Author Archives: Chris Farmer

Love. Attraction. Branding.

We all want to be attractive. We all want to be loved.

These two desires however, while not being mutually exclusive, are certainly not the same. In your daily life and personal relationships and in your relationships that you develop with brands, the idea of being attractive is what brings you to the door. The thing that makes you stay is love.

Attraction is primarily a surface level idea. It is sensory and it appeals to us without any foreknowledge on our side. If we see someone who is attractive, we may think they look beautiful or sexy or edgy or comfortable and familiar. We don’t know the first thing about them, but when we see them at the bus stop or in the supermarket or at the gala reception, we are attracted. They have caught our eye and our attention.

Attention Please

Talking with a friend this morning, she was worried about her branding and her business. She is a yoga instructor in New Delhi and holds classes and seminars. She is well respected within her small community but is only one of many that offer her type of classes in her city.

The real problem lies therein: she has to compete with myriad others for the attention of potential students. She has to show her offer to be attractive and worthy of grabbing that attention. Not knowing how to do it, she considered the possibilities.

She could gouge her prices, trying to be the cheapest. She could offer some free service, or benefit, or product for people who sign up. My question to her is why does that make your business more attractive?

The price consideration is only a small part of the branding question. It is a rational argument. It is a justification. We may choose Brand X over Tide for our laundry detergent because Brand X is much cheaper. We rationalize the choice, even if we have never heard of X. Even if we already know and are happy with Tide.

Discounts and slashed prices are attractive in the sense that everyone likes to save money, but we still have not nailed down the question of what we are saving money on. Promoting savings works very well for a marketing campaign. If we see that Dove soap is cheaper this week than Nivea or Palmolive or Fa, then we are motivated to buy it. But we already know Dove and Nivea and Palmolive and Fa.

We know them because they have developed brands, and they mean something to us. We know Dove because of their advertising campaigns, their messages about body image, their values of wholesomeness and simplicity. We know them because we remember their logo and how their name is written – their logotype. For my friend, all this work is ahead of her.

Attractiveness is a universal desire. No matter who we are or what we do we want to be attractive. We want to stand out in a group that matters to us. It does not mean we want to be international fashion models or movies stars. It means we want people to see and appreciate us.

Attractiveness is, to be sure, a superficial consideration. This is because we do not attract from an intimate space but from a longer distance. Once we attain the intimate space, we can deepen the connection with qualities that are not necessarily visible from a billboard. This is where we can get into a brand’s personality, character, and value set. But before arriving there, we have to attract the attention of the consumer. He or she has to stop and say –

Hey, what’s this?

Even older and more recognized brands need to be attractive. This is not only to attract attention but also to maintain the status of an attractive brand, worthy of loyalty. Nike operates this way – we are attracted to the excitement generally produced by their ads. We are further attracted by the fact that many people around us have adopted the brand already. And we are attracted by the fact that its popularity – real or perceived – confers membership in a select group.

We wear Reeboks. We use iPhones. We drink Tropicana orange juice. We drive Mazdas.

Affiliation in this group is important because of the status it implies. People on the outside look at us and ask themselves if they might not want to join too. That is the appeal of branding. We buy brands for others as much as we buy them for ourselves.

As to my friend and her yoga classes, the first questions to ask are the deeper ones. What are these classes really? What do they give us? Strength? Inner peace? A centered Chi? Happiness? We must dig deep into the reasons she had for starting this business. It is not just because she knows yoga, it is because she loves it, is passionate about it, and she truly wants to share it with others.

These qualities say more about her classes than the variety offered – be it Hatha, Vipassana, Bikram, or “Hot Yoga”. Those are just names, not emotions and not feelings. A brand becomes attractive when it appeals to us directly. It must speak our language and touch us where it is most sensitive. Coke sells us love, not soft drinks. AT&T sells us family, not phone services.

Uncovering and revealing the attractiveness of a brand is a voyage of self-discovery, and one that every brand that wants to be loved must take. Your brand is your identity. More than just who you are, it is who you aspire to be.

And knowing that is infinitely more attractive than a bargain basement sale.

 

 

Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!

Brand Refresh: The Good, the Bad, and the Smelly

Every country in the world is chock-full of smelly brands.

Old brands that have somehow survived the test of time by having no direct competition, by a sense of nostalgia, by price-gauging, or other means, sometimes boggle the imagination at how they have managed not to die. An example of that from the US market is Old Spice. Continue reading

René Magritte, Les Valuers Personnelles

Branding: It’s Only Human

Do you talk to your cat?

As humans, we tend to endow human qualities to a wide range of unlikely things. We give our pets names and we attribute to them the ability to think and understand us. We talk to the dog and the cat and the fish and the fern and allow ourselves to think that they “get” us. In fact, many pet-owners will say that their pets get them more than humans.

