Search This Blog

Branding as a tool to reinvent government

One of the things I have never understood about "nation-branding" is its use for tourism. It seems to me one of those cancerous outgrowths of thinking of branding in a very limited, superficial, advertising-campaign-like way with a very short-term return on investment if there is one at all.

In fact, this kind of activity isn't branding. It is really marketing, supported by advertising. Here's the difference:

* Marketing is always focused on what the customer wants. This is classic Peter Drucker: "You get paid for creating a customer, which is marketing." Marketers think in the short-term: Campaigns are for right now and they are best measured in sales.

* Branding is always focused on keeping a promise. If you're doing your job right you will draw some customers in and turn other prospects off completely.

Marketing and branding are both tactics and they're appropriate at different places and ties. But when it comes to something as weighty as nation-branding, marketing is inappropriate as a tool. If you could somehow market a tourist attraction and divert the customer's attention from the nation's politics and policies, it would be one thing. But you can't: People read the news and have opinions and to pretend that you can visit a historic landmark without being conscious of weightier issues is just foolish. The reality is that government has policies and takes actions that are popular among some, but not everybody.

So the better tool for promoting a nation is the use of branding, specifically by making a promise that is relevant and differentiated; making people aware of that promise; and then keeping it. The promise is then carried out by architecting government politics, policy and operations on the ground.

Sometimes when I talk about this with people I hear the concern that branding is propaganda and that therefore the government (meaning the U.S. government) shouldn't do it. Well I suppose if you are using the term to mean self-promotional advertising then you have a point. But if you are using branding in a real way - not like an ad campaign but as a business strategy with the fundamental power to reshape the entity itself - then it is not propaganda at all but rather the greatest accountability and transparency tool there is.

Used properly, branding has the potential to actually reinvent government in at least 5 ways that would have a positive trickle-down effect:

1. Promoting strategic thinking: Branding involves making a long-term decision about what the promise is and whether it is actionable or not.

2. Promoting objective metrics of success: A brand promise can be reduced to key performance indicators, measurable as metrics, that enable the public to see whether forward movement has occurred.

3. Promoting change: Based on metrics, change has to happen to make the promise real and better serve the customer. One of the most important changes government can make is to operate from the perspective of the customer even if it feels unfamiliar or inconvenient to do so.

4. Promoting transparency: A promise made is a promise that has to be kept, and the audience wants to see that for themselves.

5. Promoting accountability: When a promise is broken, the customer demands that someone takes responsibility, or a key aspect of the brand - its reputation - suffers or is shattered.

The catch with all this, of course, is that branding means some audiences are going to like what the government does while others are bound to hate it. But trying to make everybody happy - taking a marketing approach - isn't doable in this context.

There are some who would demonize branding as a tool of the rich to make themselves richer. But you could demonize any powerful tool by focusing on its potentially negative impact. Rather than focusing on its destructive aspects, it is smart to take advantage of the enormous benefits it can bring to any individual or enterprise - and use them well.

From where I sit, making a promise and then keeping it - or doing your damndest to try - is a very good thing.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Thanksgiving & the importance of ritual in brand-building

Of all the books written about branding one of my favorites is Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon of Thinktopia. In this book Hanlon lays out the principles of great branding essentially along the lines of religion. 

Among the principles that Hanlon lays out is one I think gets overlooked a lot - ritual. Jeannie Chan at the Curious Marketeer explains it thus: "Rituals are the meaningful repeated points of contact between you and your guest, customer, client, or target market." Certainly that is one aspect of ritual - the way the brand developer shapes your experience consistently.

But there is another aspect to ritual as well. As a brand-builder you are trying to create a destination for the customer that is an essential part of their lives. The fact that they keep coming to you, and not your competitor, is what guarantees you a steady stream of income and the opportunity to build and expand your presence in the market.

So what you want is to have the customer's patronage of your brand be a ritual in itself.

