Category Archives: Blogs

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

BRAND BANTER – How to Say What You Think

 

Novak-DjokovicThere can be no doubt but that Novak Djokovic is a Big Brand.

In the recent firestorm over Nole’s opinion about prize money for men and women tennis players, however, the Big Brand blundered badly. In an interview after Indian Wells, he basically set himself up to be object of revilement by fans of women’s tennis around the world.

This started me thinking about how brands can express unpopular opinions without offending half the world. On the one hand, it would seem to be impossible. Djokovic’s stance on prize money for women players is not illogical – men attract bigger audiences to tennis and therefore should be rewarded more. Should he just shut up about it and not say what he thinks?

A brand has certain values and a certain character. In this way, a brand should be encouraged to express itself according to those values. Novak Djokovic – as a brand, not as a person or tennis player – stands for a certain number of things. His values include excellence, outspokenness, and a (slight) sense of humor.

Each of these values has a dark side and one that should be kept under wraps as much as possible. Excellence can indicate arrogance and a degree of ruthlessness that Djokovic will let out of the bag from time to time. Outspokenness can be a good thing and show sincerity. But it can also quite easily become a liability when the brand’s sincere opinion is politically incorrect. And a sense of humor is always subjective. Sometimes it is just not funny.

So how does a brand like Djokovic make any response to the question of equal prize money without sounding like a misogynist, male chauvinist, and just plain thoughtless?

There are, in my view, three ways to attack the question –

1. Shut Your TrapAustralian Open Tennis

He could have just said he does not want to talk about it. By not saying anything, he takes no position and allows people to think what they want. Detractors will still say that he is guilty by omission, but fans will call him wise and circumspect.

Eventually, however, avoidance will lead a brand to trouble. The most important aspect of a brand is that it can be trusted. Remember the beating Nike took over child labor in Vietnam? They denied. They were found out. And they backpedaled. It was not an easy time for one of the world’s Big Brands.

2. Deflect and Dodge

He could have used the uncomfortable question to redirect attention to the cause of the problem. Should they have equal prizes? Who decides this anyway? Shouldn’t we be asking them what their reasons are? And by creating a media furor, does it actually help? And why is the opinion of one player in the circuit actually make any difference?

Deflection does not reveal his true thoughts, but it is a form of avoidance. At one point, some clever media person will trap him into a Yes/No question on it. As long as the deflection remains smart and on-topic, he will get away with it for longer. It can create distractions that sideline the bigger issues

3. Think it Through

This is, by far, the best way to deal with uncomfortable questions. He needs to be well-versed on the issues and able to discuss them intelligently. He can thereby demonstrate that a) it is an important issue, b) he thinks about it, c) his opinion ultimately is informed by real facts and the reality of the sport. In the midst of this, he could even slip in his real opinion about the prize money, but wrap it in undisputable facts about the subject.

In short, he will have to study. His handlers, if he has any, should prepare him for this. There are not 360 burning issues in professional tennis – there are only a few big ones, and he should have been prepped in his response.

 

As it is, Djokovic chose Number 4 – Blurt it out and backpedal. The next day, Djokovic came back to apologize, blaming adrenalin over a big win. My bad.

By doing this, Djokovic did further damage to his own brand not only by having to apologize for something he actually believes, but by eroding public trust in his brand. People will start to think: who is this guy? They will doubt his statements. They will trust him just a little less.

In branding, trust is hard won and must be guarded carefully. It means sticking by your announced values and living with them every day. No one could ever be overly shocked by Jean-Paul Gautier when he would say outlandish things – that IS his brand, the bad boy. We expect it from him. With a great tennis player, we expect him to be dedicated to fairness and sportsmanship. That is also part of Nole’s brand whether he likes it or not.

Can he say whatever he wants whenever he wants? Clearly he can and he does. And we want our star brands to say what they think. But if he insists on doing so without regard to the fallout, he might not become the beloved figure that he seems to want to be. We want him to speak his mind, of course.

But we want to be able to nod with him too.

Branding the Mask

design maskIf the human race can be counted on for anything, it is that we will consistently scare ourselves to death whenever we can. We love to overreact, spin conspiracies, and take (or talk a lot about taking) radical action. It’s what we do.

Another thing we do is we exploit our native fears for commercial purposes.

