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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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Political Campaigns – A Lesson in Brand Management

The Republican presidential primaries and debates have been fascinating, if not whiplash-inducing, to follow. The candidates continue to float on the winds of public opinion rather than their own personal convictions and vision. On any topic, they appear more interested in setting themselves apart from the competition than in having firm positions that constituents can rally behind. Focus groups form politicians’ positions on issues, instead of politicians working to help constituents understand and value what they really stand for. The absence of a clear frontrunner so far is evidence that candidates are failing to define what they stand for and that they lack resonance with the American electorate.

Politics & Brand Management

The word “politician” has taken on negative connotations; it is more and more likely to define a person who will say or do anything to get elected.  There are plenty of politicians in the world, and it seems few are irreplaceable. Brands should not fall into the same trap. To be effective in the marketplace, a brand must clearly communicate what it represents and what it aspires to become, and then deliver on that promise to its customers. The opposite approach – building a brand based exclusively on customer opinion or desired image – is a recipe for failure, as the brand in the end will lack identity, and will likely be forgotten when the next new product comes along. The more effectively a brand communicates and delivers on its promise, the more likely customer experience and feedback will reinforce the brand’s position.

The Walt Disney Corporation stands as a perfect example of brand conviction and purpose. Despite the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and economy, the brand has never strayed from its promise to deliver high-quality, family-oriented entertainment in a variety of formats. As a result, consumers know what to expect from a Walt Disney product when it is released without questioning its authenticity, quality, or content.

To be considered a true political leader, a candidate must have and communicate a vision; an authentic theme that voters can focus on and associate with that person. The same is true of a brand.  Without clear vision and promise, a candidate becomes a politician, and a brand becomes a commodity. Both will recede from relevance when the next new “thing” comes along.

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Three Key Brand Success Factors: Clarity, Relevance and Engagement

Every afternoon, we get an email called the Chart of the Day from the Silicon Alley Insider, a unit of the larger content publisher Business Insider. This chart is always current, relevant, topical, and easy to digest in under a minute. A minute is about the amount of time that we give it each day, but we remember these charts, and the simple points they make, and find ourselves referring back to them often.

Brand Success Factors

These charts tell a simple story, visually, relevantly, and succinctly. They tell us who is responsible for the most bandwidth usage on the Internet (Netflix by far), where Apple’s astounding revenues come from (iPhone more than 50%) and who pays the most for software developers (Facebook, $110K). They never try to do any more beyond connecting the reader to a deeper article in which he or she may be interested.

These Charts of the Day, while highly focused and specific, represent a clear, relevant and engaging promise­ – one that can be delivered every day with consistency. Each chart tells different brand success stories, but the overall promise, of a quickly digestible snapshot into the business of technology, is fulfilled every time.

It is a helpful exercise to look at brands like this, and to consider the questions, “What is the promise we can make with our brand that gives us the flexibility to deliver over time, and the challenge to continue to fulfill customer expectations?” and “How can my brand deliver on its promise in a clear, relevant and engaging way, every day?” and, in this particular case, “If I had only one minute to deliver value to my customers, what would I say?” When brands get this right, customers recognize, appreciate and remember the value they create.

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