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Repositioning Dunkin' As An Experience

Always On Smartphone

Woman at Hair Cuttery - there is a TV going and newspapers laying around and she can't stop with the smartphone.

Right outside, another woman at bus stop hunched over device.

I wonder if marketers really understand who uses these devices, when, and why.

25 Ways To Get Things Done In A Bureaucracy

on fire
Photo by Jesse Barker via Flickr

  1. Don’t make new things sound new.
  2. Acknowledge when others have made a good point. Incorporate feedback.
  3. Speak up when something seems “off.”
  4. Listen carefully when other people explain the culture to you.
  5. Be a uniter, not a divider.
  6. Don’t be a flashpoint for controversy intentionally.
  7. Dress as well as possible. Check yourself at 3 p.m.
  8. Get to know people as human beings not just job titles.
  9. Try to find out what’s really happening - don’t assume you know.
  10. Genuinely collaborate because it multiplies your influence.
  11. Settle for an 80% solution rather than nothing.
  12. Thank people constantly.
  13. Decide not to do some things. This is the painful meaning of strategy.
  14. Write things down before you forget.
  15. Find ways to make people’s life at work easier.
  16. Let your boss have the last word in an email.
  17. Don’t argue with people.
  18. Don’t get emotional in a “losing control” way - use emotion intentionally.
  19. Ask executives for their help. They enjoy this role.
  20. Don’t do things you hate and don't ask people to do things they hate doing.
  21. Ask people about what’s going on in their lives.
  22. When someone is upset, ask them about it.
  23. Help others reach their professional goals.
  24. Be consistent.
  25. Follow up.

How Important Is Creativity In A Brand Name? (Microsoft & Yammer)

Screenshot via

How important is creativity? Of course it's important.

You can have a wacky name or a non-wacky one. Neither choice to me is creative. What's important is the creativity of the brand strategy.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Microsoft and Yammer. Microsoft is a staid name. Yammer is a wild name. There is a culture clash implied in the name difference. The communications director at Igloo Software (a rival to Yammer), Stephen Rahal, is saying that the culture clash is real:
''If you look at Microsoft and Yammer they really have completely different go-to market design philosophies. Yammer embodies the very definition of anti-Microsoft. That is in terms of agile development, frequent updates and their implementation process." -

"Rahal said Microsoft is playing catch-up in the social enterprise arena, and that is why it was attracted to Yammer."
From a brand strategy perspective, should Microsoft change Yammer's name, or its own name, or come up with a completely different one?

This is an unanswered question in my mind. Because it depends on what Microsoft's brand strategy is.
  • They could make Yammer boring but acceptable to the corporate types who trust Microsoft - and turn it into a Sharepoint add-on. But that could de-Yammerize the experience.
  • They could keep the Yammer name and just bolt it onto Microsoft products. I think the rank and file would like it better because the logo is fresh and implies openness, innovation, and collaboration. But executives might be averse to it because change is threatening.
There really is no one right answer - but what's important is to know in advance what your intentions are, then name the product accordingly.

Eats Quarters, Service Has Been Called

Executives say inspirational things pretty often. I don’t think they realize the positive impact of their words.

Today I was by the vending machine and saw a woman standing there pounding on the soda machine fruitlessly.

“I lost two dollars,” she said, and stomped out.

I remembered that earlier in the day I had been there and saw a handwritten note scrawled on a paper towel. It said, “Eats dollar bills.”

Without really thinking about it I left the galley and went about my business. Now I felt guilty. That sign had been ripped down, or fallen, and somebody lost $2 for no reason.

It occurred to me that I’d lost money in the vending machine before, here and elsewhere. But I never did anything about it other than curse under my breath.

Somebody else was sitting there as I thought about this. She said, “You could just go to the grocery store and get a six-pack. Six for two dollars, instead of two dollars for one.”

She had a point. The whole vending machine thing is wasteful. But still, did the woman deserve to lose her money because she buys convenience food?

Suddenly a quote from an agency executive came into my head. I remembered it because I had written it down earlier. He had said:

“If you have a supervisor who discriminates against have a responsibility to raise that to a higher level.”

You have a responsibility.

Another time the same executive said something else along these lines:

“You no longer have the right to talk about the Agency in the third person.”

In other words, if you see something broken, fix it. (Actually he said, “See Something, Say Something,” the Homeland Security tagline.)

I had never done this before, but suddenly I picked up the phone and called the vending machine company. As the sign said:

“For Fast Courteous Service Please Call SUN DUN, INC. OF WASH. (301) 937-2731.”

