Where Brands Compete: Small Gestures, Meaningful Flourishes and Intriguing Detail

If you are a professional marketer or a savvy consumer, you will recognize these maxims:

  • A brand is the sum of your experiences
  • Everything you do defines your brand
  • A brand is a set of differentiating promises
  • A brand signals a set of expectations
  • What you promise must be delivered

So you get it. A brand is a system. The parts must work together consistently. This theory is based on human behavior. Brand theory is specifically built upon two things. You have a longstanding and fulfilling relationship with a brand because it represents who you are and there is trust.

Think of this in terms of a close human relationship. Our dearest friends have Brands-are-People-Featurebeen there when we needed them, offered sound advice, and supported and subtly steered our choices. They have done this over time and we have done the same for them. It is healthy, reciprocal and emotional.

Once again, none of this is too shocking. We know this intuitively and in theory but there is one thing we may not always recognize when it comes to relationships and to branding. We tend to remember the big events and experiences. That can be a friend who saw us through a breakup or a brand that outperformed our expectations. The big stuff always stands out.

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The Best in Cause Marketing

Swystun Communications contributed to PRNews’ 7th edition of the CSR and Green Guidebook. Our paper, Changing People’s Behavior: 8 Best Practices in Cause Marketing, is included along with submissions from JetBlue and Time Warner Cable. We cover the efforts of Uber, LUSH, H&M and Gucci. You can purchase it here and here is an excerpt on Gucci’s “Chime for Change”…

Building on the survey results and interviews, we looked at a select number of campaigns cited as best practice examples. One we heard repeatedly was Gucci’s “Chime for Change”. Robert Triefus, Gucci’s Chief Marketing Officer describes the investment, ”Chime for Change aims to realize a world where girls and women have the safety and protection they need to 1. Gucci Chime Adthrive.”

It was launched at TED and backed by celebrity endorsements from Salma Hayek and Frida Giannini. It has since thrown a mega-concert headlined by Beyonce, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez. Recently it hosted Chimehack 2, “a female hackathon to develop solutions for relevant challenges in today’s world.” Chime for Change has been lauded for directly engaging consumers using a crowd-funding platform called Catapult.

For all of this they get admirable press. Yet, outside of the fashion industry, precious few people have actually heard of it. Respondents noted that Chime for Change has fallen for two common traps in cause marketing. The first involves celebrity. Celebrities are often used as avatars for the cause and a quick way to raise awareness.

This presents a long-term disconnect as consumers may desire to be a celebrity but they cannot easily relate to them. It produces an artificial association with the cause. Second, the cause leverages big events that generate press releases but questionable results. Chime for Change is an amazing premise executed in a traditional way. One respondent said she would be surprised if 1 in 100 of Gucci’s own customers have heard of the program.

8. LUSH a little does a lot

Anticipating through Design: Putting People First

In the twilight of his career, Andy Warhol, stated, “I was always a commercial artist.” Warhol’s success had long invited criticism from design purists. The 6a981a98957a837141a5e2be3fc71c87famous pop artist never saw a conflict, having said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” Today, companies are spending more time, effort and money on design. Apple, Philips, Nike, Nest, and Sonos are making the effort and investing more because it works.

Warhol’s view of business and art helps define an approach I coined called People-First Design. The goal is to make it seem that when someone experiences a product or service it feels like it has been designed for him or her alone. This means cleverly balancing utility and aesthetics. Increasingly customers are rewarding companies for products and services that just seem “to fit”.

People-First Design differs from other design constructs because it anticipates nikefuelbanded-1384457340consumer needs and wants. Simply put, it delivers “what’s next”. Akio Morito, co-founder of Sony, and Steve Jobs, Apple visionary, spouted nearly identical quotes on the topic. Morito said, “The public does not know what is possible, we do.” Jobs commented, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The Sony Walkman and Apple iPod are cases in point.

People-First Design can benefit every company. Design needs to lead the product development process. Jobs noted the opportunity this represents, “We don’t have a good language to talk about this kind of thing. In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer… But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation.”

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Seagram’s Ads Predicted the Future

If only The Seagram Company could have seen the future they would avoid what Charles Bronfman called, “a disaster, it is a disaster, it will be a disaster…It was a family tragedy.” He was speaking of the demise of his family’s business founded in 1857. Before the company’s ill-fated forays into entertainment and its breakup of assets that were acquired 1979_seagrams_adby Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Coca-Cola, Seagram’s developed and owned nearly 250 drink brands and was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world.

They were also one of the coolest holding companies of all time. The Seagram Building, the company’s American headquarters at 375 Park Avenue in New York City, was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson. Seagram’s made Canadian whisky a must-have. Crown Royal, 7 Crown, 83 Canadian Whisky, Five Star Rye Whisky, and Seagram’s VO were seen as luxury liquors.

