How to Evaluate a Company’s Culture

When I was a consultant at Deloitte and Price Waterhouse, I worked for a time in M&A. Not the deals, the actual coming together after the deal was signed, the integration. It was all about managing the human aspect. Could two cultures come together?

When I moved onto large strategy projects, much attention was made to the organizational chart. That is when I learned there is the organizational chart on paper, the one that is promoted, and then there is the one that shows how the organization actually worked (the one I had to figure out).

For the past 7 years my brand strategy consulting work has been mostly executive coaching (as much as I hate the term, “coaching”). I contend 20% of my work has involved the process of branding and 80% has been helping, directing, influencing, and bolstering the thinking and decisions of management.

All this experience has produced a single insight…business is all about human psychology. I know, that is not earthshattering. But put it this way, every human is fallible. Every business is made up of humans. Businesses are, therefore, fallible, imperfect, flawed. And here is a branding secret, that is what makes them great.

Enough. I am rambling. What I want to get to, is the criteria for evaluating a company’s culture. This will help career seekers. It will direct and ease mergers and acquisitions. It will help clients pick providers and providers seeking clients. It is the way to calculate connection and fit.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Long-Form Ads

There was a time when people actually read, and read a great deal. Now brands, marketers and advertisers, have catered to and hastened ever-shortening attention spans. Videos run in seconds, online ads pop up over-and-over again in seizure inducing ways, radio screams irrelevant call-to-actions.

We have robbed consumers of their intellect by dumbing down both message and medium. Yet, people still read and watch in longer amounts. So many documentaries on Netflix are long ads for different sides of the same debate. Reality shows espouse different ways of life and people eat them up. So, why are brand ads increasingly short and, arguably, simpler (if not, dumb)?

It is great to come across long-form ads in print as they are both endangered species. Check out this beauts that take the time to compel and tell a story. Make sure to read the last one!

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My Tenuous Connection to Spy Magazine

It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.

The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.

Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.

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#WMW 3rd Quarter Newsletter

Read a few excerpts from Why Marketing Works. Pabst Blue Ribbon refuses to market and Lacoste had to get fancy when it broke into America. Plus much more…WMW.

Taglines…need to be all they can be

Read this piece below or download the nicely designed PDF (Taglines).

It is ironic that a short bit of writing used to concisely convey an idea is called different names. These communication devices go by slogan, catchphrase, motto or tagline. For the sake of this piece and my preference, I call them taglines. Slogans possess a cheap connotation, 8701catchphrases seem vacuous bits of pop culture, and a motto is actually a hard rule more than an idea or aspiration. You can also throw jingles amongst them as a type of slogan set to music. So tagline it is.

Taglines are battle cries and statements of benefit and intent. They exist to offer information in a succinct, appealing and creative way. Ideally they deliver a message that shapes opinion and changes behavior. Taglines, when combined with action, have spurned whole movements.

These tools have been around for centuries and were refined during political campaigns in the 1800’s. In the latter half of that century they began to be employed to create awareness for products and services. Ivory Soap’s 99 and 44/100ths percent pure was a pledge of quality to ivory_old_1954consumers. It floats was added in 1891 because competitive soaps did not float. Heinz’s “57 Varieties” came along, as well as, Nabisco’s clever Uneeda Biscuit that was both tagline and name all in one.

Memorable taglines have stated clear positions. There is American by Birth. Rebel by Choice. for Harley-Davidson, A Diamond is Forever for De Beers, and AVIS’ We Try Harder. Some engage by asking questions including Capital One’s What’s In Your Wallet? And UPS’ What Can Brown Do For You?

These lines tend to offer clear benefits like M&Ms Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hand or the United States Postal Service We Deliver for You. Others include the name of the product or company to firmly plant them in our conscious or subconscious. Examples include Virginia Is For Lovers for Virginia Tourism and Like A Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There. Some appear www-VA4L-neg-verdefensive like Live in your world. Play in ours. for PlayStation.

Taglines have been historically a pithy short sentence or combination of words meant to live for several years if not decades. They have been locked up with a brand name and logo. That choice of words, “locked up”, is deliberate. This use of taglines is incredibly confining and tethered to antiquated marketing thinking that has lost relevance.

They should not always be carved in stone. While the idea of finding some all-encompassing nirvana statement that nails it and resonates for years is appealing, I believe the tagline can be doing so much more for a brand. In fact, I view them as mini campaigns that deserve far more freedom.

This epiphany came to me through a series of client rebranding engagements. A new brand or rebrand all demand fresh communications. When launching a rebrand I was repeatedly recommending a launch tagline that would live for a few months or upwards of a year. Then at the appropriate time it would be swapped for an attempt at a more timeless rendition. This meant avis-logoconcocting a handful or more for the client to evaluate. In every case this bundle of taglines had one or two that did not create a spark but the others were always enjoyed. So why cast them all away?

I advocate the use of different taglines at different times for different audiences. Branding is much more flexible and tailored these days. The heavy and thick guideline books that once dominated the practice no longer exist for a reason. A single tagline has diminishing value given the fluid and variable applications we use today. I often think that brand guidelines were less about consistency and more about command and control from the brand owner. They limited creativity in a monolithic manner.