Someone picked up the phone pretty quickly. I told them where the problem was. They said they would have the problem fixed tomorrow.

So I put a sign up on the machine. Shoved a piece of paper inside. I hope that it will stick.

On second thought, maybe I better get some tape.

-Edited slightly from the original. Photo by me.

Brand As Product, Brand As People, Brand As...?

You'll get no argument from me that branding is valued on the product side.
Obviously it is. Look at Dyson. They have a product brand so powerful that
people like me willingly pay 5x the price for the vaccuum and consider
paying the same outrageously elevated fee for their fans, etc.

If Dyson made a stapler I'm sure I would buy it as mine forever jams.

Branding is valued on the product side precisely because you can see the
impact, and in a short enough time for the result to be linked to the
effort you put into crafting its image.

However, branding is not sufficiently valued on the corporate side (my
side) because people don't connect the fact that the way you treat people,
is the way they interact with the public, is the public perception of your
organization and the products and services it produces.

The only time branding gets valued internally, is when it's linked to a
demonstrable financial result. For example - recruitment, retention,
productivity, etc.

All I'm saying is, instead of playing around each with our own little huts
in different outposts, let's get together and build a great big house with
sturdy walls. So others can copy the design and add to it. So the world can
be filled with great brands that are delivering real value to all of their
stakeholders, including the employees themselves. Who too frequently
silently build them then get none of the credit or reward.

And now my bias is showing.

Brand as Discipline Requires Rigor, Accountability, Transparency

Brand people are too often perceived as "fluff" professionals: "Anyone can call themselves a brand expert."

Exceptions don't disprove the generalization, nor do concurring examples prove it.

The question is whether the perception is true, and if so why the perception exists.

To get the answer we could look at a parallel profession, sociology.

It is very hard to define what society "is." What the collective consciousness "is." Because it's intangible. You can only measure the effect.

The only reason sociology became a respected enterprise was that the "founding fathers" (Weber and Durkheim) elevated it to the level of science. Perhaps Marx.

Of course this is also its downfall as sociologists who are predominantly qualitative, ethnographic, etc. get less respect than the ones who do massive surveys.

The sociologists I most enjoyed learning about - Mead, Simmel, Goffman, Garfinkel - all focused on the quality of group experience. So I'm not here to say we should all turn into quants.

But the fact is that numbers and tangible outcomes, however incomplete, enable objective and rigorous testing.

It is not enough to say, "I just know it." You have to submit your "knowing" to peer review and external analysis.

This is a great conundrum to me as the things most worth knowing are ultimately reached in intangible ways and are inexpressible.

So the discipline of branding, if it is one (I think it is), has to somehow marry art and science. But that isn't going to happen unless we can all agree on taxonomy. What the heck is it that we're doing? For once and for all, just say it and build a body of knowledge around it, so that we can improve.

The CSR folks are hitting it out of the park on that one. Copy them! Just follow the stock price for heaven's sake, and link it to the organization's activities as they relate to the brand (interactions with the public and employees would be a good start).

I once suggested that somebody start a mutual fund based on predicting brand performance. Still waiting for that to happen.

Until we can be rigorous, we will be put into the corner along with all the other creatives who sometimes hit it out of the park, and sometimes come up with nothing...unpredictable. 

Valuable to have around, but not really anything you can quantify or rely on in a serious way.

Branding As "Fluff": How Greed & Groupthink Get In The Way

Studio dress code
Photo by Juhan Sonin via Flickr

Branding is perceived as a "fluff" profession precisely because its practitioners can't agree on a definition. Why can't we agree? It's not because it's irrelevant. If it were irrelevant you would not see a proliferation of definitions, frameworks, and brand valuation methods each claiming superiority and some mystical formula for generating it.

No. Brand people are smart people. Brand people invest a great deal of time in positioning themselves as the world's most knowlegeable folks about their craft. They know that at the end of the day, the firm that is perceived as having the best methodology, the most intellectual and creative capital, and the strongest results - wins.

Most brand books are not worth the paper they're printed on, because they are written by people who want to make a buck from the pseudo-method they're promoting.

Not coincidentally, those same people are the so-called practitioners you hold up as models of what a brand professional is.

Any time a person is situated in a social context - be it a consulting firm, a university, etc. - they lose objectivity with regard to that context. Call it groupthink or whatever you want, but the phenomena is real. So for example it is rare to find a social critic in an insular community who is able to remain intact in the community. The group expels dissenters because they are perceived as a threat to existence.

