Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buy Stock in Attitude

By now it is practically brand religion that “you don’t control your brand.”

Consultants routinely lecture their clients that:

“Brand = the sum total of other people’s perceptions of you, NOT what you are trying to say.”

This is actually an important message. As many clients continue to think that brand DOES equal whatever it is they want to say. (Or more frighteningly they still think that it equals their logo.)

So this is not the brand (the Coca-Cola logo).

And this is not the brand (Coca-Cola press release).

And not even this is the brand (Coca-Cola-issued blog).

This is the brand – not the total brand, but part of it – because it represents an audience’s perspective not the sender’s. (An article written about Coca-Cola online.)

And so is
this (a positive image generated by somebody “out there” who is hopefully not propagandizing for CC).

If the brand is a product like Coca-Cola, then brand-ing becomes a very simple exercise.

Measure perception of the icon, come up with the baseline, create a goal, and map a strategy for getting there.

But what happens when the brand is a based around service, not a product?

And this includes times when the brand appears to be a product, but really isn’t.

Let me give you an example.

Here is a Starbucks.

Here is Seattle’s Best.

Let me tell you flat out – the coffee is better from Seattle’s Best.

But I will still go to Starbucks any day of the week.

And it has nothing to do with wireless access or a place to sit or anything like that.

Seattle’s Best is even OWNED by Starbucks.

The difference between the two is that Starbucks has better attitude. Better vibe. You want to be there. Somehow, someway, the employees have this really good spirit. And that is what I want to be around in this frequently dreary, depressing, dark and (yes, let me say it again) dreary world.

Another brand that has a great attitude: California Tortilla.

Went there and picked up their newsletter. Which is so, so tacky. Orange and black for Halloween?
Xeroxed? “Taco Talk!” Ay ay ay.

But they’ve got spirit.

The first paragraph is headlined: “Whoops.” And it’s all about how the CEO or whoever writes it made a mistake and said the company is committed to ending “childhood” instead of “childhood hunger.” And the person actually mocks themselves – “Could there be a worse typo?...Or a worse promotion?”

Trust me when I tell you that California Tortilla has got the attitude. Baja Fresh – beautiful, clean store, but no. Chipotle – owned by McDonald’s – same thing.

When you are building a brand, and you are not sure how to do it, focus on your attitude and the rest will follow.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Tomorrow's "Government Doesn't ****" Rally Is Bad For My Brand

Before I say anything, let me be clear that I support the mission of GovLoop and think it has accomplished a lot. I also appreciate GL's kind support of my writing, having featured my blogs, asking me to speak, and sponsoring a Federal Communicators Network event this summer. I am worried as I post this that I will offend people who have been good colleagues and peers for more than a year. But I am sufficiently concerned about tomorrow's rally that I feel I have to say something. Here goes.


1. The title is so offensive that I won't even repeat it. No matter how much people say bad things about federal employees, we do have a "brand" of professionalism, dignity, and respect that is undermined by language like this. It is not the norm to talk like this in a federal workplace, and it is not the norm to speak or write like this on behalf of federal employees in public.


2. The title of the rally violates a basic rule of communications. Which is to stick with the facts as neutrally as possible in order to keep the audience with you. And the reality is that the quality of our government agencies as well as the employees in them varies. Just like in the private sector. To go so far in the extreme saying how great we are almost begs for blog responses like this.


3. The rally is, from a brand perspective, affiliated "on the sidelines" with Jon Stewart's "Return to Sanity" rally. So whatever brand associations go with Stewart carry over into the GL rally. Even though the Stewart rally claims to be one of "moderation" - this word is still political discourse. I do not want the site where I blog to associate me with any particular political brand. Which leads me to my next point.


4. It is inappropriate for GL to speak, represent, or do anything on behalf of federal employees. This is not a site sponsored by the federal government. And even if it were, one of the core values of the federal government is to promote diversity and freedom of expression within the workforce. No federal employee would ever be forced to affiliate with any kind of worldview. But this rally in effect brands us. If the government wants to work on the brand of federal employees that would fall within the purview of the Office of Personnel Management or another federal agency.


