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Federal agency blogging, ethics and branding

Social media is all the rage among federal communicators today - all of
us are talking about how to implement it. And one of the most mainstream
elements of social media in the federal government so far is blogging.
Here are some thoughts on blogging ethics and the connection to
government branding.That the guardians of taxpayer money are speaking directly to citizens
is a good thing. But the rise of social media technology like blogs
brings with it a host of ethical questions and issues that have to be
dealt with. A key example is representation. Two common sense components
here--and there may be further legal/ethical requirements as well
(obviously this is not formal advice!)1. When an agency executive writes a blog on the agency's official
blogsite, we the public assume that they are speaking on behalf of the
agency. Yet the blog medium is inherently a reflection of one's personal
thoughts. There needs to be a disclaimer on the site distinguishing
between the two.2. This on…

What prevents total brand alignment - in government or anywhere?

I just posted this in GovLoop.com - see what you think:

1. Lack of understanding about what branding is - misconception that it's just a logo or seal when in fact it's about rallying employees and the public around your clear, compelling MISSION or identity

2. Fighting within the agency about who is going to get the spotlight - the sense that if the agency overall has a brand, then my particular subgroup will not get recognized for its work

3. Related to #2, lack of understanding of brand architecture - that a brand can be organized to accommodate various sub-brands without compromising the overall identity. The tendency is to think in extremes - either there is one brand overlord at HQ who won't let anyone else have their own identity, or there is a completely decentralized system where any logo goes.

4. Chain of command thinking - failure to see that a brand is only as good as the people who support it. You can't tell employees what to do and how to feel. You can only ed…

Do you have the level of the brand right?

Should your brand have an identity at a very high level or a very
specific one? This is a critical question (technically called a "brand
architecture" issue) but my sense is that it is often ignored in favor
of just "going to market" with whatever new product, promise, premise or
idea someone thinks should constitute a brand.Big mistake. Big potential waste of money.Need to decide who your audience is, what they want/need, and whether
they are best served by a high level brand (so you include your brand in
that one) or a very specific granular one (so you start a new one).Be more strategic ahead of time and save yourself headaches down the
road.

Miscellaneous Tweetlike thoughts after attending an employee engagement conference

Military in the lead of branding/social media - what are they doing right?Marketers need to become technologists and evangelists for technology (and vice versa) - because marketing/branding and technology increasingly go hand in hand
Related -- tech for tech sake still prevalent - leaves the user clueless - much more marketing + organizational development insight needed hereGenerational differences - boomer, x, y - impact technology adoption -younger must teach olderToo much focus on macro adoption of technology - need focus on micro level to get to what works at broader level
Issue of when to adopt technology hasn't gone away - can't be first in, can't be too late eitherRemember the user perspective - why should I learn this?
Training vastly underestimated in terms of importanceTraining should go hand in hand with customization for user - make it work the way user needs it toWhat is the strategic goal? We don't ask that enough (in any context)
Role of email in soci…

Templates, automation, and branding

Related to templates, which have obvious implications for branding, is
automation. Idea here is
- automate repetitive tasks through technology
- teach people to use the tools
- free them up to do more important workBranding is something that should be done in the bckground not something
that should be discussed, debated, and reinvented and reinterpreted
endlessly until it loses its impact and weastes people's time. Templates
and automation help achieve that.

What I'm learning lately

Branding is king but its a subset of marketing. You are always trying to
sell something. Never forget that and try to build a Coca-Cola image for
its own glorious sake.Also technical execution is critical. You can have great ideas and great
plans but the Powerpoint guru wins. Or in branding, the good template
that is comprehensive and usable.Finally there is focus. You cannot do it all at once. Pick a few areas
to focus on and fight fires only 25% of the time.(Of course all of this is subject to conflict, change, and debate.)I'm going to start making more general observations here as its all
relevant to Total Branding in the end.

Branding when there is no brand

Be aware that you will sometimes need to brand when there is no brand. To create consistency when none exists. To develop guidelines when you know they will be retracted later on. Take the Total Branding approach and accept this reality as a given. Don't get upset - take it as an opportunity to expand your skills in strategic thinking and implementation. Remember that

1. The brand exists anyway - whether or not someone "decides" that it does
2. There is never such a thing as total brand alignment; and
3. Even partial alignment is better than none.

Now get out there and do your best.

Total Branding and Social Media - Can These Seemingly Opposing Paradigms Be Reconciled?