Over the past fifteen years, I've been an academic, an entrepreneur, a consultant, a think-tank director, and a government employee (this is my current position). I have experienced groupthink in each and every one of these settings.

It is only by studying a phenomenon while being situated outside it, that you can really speak honestly.

The advice to "acquire more first-hand experience actually branding" in itself reveals the importance of defining what we are talking about. Because if a brand (the noun) is reducible to equity-derived-from-image, then the act of branding (the verb) is reducible to positioning. Whoever has done what you call "real branding" will readily tell you that it is a long-term investment in developing a cohesive, coherent, credible , and sustainable identity for the organization that is manifested at every touchpoint and interaction internally and externally.

Just like you can't raise a family by dropping in, giving folks advice, and dropping out, you can't build long-term brand success solely over the short-term. The best thing a consultant can do is give the organization a wake-up call when it has settled into dysfunction and complacency. There is a place for that, but it is not a substitute for the long-term commitment of employees inside the organization to its productivity.

Co-opt The Symbol Of The Other Side

Image source:

 Screenshot source: Brandchannel. Read their article, it's good.

Screenshot source: The Healthy Beauty Project

Great way to take a bite out of the competing brand.

(That's it.)

More: See the New York Times, "The Branding Of The Occupy Movement."

Joel Osteen's Brand of Prosperity

If you watch Joel Osteen for any length of time - video broadcasts always available here, for free - it immediately becomes clear that most people thinking all wrong about the economic recovery.

Rather than going to a political extreme - of total redistribution, or total fight-it-out-to-the-death - we should be thinking of ways to leverage our collective brains.

Together we can create prosperity, not just subsistence, for all.

We forget that G-d is in charge. The same One that created the world and powers it every day, can give us unbelievable wealth or unbelievable poverty. It is only on us to try.

Osteen's message is right on. He says, basically that G-d wants us to do everything we can, and then pray - holding the Divine one accountable. We need to say, "We've done everything we can, and now it's Your turn."

The Jewish people in the desert, thousands of years ago, had to wait for and believe in G-d to give them their food (manna) every single day. We have to have the same faith. But we can't just wait around - it starts with doing our part.

Osteen's brand of prosperity is one that resonates with me, and everyone I speak to, no matter what brand of faith you believe in.

Brand Equity: In conversation with Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP Group

WSJ Reporter Annoyed By Ralph Lauren's Olympic Overbranding

This look totally annoys me too. There are times to put the brand away - the Olympics would be one of them. Offensive!

Why It's Important To Define What A Brand Is

Because if you don't define a thing then you can't really make any definitive statements about it.

I've been researching branding books because I'd like to write one on brand. But you know what? Most of them are fluff, and the one's that aren't fluff are deadly boring and researched to death. The only books I really like are the ones written from experience. Because they don't say, "Here is X" rather "Here is my experience doing X." And that can be a really good story.

In this 2002 educational video I'm watching - "In Brands We Trust" - the narrator says that brands are fascinating precisely because we cannot exactly define them. I think that's true. But it shouldn't stop us from trying. Otherwise your statement about what determines brand value is as good as mine, or anyone else's.

At the end of the day a brand can be lots of things, but its tangible aspect is reducible to cash. What are we willing to pay in order to have the branded version? And what are the elements that go into that choice - how much of it is the culture? the story? the features? etc.

When we have the answer to those questions, backed by research not sponsored by a self-interested vendor, we'll be on the way to treating branding like a scientific field. Which is the way it really ought to be in order to be taken seriously.

Just A Picture Of Marilyn Monroe

I don't remember where this was taken on July 11, but thought it was pretty awesome.

Post-branding is the undoing of the brand.

Being amped-up on one's "creation" is not the same thing as being amped up on the brand. In fact it's just the opposite. If you look at Starbucks, or Amazon - these are companies who will do ANYTHING to serve the customer. They're not in love with the technology, they are in love with the audience.

Post-branding is the undoing of the brand. The difference is whether that's purposeful or not purposeful. I would suggest that post-branding masters are masters of purposefully undoing the brand, and making it look effortless. (Lauren Hutton.)

The distinction between branding and post-branding is absolutely critical. Branding is done outside a social media context. It is striving for absolute consistency. Post-branding is done in concert with social media - it is knowing. When NBC lets viewers "join in on the conversation while watching the show," that is post-branding.

One other thing - branding to me is amoral, neither good nor bad, simply a tool. I don't idolize great brands (but do want to learn from them). I do get angry at people who cheat and steal. The moral struggle involved with being a brand person is, how do you NOT collude with people who are happily putting lipstick on the pig?