5. Last but not least - the people who run this site don't actually work for the federal government. Although the founder (Steve Ressler) did at one time, this is not true anymore. They work for the private sector. This is a private sector website. It is already ambiguous who is actually participating here (feds, non feds, whatever) but to actually "brand" government on behalf of the government is just plain wrong.


I also get the feeling - and I could be wrong - that GL is milking the "government is great" angle a bit with all the publicity lately. It seems to me that the site was purer in the beginning, and now that private ownership and a profit issue are involved, the need to monetize is getting in the way of its organic, grassroots, good vibe.


They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't mean to get heavy, but it is starting to get hot out here. The rally was meant as a good thing, but if I were in charge, I would call it off or risk offending a lot of people who would potentially be supportive of GL's worthy mission.


 (Note: GovLoop is owned by GovDelivery, which provides services to my agency. However, as always, this blog represents my own opinions alone.)


Posted via email from Think Brand First

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oakley’s $41 Million Marketing Experiment

It was a life-and-death drama that bound the globe together—the plight and rescue of 33 Chilean miners during the summer and fall of 2010. Nearly three dozen men, buried more than 2,000 feet underground, trapped for a total of 68 days.

It was one of those stories that was at once completely remote from my life and yet felt extremely close. I could not look at images of the mine on TV, because I imagined myself one of the miners, slowly suffocating beneath the earth’s surface. I felt the powerlessness of the women who were waiting for them. I felt angry for the men forced to work in an exploitive system beyond their control. And I saw G-d in the way they struggled, stayed hopeful and constructive, and were eventually rescued by amazing technology that can only be described as a miracle.

The world, it seems, was as mesmerized as me, watching online and offline with bated breath as the story unfolded. As Mashable reports, the number of people watching this story is staggering:

· 4 million page views of global news stories (aggregated) by 5 p.m. on October 12, the day the news broke that the rescue operation would begin the next day

· 7.1 million viewers of Fox News and 2.7 million of CNN on October 13

· 6.8 million viewers of UK’s The Guardian’s TV coverage and 8 million of its online coverage

· 104,000 Twitter messages per hour containing 1 of the 6 top keywords related to the rescue on October 13 (about the same time that TV viewership peaked)

Of course, no media spectacle is complete without somebody trying to make a buck. I first learned that Oakley had “donated” (read: created a product placement opportunity for itself) sunglasses to the rescue effort when The Wall Street Journal ran a graphic mentioning this. Without knowing anything about it, I recognized the brand implications. But then I dismissed them. Nobody would be so tacky as to exploit this, right? It was innocent, yes? Accidental?

Um, that would be – “Boy, are you naive!”

On October 13, someone Tweeted a link to a article about the donation of the sunglasses. In it, VP of Project Management for Oakley Eric Smallwood explains the meticulous manner in which the company sought to get the most coverage (branding) from its kindness.

They did quite well – getting an estimated $41 million equivalent in advertising time, as CNBC reports.

If only Smallwood had kept his mouth shut. If only he had said, “It’s about the miners, not the money.” But oh, no. The greed was just too great. Instead, he said:

“It’s a goodwill gesture that will turn into mass amounts of exposure for Oakley in a positive manner.”

Lest one think that this was just an accidental spasm of self-congratulation, we are then treated with an inside look at Oakley strategy. Specifically, Smallwood told CNBC, the company:

“took into account the live coverage, the recaps and a rough estimate of the audience watching around the world.”

Boy oh boy. Not only that, but:

“(The) company gets more exposure at night, when there are more people watching and the Oakley “O” comes out more clear.”

Wow. Even The Huffington Post, which normally doesn’t take notice of such things, ran an item that included a poll to ask readers if Oakley’s behavior had been in bad taste.

Oakley, for its part, has a statement online playing it all down.

If I had to guess, my sense of this is that Oakley was walking a fine line and almost succeeded. But somewhere along the way they lost their step. The question is, have they actually damaged their brand instead of adding $41 million dollars to it?

