Free Speech Is Killing My Brand

July 19, 2010

Chinese flagI saw that the Center on Public Diplomacy is conducting research on national brands based on information gathered at the Shanghai Expo, and it got me thinking about strong national brands and how they are managed. The host of the Shanghai Expo has a strong brand and a very carefully managed one. Tightly managed national brands tend to be restrictive when it comes to human rights and free speech. After all, how can you manage a brand when people are spouting opposing views?

flag shoeWe don’t worry about a tightly managed national brand in this country. In fact, allowing people to express opposing views is part of our brand. There are many companies today that are reluctant to dive into social media, because they are afraid of losing control of their brand. The idea of giving their customers a voice in the perception of their company is extremely unnerving. The companies who have successfully adopted social media practices into their business have already learned that customers may say some scary things and may even post your logo upside down in a blog, but well managed brands continue to thrive. They know that customers always owned their brand. They just express their opinions to more people at a faster pace with social media.

Restrictive nations could learn something from companies that are using social media successfully. Treat your customers and citizens well and the wisdom of crowds will prevail.


Smart, hard-working drones

July 16, 2010

How did it happen? we all swore we would never drink the kool aid, and we would keep our eye on the big picture. Yet here we are chasing after every opportunity our bosses tell us to no matter what effect it has on the brand. Who’s going to challenge their boss in this economic climate? And how can you even get a healthy perspective of effective, long-term branding when you’re putting out fires all day long?
Maybe you should get out of the office once in a while, away from the boss, the fire drills..and the kool aid. Attend an event that allows you to mingle with people for outside your competitive landscape. Get some fresh air.

Put the Wagons in a Circle

January 17, 2008

self protraitI stepped out of my front door the other morning to pick up the newspaper. It was still dark out, and the early morning commute traffic was starting to build on the street nearby. Over the sound of traffic, I could hear the blast of a TV ad for a car. Determined to find the source of this audio litter, I walked out to the main road and saw that the gas station up the road had installed monitors above each pump that ran ads for cars, oil and other items sold in the mini-mart.  Customers stared at the screens like zombies as they filled their tanks. What a stark contrast it provided to the days when some guy in a bowtie would clean your windshield for you and ask you how your day has been while he filled your tank.

Brands have us surrounded and they’re closing in. Each time we hold up our hands and say, “Enough! Step back!” they seem to take another tiny step closer.

Consumers can be annoyed by brand invasion, but still have enough brand loyalty to put up with it until another brand comes along that is less invasive, or they become numb to the annoyance level, and accept it as the norm.

A couple of areas of brand invasion have caught my eye lately. The ever-sensitive Microsoft has taken the step of providing personalized advertising on little monitors installed in shopping carts for Shop Rite stores. Customers swipe their customer cards on a reader in the cart and the monitor begins to provide them with offerings based on their buying habits.

The really scary example of brand invasion comes from Seminole, Florida, where to save less than $2000 in printing costs, the school district started inserting coupons for MacDonald’s Happy Meals in report cards that show a B average or above. You’ll be able to tell who the smart kids are by their waist size.

So where do we draw the line? When will consumers say, “Enough!”? How long before we are standing in a Sunday church service and hear, “Now turn on your Apple i-hymnals and scroll down to hymn number 42 as we sing…”

Or how long before we find ourselves staring at a monitor with a happy face telling us (in this most private of locations), “And remember that’s Charmin tissue you’re using. The softest, yet strongest tissue you can buy. Don’t forget to flush!”

As brand managers, we owe it to the shareholders and our company to aggressively build brand awareness. As people who make up our culture, the culture anthropologists will study many millennia from now, we have to decide where we will draw the line with brand invasion.

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The Emperor’s New Brand

January 10, 2008

One of the most frequently heard questions at the Silicon Valley Brand Forums over the years has been “How do I get senior executives to put their attention on the corporate brand?”

If the CEO of a company understands the value of a strong brand, it’s not a problem. Present him or her with metrics showing slippage or an opportunity and you’ll have all the attention you can handle. If the senior execs in a company do not understand the value of a strong brand (very common in Silicon Valley), you have a challenge ahead of you. To make matters worse, these execs often believe they do understand branding, and the company brand is fine – the logo still looks good and people love their products.