Our brands “get” us too!

Our brands feel the same way we do about child-labor (Nike), about ethical sourcing (Starbucks), about speed and elegance (Maserati, Alfa Romeo), about families (Apple, BMW, Heinz, Disney, McDonald’s, and many more). Our values are reflected in our brands and we choose our brands for their values.

This happens for the simple reason that a beloved brand (for us) enters into our DNA. It becomes a part of our identity, and while it is always possible to change this identifier, we only do so in changing ourselves. The change can be subtle as in a shift away from Nike to Puma, or it can be dramatic as in deleting a cigarette brand when we quit smoking. In the first case, it is a matter of our personal style and the statement it makes, in the second it is much more about deep-seated value decisions about your life. Marlboro cannot be part of your identity anymore if you have become a non-smoker.

On the other hand, people who quit smoking half-heartedly keep their identity in tact – and usually become backsliders.

Most people contain a number of brands within their personality mix. We do it in order to establish an identity both to ourselves and to the world at large. Since I am and have always been very sensitive to brands, I will use myself as a test case.

My Brands

When I am shoe shopping – which does not happen more than once a year or so – I do not go out with the intention to shop randomly until I discover what I want. If it is a new pair of sneakers, I look for Pumas. If it is work shoes, I favor Italian brands. In the first case, it is a quite specific brand. In the second, it is a specific category.

It might sound heretical to say so, but there is no quantitative difference among Puma, Nike, Converse, adidas, Reebok, or any of 20 other brands. Most have features to distinguish them, but before I leave my flat to head out to shop for them, I have already made my brand choice. I like Puma.

Why? God knows!

In my experience they do not last for more than a year without coming apart. They are less common and therefore harder to find. And they are priced at a premium compared to others. This is not a value for money choice – it is a clear brand choice.

A number of things go through my head – I like Nikes and they were among my first sneakers that I chose myself. I like how they look and feel. But I am annoyed that they are everywhere. I don’t like Reebok – the association I have with Reebok is that of a secretary walking to work with heels in her bag (that used to be a thing). And I like New Balance generally, but the name bugs me. I like Puma because it is none of these things. It seems like it is all about style. It’s about me. So my choice – in this little bit of stream-of-consciousness, which is automatically felt and never clearly articulated unless pushed to do so – is already made.

I once bought a pair on holiday because I needed a new pair (the old ones were shot) but did not find any that fit me well. But I bought them anyway and wore them for about six months while they actually hurt my feet each day.

Puma for me was an identity. It was not pushing sales down my throat. It was not about organizing contests and ten-mile runs. It simply is. And because I feel that way about the brand, I immediately filtered out the many others and concentrated my search on them.

Another of my brands includes a Mont Blanc Meisterstück pen, a brand that has been close to me for many years. I use the Mont Blanc for signing “important” documents. It is a personal ritual and part of my own brand. I also contain Alfa Romeo cars in my personal brand. Although I currently do not own one, I have had two in my life, and they are “my” car and thus a part of my brand. I will very certainly own another one again!

A few other brands – in no order – include:

Why would I include a city in my brand? For many people, their home towns are an integral part of their brands. The place where you grew up or spent your formative years becomes an integral part of your branding. For me it is Rome, Italy, even though I have lived in a number of European capitals and other countries and cities over the years. Rome is my brand without question – it is the one place that I love without needing to justify or qualify with reasons. This does not make Rome a “better” city than Paris, London, Munich, Belgrade, or Shanghai.

It makes it my city.

In all the examples above, the brands that are part of my identity are those that have had a lasting presence in my life, by my own choice. Pasta De Cecco, as another kind of example, is a remembered brand. It is unavailable in Belgrade where I am living today and I have not been able to buy it in years. But I remember how much I liked it. I can picture its logo and brand identity. I associate it with excellent pasta. And again, it may not objectively be better than Barilla or Buitoni or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but it is my pasta brand.

The brands we love communicate with us on a much more intimate level than those about which we are indifferent, only just “like”, or have ambivalent feelings. Looking at Place Branding (also called Nation Branding), we can break down the reasons for which Rome continues to be my brand. It appeals to a number of deep emotional triggers – nostalgia, familiarity, consistency, and trust. In Place Branding, one could use the same triggers to alter my personal brand by communicating heavily in all these areas regarding Paris, for example. It would not be a direct appeal to me – because the agencies working on Paris as a brand do not and could know me – but to the same base phenomena that attach me to Rome.

The brands that comprise me, moreover, need not be static.

Newton’s first law of motion is in play here. It is commonly stated as: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”[1] In our context, it means that I will happily stick with my own personal brands until another one of sufficient impact comes along to bump the old ones out of the way.

Some will try. Many will fail. But some will get through!

 

 

 

 


 

[1] “Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare.” Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Sir Isaac Newton, 1687.

