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The coming brand war over business collaboration - and how Microsoft, Google, and Facebook can play to win

Brandassetconsulting-brandstre

Companies that "think brand first" stand a greater chance of success than those who don't. 

It's a nice theory that also happens to be fact - and this fact has been proven over and over again. (See accompanying graphic from Brand Asset Consulting, favorably comparing the performance of strong brands with the overall S&P 500.)

If everybody knows that strong brands do better than weak ones or generics, why does anybody ever deviate from the principles that make brands strong? 

The answer I think is not that they ever forget about the brand. 

Rather, brand screwups think incorrectly about their brand, in a few respects:

* First, they lack a fundamental understanding of what a brand is (an internal organizing principle of the business as well as an external communication tool). So they treat brand just like advertising and change it up when it gets boring.

* Second, if they do understand that brand = business principle, they don't know exactly what that principle is sufficiently to articulate it.

* Third, even if they can articulate it, it's not necessarily what the customer wants or needs from the company but rather what the company has decided it ought to be. 

Technology companies tend to make this mistake - call it "thinking brand stupid" - over and over again, primarily because they are so impressed with themselves that they believe the value is in the technology - rather than in the concept represented by the brand. 

A great example of erroneous brand thinking is Microsoft, a company strong because it owns so much desktop real estate but weak because it is out of touch with users, slow-footed, and tends toward braggadocio and competitor-bashing

The value Microsoft brings to the world is not inherently the technology. Rather, it is that the company helps the average business person to be productive. They have been fortunate to create a few very strong products that accomplish this. 

So whenever Microsoft focuses on productivity, they win. But when they market products for products' sake, they lose. 

Case in point: Sharepoint. It's something we're stuck with because we're so wedded to all their other products. But in and of itself, it's ugly, complicated, and difficult for the average user to learn and use. (It took me about three years, and even then I had to set up workarounds using Excel and Access that involve so many steps to keep going, nobody normal could recreate them.)

What's crazy is that collaboration is increasingly essential to productivity today. A huge business opportunity. But Microsoft is so arrogant and so focused on itself and not on the user - it is so marketing-blind - that if anybody creates an alternative with half the bells and whistles but twice the usability it will take off.

That company might be Google, currently the world's #1 brand but one that seems to be flailing a bit in search of a guiding star. 

To my mind, Google's brand is reducible not to searchability but to mastery of complex information, as represented by the Internet. Google helps people overcome the not unrealistic fear that they are drowning pawns in the sea of techno-information. 

Instead of trying to take over every function that the Net offers, Google would do well to take a bite out of Microsoft's jugular: their overconfidence that they and they alone are the trusted vendor of business productivity.

Think about it: The average office worker is drowning not only in work but also in information. They create documents and later can't find them; or must search for work that others have done that they know nothing about.

I would actually like to see a duel between Microsoft and Google over the future of business collaboration. For whereas Microsoft has the edge in the business market because of the perception of security and enterprise strength it offers, Google knows how to make advanced technology accessible and friendly. 

When it comes to collaboration, it is desperately important that the new technology be friendly - because the concept of sharing information is about as scary as can be. While right now Microsoft has the edge because people think of it as "the" go-to brand for business, there is an opportunity for Google and Apple to edge themselves in. 

Maybe it sounds trivial, but I foresee big wins for the brands that make life easier on the little things. Examples:

* The font size of the words on the desktop, and the size of the icons - they are usually way too small. 

* The computer takes too long to load.

* The average user doesn't understand security issues, or warnings.

* Self-service repair is challenging.

* There is too much functionality, making it difficult to do basic things.

Faster, simpler, easier, friendlier - not necessarily cheaper - without compromise of security or interoperability - and you will be a force to beat.

There is a technology company that could trump all others in doing exactly this when it comes to collaboration solutions: Facebook. Yes, I think they can succeed in the business market. 

I believe that Facebook has business potential because, despite being technologically sophisticated beyond belief - these are coders to the core - Facebook is grounded in a simple, clear and compelling philosophy. 

The vision of Facebook is that friendship is everything. It's that simple. And oh yeah, you do want to have friends - and relatives - everywhere. Is it really so farfetched that Facebook would be pervasive at work for the same people who use it at home?

