Branding Needs Rebranding

The past fifteen years has been amazing for the practice and profession of branding. Its influence and application is undisputed. Branding is now a primary consideration and investment for any business or organization. It is also part of society’s generally accepted lexicon. For fun, over the next few days I ask you to keep track of how many times you hear the word “brand” in any context and how often you say it. You will be amazed at the number especially given that twenty years ago you would be hard-pressed to hear it at all.

To be fair and accurate, branding did not come out of the blue. Arguably, it has been around in a commercial sense for centuries. In the mid 20th century branding was first documented and formalized through the efforts of Procter & Gamble and other consumer products companies. For theiStock_000016171352XSmall next fifty years that is where branding remained. It was mostly applied to cars, colas and confectionary.

At the turn of this century branding exploded. It was soon employed by every type of business and organization (and in too many contexts and situations). Curiously, there is precious little thinking or writing on why this happened. Let me take a stab at it. Think back to 2000 and 2001 before the Dotcom bust.

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Spam’s Last Marketing Frontier

What do you think of when you hear the word “Spam”? And let me clarify that I am talking about the tinned variety. We will get to intrusive communications in due course. For most of Spam’s 78-year history, the product has been disparaged and dismissed as inedible and “Something Posing As Meat” or “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter”. Yet, more than eight billion cans have been sold since Hormel launched the product in 1937.

Americans buy 113 million cans of Spam annually. This means 3.8 cans are consumed every canssecond in the United States. To keep up with demand, the slaughterhouse next to the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota butchers 20,000 pigs a day. So how can we reconcile what is bashed so publicly with what is bought in such mass amounts?

Spam was successful out of the gate having grabbed 18% market share in its first year of sales. By 1940, over 70% of Americans had tried Spam which on any measure is incredible. This was largely attributed to an economy still suffering from the Depression and it began Spam’s longstanding association with low-cost and frugality. Sales still spike when times are tough.

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Top-Drawer Business Books 2014

Welcome to the 7th edition of Top-Drawer Business Books. The listing’s tongue-in-cheek title describes books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. In short, books that are excellent and should be kept within easy reach for repeated reference.

The Top-Drawer list has always been less than traditional (or duplicative). Too many of the other best business book lists are narrow in definition and focus. As Robert Weider said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” That is why this list includes books not categorized as “business”.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading, as John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” This list is built on that premise. We avoid books promising four-hour work weeks because they are fables, how-to books that are vacuous and dangerous, and the content of so-called inspirational works that are trite, ineffectual and soon tossed out when met with the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch and to read books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. This year just 9 made our list appearing in no particular order. Enjoy!

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My IKEA Customer Experience

The relationship I have with IKEA is weirdly ambivalent. I deeply admire their business model and success. The retailer’s clear, contemporary and self-deprecating advertising appeals. Even the faux Scandinavian-named products weirdly please me. However, I cannot stomach walking through their aircraft carrier-sized stores whose layouts were designed by the most sadistic and manipulative consumer behavioral scientists.

On those few occasions when I put myself through the labyrinth I curse my decision just ten feet past the front door. No matter who you are or what you are shopping for, at best, only ten percent of what is on display is remotely relevant to your immediate needs. Yet, if you are like me, you leave the store with one of those oversized contractor flat carts not the wimpy-suburban-mommy shopping cart.

On that flat cart I have been known to pile a Klampen mirror, a collection of Rundlig serving bowls, two styles of giant

Welcome to the prison yard.

Welcome to the prison yard.

family sized laundry baskets, numerous packs of Bastig knobs for kitchen cupboards, a Galant file cabinet, a collection of seventeen scissors with different colored handles, a storage box for other storage boxes, and a twelve-seat dining room set. It may sound super convenient because I found everything I needed but on that occasion I had actually gone to IKEA to buy one bathmat that I forgot to purchase.

