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Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

Nation…Recently, I finished Stephen Colbert’s book, I am America (And So Can You!) Like Mr. Colbert, I’m no fan of reading books, but this one has a lot of pictures, so I made the exception. It has a lot of opinions, too. And I am a big fan of opinions, because if there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of, it’s my opinions. (My opinions, death and taxes.)

It’s my opinion that we can learn about brand building by watching Mr. Colbert. Here is a man who has been able to match his not-so-hidden agenda—Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose—so purely to his powerfully cohesive Look, Message and Actions. What is his agenda, you ask? (I’ll ask for you.) My opinion tells me that his agenda clearly is to realize a world driven by the free market so that he can use his self-promotion talents to build his power-base and monetize his fame. (Who wouldn’t want this?)

Let’s start with the Look. He is consistent: Dark suit, white shirt, power tie, wire-rim glasses, and well-coiffed mane (nice job of hiding the gray, sir)—the uniform of a free-market zealot. The Look is reinforced on his website, over and over again in his book and at his public appearances. He only varies it to prove a point, which makes that point all the more noticeable and powerful. For example, when he went to Iraq, he wore camouflage and got his head shaved. This proved the point regarding his unequivocal support of the troops. (Also made the point that he looks better with longer hair.) Then every night thereafter, when we saw him with short hair, we were powerfully reminded of the point he made when he had it shaved. (Short hair takes awhile to grow back.)

Next, let’s examine his Message. Again, he’s consistent both in content and in tone (and by content and tone I mean so close to the edge of satire that you might even think he leans to the left). Free market… support of the Republican agenda…doesn’t see race…doesn’t read books…afraid of bears…believes in a Christian nation…a mistrust of science are all familiar themes (and by familiar I mean excrutiatingly monotonous.) We know where Stephan Colbert stands. (In high regard with his banker.)

And his Actions match his Look and Message. He walks the talk (pays illegal immigrant to walk; he just talks). He puts people on notice, points out threats, give a tip of his hat or wag of his finger, challenges all his interview guests with his right-wing perspective (pistols at dawn might be easier) and otherwise offers his opinions unabashedly. (To his guests it may seem to be more bashedly).

How do you measure the success of the Colbert brand? His Facebook page has nearly 2,000,000 fans. His show is immensely popular, he spoke at the White House Correspondent Dinner, His book was on top of the New York Times Bestseller’s List, and by his own admission, Stephan is incredibly wealthy.

I choose to measure it by the impressive (in its odd range) list of other “brands” that wanted to affiliate with Stephan to receive his famous bump. From his website:

Colbert has literally made a name for himself with “The Colbert Report.” The following have all been named in honor of the host: Steagle Cobeagle the Eagle, the mascot for the minor league hockey team Saginaw Spirit; Stephen Jr., a bald eagle at the San Francisco Zoo; Stephanie Colbertle the Turtle, a leatherback turtle in the first Great Turtle Race; Aptostichus Stephencolberti, a trapdoor spider; Air Colbert, a Virgin America jet; American Dream, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor; Esteban Colbert, a very virile falcon in San Jose; Stelephant Colbert, an elephant seal tagged as part of a study by University of California Santa Cruz; Agaporomorphus Colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela; and a NASA treadmill called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistant Treadmill (C.O.L.B.E.R.T.).

Stephan Colbert is an authentic brand. He has translated his agenda into a compelling Look and Message. He remains consistent in his Actions. This has earned him brand zealots—something to which all brands aspire.

Finally, to Mr. Colbert: You’re welcome, sir. You’ve just received the GPS Creative bump.

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As one who has spent a career in the business of being creative, I’ve always been both puzzled and amused by the challenge of estimating fees based on the hours I will spend developing breakthrough, innovative ideas for clients. The question is essentially, How long does it take to be creative? Well, I could get an inspiration in a moment, or it could take a month! That’s the way it is with creativity—you never know when the ah-ha moment will hit.

No less of a creative authority than Albert Einstein, said, How do I work? I grope.

I can’t pretend to be able to unlock the secret to knowing how long it takes to be creative; however, it’s worth a discussion to explore what we can do to grease the skids for that creative moment.