Recently I read of a new outlets going Facebook-only. It makes sense considering research unearthing the tendency of women, at least, to check it before even brushing their teeth in the morning - isn't that when you want people to get the news?

Similarly, Facebook has now integrated Skype into video chat (Microsoft is supposedly acquiring Skype so this is an alliance with teeth). Given that people routinely use Skype for business calls, and that they friend their coworkers, watch for Facebook now to make inroads into the business-videochat market.

Remember, Mark Zuckerberg's belief is that privacy is now largely superfluous. He believes in  mixing the personal and the professional online. I believe it's not only about "social norms" as he says, but really because he believes keeping those spheres separate is hypocritical.

So why not bring the personal self into the business environment? 

And then bring collaboration somehow into that mix, assuming that they can leverage the Microsoft brand to build in trustworthy security safeguards? 

(I actually see those two companies as potentially incredibly powerful together, if the "Microsofties" can ever stop barking for five minutes.)

In the end, the lesson for technology companies and all companies is that you must always have a passionately held, compelling-to-an-audience belief guiding your efforts no matter how technical they seem. 

If you can establish yourself as the trusted provider of a piece of somebody's life, they will ultimately give you that business and more. 

But if you reduce yourself to a commodity provider of bits and parts, you will be elbowed out by somebody else who does a better job of posing as a friend.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

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Image source here

The Creepy Dairy Queen Guy & Other Commercials So Bad I Have To Laugh

Dq_pinata

There was a TV commercial on the other day for water. I'm guessing it's Aquafina, I can't find the ad. If I'm wrong, correct me. (Can't be that good of an ad to start with if I don't even remember who it's for. But anyway.)

A bunch of girls in sports uniforms are standing around on the grass. In front of them is a water cooler. Their gym teacher hands them a bunch of colored water (presumably sugar-water drinks). Somehow they decide that regular water is going to taste better than the colored water.

I watched that along with the family and we all had the same reaction: "What a stupid commercial!" They made the sugar water look so good, why would anyone have the plain?

It's just one of so many marketing fails I just can't believe anyone spends their money on.

Look at the Dairy Queen ads for Blizzards. You don't have to sell me on Nutter Butter blended with vanilla ice cream - I am there! But what is with that weird guy who is hawking them? Is he supposed to be some kind of spokesperson? That ad makes me never want to go into DQ at all!

There are so many more like this. 

Have you seen the Sears commercial where the spokesperson tells the couple that Sears has anything they could possibly want? The couple is sort of clueless until the big Sears logo appears.

Now I don't know about you but I have been to this store lately. It is nothing like that ad at all. Dirty, messy, disorganized, no help whatsoever. No clue. No guidance as to where anything is, why it's better than anything else, or how to buy it. A big gigantic mystery store, that is Sears.

Let me pick on Kmart a little too. What is the deal with the back-to-school commercials showing kids' clothes for the cheapest prices imaginable? Isn't the problem with Kmart that they're known for low-low prices so low they're embarrassing? Because if anyone found out you shopped at Kmart they would laugh you out of town?

Insurance companies are kind of weird with their commercials. What was with the Geico caveman? Do you like Progressive Flo? Yuck yuck and yuck more. Who are these people and why would I buy insurance from them? You know who is good - the guy who used to play the President of the United States on "24." Just because he represents Allstate, I seriously would consider them.

Continuing that positive note, here is one company whose TV commercials are magnificent: Chrysler and its "Made in Detroit" campaign. The ads rebuild a brand, bring it back to its essence, and update and muscle it up for the future. 

Those ads are so good - so resonant with the actual brand of Detroit and the actual turnaround situation the company is in - that I actually would consider buying one. Not because I'm shallow. But because I sense that behind this ad is an actual business strategy that is carefully thought-through and makes sense. It's also deeply patriotic, a value that means a lot to me.

In the end this is the purpose of a TV ad. To hammer a brand image into your brain, over and over again, until you are curious enough to consider buying. If an ad does that it's done a lot. But if it leaves you laughing - not with it but at it - then whoever spent all that money just wasted it.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

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Image source here

Branding vs. the Flash Mob

How-to-start-a-flash-mob

In recent times we have seen the rise of the "headless" organized crime group where leaders, if they exist, are more like ringleaders who "activate" group members. The group is driven by ideology - a reverse form of brand:

* Wikileaks - "exposing despicable and underhanded actions of governments (and businesses) the world over"

* Anonymous/Lulz - "Internet freedom"

* Flash mobs - "a random act with the sole purpose of confusing others"
 
Because these groups move so quickly and often so invisibly it is difficult for traditional law enforcement methods to counter them. By the time the police show up, the flash mob is gone.