Starbucks understands this brilliantly of course. Thus the flock of penguins going to work every day with the obligatory paper cup in hand. Evidence: You say, "I'm going to do a Starbucks run" rather than "a coffee run."

Google understands this too. By hitting their search page before you do anything else on the web, you have absorbed their brand into your life so much that it almost becomes unthinkable to use the web without them. Evidence: You say "I'll Google that" rather than "I'll look that up."

Or think about Band-Aids. The product is almost inseparable from the image of a caring mother kneeling before her child's scraped knee. The ritual occurs as the child runs to Mommy, Daddy or caregiver and receives love - in the form of a Band-Aid being applied to the cut.

Finally, there is Thanksgiving. The buying, roasting and preparation of the turkey and Thanksgiving meal is a ritual; brands vie to be the ones who "own" that particular mindspace. I would venture to guess that Martha Stewart owns the holiday right now. And the other ritual associated with this holiday, of racing to the stores on "Black Friday," means retailers can count on lots of business - even from people who don't need a $9.99 coffeemaker from Macy's.

Branding is an art and a science, but in the real world what ultimately counts are dollars and cents. To build a fantastic brand, it's critical to pay attention to ritual. How can you distinguish your product or service today?

Here's what I say to end my blogs: "Have a good day (or evening), and good luck!"

Jimmy Fallon's Fake Apology & 10 Do's and Don'ts Re: Twitter

As a guest on Jimmy Fallon's late-night show, Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann was greeted by a song that essentially called her a b****. It was shockingly rude and not funny. Fallon reportedly has tweeted an "apology." That seems cowardly to me.

If you want to call someone a bad name, do it to their face; don't hide behind your band. And when you're called out on bad behavior like this, apologize personally, either over the phone or in person. 

So please don't do that and these 5 other things on Twitter:

1. Tell us where you are, what you're eating, etc.

2. Write in Morse code

3. Promote companies who blindly ask everyone to send Tweets promoting their services

4. Over-Tweet (more than 4-5 in a 24-hour period)

5. Share links that look like they might be spam - word the Tweet so that we know you haven't been hacked

On the other side of the coin, please do use Twitter to:

1. Share news

2. Tell about a blog you've written or a project you're involved in

3. Comment on anything

4. Inspire with a quote

5. Thank a fellow Twitterer for a retweet

Great communication is all about matching the meaning to the medium - and Twitter is no different than anything else. When you want to share information or a brief thank-you, electronic is fine; but when it's something that really matters, face-to-face or voice-to-voice is critical.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Precisely **Because** of Its "Muddled Message," OWS = Valuable Brand

According to USA Today, 56% of Americans “neither support or oppose” OWS because “they still don’t know enough about its goals.”


Technically, as a brand OWS should fail. It’s got a negative, messy, incoherent message; it’s socially engineered; and its “ambassadors” violate some basic American values, not to mention the law.


Yet OWS is valuable and destined to make a difference anyway. Because it’s got all four of the requirements for success: 1) awareness 2) esteem (among a very specific target audience) 3) differentiation and 4) relevance (methodology: Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator).


Esteem and relevance are where OWS go off the charts for Generation Y: This is their Woodstock. Remember: This is the generation told that they deserved everything, if only they worked hard enough and followed the rules. That believed in “hope” and “change.” And that now finds itself royally cheated out of everything they worked for.


Generation Y isn’t being drafted into war. But they are furious anyway. Because the “brand promise” they bought into – that they were inherently deserving winners, and that America would reward them amply for trying their best – now looks to them like a big, fat lie. And somebody is going to pay.


Look at 28-year-old Steve Ferdman, who “occupied” the cover of yesterday’s New York Times business section. Just a few months ago, he dined over “expensive oysters and dark rum cocktails” with his parents to celebrate being hired by Credit Suisse. After six months, consulting, no benefits.


One week later he was laid off. For the second time. By the same firm.


To Ferdman, it felt like a physical blow: “I did everything right. I came into work every day, I put in long hours, and I still got punched in the face.”