Louis Pasteur once famously remarked, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Here are some ways I prepare to be creative:

  1. I start by erasing my assumptions. Or at least I question them. In fact, I might even pretend I’m from a foreign land and I’m viewing the issue or opportunity for the first time without any preconceived opinions or ideas.
  2. I’m deliberately curious. I force myself to think of at least 5 questions, whose answers might affect my new thinking on the particular issue/opportunity I’m addressing. I continue to ask why, like a five-year-old might, until I get to the root of my answer.
  3. I pay attention to my emotions. Inspiration may be fueled by knowledge, but it’s lit by emotion. As I gather information, I’m checking my feelings. If a piece of information or an idea makes me laugh, anxious, impassioned or confused, I look for the creative power within it.
  4. I sleep on it. I like to fall sleep thinking about a specific issue or opportunity with the hopes that my subconscious mind will bubble up some creative ideas that will come to me the next day.
  5. I work it out when I’m working out. I also use physical exercise as a prime time to prime my mind for creativity.
  6. I observe. If there is a place to go that is relevant to the issue or opportunity I’m exploring—say a retail space where a customer shops for a particular product, or the environment where a customer might use that product—I’ll observe what’s happening. What’s easy or hard? Where is the joy or frustration? What’s happening and why?

As I write this post, I understand that preparing to be creative is a deeply personal ritual. We all have our own styles. We also have tools we use to get us started—I’ve shared some of mine.

How do you prepare your mind to be favored by the chance of uncovering a transformational idea? How long does it take you to be creative?

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Have you ever tried to sell yourself or sell an idea with a logic that seems so obvious to you, yet for some unknown reason, it doesn’t sink in with others? Like the time you had that perfect pitch to a prospect who was less than generous in providing feedback? Too often our presentations and marketing materials focus on what we believe are our strengths or the strength of the idea. We cite statistics and stories for support. Yet these presentations miss the mark because they fail to consider what the prospects might need to hear before they can even listen to what we’re selling.

In short, many of us present ourselves and our ideas by talking about what’s important to us rather than what’s motivating to our prospects. We miss the important step of considering the context for our message, before crafting the content of the message.

The following is an approach for 1) exploring context, and 2) focusing content for your message.

Exploring Message Context

What’s happening? Begin by looking at your own assumptions, perspectives or attitudes that influence your presentation, and how they might be similar or different than those of your prospect?

Why is it happening? What market forces, personality traits and other issues might be affecting those assumptions, perspectives or attitudes, and therefore influence the decision to act?

What do we want to happen? What is the goal of the communication? And if different, what is the ultimate long-term goal of the relationship? What are the obstacles that might get in the way of achieving the goal?

Use the insights from this exploration to frame your content. Two examples:

  • If  your prospect has engaged the organization in a customer relationship initiative and you’re trying to sell sustainability, your prospect might not want his employees to lose focus with another initiative. You might frame your proposal as a way to enhance customer relationships. Or you might wait until after the customer relationship initiative is well seeded before attempting to sell in a sustainability initiative.
  • If, after thinking about your prospect’s personality, you decide she is an implementer who is not much interested in hearing about the planning process, you might want to begin by talking about goals, deliverables, metrics and schedules before talking about your process for finding and leveraging the insights that drive your work.

Focusing Message Content

Once we know the context of the message, we can better focus the content of the message. The trick here is to avoid the mistake of focusing only on the What of the message, and failing to connect the So What and Now What. Below is the distinction we make between What, So What and Now What.

a) What you want the prospects to know.

There are a variety of tools to help you arrive at a pinpoint focus on what you want to communicate. For example, if you’re selling the services or products of your organization you might use a concept in Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great and explain, what you do better than any other organization on the planet, If it’s an idea you’re selling, write the newspaper headline that explains it. Then elaborate; but remember, the object is to engage your prospect in the What, not to demonstrate your encyclopedic knowledge of the topic.

b) So What it means to your prospects and why they should care

It’s always good to list the traditional benefits that you believe the prospect might hope for or even expect. Then explore what benefit you might deliver that the prospect doesn’t even know is needed until it’s offered. This is meeting the unknown, unmet need (we call it the gift) and if you meet all known needs plus a compelling unknown, unmet need, then you have successfully differentiated your organization or idea from all others.

c) Now What I want you to do about it

While this seems obvious, many times we forget to “ask for the order.” We are so focused on presenting ourselves that we forget to tell the prospects what we want them to do.

So this is what I’d like you to do. Try exploring context for your next presentation. Connect your What to the So What and Now What. Share this post with others. Then give me feedback. Let me know what helps you…what confuses you…how we might improve this communication model.

Oh, and let me know if you come up with any new ideas for “what’s in it for you.”

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There are many people who I admire—smart, funny, talented, generous people. Then there are people who align those winning traits with a strong set of moral values and act to create something brilliant. These people inspire me.

And, I’m a bit surprised to say that social media is the reason I come to write about this topic.