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Marketing Lessons from Great Storytellers

I learned long ago that people enjoy buying stories not products. They insert themselves into the narrative when deciding to try and buy a brand. They imagine themselves in a new car and connect with its advertising. The promise of an exotic vacation paints a vivid picture of the potential experience. Marketing has always been about storytelling.

What follows is a selection of quotes from famous writers speaking about their craft. In these are amazing lessons for marketers. The quotes cover motivation, preparation, effort, content, style, quality, challenges, criticism and reward. Each is absolutely applicable and relevant to those who plan and execute marketing strategies.

Motivation

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Albert Camus

iBookstore-Ansicht“I write to understand as much as to be understood.” Elie Wiesel

“The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity.” Bill Watterson

“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” Octavia E. Butler

“I write out of revenge.” William Goldman Read more

Jeff Talks Agency Strategy in Advertising Age

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What Digital Agency Clients, Staff and Lead

 

ers Say in Private
These Shops Market Themselves as Hip, but They’re Actually Pretty Old-School
By: Jeff Swystun

Digital agencies enjoy a reputation of being cool, cutting-edge and creative. They even have a bit of a bad-boy persona because they talk about challenging the status quo. Their offices are hip and their employees are hipsters. They are positioned as the future of marketing and advertising.

In the past year I have consulted to six digital agencies on branding and marketing. Between them they operate in over 12 countries, employing over 2,000. The results are revealing. First up is the dissatisfaction among employees. This cannot be attributed solely to the stereotypical millennial, because,many who shared these experiences were over 35. Comments included:

“We lecture clients about technology when our time and expense sheets are manual.”

“Fun perks promised are always sacrificed because of proposals or client work. I understand business is business, but don’t promise it if you only hand it out when convenient.” Read more

Lululemon Sheerly You’re Joking

Losing $67 million on a massive recall of one of your signature products is serious business. More sheer than normal products, dye leaking from some of the brightly colored pieces and other quality issues are undeniably serious.

So Lululemon Athletica Inc. has responded very seriously. Chief product officer Sheree Waterson has been let go. The company apologized to customers and investors. It changed its manufacturing and quality control processes.downwarddog-300

In short, it responded like it’s Tylenol or Toyota.

But it is not. Lululemon is a yoga lifestyle brand. Inherent in that is some degree of brevity and lightheartedness. I understand that its mission is tied to health and wellness and that it is a significant business, but let’s face it, it’s not a pharmaceutical company. Read more

Promoters of the Unnecessary

Have you ever wondered where you can find bandaids with witty Shakespearean insults printed on them or a tongue cover that will help you swallow your pills or thumbtacks in the shape of thumbs. I suspect that these items do not appear on Wall-Mounted-T-Rex-Head-Hunter's-Trophy-2_sqyour shopping list nor would you even expect they exist.

In this world of needs and wants, these items are in their own league. They are things that we could not even dream of requiring and practically we don’t. I cannot imagine thousands of people demanded that a company produce a large T-Rex replica dinosaur trophy head to hang on a wall.

Getting ahead of the consumer has always existed in business. When asked how much research played a role in the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs cooly replied, “None. It isn’t the consumers job to know what they want.” Of course, there big is a difference between the iPad and a designer chair shaped like female genitalia (yes, it exists). Read more

Nonprofit Brands Depress

Did you know that the World WildLife Fund’s mission is “to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature”? You probably did because over the last several years this organization has grown in influence and now touts 5 million supporters and 5,000 staff. It also appears to sport a serious advertising and awareness budget. The problem is everything it communicates is a problem. I do not care how clever the advertising is…the net result suggests that we humans are just awful and should feel extremely guilty.

The WWF’s current messaging is analogous to the famous Christian Children’s Fund now ChildFund. A few decades back their ubiquitous advertisements featuring sad, malnourished children with spokesperson Sally Struthers initially worked by raising awareness. But after a time they became preachy, judgemental, and downright depressing. People began to change the channel as their own problems took precedent or they became inured to the imagery and cause. Read more