There was also the fear of the cost of changing anything “locked up” in the guidelines. This I can understand. No business can change where a key brand element lives with frequency. Now in this time of digital, brands can afford and need to tailor their communications and that includes taglines.

Arguably HSBC has been doing this for years. Granted they go by The World’s Local Bank but all of their communications leverage the notion of tailored taglines used in combination. They employ, We see no problem in different points of view. Only potential. Then there is, The more you look at the world, the more you recognize people’s different values. and The more you look at the world, the more you recognize what really matters to people.

So though A Diamond is Forever a tagline does not have to be. Taglines need to ‘try harder’. Rather than use a tagline as a static statement or one battle cry, set loose a manageable army of them. Lead them and make them work together but act fast because soon every brand will be doing the same.

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The Back of a Napkin

Marketers and ad professionals are attracted to shiny new toys. They look to technology as a panacea for reaching and influencing buyer behaviour. Newspapers, radio, tv, the Internet, big data, social media, AI, and whatever is next. There is one thing missing in this equation.

The fact is all great ads regardless of medium or platform start out on a whiteboard, a flip chart, a notebook, or the back of a napkin.

Print ads are therefore the gold standard. If an ad or campaign cannot compel from a single sheet of paper, no algorithm will save it. Technology will just irritate consumers with irrelevant and poorly timed ads. In other words, why make something flawed more efficient?

Recently, I came across two sets of print ads that share characteristics. They draw you in visually. They create allure and make a promise. They know their audience. Someone sweated over them and were proud in the end. In a time when more means more, these were designed to cut through the clutter that advertising and converging technologies have created.

Great ads start with a Bic pen not an algorithm. Look ahead and see if you agree.

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Wants and Needs

Life comes down to wants and needs. Those things we have to have and those we would would like to have. What we require and what we desire.

Marketing is about setting up the want and need equation. Giving consumers the right amount of honest information in relevant and entertaining formats so they can make sound decisions.

Brands that are indispensable have become both a want and a need. That is the place to be … a brand that is both required and desired.

Brand Consultancies, Do This

Four years ago, I wrote the article, Branding Needs Rebranding. In hindsight, the title was a tad misleading because it covered the lack of differentiation and delivery between brand consultancies, it was not an indictment of the entirety of branding. I argued, branding is largely premised on differentiation, so shouldn’t the consultancies be different?

Today, the processes and methodologies of branding and rebranding from consultancies remain the same. Meanwhile, many of the larger consultancies have undergone different kinds of change. Prominent ones have left poor-performing markets and shuttered practice areas where margins grew slim.

Those under the large holding companies have been grouped together for synergies, more on the cost side, than revenue growth. This cycle of consolidation and rationalization is nothing new in the larger communications industry, but it could be less severe or avoided…more on that in a bit.

Let’s set the stage by looking back. Prior to 2000, branding was a nascent practice and profession. Then it exploded. Books, conferences, job titles, and businesses sprung up around brand. The sad fact is, “brand” became a buzzword and consultancies focused on building repeatable processes and methodologies, creating an uninspired assembly line of parity. Brand became ubiquitous but lost its edge.

Same Process, Same Result
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The Best Defunct Company Logos

Some are instantly recognizable while others verge on being lost to history. The list is neither exhaustive or scientific, it is highly subjective like so much of branding. If you have some cool ones to add, let us know.

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Marketing is a Human Activity

Marketing-Jeff-Swystun

This article originally appeared in WPP’s Sparksheet.

As bots become more and more prevalent, as brands take an aggressive approach to social media, and as everyone drowns in data, it’s worth remembering that successful marketing has always been about one thing only: a personal connection.

Every marketer is bombarded with overwhelming and conflicting information. Most companies (and marketers) can barely digest the data they produce let alone turn it into actionable insights and strategy. Add the utopian promise of Big Data and we have a real issue because the most sophisticated systems will never spit out a marketing roadmap. More importantly, we must never forget that marketing is an intensely human activity.

There are an ever-increasing raft of studies, rankings and surveys that pelt the marketing community every day. In branding alone there are now 294 studies tracked on the website, Ranking the Brands. Most of these are celebratory lists pitting brands against each other on one dimension or another. And the tech industry is an expert at producing reports that skew towards ‘technology-as-savior’ conclusions. Add on consumer and market research studies and marketers are now buried in elephant-size data dumps.

Marketers have forgotten how to segment and to clearly understand the wants and needs of consumers. Marketers know this but get distracted by shiny new toys and theories promising better performance.

The practice and profession of marketing has never changed. It has always been predicated on human behavior. It exists to understand consumer’s motives and give them justification for making a purchase. Everything else either supports or erodes this fact.

The relationship between brand and consumer was pretty much a fair relationship until the Mad Men, mass communication era. That marked a point when brands took the appearance of control through the ubiquity of advertising. This went on for a few decades then the balance of power shifted back towards consumers…but was then interrupted by the advent of social media.

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