Enter the Asian Surgical Mask Phenomenon. This is a trend that continues to build and grow year on year. From China to Korea to Japan to any number of Asian nations, the spread of the surgical mask gets wider and wider. On any given day in Shanghai, you can see people walking around, sporting the mask. The mask exists to ward off airborne germs (yours or others) or protect you from air pollution.

But where are the brands?

With hundreds and thousands of blank white spaces covering noses and mouths, why are we not seeing a market for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel masks – or Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s? The opportunity for brand communication is enormous and yet is left almost completely alone.
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It could be that the brands do not want to connect themselves with illness – and that would be justified and understandable. But one has to assume that many of the masks are now being worn less out of necessity than as accessories. In that case, I would expect a swelling tide of branded masks to already be out there.

An argument could be made for luxury brands, adding a new area for expansion in affordable luxury, akin to sunglasses and watches. Surely a “little black dress” could be accompanied by a “little black mask.” Coco Chanel would like the consistency and Lagerfeld would have fun with it.

Sports brands could use them to promote awareness and their concern with the wellbeing of their consumers. Nike shorts. Nike t-shirt. Nike headband. Nike facemask. Just do it.

Sadly, the need for facemasks in high pollution areas is no joke. On “high alert” days in China, people are encouraged to stay indoors rather than expose themselves to the toxic air. In such an environment, masking up is good alternative to hiding yourself away. And people are doing it in droves. There is so much demand in China, for example, that the counterfeiters have moved in on the territory. What do they know that the big brands don’t?

It is curious to me, therefore, that this opportunity is being neglected. If the facemask is becoming de rigeur, surely fashion mavens should be calling for their integration in one’s total look. Sunglasses were invented for UV protection, but people now choose them based first on how they look and only then on how they protect.pipemask

Depending on my mood, I would certainly have a notapipe branded mask for working days, a Puma mask to match my sneakers, and perhaps an Armani mask for formal occasions.

In the words of Karl Lagerfeld himself: “Don’t dress to kill, dress to survive.”

 

 

 

Branding and Blind Spots

While knowing the unknown may not be possible, it is certainly possible to imagine the unthinkable.

 

You have a new brand.

You are engaged in the production of Stuff for which you made an Investment. The Stuff you make requires a huge production Staff and a Factory. The Distribution of the Stuff requires a whole bunch of Trucks. The Sale of the Stuff requires a raft of salespeople traversing the country.

Stuff. Investment. Staff. Factory. Distribution. Trucks. Sales.

These are key messages that Stuff Inc. would like to communicate to the world at large and its stakeholder base about your brand. The Stuff you make is needed by many, desired by all, and you can talk about your commitment to manufacturing, your level of investment, your employment contribution and your efficiency in getting it on the shelves so consumers may buy it at a reasonable price. Nothing but good news here.

But the real story is the one that is sitting in your blind spot.

A blind spot is a point in the human eye where visual information is missing. Normally, the brain compensates for this spot by filling in information from the other eye or from the imagination. Therefore, when you merely look at something, you cannot be sure that what you “see” is exactly what there is. These blind spots are known as “scotomata” – and everybody has them.

By the same token, a company is made up of individual humans, each with a brace of human eyes and a collection of bigger and smaller scotomata. When you are preparing to deliver your Good News to the waiting stakeholders, you must ask yourself – what am I not seeing?

Perhaps your Stuff has harmful side effects. Maybe the Investment you made has been mismanaged. Your Staff may not be uniformly happy. Your Distribution may break down in certain parts of the country. Your Trucks burn dirty fuel. And your Salespeople may be chronic liars….

Out of SightShelfTutorial15

Getting the Good News to stakeholders is not a simple task. They will always see your situation from a different perspective. Some of them will want to shine a light into your blind spots and reveal aspects of your business that you have not discussed. This is where communications in companies goes astray. In fact, and in many instances, we are not taking about deliberate deception on your part. This is really a case of others seeing what you cannot.

A sound brand strategy relies on your ability to see the full picture – no dark shadows, no blind spots, no unexplored regions. As a result, many companies who know this may choose voluntarily not to communicate at all rather than run the risk of having something come to light that they may have overlooked.

This is, in my view, a mistaken approach. The fact remains that we can never have 100 percent certainty that we covered all the angles. We may have turned the chess board around several times and still not see the pawn which is about to corner our king.