 

Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!

 

 

I am Brand

When you get up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, what brand do you see?

Bright and fresh (or gloomily pre-coffee) you see someone you know very well. It is the same person that once met a famous movie star in a breadline in Paris. It is the same person who had her first kiss in a darkened movie theatre. It the guy who crashed his old car and traded it in for a better one. Continue reading

Where Should We Eat?

Restaurant Branding and the Embarrassment of Choice

If a burger is grilled in the woods and no one sees it or hears it, does it really exist?

 

One of the biggest parts of branding in the restaurant industry comes near the end – getting the word out! In Serbia, there were approximately 20,000 restaurants and bars according to one survey. Given that vast amount of choice, how can we possibly evaluate for ourselves the best place for lunch or dinner?

 

Eeny meeny miny moe?

Even the well-established brands have to contend with the ever-growing tide of competition for our attention. Aside from creating a brand with its own unique and attractive personality, a restaurant must communicate a clear and simple message: “Here’s why you should come to us tonight.”

1. Create regular appointments

You can usually count on people to remember what day of the week it is. So why not give them a good reason to remember? If it’s Monday, you get 20% off at Credo. But if you missed Monday, on Wednesday it’s Ladies night.

By making this kind of consistent appointment with the consumer, it helps them make up their mind. We are all creatures of habit after all!

2. Make a Big Deal of the Big Deals

Holidays are a particularly hard time for restaurant goers. We never really know which places are open and which are closed. We don’t always know if there is something special going on. Communicating that you are there for them is important.

 

3. Toot your own horn

If there is one thing you do well, make sure everyone knows it. If it’s pasta, then show us the spaghetti. One question that people very often ask themselves is “where can we get the best burger?” Or pasta. Or T-bone steak. Or desserts?

In the case of Credo, above, the speciality is in personalization. By telling us that on Fridays we can design our own pasta – and allow a world-clas chef to cook it for us – it’s something we can latch onto. In this way, not only will we know the best place to go on Friday, but we can start looking forward to it on Tuesday already!

 

Simple is not easy

Sadly many restaurants fail in this department, and as a result restaurant-going can feel a little random. Many places depend on advertisement that shows an image without telling us what we are seeing. A restaurant, remember, is more of a service business than a product one. The food must be good (of course!) but if no one knows about the good food, it can spoil quickly.

Keep it simple. Tell us what you do and why we should love you. Chances are we will listen!

Employer Branding: Staying True


Much of Employer Branding begins at home.

Employer branding is very much about values, ethics, and transparency and how these are communicated, shared, and taken up by a company’s employees and potential hires.

Naturally, there is a critical need for these qualities to be felt and perceived outside the walls of a company. This can be accomplished in several ways, chief among which are the following:

 

  • Contextually – wherein the values are woven into the content published by the company;
  • Directly – wherein the company actively and purposefully explains itself to the public;
  • Experientially – wherein the employer brand emanates from the employees themselves in a natural and unforced manner.

Creating this tapestry is a subtle process and one that requires careful attention to detail. While consumer brands grow in the esteem and emotional response of their followers by the a perceived proximity to their feelings and senses, the employer brand cannot depend on perception alone – the brand must walk the walk more than it talks the talk.

In other words, a car brand (like Alfa Romeo) must correspond to the dreams of its buyers and, as such, will be forgiven its minor flaws and problems, the automobile company (e.g., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), must continuously prove itself to be worthy of the loyalty of its employees.

In employer branding, forgiveness is hard to come by.

The reasons for this can be found in the very definition of employer branding. According to Barrow and Mosely, employer branding “describes an organization’s reputation as an employer, and its value proposition to its employees, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation and value proposition to customers.”[1]

Good employer branding, therefore, can be defined as a company that structures a clearly defined and motivating reward system and that sets reasonable internal rules and abides by them.

 

Promises Fulfilled

The coveted response is “This is a great company to work for!” This response makes for better conditions inside the workplace and entices people to want to work for you, attracting talent. The path to arrive at this is neither as steep nor as easy as it might sound. Most of it comes down to making promises and fulfilling them.

According to HR Solutions, Inc., a Chicago-based management consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement surveys, an employee’s main concerns surround the issue of transparency and fairness. Are the salary scales clear and understandable? Does management communicate well? Is there obvious favoritism? Is HR responsive? Last on this list: Is it a clean place to work?

These basic issues make the difference between what is perceived as a good employer brand and a bad one. It is not the company that promises the most, but the one that makes good on everything they promise.

In this way, it seems very clear that you cannot just fake good employer branding by putting out a lot of spin – by being true to your own rules, you are half-way to achieving a good employer brand.