My instinct on this is that in most cases, it’s better to start talking than to run into hiding. No brand has ever been built that way, except perhaps great icon brands who are “elusive” on purpose. Michael Jackson was cool when he wasn’t reachable, until he was really running away to fend off the accusations. Oakley ought to come out, right now, and say, “Hey, we’re capitalists, and we tried to find a win-win here. We were a little greedy. We’re sorry.”

Let the bloggers in and they will forgive you; fight them off and they will call you exploitive forever.

In marketing, and in life, the truth is very often determined by perception rather than reality. There is still time for Oakley to rescue its brand from being tarred with the “greedy capitalist” brush. But the time window is closing.

You know what would really restore the luster of their brand? And I mean really?

Film a commercial with the miners – like “We Are The World.” Donate part of the proceeds to the miners and their families and set up a charitable foundation with the rest. One that is dedicated to promoting safety for mine workers in perpetuity.

I think that would be worth a lot more than the $41 million they think they’ve gotten so far. I’m not sure what their sunglasses-buying audience thinks, but to me I don’t really see it. I mean, what can they possibly say about the donation that is not going to sound exploitive, tacky and cheap? And if they don’t say anything, what will the consumer put into his or her head – that “I must have strong Oakley sunglasses in case I get trapped in a mine and need to be rescued?”

The whole thing is stupid. They haven’t thought it through.

Do something voluntarily with the miners and show how Oakley is not just a product, it’s a cause brand. It’s not just about high-tech eyewear, but protecting ourselves and those we love against the elements. Against any kind of harm.

Volvo did a good job of that for awhile in the car industry. I think Oakley could do something similar.

But first they have to let go of the greed. If they can’t do that, the supposed $41 million advantage could very well collapse to minus zero.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Anti-Social Network

If you find credible the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” the world’s biggest social network was founded by someone whose relationship to society is ambivalent and rocky:

  • He can’t relate to other people, but he can create programs that they will want to use
  • He can’t handle rejection, but he can create a program that lets everybody be included in some way
  • He is obsessed with an isolated activity, computer programming, but the programs he creates involve connecting people together
  • He is angry at the limitations society has artificially placed on technology, but he forms a group to create a product that will overcome those limitations
  • He is deceptive to those around him, but is also brave enough to tell truth to power
  • He believes himself superior to the powers that be, but on the other hand is pained by a sense of inferiority and rejection

Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of Zuckerberg as portrayed in the movie is that he is so casual about other people’s feelings. It’s not that he doesn’t care, but he seems to care so weakly, literally leaving his best friend and business partner out in the rain at midnight after he’s traveled across the country to join him in California.

The movie is unauthorized but the story resonates with things we know to be true:

· Zuckerberg has indeed created the world’s most popular social utility. Facebook is used by more than 500 million people—effectively 1 in 14 people around the world. This is more than a trend, it’s a tidal wave.

· Zuckerberg is a private person. A profile with The New Yorker magazine published in September 2010 contains the following anecdote: “Despite his goal of global openness, however, Zuckerberg remains a wary and private person….Backstage at an event at the Computer History Museum, in Silicon Valley, this summer, one of his interlocutors turned to Zuckerberg, minutes before they were to appear onstage, and said, ‘You don’t like doing these kinds of events very much, do you?’ Zuckerberg replied with a terse ‘No,’ then took a sip from his water bottle and looked off into the distance.”

· Facebook is either insensitive to users’ need for privacy, or has a not-so-subtle agenda to eradicate it. As one developer writes, “Over the past couple of years, the default privacy settings for a Facebook user's personal information have become more and more permissive…part of Facebook's effort to correlate, publish, and monetize their social graph: a massive database of entities and links that covers everything from where you live to the movies you like and the people you trust.” In response, there continues to be extensive controversy over Facebook’s privacy practices, including the time in 2009 when, as David Kirkpatrick notes inThe Facebook Effect,” the company “renovated its privacy controls,” and in the process “set the default setting on new controls to ‘everyone.’” This “opt-out” approach disturbed many, as did the seeming need of users to have a Ph.D. in privacy to manage what was at one time an incredibly complicated privacy management process, involving 50 settings and more than 170 options—now significantly consolidated.