Where did Zuckerberg go wrong?

I have been laughed at for suggesting that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is the epitome of post-branding branding, in the wake of the recent IPO...I'll just call it a crisis. Here is my response.


It may be that we have to distinguish between "knowing" and "unknowing" brand subversion. The shrugging, "I don't care" attitude is most definitely post-branding. Zuckerberg has that. But he may also be "unknowing." Which would disqualify him....because a true master of branding (post- or not) would never allow their brand equity to collapse virtually overnight like this. (And it is, whether you can see it or not.)

Ironically, it could be his lack of social-emotional intelligence that is both his weakness and his strength. On the one hand, it led to Facebook, right? The vision of no boundaries between personal and professional - simplistic to the point of childlike. On the other, I am guessing that the simplism led to a total misunderstanding of the IPO crisis, in my view the brand's seemingly sudden downfall. (Quick test: say the words "the Facebook brand" to someone savvy and see if they grimace.)

If you want an example of a "knowing" post-brand-brand - you can look now, or reach back in time. Rihanna (read the Esq. interview!) Kris Jenner. Kim Kardashian. Seinfeld. Madonna. Woody Allen. Even Alan Alda's character in M*A*S*H. For goodness sake, I know there are so many more. The distinction is self-consciousness. "Reflexivity." Or on a group level, "double-loop learning."

There is always an element of danger when you're dealing with post-brands - because they are people, generally, who live a bit on the edge. I've been speculating that the business blogger Penelope Trunk will rise for some time. But as she has admitted - she is unstable. That's what makes her great. Charlie Sheen. Marilyn Monroe. The best live on the edge - they are crazy - but the difference is that they OWN the crazy, at least part of the time. "Winning."

Children are also great post-brands, because they are authentic. But they are also unknowing. Another recipe for danger, because few seem to pass through the "child star" stage without seeming pallid later on. ("Mary-Kate and Ashley," etc.)

As far as the charge of hypocrisy goes - I do not at all believe that Zuckerberg is a hypocrite. Rather we are the ones who willingly participate and get taken. If there is one brand promise Facebook does NOT make - in fact it promises the opposite, to my mind - it is privacy. That is something you have to ask for, because they see it as outmoded. Whoever puts their birthday, rants, embarrassing vacation pictures etc., anywhere on the Internet is responsible for the outcome.

On Creating A "Less Miserable" Work Environment

With the growth of products like Yammer, Jive, Socialtext, and even instant messaging at work, the whole conversation is becoming irrelevant.

The power of a superior (leaders, manager, supervisor) to create a lousy work environment is directly correlated with their ability to shut people up. More specifically the power to stop people from forming groups where mistreatment is openly aired (you could never really stop people from having one on one conversations offline).

Older folks like us are just starting to grasp this premise. But the younger generation is very intuitive about it. They have no problem marching into a classroom, an office, anywhere really and taping what's going on then posting it online.

(As I recently learned when I lost my temper with my daughter, and she taped me on her iPhone, then played it back for my husband! Yes - that actually happened and I was mortified!)
Once people find out who is good to work for, which department is good to work for, which agency is good to work for, what's going on in the private sector vs. the public sector, etc. the system will correct itself. For survival's sake, leaders will have to adapt to the empowered workforce.
The empowerment of employees is something I care a lot about. As a communicator with a lot of background in internal communications and organizational development it has frequently been depressing to see the gap between what we say to the outside world, and how we treat people on the inside.

(And sometimes fulfilling - because of leaders and non-leaders who have integrity and really treat people with heart - the problem being that as a rule they never want credit or publicity for it at all and are horrified when you suggest it.)
I was watching Joel Osteen on TV a couple of weeks ago and he talked about salvation arriving "suddenly." It is my feeling that the moment of salvation for employees has arrived, thanks to G-d's infinite mercy in providing us the tools of the Internet and social media.

How mobile builds brand engagement

When I am bored on the train, I open Quora's app on my iPhone to answer questions about branding. It is enjoyable and makes me feel like an "owner" of the brand. That is a personal example of how Quora's mobile app builds engagement with the brand for me - it turns me into one of the experts.

Similarly, I like the Drudge Report app because it lets me share news easily. The brand is about instant news updates, and by using the app I become a participant in generating that brand experience.

Twitter is probably the epitome of the mobile app building the brand as it offers real-time status updates created by you and those you follow.

Anytime you both use and create the brand using the mobile app, you are engaged in the brand experience.

(cross-posted from my answer at Quora)