After that, it becomes a question of word-of-mouth. This kind of communication can be dramatically bolstered by attention to social media, by inclusion of employees in external communication (where feasible), and by thought pieces or blogs that reflect the company’s fundamental integrity and fairness.

Potential new hires must be allowed to infer the brand’s values. Telling them directly will probably arouse more suspicion than allay fears.

Getting the word out that this is a great company to work for is, therefore, solidly in your hands. A branding agency can assist you in finding the balance in communications and engineering the transparency you need and in what areas, but once established, you need to be as good as your word.

In other words: talk the talk AND walk the walk.

 

 

 

[1] Barrow, S. and Mosley, R. The Employer Brand, Bringing the Best of Brand Management to People at Work, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

White Hats, Black Hats

The Myth of Duality in Presidential Campaigns

The world, as we like to view it, is made of Good Guys and Bad Guys.

As a child, we used to play Cops and Robbers. We played Cowboys and Indians. There was never any question about who were the Good Guys and who were the Bad Guys. No shades of grey. No anti-heroes with conflicted inner turmoil. No middle ground.

It is an easy way to see the world.

And while the American voting public should never be characterized as being this simplistic, it does seem to be a pattern in how we choose and support our presidential campaigns, especially in the absence of a clear leader.

donald-trump

In the 2016 presidential campaigns, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats produced an inspirational candidate, one that the nation could stand behind and call our own. Instead we got Trump and Clinton, a demagogue and an heir apparent. How do we choose who gets the White Hat and who gets the Black Hat when neither seems to fit anyone?

hillary-clinton-thumbs-upThis is called a “false dilemma”. The false dilemma is a question that has many possible solutions or answers, but only two are presented as choices. The false dilemma is the basis of US presidential races. We go through primaries and caucuses in order to weed out the weaklings, setting ourselves up for a dichotomy that could have been a plurality.

But we want our Good Guys and Bad Guys.

Like Coke and Pepsi, whose differences are as infinitesimal as the importance of choosing one over the other, we tend to brand our politicians against each other. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was an ultra-rightist fanatic (according to the Democrats), and Mike Dukakis was a weak releaser of murderers (according to the Republicans). One was Coke to the other’s Pepsi and we HAD to choose.

Hope vs. Fear

In 2016, faced with two unqualified candidates, the false dilemma was one of Hope against Fear.

hillary_clinton_yellHeir apparent to the neo-liberal elite establishment, Hillary Clinton, wanted to trade on Hope. She wanted us to hope for a better future, to hope that we would elect the first woman to the Oval Office, to hope that civil liberties would triumph over the Patriot Act. She was the White Hat.

donald-trump-grow-upDonald Trump, however, knew better. He knew that the most valuable commodity on the market was fear. He admonished us to “make America great again,” meaning that now things were  terrible. He tapped into something primal in the American psyche that feared our slipping into second place, being the number two superpower, being a weak economy. He traded on the fear that people around the world disrespected our weakness. And (cleverly) he did not put on the white hat, but he crowned Hillary with the Black Hat.

The Trump campaign did not spend millions on television spots and Big Marketing. They spent a few hundred thousand on the social media. They used free media coverage of an outrageous candidate. They leaned back on the rumor mill of Twitter and Facebook. But every statement he made, no matter how insane it sounded on the face of things, underlined his strength. He became the candidate who feared nothing and no one. He showed America that, as president, the United States would be as unashamedly and brazenly tough as he was.

imagesIn the face of that, Hillary could do very little. She could not be as crazy as he was, so it always appeared that she was on the defensive (Error 1). Despite all of the controversy and allegations made against Trump, he never apologized for or justified his actions. Hillary felt she should explain sometimes (Error 2).

Hillary talked to people. Trump talked to large crowds. Hillary touted her record. Trump trusted his success. In the debates, both of them played fast and loose with the facts – precisely because they did not appear to know them – and chose instead to go negative. She said. He said.

The false dilemma arose from these ashes.

6360139435793044861461393096_donald-trump-prune-faceBy the end, the American voting public went to the polls with a handful of dusty hope for maybe making things better from HRC and a large heavy DJT-monogrammed suitcase of fear for what could happen to their country and their lives. In an environment in which everything seems wrong and confusing, fear will win every time.

Eight years ago, Obama rode into office on a mandate of Hope. But it was not so much for him as a person, but for the messianic figure we made him. He would save us, we thought. Hillary was not big enough for that. She did not show us the way. She seemed to push through her campaign as if it were a formality, that it was her turn and that she deserved it.

Who are the White Hats and who are the Black Hats? Encouragingly, the American people largely refused the question, with 45% of eligible voters staying home. This is a 20-year low, according to CNN. But the 55% who did vote bought gladly into the false dilemma.

They voted in the big-mouthed, bigoted bully because they were afraid of what would happen with more mealy-mouthed liberal elitism.

black-hat-white-hat