It is perhaps the last point that I find most troubling in my capacity as a social observer and social media and marketing strategist. As a publicity tool, Facebook makes great sense because a business is not personal—the goal is to “personify” the organization so that others can connect to it. As a personal networking device, however, there is no way (as on LinkedIn) to distinguish between your personal and professional lives. Everyone you know, everything you do, is in a database under the same account. It is almost as if someone is architecting a site that forces you to have no barrier, no boundary, between who you are at work and who you are at home. This represents a significant shift in American social norms.

Of course you have a choice about joining Facebook as well as how much information you put on there, if you choose to join. Yet if “everybody” is on the network, and you are judged by potential employers and even potential mates by how many friends you have and who those friends are, how much choice do you really have?

The reality is, because there are so many people are on Facebook, and because it has such credibility among formal social institutions (who join it and establish pages), there is tremendous social pressure to join in and share information that in the past you never would have made so readily available for all to see.

As Clara Shih points out in “The Facebook Era”:

“Before the Facebook Era, people didn’t share openly like this….it might have taken months or even years to discover….the breadth and depth of information that today is readily shared in a semipublic view in social networking sites….Today not only is it socially acceptable to share aspects of our identity on Facebook…but it has become expected that we do so….Facebook has become a sort of directory of everyone on the internet….(and) not to be on Facebook altogether is to risk being left behind.” (pp. 32-34)

And yet Zuckerberg disingenuously claims that Facebook is doing nothing more than innocently responding to social norms, and hasn’t had any role in creating them. Asked to discuss privacy online in a January 2010
interview with, he stated: “We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and updating our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.”

Facebook’s true agenda—to, in effect, eradicate the concept of privacy—is admitted by Dave Morin, a “member of Zuckerberg’s inner circle” who is quoted in The Facebook Effect. In the book, he is quoted as saying: “Our mission since day one has been to make society more open. That’s what it’s all about, right? We help people be more open across more contexts. I think they have to worry less all the time about being who they actually are.”

And they are open. Every day, users routinely input their thoughts, photos, videos, comments, religious affiliation, relationship status, political affiliation, and many other pieces of personal information including their location. I can’t imagine people being forced to do this, and yet Facebook has managed to make them want to.

If Sorkin’s portrayal of Zuckerberg is at all accurate, it is not odd at all that on Facebook people routinely “friend” people who are not really their friends, but who are only technological approximations of friends. Who don’t have real “sympathy,” “empathy,” “honesty,” “understanding,” “trust,” “emotional support,” etc. for you at all.

Women in particular should be concerned about giving away their personal information on Facebook. Every year, more than 1 million women are stalked (versus 350,000 men). It is also estimated that 1 in 20 women will be stalked at least once in their life. And 75% of the time, when people are stalked, it is by someone they know.

Further, Facebook promotes a culture of casual relationships that can easily cross the line into crimes against women. According to a study sponsored by the Department of Justice, 1 out of every 4 college women will be either raped or victims of attempted rape before graduation. In addition, women aged 16 to 24 are four times as likely to be raped as women in any other age group. Moreover, “the attacker is usually a classmate, friend, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend or other acquaintance (in that order),” as one recently published article on the study notes.

In addition—of concern for both women and men—as Facebook has rocketed to nearly universal use in the U.S., marriage rates, especially among young adults, have steeply declined. As was recently widely reported, today only 52% of all adults (age 18+) are married, and for the first time it is more likely that someone age 25-34 will be single than married—just 45% are, vs. 55% in 2000. Is this an accident? Facebook which promotes an approximation of friendship and the ongoing revelation of extremely personal information, and marriage is about a sacred and private bond between two people.

The real heroine of “The Social Network” is Erica Albright – the girlfriend who breaks up with Zuckerberg just before he starts Facebook. Erica is portrayed as a multidimensional, balanced person who is fair and has integrity as well as a balanced view toward life. While I appreciate the genius that went into Facebook, I wish that more of her (or that character’s) influence were currently present in it.

Posted via email from Think Brand First