Tag Archives: agency

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?

Your Brand. Your Vision.

Who is in control of your brand? You?

After you spend years developing your product – an ice cream brand, for example – and struggle with all of its aspects, its flavors, its look, and its packaging, agonizing over all the details to make it just right, making sure it reflects your values and your personality, the next step would be to get the word out. So you hand it over to the nefarious brothers, Big Marketing and Big Advertising.

They will know what to do, right?

Wrong. But this is what most people end up doing. The Big Brothers look at your product as a money-spinner. They will want to decide who should buy it, where it should be sold, what the price will be, what the messages will say, and even what the thing should look like. The Big Brothers have satchels full of graphs and diagrams and funnels and focus groups and surveys and dozens of freshly baked pie charts. The Brothers Big, Marketing and Advertising, want you to know that only THEY know how your brand can be brought before the consumer public.

And it will be expensive, to be sure. But, say the Brothers, you must listen to us.

Suddenly your lovely ice cream brand, the one which you have been dreaming of since your early youth, the one that want the world to love as much as you do, has become a washing powder. Or a toothpaste. It could sell hand over fist. You could be the New Ice Cream Tycoon. But it will no longer be your brand.

Control over your brand should remain precisely where it was born – in your hands, in your heart, and in your mind. A brand is as much about art as is it is about economics. Branding is an experience of creative discovery, where innovation and ideas meet strong emotions. A strong brand is an expression of deep feelings, of character, and of desire. It is not a commodity to be traded impersonally on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange along side orange concentrate and pork bellies.

Before you hand over your brand, you must first
make sure that you have established it fully.

A brand has stories and a visual identity. It has as much personality as a good friend and inspires the same kind of loyalty. The fact is if YOU do not create your brand, the Big Brothers will.

Big Marketing and Advertising will not see your brand sold exclusively on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. They will see it on Main Street and State Street and in every shop and convenience store. They will see it in such a way that it translates into instant cash, with big flashing letters and bright colors!

worst-ice-cream-supermarketIt is not their fault – that is why they exist. And they do a lot of good for lesser brands, products and services conceived as a means to generate money. Many people are in business for this very reason. A washing powder needs to be trusted to get blood and ketchup out of your son’s baseball uniform, not to be the stuff of dreams. Proctor and Gamble was established for this. Henkel lives for it. Your ice cream brand, however, probably should have a different destiny.

The destiny of your brand will also be to make money and become profitable, of course. But it should do so on its own terms and in accord with its true identity. And if the Big Brothers want to speed past this, it does not mean you must surrender. On the contrary, you can nurture your brand to its full potential and self-expression by turning to a branding agency first. A good branding agency works with you and your brand to ensure its destiny.

Working with brand developers and professionals is a means to evoke all of the qualities about which YOU have dreamed in creating your brand. Writing the stories of your brand is part of it, creating the mosaic of its life and meaning. Once you have brought your brand into being and fully expressed its purpose, identity, and character, then the Big Brothers can help – they will not have fill in any blanks from their more mercantile imaginations.

Your brand is your dream and your vision. Be true to it before others try to take it over.

Smoke, Mirrors, and Experiential Branding

Can everyone please get real?

It seems you cannot read any article about branding these days without someone saying that experiential branding is the Next Big Thing. That only experiential branding will appeal to the elusive Millennials. That it is experiential branding that allows a consumer to remember the brand better and more fondly than “traditional” branding.

Traditional branding?

The misnomer in all of this is the word experiential. The fact is that ALL branding – if it is done properly – has the end goal of engaging the consumer on an emotional level. If we do not care about the brand, then any kind of experience is out of the question.

Continue reading

Quality, Quantity, and Infinite Monkeys

The theory runs something like this: If you have an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time, they will eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare.

People forget about the flip-side, however. If you use the Infinite Monkey Strategy (IMS) you need an infinite amount of account managers sifting through an infinite amount of paper just to find the three or four words which will talk about your brand. And of course, you will be paying infinite over-time for it.

And what’s a typewriter?

Continue reading