What to do?

Basically, use the same tactics these groups are using - to counter them.

Really we are talking about brand-based distributed leadership as a tool for law enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security, for which I work (I do not represent them here) has a campaign going on right now called "See Something, Say Something" encouraging ordinary people to be vigilant and report unusual activity to law enforcement. 

This is the type of thing I am referring to, except I am suggesting that the structure of law enforcement itself be rethought to be more effective at fighting crime. As follows:

1. Locus of control is internal and ideology-based: We are loyal to the concept of keeping our country and our world free and safe from lawlessness.

2. There is no single "star" or hero in this model - everyone is equally capable of helping in the cause.

3. Redundancy - every process and every piece of equipment and every person who is on the job, has a backup who can do the same thing in case they are taken out.

4. Infrastructure - we operate virtually and are not centered on physical buildings. We can communicate instantly and easily across the world and citizens know how to communicate with us as well.

5. We are geographically distributed and not headquarters-centric.

What this means, as well, is that we end the cult of personality. It's not about finding a brilliant leader to follow. It is about finding brilliant followers.

Something to think about - we must act quickly, proactively and aggressively as a nation and a world society if we are to eradicate the organized criminals that keep good people hiding.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

___

Image source here

Restore the American Dream (Our BRAND) To Restore The Economy: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Piers Morgan (August 17, 2011)

Americandream

When I was a brand consultant I quickly learned to divide branding into the good and the bad. 

* Good branding is where you involve the workforce to achieve a collective mission in a way that is economically, socially, and psychologically profitable to all stakeholders involved. 

* Bad branding is where you put lipstick on a pig and soak innocent people for their money.

I have often thought that good branding applies not only to business but to any organization or any person seeking to achieve a goal.

On the CNN interview show "Piers Morgan Tonight" last night (August 17, 2011) Howard Schultz talked about how he is urging the business community to take matters into their own hands with respect to the economic recovery.

He shared some thoughts (actually he is furious at Washington) on how to turn the economy around. Though he didn't say it, he basically espoused the principles behind the Starbucks company, which I consider to be the #1 brand in the world. Schultz really gets it.

Key points:

1. The average person has to believe that they have an opportunity to succeed - to achieve the American Dream - which is our brand (!) Right now, they are losing that faith.

2. The average person has to have trust in the country's leadership. Right now, they are losing that trust because of all the bickering.

3. Leaders have to demonstrate true transparency to build that trust.

4. The problems are not difficult to solve. It is the infighting that gets in the way of focusing on the problem.

5. What we need is a focus on prosperity balanced with a determination to take care of our people.

6. There is an imbalance of government workers as opposed to manufacturing jobs. (Note: I work for the government - I am not taking a position on this - just recapturing what Schultz said.) Major point: Need to bring manufacturing innovation to the U.S. instead of farming it out.

7. China is not the enemy, we need to look at it as a potential market.

8. It is important to have respect and cultural sensitivity to others as you engage with them. Schultz repeatedly said that he wanted to speak in a respectful way; that he knew there was a difference between turning a business around and turning a government around; and Starbucks executives, including himself, are learning Chinese. They are going into the market with respect.

9. Symbolism on the part of leaders is important: It looks bad to take a vacation when things are in such bad shape.

10. Last but not least, the focus has to be on putting people back to work. Jobs, jobs, jobs are the key to economic confidence.

Overall I cannot emphasize enough that the principles of branding, used well, have the capacity not only to help you make money, but can help you create positive social change. 

Have a good day - and good luck!

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Image source here

Why Being a Brand Chameleon Is Good for Your Karma

Chameleon

Reputation vs. reality is where the Myers-Briggs sensory types are mistaken.

In Judaism, we learn that reputation is priceless: “A good name is worth more than the finest oil.”

Life is not only about the physical. It is also very much about appearances. From a business perspective this makes sense, of course, but it's a moral thing too. When you act good, you inspire others – and the opposite, too. (As we know, creeps are eventually found out, so don't bother leaning on appearances.)