My dad drank Crown Royal exclusively. Open a particular closet in our home back then and you would have drowned in royal blue felt-like bags with a gold tasselled drawstring (later they would be purple). Crown Royal was sold in these keepsake sacs. Kids would keep marbles and other toys in them. Ladies used them for jewelry. My dad housed scores of golf balls in the plush bag.

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Sonos: The Brand and the Business

This article originally appeared in Sparksheet.

CoverSonos

Still hungry after thirteen-years, Sonos focuses on innovation, originality and desirability. But in an increasingly connected world, the brand wants to go beyond background music to become the central nervous system of your house. Talk about subversive.

Earlier this year, Sonos contemporized the look of its brand with a new visual theme representing amplification. This was just another step in a long-term plan. Sonos has long been sought after as a purveyor of wireless speakers, but now the company is aggressively pursuing something much bigger. Sonos not only intends to disrupt the entire music business, it aims to be indispensable in how you run your home.

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Why Most Brand Launches Fail

This piece originally appeared in Brand Quarterly.

In the old days of branding, and I am talking of just ten to fifteen years ago, there began a very predictable playbook for launching a corporate brand or rebrand. It borrowed a great deal from traditional public relations. It called for some combination of a press release, an unveiling of a new logo at a largish and often garish event, a fresh website, and a mousepad for each employee. Not much has changed in the interim except the mousepads have been replaced with coffee mugs or USBs.

Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention in the life of a business Needless to say, this is all very vacuous, fleeting, often expensive, and delivers limited real results. Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention inWhy-Most-Brand-Launches-Fail-Q1-1 the life of a business. If a company discovers it needs branding, I equate that to a serious call for help. Yet, most continue to launch brands in the most predictable and pedantic ways. It is analogous to conducting complicated surgery and then immediately throwing the patient onto the street. Here are the reasons why the approach is wrong:

It Is A Shock To The System

The way brands are introduced, subscribes to a dated formula suggesting surprise is favorable to clever and gradual familiarization. This is why so many launches are mediocre at best as they end up being near solely evaluated on a logo. Such an approach dramatically marginalizes the exhaustive strategic work that takes place in branding and can demean the practice and profession.

The Big Bang Always Fizzles

It is appropriate to pick one day where the brand debuts or relaunches but that should be thought of as a milestone within a larger framework. Big one-time launch events have a shelf life roughly lasting their actual duration. A bit of press may follow, but overall it is a frivolous tactical approach that is quite lazy and entirely unimaginative.

It Is A Gigantic Missed Opportunity

A brand launch must not be viewed as a short-term activity. Launches can and should be sustained strategic and creative campaigns that leverage (and justify) such a big investment over a longer-term.

The alternative to this dated and boring approach is quite simple. It calls for a three-phase communications program. The phases are Preparation and Familiarization, Introduction and Launch, and Brand-to-Market. The three work together to ensure the brand has the best chance of making a material impact on the business right out of the gate and going forward.

Preparation And Familiarization (3 Months Prior To Launch):

This phase takes into account that desired audiences need to understand and embrace the brand not be surprised by it. I recommend an array of substantive teasers and outright changes to the content of communications that simultaneously hints at and begins the introduction of the new brand. This shrewdly acclimatizes those integral to the brand’s success even before the “official” launch. It does not shock the system. It subtly co-opts and prepares.

Introduction And Launch (1 Month):

This does not suggest that the launch is exactly one month in duration. It suggests that the launch is intensive and longer than one day. By all means, pick a day for anniversary purposes and throw a party but frame it in a rich series of more involved events that tantalize, progressively reveal, share and celebrate the new brand.

Brand-To-Market (6-9 Months):

Any brand consultancy that departs after handing off the brand guidelines is doing a massive disservice. This phase details how the brand will come to life once the banners at the launch party have come down. It is a deep-dive that directs and focuses the company’s communications to support the brand and get the intended benefits of greater awareness and increased sales. It focuses the communication spend and activities in the framework of a tailored go-to-market strategy.

This approach may seem more involved, and that is because it is – because it needs to be. It also challenges accepted convention by proposing roughly a year of communications versus a day. This does not have to be any more expensive. It is possible to work with your existing marketing and communications budgets to achieve this level of effort. This demands being clever, not loud or costly, and provides the brand with the best possible chance of succeeding.

Why-Most-Brand-Launches-Fail-Q1

 

Marketing’s New Myopia

The marketing and advertising world is full of lore. These stories often take on a life on their own and grow with each telling. Many revolve around famous campaigns. DDB’s 1960’s ad, “Daisy”, has been given credit for helping Lyndon B. Johnson defeat Barry Goldwater. It also landed Maxwell Dane, a partner in the agency, on Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List”. This political ad, like the “I Love New York” cam paign have many claiming outright authorship or at least participation i-love-ny-t-shirt-whiteon the team.