Knowing the Unknown

By deliberately holding back and saying nothing out of fear, you are also sending a message about Stuff Inc., your nice little company with its nice little story, which tells stakeholders that you may really have something to hide.

If you choose to communicate, your job is simply to explore these possible dark corners, to create What-If scenarios to cover your blind spots. In this case, having an outside view will help apply a new set of eyes – colder and more objective eyes – to try to poke holes in your story. Your consultant, like your doctor, will make a full diagnosis and attempt to see everything before writing any prescription.

While knowing the unknown may not be possible, it is certainly possible to imagine the unthinkable. In this way, you can tell the world about the Stuff that you produce, how you do it, and what benefits it brings. Your blind spots are still there and still essentially dark, but by careful thinking you can be ready to explore them with the stakeholders and keep your nice story about your new business intact.

The Duty to be Different

The client always knows best.

The recent news that Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick decided to undertake its own spectacular rebranding, choosing to do it in-house and deep-sixing their agencies, is a black eye to branding professionals everywhere.

The message? You just don’t get it.

The fact that Kalanick couldn’t trust anyone else to brand his company should send shudders throughout the branding industry – it signals that the industry is stagnating and running out of good ideas. Or at least it has allowed the perception of this syndrome to take over.

When I heard about this, the first question that came to my mind was why? Did his agencies let him down? Did he feel that being the innovator and leader of this market was not getting enough play in the media? Was he just tired of seeing the same old “U” everywhere? And I mean EVERYWHERE.

The only thing that made sense to me was that the Uber chief was dissatisfied with what he saw when he looked at his brand. He lost the feeling that Uber’s brand was communicating all that it needed to say to all the people who needed to know it, to feel it, and to experience it.

And apparently no one was showing him anything better.

The conclusion he drew, however, was flawed. That is: if no one would show him a more creative idea, then he must do it himself. That is the equivalent of deciding to perform brain surgery because a team of doctors had no answers. I do not wish to say that Travis Kalanick has no creative branding ideas – only that he has not devoted his life to expanding upon them.

‘Creative,’ in the meantime, has become a huge industry. It is in marketing, advertising, branding, and everywhere else we can try to stick it. The word is starting to lose meaning. The most unfortunate side of this is that everything that becomes an industry unto itself will sooner or later succumb to complacency, to stagnation, and to standardization.

Reading through the press today, we see many people trying to define what is going on in branding today – it is interactive, it is breakthrough, it is disruptive. Yet all of these terms, and many more in the jargonicon, only serve to describe the way in which a consumer perceives a brand.

In the end, the brand is successful when the consumer, for reasons far beyond the product features or design, loves it. A brand is successful when it creates for itself a place in the consumer’s heart and soul.

That’s me, he should say. That’s my brand.

Moments and Momentum

462847The ways to achieve this for a brand are many and varied, but throwing a lot of Creative at it will not help unless there is a rationale and a reason behind it. For me, creativity is a spark. It is a Moment. That spark ignites a lot of hard work to find the best way to express it.

Branding agencies, as opposed to business innovators and entrepreneurs, spend most of their waking hours striving to discover these Moments. They do it on behalf of clients who just do not have the time or inclination to do it themselves. This is just a simple function of optimum use of resources.

Your housepainter knows 37 shades of white – you know one or two. Why not listen to him?

Branding is so much more than a logo and a new coat of paint. Although I will not go into an analysis of Uber’s rebrand here, I will say that I find it to be more cosmetic than fundamental. Again, this is not Kalanick’s fault – it is not what he is best at – but it is the fault of any agency that presented to him. They failed him. They did not show him a vision of the brand that could move him.

In my experience, the best branding projects are born of a kind of synergy between the business and the branding agency. No one knows and understands a business better than its owners or managers; and no one understands how to spread that understanding better than a brander. The two must work hand in hand to forge a lasting brand.

The duty of the branding agency, however, is to think differently than the businessperson. Ideas, values, emotional bonds, and gut feelings must find their expression in such a way that EVERYONE can relate positively to the brand. Not because it makes logical and practical sense, but because it feels right.

Can a layperson hit upon such an idea? Of course he could. And I could possibly hit a hole in one at the 18th hole.

But I am not a golfer – what are my chances?