And it might seem like a little thing, but your reputation – call it “brand,” whatever – comes not only from your actions, but also very much from your name. In Judaism, for example:

• We aren’t allowed to say G-d’s name, except in prayer.

• We aren’t allowed to give up our Hebrew names. That’s why religious Jewish kids get one Hebrew, and one English.

• The prayer book lists a unique Hebrew passage relating to your name, that you will be asked to say when you've crossed over to the Other Side.

Of course there are times when you have to go by a different name to survive. The heroine of the Purim holiday used her dual names, Esther/Hadassah, to facilitate the salvation of the Jewish people from the evil Haman. During the Spanish Inquisition, an entire generation of Jews went underground, pretending to be Christian. And so on, throughout time, until today.

Given that assimilating has meant survival for my people for thousands of years, I see that managing one’s identity is more than just a nice-to-do. It is a matter of staying alive. You have to understand who you are, versus how you are perceived, and adjust yourself accordingly in order to get through.

In good times it might be just a matter of getting a better job or changing careers. In uncertain or dangerous times, morphing can require a much more pervasive effort to transform yourself.

Many people, unfortunately, feel like any attempt to change is like a betrayal, and they get caught in a failure loop out of an inability to adapt.

Don’t be like that. Be like Madonna. She has reinvented herself a million times, but she is fearlessly still the same person on the inside.

Madonna is a branding genius.

When you’re too stuck to your name, you end up stuck in a pigeonhole too. Even if you are successful for a time, others can copy you and then your value is gone. Take another tack and you’re copied again.

The real way to succeed is to detach completely from your name. It is you, but then again, it really isn’t. It’s more like a manifestation of an identity that is part of you, and there are other parts of you it doesn’t cover.

To be good at branding today you have to manipulate the name rather than it manipulating you. What you want is to be transparent but also ultimately elusive, mysterious, unknowable except when you are ready to present yourself.

In thinking about this I have found a simple application of Kabbala/Buddhist philosophy to be helpful. In the end we are all part of the vast, unknowable universe. We are bits and pieces, but ultimately and overall connected. So the goal of being here, philosophically, is for ordinary people to make visible those connections and learn that being good to one another is the same thing as being good to ourselves.

Know who you are, be proud of your identity, but always be ready to change your manifestation as needed. Not your inner self, but your outer colors.

Your financial and physical survival may one day depend on it.

On that lovely note - good luck!

___

Chameleon image here.

25 Signs of a Successful Personal Brand

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.

Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize.

So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:
1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with intent.
6. They admit their weaknesses.
7. They know what they don’t know, and educate themselves constantly.
8. They admire and copy the success habits of others.
9. They let themselves fail, but never fail the same way twice.
10. They don’t make excuses.
11. They have a conscience, but avoid judging others.
12. They are transparent, but they have discretion.
13. They focus on what they do well and hire others to do the rest.
14. They read the news.
15. They ask open-ended questions.
16. They know how to laugh.
17. They avoid extremes.
18. They are emotionally present.
19. They never give up on themselves, but they know when it’s time to move on.
20. They believe in G-d, a higher power, karma – a force behind the universe.
21. They prepare for disaster.
22. They think positively, but not unrealistically.
23. They are capable of change when change is needed.
24. They have beliefs, but aren’t hobbled by ideology.
25. They genuinely care, and they do things to make a positive difference.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

25 Signs of a Successful Personal Brand

Licenseplate

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.

Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize.

So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:

1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with intent.
6. They admit their weaknesses.
7. They know what they don’t know, and educate themselves constantly.
8. They admire and copy the success habits of others.
9. They let themselves fail, but never fail the same way twice.
10. They don’t make excuses.
11. They have a conscience, but avoid judging others.
12. They are transparent, but they have discretion.
13. They focus on what they do well and hire others to do the rest.
14. They read the news.
15. They ask open-ended questions.
16. They know how to laugh.
17. They avoid extremes.
18. They are emotionally present.
19. They never give up on themselves, but they know when it’s time to move on.
20. They believe in G-d, a higher power, karma – a force behind the universe.
21. They prepare for disaster.
22. They think positively, but not unrealistically.
23. They are capable of change when change is needed.
24. They have beliefs, but aren’t hobbled by ideology.
25. They genuinely care, and they do things to make a positive difference.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!