New York’s iconic tag line is often attributed to Milton Glaser who is said to have creatively borrowed and built upon the idea from a Montreal radio station. It turns out that CJAD Montreal’s campaign titled “Montreal, the city with a heart” was of great influence and represented the creative spark. Mary Wells of Wells Rich Greene also lays claim in her book to this forty year old, highly successful bit of place branding.

Absolut Vodka made a fairly indistinct bottle one of the most recognizable in the world. The original campaign, which featured print ads showing bottles “in the wild,” was so successful that they continuted for 25 years. It is the longest uninterrupted ad campaign in history and comprises over 1,500 separate ads. When the campaign started, Absolut absolut-vodka-absolut-peak-1207had 2.5% of the vodka market. When it officially ended in the late 2000s, Absolut supplied half of all imported vodka in America.

A few years back while working at Interbrand I heard a grand story about Peter Arnell of the Arnell Group. Both businesses were part of Omnicom. Peter was a noted character and larger than life. In fact, he was quite large in stature and took it upon himself later to lose a significant amount of weight. He was also known to be an exceedingly tough boss but most agree he possesses a brilliance for positioning products and services.

This particular story involved a prospective pet food client who was bemoaning the lack of growth in their industry. They presented Peter with undeniable evidence that pet food was a stagnant market. They could at best hope to steal a couple of points from aggressive competitors. Peter’s eyes may have glazed over looking at the pie charts and bar graphs. At this point, he is said to have made a dramatic pronouncement along the lines of, “I know how to double your market and revenue.” Read more

Storytelling is Problem-Solving

“Storytelling is not what I do for a living – it is how I do all that I do while I am living.”

Donald Davis, Storyteller and Author

Life throws at us a never-ending stream of challenges and opportunities. Much of our success and happiness depends on how we greet them. This is illustrated in a quote from Ashleigh Bright, “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” Or this one from Howard Norberg, “Life is a cement trampoline.” Both are clever but as Voltaire once said, “A witty saying proves nothing.” There is also the fact that how we view and address life matters most.

Our lives are incredibly complex and require life-long, daily problem-solving. Stories help us because they document prior experience and future potential. By reading or hearing the stories of others, we find the strength and insight to help address our own problems and pursue new opportunities. This has never been home-in-line-image-3more true than in our times. Maarten Schäfer noted the reason why, “In this time of ‘information overload’, people do not need more information. They want a story they can relate to.”

Great stories are unquestionably most valuable when they lead us to real decisions. Stories help us make sense of who we are and the world in which we live. They propel and aid us through life. They do so much for us.

Stories help us find a mate, become craftsmen, spurn adventure, convince us of a point-of-view, and challenge us to connect through empathy. They are a basic, yet rich, building block of human interaction and societal construction. And they are incredible problem-solvers.

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Pop-Up Retail: Where Will It Go Next?

In 1997 Patrick Courrielche devised what was later called a one-day “ultimate hipster mall.” This is notable for two reasons. First, it was one of the first examples of what we know now as a pop-up retail. Second, I was unaware that the term “hipster” existed in 1997. My research shows it was coined in the 1990’s but did not become uber popular until the 2010’s. Did you notice that I fit “uber” into that sentence. Did you also notice that I am wildly off topic because this is supposed to be about pop-up retail?

Courrielche’s event was actually called The Ritual Expo. It was the catalyst for companies that liked the idea of creating short-term experiences to promote their brands to specific audiences. It prompted AT&T, Levi-Strauss, and Motorola to work with Courrielche on pop-up shopping experiences.

This form of retail goes back before 1997. Circuses, ice cream trucks, farmer’s markets, hot dog stands, and even the old bookmobile rate as pop-ups. For decades, Halloween shops have popped h-m-pop-upup prior to October 31st every year. Even the seasonal Christmas tree sellers meet the definition of a pop-up retailer. One could argue that many of the 5th Avenue flagship stores in New York are longstanding pop-up shops. That is because few make money from those locations and maintain the investment for awareness only.

The format has multiple benefits for the brand. It allows an interesting connection with existing customers while making a splashy introduction to new ones. Awareness tends to be the biggest benefit and not only for the foot traffic who happen by. Pop-ups are notorious for gaining traditional media and social media attention. As a whole, the investment is relatively reasonable. The square footage costs and promotion are upwards of 80% cheaper than a traditional retail store.

Pop-ups are also mini-labs of product development, customer service, and brand positioning. They pop-up-shopare active test centers. The format is ideal for launching new products, engaging new consumers and entering new territories. The Lion’esque Group specializes in pop-up retail. Their research shows that the average pop-up sees a 35% increase in sales from doors open to 6 months after doors close. As well, 50% off these pop-ups see an average increase of 30% on social media engagement over the lifespan of the pop-up shop. So they can pay off in multiple ways.