It’s like the fabled emperor who thinks he is draped in sartorial splendor when he is really displaying “the full Monty.” As a brand manager in this kind of company you have two choices: 1) You can jump ship and watch it sink from a safe distance, or 2) you take steps to open the eyes of the executive to his/her most valuable asset.

One thing you can do to bring the exec’s attention to the brand is to frame the branding issues with things he/she does understand. If the exec is very product-focused, you can align the customer experience with a product with the brand experience. If the CEO tends to lean toward the financial side, provide metrics that show the cost of lsoing brand loyalty or the historic effect that brand programs have had on stock price. Be sure to use language that executives are comfortable with, and avoid marketing jargon.

It is also very helpful to find an evangelist close to the top executives. If you can find someone close to the top execs who understands the need for strong brand programs, it will make your job a lot easier. Perhaps, as the corporate brand tailor, you’ll see the CEO at the next keynote address, wearing the stylish suit you created, instead of a lime green polyester leisure suit.

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Where’s the Runway?

December 11, 2007

runwayThe recent merger of Macrovision and Gemstar was probably as  curious to attendees of the Silicon Valley Brand Forum on Mergers and Acquisitions as it was to the shareholders on both sides of the deal (Macrovision stock dropped 21% and Gemstar stock dropped 16% on the news).

Macrovision, known for its digital rights management and content protection software, says the new company will enable “extensive libraries of commercial and personal protected content to be accessible on numerous devices through simple and intuitive guides.” That’s a lot of blue sky, and it didn’t impress analysts who almost unanimously suspended their rating of the stock.

Ralph Schackart, an analyst from William Blair called it a “bet-the-company transaction” when announcing his decision to suspend the rating. His biggest concern for the merger was integration risks.

At the Silicon Valley Brand Forum in October, Jim Rose from Symantec talked about “building a runway” for a brand extension. Companies reaching into new markets need to develop some relevance in the new market gradually before they try to land an airbus in the new space. If Fred Amaroso, CEO of Macrovision, and his team believed they already had the runway built, his shareholders and analysts surely couldn’t see it. Or maybe he is planning to start building the runway now, after acquiring a company larger than Macrovision. Things can get a little bumpy if you decide to build the runway after you open the airport, but it’s not impossible to recover.

It could have been worse – it’s not as bad as Levi’s venture into business suits or Bic’s foray into perfume sales.

Pearls of Wisdom Back on the Sea Bottom?

December 7, 2007

Welcome to the first blog entry of the Silicon Valley Brand Forum.

Eight weeks ago we braved the traffic to the Microsoft Conference Center, had some muffins and coffee, delved into the mysteries of mergers and acquisitions, bought a Vista Rocks! tshirt at the Microsoft store on the way out, and here we are back into the grind of brand management in our respective companies.

Did anyone take anything away that was useful back in the office?

Are you taking a second look at plans to move into a new space and wondering if you’ve built a long enough runway to go into that space? Are you resisting the urge to hurry through all of the phases of a merger? Are you thinking about your brand as an enabler of business strategy? Are you communicating news about the merger from the inside out?

Or maybe you’ve forgotten the whole thing. That’s okay. It’s not like there was going to be a test or anything. The pearl that stuck with me the most is “use common sense”. It is amazing how often very bright people throw common sense out the window. People who stray from common sense often are very adept at creating a sense of urgency, and they are skillful at obfuscating the issues. So, it actually takes a concerted effort to use common sense, especially when things start to move at a frenetic pace.

That suggestion to use common sense overlaps with the advice of Patrick Moran, who said, “whenever possible, slow down.” That sounds so simple, but once everyone’s vente triple shot espressos have kicked in and new intiatives have been announced by the powers above, it takes guts to take a step back and ask, “Where are we going here?” or “Wait. Let’s think this through.”

Slowing down and using common sense – that may be asking a lot in a corporate atmosphere. I know I’ve been swept up in a marketing communications cyclone many times, but when common sense prevails, your brand smiles.

So be cool, use common sense and have happy holidays