The Times notes that younger workers have been disproportionately affected by the investment community’s financial woes. There has been a 25% decline in the number of 20-34-year-olds employed by investment banks and brokerage firms over the past 3 years (110,000 jobs) versus 17% across the board.


Waiting for things to get better isn’t going to work – and it is likely that these young adults know it. One recruiter stated: “A lot of the positions that are being cut right now aren’t coming back.” (Kevin Roose, “A Blow to Pinstripe Aspirations,” The New York Times, 11/22/11)


Adding insult to injury is the sense of entitlement of this generation. The price they paid for a lifetime of being controlled and coached was an endless series of coochie-coos and congratulations and certificates. Their “Tiger Moms” trained them to win and taught them they were “worth it.” As a result, Gen Y entered the workplace expecting a serious amount of recognition and reward where other generations were simply grateful to have a paycheck.


One article posted by CNN, “Generation Y: Too Demanding at Work?” sums up the generation gap at work: “Employers don’t understand why twentysomethings straight out of college expect a high salary and lots of vacation time.”


Employers’ surprise and dismay at Gen Y work attitudes is founded not in snobbery but rather the expressed expectations of the group themselves: They expect “more benefits and other perks than their older counterparts.....better pay, a flexible work schedule and company-provided Blackberrys and cell phones.” (Anthony Balderrama for CNN Living, 12/27/07)


In many ways, Gen Yers are similar to Baby Boomers. Both generations feel deserving and yet both are expansive and generous in their sense that everyone else is entitled too. Both are team-oriented and idealistic. Both gravitate toward politically correct and socially “progressive” theory and ideology that sounds good in the abstract, but that is difficult to explain in its particulars.


In any case, the Gen Yers are out of graduate school now, and they’ve kept their noses clean, and now they have zero to show for it. Worse, many of the have to live with their parents (!) From that vantage point, living in Zuccotti park with all their friends has a certain romantic feel to it.


As far as the message being muddled, that may in the end turn out to be OWS’ biggest rallying point. By defying any sort of pigeonhole, OWS is open to anyone who has an axe to grind. And if I were a young person who’d spent the last twenty years of my life cramming for exams, I’d be pretty inclined to demonstrate if the best career prospect I had going was a barista job at Starbucks. If I were lucky.


OWS is going to succeed, because the brand promise of hope and change has left young people deeply disappointed. When you are bred to be a prince (or princess), and then live the life of a figurative serf, you’ve already gone from one extreme to another.


In short, OWS gives voice to the fury of a generation. And that is why whoever can own it, and lead it, is going to have a very powerful social tool in their hands. Not to mention a brand.


May God have mercy on all of us as we face the difficult challenges of our time. To Gen Y and all of us - have a good day, and good luck.

Why your boss doesn't like your personal brand

You have a blog, a Twitter account, you're active on LinkedIn and
you've even presented a case study at a conference or two.

Maybe your resume looks better but is all this extra work impressing your boss?

According to personal branding specialist Dan Schawbel, the answer is
no. In "The Perils of Self-Promotion" (Forbes 11/15/11) he warns
excessive Twitterers and the build-your-brand bloggerati about the
risk of "alienating your boss with your overzealous self-promotion."

Paradoxically, too much personal branding can actually screw up your job!

In the article, Schawbel and other experts offer 3 good basic tips to
help eager career-builders avoid this fate:

1. Build your brand on your own time, but make sure to keep your boss informed

2. The 80/20 rule still rules: Spend most of your time on your job
and work relationships, and only after that, your brand
(Steve Cannon, VP marketing, Mercedes-Benz USA)

3. A similar rule regarding personal brand activity (70/30): keep most
of your content useful (information or entertainment) and only then
indulge in self-promotion.
(Shama Kabani, author, the Zen of Social Media Marketing)

The bottom line, whether you're balancing a job and a personal brand
or just self-employed and looking to build your business online, is
that self-promotion is a turnoff. Focus on the work and the
relationships in whatever environment you're in and it should be fine.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!