However, like any retail and marketing innovation there can be failure. Location, timing, weather, positioning, authenticity, value, uniqueness and other factors all come into play when conceptualizing and delivering a pop-up experience. Success is determined by pursuing fewer uniqlo-high-line-roller-skate-rink-06goals. I have witnessed Lululemon’s pop-up at the yoga festival, Wanderlust. Sales are not a goal. It exists to help spread the gospel of yoga through henna tattoos, music DJs, and comfortable seating to hang out and discuss downward dogs (by the way, I have never done yoga, the festival is held in near my home).

Creativity is key to pop-ups. Once upon a time, Ebay invited six interior designers to furnish an entire New York City penthouse. The designers were given a limited budget and could only use furniture and accessories purchased through Ebay.com. More recently, HBO funded a Game of Thrones container pop-up in Los Angeles and Marmite spread their acquired taste by popping up in London in the form of a cafe. This August, Dubai Airports’ duty free retailer, Dubai Duty Free and fashion and fragrance house Puig have opened the world’s first airport pop-up shop for its new fragrance collection, Herrera Confidential, at Dubai International Airport.

All this proves is pop-ups have longevity. And they are attractive to a wide variety of brands. Pond’s IMG_0194Cold Cream, Havaianas, Kate Spade, Dockers, Crown Royal, Gucci, HP, Method, Louis Vuitton, Meow Mix, and Hermes have all “popped-up”. UGG, H&M, and Uniqlo are popping up at the moment and Warby Parker will soon be joining with Nordstrom’s on a unique pop-up installation within select stores.

Statistics on pop-ups are a little thin but a new report out of the UK from EE and the CEBR suggests the pop-up retail sector is growing at 12.3% a year. They will hit £2.3bn in revenue 2015 and employ more than 26,000 people. The study estimates that Britain hosts more than 10,000 pop-ups and more than 10% of British retailers plan to open one in the next five years.

For all of the hype and news around online retailing, we still make 93% of our purchases in physical stores. Pop-ups are an interesting linking strategy between those locations and what happens online. For that reason and the others covered, they are definitely here to stay. What will be fascinating is how they evolve. I think they will mirror what has happened in advertising. That is less disruptive ads and more and more native ads. So my bet is they will move from being disruptive “pops!” and instead will be more seamlessly embedded into our society.

The Evolution of the TV Tray Table

Remember those gaudily decorated, cheap metal fold-out trays? With the advent of a television in every home in the 1950’s, families soon needed a way to hold food and beverage items while watching one of the three available channels. The TV tray table quickly became a must-have. Their IMG_2165design and ubiquity make them an undeniable pop culture icon.

So what came first the TV tray table or the TV dinner? National advertising for TV tray tables first appeared in 1952. Two years later, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The TV dinner tapped into excitement over television and the tray table was there to literally lend support. By 1960, nearly 90% of American homes had a television and a similar percentage had a TV tray table set.

My family had one. There is a pretty good chance you had a set too. They were loyal little things. We know Walter Frederick Morrison invented the Frisbee, Gregory Goodwin Pincus devised the oral contraceptive pill, Bette IMG_2164Nesmith Graham came up with Liquid Paper, Richard T. James brought us the Slinky, and William Greatbatch tinkered until he had the pacemaker. Sadly, the inventor of the TV tray table has never been credited.

The original models consisted of a metal tray with grips mounted underneath and a set of tubular metal legs with rubberized tips. The grips secured the legs, which could be opened up to support the tray, or collapsed for storage. When not in use the four trays were housed in a rack out of the way but always within reach.

TV tray tables are retro because for a time it seemed that they had entirely disappeared. That is, unless you happened across them in an aging family member’s home or at a garage sale where they stood like sad sentinels next to dusty wooden golf clubs and rusty gym weights. The fact is they never went IMG_2162away.

I am here to tell you that they evolved. In fact, when I set out to write this I contemplated calling it, “The Return of the TV Tray Table”, but that is inaccurate. They can be found in homes everywhere albeit in slightly modified, more progressive forms. These helpful friends are examples of furniture Darwinism in the home.

Early tray patterns included nature scenes, food illustrations, and later even television characters. The look of the trays emulated aesthetic trends of the day. See, they were always adapting. The original tray tables are still made today, some in retro styles mimicking the IMG_2158old ones. Others now come in sleek metal and wood modernist constructions.

The trays are marketed not only as platforms for food but as side tables, desks, and beverage trays. The recent retro fascination with repurposing and reusing items from yesteryear extends to the TV tray. They are popular particularly in small living spaces given they can be tucked away. In this era of Netflix binge TV watching and continuous Internet connection, more and more meals are being consumed in front of a screen. This may be sad for society but guarantees a long life for the TV tray table in all its incarnations.