I began to see the power of social media to enable such inspiration when my nephew Elliot posted on Facebook that he had a birthday coming up, and if anyone was planning on giving him a gift, he would love for that gift be a donation to a charity he chose. He suggested an amount, a dollar for every year he had lived, but was grateful for any amount. He set a modest goal, which he blew past immediately. He announced a new goal. Then another. Then another. He must be a popular guy with people who like to exceed goals because he raised a lot of money from people who never intended to buy him a birthday present. Brilliant. Elliot blogs at http://goodworkpeople.com.

Another example first came to me in the form of a viral video called The Money Tree. It showed what happens when you tape 100 $1-bills to a tree on a busy city sidewalk, each bill with a life-affirming note to take one. It’s beautiful. Check it out at http://www.­boingboing.­net/­2010/­09/­08/­what-­happens-­when-­yo-­3.­html.

This is the work of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She blogs at WBEZ in Chicago. http://www.wbez.org/blogs/mission-amy-kr and is a brilliant filmmaker and writer who inspires “connection, reflection, and creativity.” She has a mission for her followers (of which I’m one) every week. Often she asks for participation from her followers (sadly, I’ve yet to participate) from which she makes beautiful art. For the last three years (8/8/08, 9/9/09, 10/10/10) she’s invited anyone and everyone to meet her at the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park for an evening of “missions.” If you like life celebrations, check out her films chronicling these moving experiences.

A third example, I just found out about yesterday. Carlo Garcia has a site called Living Philanthropic: livingphilanthropic.tumblr.com. He has committed to contributing to and featuring a non-profit organization on his blog and through his tweets every day for a year, hoping that his followers will respond to the cause and also donate. I’m sorry I didn’t find him until day 314 when he featured Changing World’s, one of my clients. So far, Carlo has donated $3,753 to his featured organizations and his followers have reported donating another $9,915. Another brilliant idea.

Elliot, I know. I don’t know Amy or Carlo. Yet I have a pretty good idea of who they are. They inspire me, and perhaps elicit a bit of jealousy. But I’m glad they’re here. They give me a compelling reason to participate in social media rather than merely curse it as another distraction.

I also know, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have other examples like this, I would appreciate knowing about them. I would like to spread the brilliance. If you are inspired by Elliot, Amy or Carlo, spread their brilliance. These are the lights that need to shine.

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For those of you who have worked with me, you know that I often begin a conversation about a project or initiative by asking, It would be great if what happens? Then I might ask Why would that be great? And, what else would be great?

What I’m really asking is for you to take a moment, ignoring all the obstacles and barriers that might be in your way, and tell me about the best outcome you can imagine. Then tell me why that outcome is important to you. For most, this is an energizing exercise. It’s fun to imagine all the good things that might happen. Here’s what else it does:

  • It forces you to think about and articulate higher level aspirations that might have been, at best, only fuzzy thoughts in the recesses of your mind.
  • Merely articulating your aspirations makes them seem possible, softening a beachhead of obstacles that might be looming.
  • Knowing all the ways in which you might benefit drives a deeper, more sustainable commitment to realizing those aspirations.

Of course, it also enables me to understand my client’s, colleague’s or other stakeholder’s goals on a deeper, more personal level, so that I can better align my work to help achieve those goals. And if the waters get a bit choppy along the way, I can often calm them by reminding everyone of the ultimate goal and why we want to get there.

Try it. Ask your client or colleague what they would love to see happen. It would be great if what…? Why would that be great? And what else would be great? See if you don’t both walk away with clearer, more compelling goals.

Do this and you’ll be better positioned to ask the next question: What’s stopping you?

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Last weekend, I attended a Gala for Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. I couldn’t have been more inspired.

I know this organization intimately, having facilitated the staff and board through our strategic planning process, and then worked with the Reputation Committee to renew its brand strategy.

CYSO has long been a world-class youth orchestra, training the area’s best young musicians. Historically, it focused on performance and education. In revisiting the brand, the Reputation Committee discovered that at the intersection of performance excellence and personal growth is the element of inspiration.

This “inspiration” has become the brand driver, changing the way the organization communicates to its publics. CYSO began telling inspirational stories about the young musicians, the composers and compositions, and the venues in which it plays—compelling stories that give us even more reasons to appreciate and care about the music.

On Saturday evening, they took it to the next level in their concert, ¡Viva la Música! On the last number of an evening filled with beautiful Spanish compositions, the orchestra surprised everyone when it began swaying in unison to the lively score it was playing. Suddenly, orchestra members began randomly popping up and down to the music, giving the impression of a large wind-up toy. So unlike your typical Symphony Orchestra. So fun for the student musicians. And inspiring the audience to a whistling, hooting robust standing ovation.

