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Posts Tagged ‘branding’

Recently, we were invited to present our branding capabilities to a team of marketing/branding executives at a prospective client. Even before we got through introductions, it was easy to see how little they understood—not just about their brand—but what it takes to even be a brand.

To be completely fair in this tale, we were invited to present our capabilities at the request of someone who was leaving the organization’s marketing department. We had no opportunity for direct communications with this group before the meeting other than to hear that they wanted a capabilities presentation. As such, the branding services we were “selling” might not have been a good match with the services they wanted to buy.

The Meeting

After keeping us waiting for 20 minutes, we began the meeting with introductions. Each member of our team provided a brief and enthusiastic description of his or her background; they merely told us their names. After further deliberate probing we were able to coax from each of them their job titles and how long they had been with the organization. Nothing else. This early sign of non-engagement was reinforced when the top executive furtively checked her phone for emails throughout the presentation.

We presented our perspective as strategic partners on brand strategy and our approach to establishing and maintaining a consistent look, voice and actions of a brand; they were interested in our ability as vendors to follow graphic standards and work on tight budgets. Fair enough. This is why it would have been helpful if they were available to give us some input before our meeting.

And that sets up my point.

Previously in this blog, I’ve talked about the disconnect many organizations have between their Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose, and their Brand. Check out the values of this organization:

Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect, Excellence

Note how the first letters of each value spells out I CARE. Well this executive team acted like it couldn’t care less about our meeting.

So the question is, if the organization/brand has values of compassion and respect, does that just apply to its customers? Shouldn’t it also apply to employees, strategic partners and even potential vendors? Think about the person who is exceedingly compassionate and respectful to people with whom s/he does business, but treats the waiter like dirt: is that person authentically compassionate and respectful? And if you don’t hold yourself accountable for living the organization’s values, where is the integrity in that? Or the excellence?

Most marketing and branding departments own their responsibility to manage the brand look and message to “customers.” But how many think to own the responsibility of acting the brand values to all stakeholders—internal and external? Even vendors? I once heard that it takes 10 positive comments to counter one negative comment. Imagine how many negative comments are generated in the community when a vendor is treated poorly? (Note: The purpose of this post is not to call out a particular organization; rather, to use the experience as a learning moment for me and my readers. I do, however, admit to feeling differently about this organization and its leadership than I did before the meeting.)

So, after all my ranting, what is the true cost of behaving badly in a meeting? Is it a marketing and branding team’s responsibility to set the example for how a brand should act? Or is this too much to ask, and is it enough to just manage the brand’s look and message?

What do you think?

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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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One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Linus leaning against a fence. Linus asks Charlie Brown a theological question: When you go to heaven are you graded on a percentage or a curve? Charlie, without hesitation replies, “On a curve, naturally.”  When Linus asks, how he can be so sure, Charlie responds, “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

That exchange provokes thought on many levels, not the least of which is the topic I’d like to explore today: Balancing Advocacy (communicating one’s perspective) with Inquiry (asking questions and listening to others).

Of course, Linus was the deep thinker in the neighborhood. As an Inquirer, he got there by asking questions…seeking the truth. Charlie Brown, the Advocate, was often the buffoon; outsmarted by his dog; as manager, never a winning baseball game; and, always falling for Lucy’s fake sincerity when she pulled the football away just when Charlie was about to kick it.

Inquiry seems to have the edge in this comic strip.

Now let’s look in the corporate world. Here, it’s often those who have the greatest conviction in their set of assumptions who win. Advocacy rules over inquiry because at the end of the day, decisions must be made and action taken based on available information. Analysis paralysis does not move a company forward.

So where is the balance to be found? Where’s the line between think and over-think? And where is the time to do either? How can the Advocates be sure they hear from the Inquirers—and not just get their way because others are insecure or afraid of being wrong? Or because they fear uncovering a different, less pleasant truth? Or, perhaps because they’re apathetic?

A Playing Field for Advocacy and Inquiry

Innovation is one arena where Advocacy and Inquiry must play well together. In order to be innovative, one has to question everything. All assumptions are suspect, everything must be seen through fresh eyes. Wild ideas, experimentation and mistakes are catalysts for breakthrough solutions. But in the end, innovation requires change. Someone has to sell the new idea—be its Advocate—to those who might still be in Inquiry mode. And even more importantly, to those in the Off mode.

I love this quote by Fredrich Jacobi, who says, “We must try harder to understand than to explain.” A great endorsement for the clarifiers among us.

On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

The Inquirer in me will continue to search for the balance. The Advocate in me tells me to get back to work.

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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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Who doesn’t want to be the expert? It means you know all the answers, earns you respect, moves you up the organization chart, increases your demand and makes you more money.

It doesn’t necessarily make you a good innovator, though.

In fact, an expert’s very identity is based on knowing the answers. Experts draw upon their years of experience. They seek out and promote best practices. They use their creativity to adapt and improve within the existing paradigm. They reduce risk and minimize change.

Experts are extremely valuable—until an innovative competitor creates a new product or service, making yours obsolete.

So how do innovators do it? An innovator’s mantra is don’t let what you already know get in the way of what is possible. Innovators aren’t ruled by the rules. Assumptions can’t masquerade as fact. Innovators look at the status quo with fresh eyes, imagine an ideal new reality and create a plan to get there. They accept some risk in order to change the game.

Here are a couple of exercises to engage your innovative thinking:

  • Ask, what would you love to see happen for your business if there were no obstacles in your way? What would your clients or customers love to see happen with your business if there were no obstacles in your way?
  • Once you know where you could go, try looking at your work through fresh eyes. Journal about every detail of your product or service as if you are an alien. Take photos like you’re a tourist. Collect materials like you are an anthropologist. Use your fresh eyes observations to bubble up new insights that might drive innovation.
  • Brainstorm everything you “know” about as many aspects of your business as you can. What has to happen for you to be successful? What do your customers expect from you? What processes are required? Who are your allies and who is your competition?
  • Then ask, if this weren’t true, then what could we do?

But then, I’m no expert. What ideas do you have for driving innovation?

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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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