This is an organization that embraces its brand.

To learn more about and support this fine organization, visit http://www.cyso.org. And check out the video we made to capture the magic of the CYSO.

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My brother Jeff and I facilitated a strategic planning summit this weekend for a wonderful Chicago organization called Changing Worlds (changingworlds.org). This group teaches cross-cultural awareness in schools through literacy and the arts. Because its programs emphasize storytelling, we began our Saturday morning session with each participant telling a story about a memory that profoundly affected his or her life. On a map of the world, we charted where each of us were born and where our memories took place. The stories came from all over the world.

My, how this elevated our appreciation for each others’ background and cultures. One by one we told of life events major and minor, but always with emotion and deep personal meaning. Some were funny, some sad, all filled with poignancy.

Some insights:

  1. Everyone has a story. Yet our major moments are so deeply woven into our fabric that we often don’t think of them as unique—they’re just “something that happened to me along the way.”
  2. When we tell a story that’s important to us, it becomes easy to engage others. It’s as if we are giving our audience a gift. And an emotional connection is made.

My gift to you, then, is to remind you to think about a defining moment in your life. Appreciate it as unique and important. Tell it to somebody.

And, if you are growing a business…building a brand…trying to forge emotional connections with customers, don’t forget your company’s defining moments. Chances are, some of your best stories have long since been locked away in the corporate memory vault.

So what is your story?

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Maybe nothing. But in selecting my workout this morning on an elliptical trainer, I was presented with the following options: Manual, Interval, Rolling, Fat Burn, Random, Heart Rate, and Constant Watts. So I started thinking, as is my want during mindless workouts, what does the choice of workout mean about me and my leadership style?

If I choose manual, does it mean I am a command and control leader?

If I choose Interval, Rolling or Constant Watts, does it mean I want to know what’s coming—no surprises? Does that make me a good manager? A Six Sigma expert? More interested in the process than the outcome?

If I decide on Fat Burn or Heart Rate, does that make me more goal oriented? Am I a leader who will establish objectives and metrics, and then work hard to achieve them?

And what about random? Does it mean that I prefer the chaos of not knowing what’s coming next? Am I creative leader remaining open to the ideas of others and making order out of chaos?

All are predictable except Random, which is, well, random.

For the record, I chose Random.

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I saw a proposed vision for a Health System the other day that got me to thinking: Why aren’t corporate missions, visions and values more in tune with the brand and brand experience? Is it because missions, visions and values are crafted behind closed doors in the boardroom, while the brand is the domain of the marketing department?

Perhaps marketers understand that customers don’t care about an uninspiring mission or vision, so why connect them to the brand? And who tells the employees that when they practice organizational values in serving the mission that they’re actually defining the brand experience for the customer? Who is connecting the dots?

The proposed vision I saw was this. Locally based…exceptional healthcare.

Now I do admire it for its simplicity. And I understand that a lot of conversation, I’m sure rich with emotion, went into that statement. But frankly, it tastes a bit Vanilla to me. What health system wouldn’t say that? I’m not inspired.

So I ask, shouldn’t a vision be aspirational to make the brand inspirational? Wouldn’t employees and patients alike respond to a brand with a vision of making their area the healthiest in the country by 2020. And how might that drive the brand experience? Sure, it would require the organization to be creative in its metrics. But we know, what gets measured gets done.

I think mission, vision and values should be more than informational. They should be transformational. And they should drive the brand experience.

Now that inspires me.

Where have you seen a disconnection between mission/vision/values and the brand? What do you think the barriers are to integration? I’d love to hear from you.

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In the Marketplace of Ideas…where do great new ideas come from? Where do they gain their power? And why aren’t all good ideas powerful?  Think about that fantastic idea that held incredible power over you, yet it moved no one else. Often, it’s a matter of perspective or assumption. A perfectly good idea might be nurtured into a powerful idea once other perspectives are introduced and a flawed assumption or two exposed. We’re talking about building a marketplace of ideas here—a place to empower the ideas that empower you.

GPS Creative is all about developing and nurturing the ideas powerful enough to help clients meet their challenges and discover their opportunities. In this Marketplace, we will introduce some of our ideas. We’ll ask industry experts, including you, to introduce yours. Our job together is to provide the commentary—offer new perspectives, challenge assumptions and give validation—so that these ideas might gain the power to take off, and take us all with them.

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