Usually people don't think of branding and social media as opposites. They just talk about how to deliver the brand through social media. But in point of fact, from a certain perspective, branding and social media represent two completely different paradigms:
Branding is about delivering a consistent message to create a consistent imageSocial media is about saying whatever you want to say without regard to imageThe way I see it is as follows:The goal of branding should be the creation of a message that is consistent yet authentic.That way, whatever social media results from the brand (whether it's Tweets, blog posts, comments, or whatever), it will sound like you. Don't lose sight of the importance of linking branding and social media together. If your brand is phony your social media will destroy your image.To avoid the phony brand syndrome, here is one practical thing you can do: Think from a Total Branding perspective--maximum alignment for maximum impact--no brand is ev…

Total branding and the financial crisis

Total Branding is about aligning an organization's functions with its culture and communication despite the fact that achieving total alignment is realistically impossible. In an absence of total alignment you basically do the best you can.

We see this approach in action with respect to the bailout. Both candidates are trying to align their operations with their culture and communication for maximum impact in an environment where:

1. There is cultural dissension within each side about how to fix the situation (e.g. the bailout bill is contested)

2. There appears to be inability or resistance within each side to communcating about how it happened, except to vaguely blame "Wall Street"

3. The public is divided about what it wants--bailout vs. no bailout

As a result, from a Total Branding perspective, here is how I look at the candidates' approaches to the issue:

1. Demonstrate functional competence - good job on both sides but undifferentiated: Say that they are serving the …

Random thoughts for today - total branding and communication

A few things I don't have time to write in depth about, but want to mention and hopefully will expand on in later posts:

1. An easy way to tell if your brand is aligned is to look at the quality of your meetings. If people are disengaged, unfocused, or focused on the wrong things (like side conversation/humor), 9 times out of 10 your brand is out of sync.

2. Teamwork is an overused word but it has a critical impact on brand alignment. If your organization is experiencing turf wars of any kind, particularly when it comes to policy people not communicating with brand people or brand people not collaborating with each other, your brand is not going to work. Remember, it's all about the OUTSIDE image...the purpose of internal communication is to feed into that.

3. Communicators need to train their clients NOT to ask for immediate communication plans. Any doofus can go onto Google or get a book and create a generic comm. plan (or consult the old comm. plan and rework it into a new one…

Bring the brand specialist in upfront

I hear it all the time and have been there too. The designer and the corporate marketing communications team (let's assume the typical setup - not integrated) are brought in at the last minute to "finish the job" on a project by "getting the word out". Nobody has consulted the marcom team to see if the project makes sense from a marketing perspective, is appealing to the customer, may have pitfalls, etc. And they think the designer is just there to slap a pretty picture on top, no need to coordinate with the strategic message or the overall brand. Lots of time and money wasted this way.

How to get over this if you are drawn into it?

1. Be honest - ask questions, raise specific concerns.
2. Stick to your core competency. Don't question the business model unless you have the technical knowledge to do so.
3. Partner with the designer if you're organizationally stovepiped. Get on the same page.
4. Do the best you can. Focus on simple, clear, credible messages ab…

25 Ways To Use Technology for Brand-Aligned Communication

This week I spoke at the ALI Strategic Internal Communication in Government conference about using technology to facilitate internal communication.

The starting point was that everything a communicator does, including the use of technology, should ultimately be in support of total brand alignment.

Then I progressed into a discussion of technology itself, and how to implement it effectively given a specific mission, culture, communication style, and desired brand.

Here is some actionable advice on this subject:
Put your logo on every communication—external website, intranet, blog, etc.
Work within the culture, not against it, to facilitate technology adoption.
Keep your message consistent across channels/platforms.
Purposely customize your external website to an internal audience.
Use technology to facilitate human interaction, not replace it.
Reassess user rights frequently to protect against information leaks.
Accept criticism (e.g. via blog) but insist that employees put their name on it.
Trea…

Leaders apologizing and branding

Financial Week has an article (January 28) about apologizing and members of the C-suite.

"Mattel’s Robert Eckert apologized for lead-tainted toys; JetBlue’s David Neeleman for letting passengers rot on the runway; and Apple’s Steve Jobs for uneven iPhone pricing."

Why are business leaders apologizing so much?

The article answers that "Branding 101 taught us all that a brand is more than a product name or a company logo and that loyalty can’t be bought with an ad. Brand loyalty is a gift from customers to companies that consistently earn their trust and demonstrate credibility over time. It can also be taken away at any time."

What this means is that consumers are ever-ready to withdraw their trust from brand leaders and take it elsewhere. It is upon brand leaders, therefore, to consistently demonstrate that they are worthy of brand trust.

The article tells leaders to be always mindful of whether their communication is good for the brand. Not only that, leaders should op…

Employer branding and Generation Y (well, all generations)

The Caymanian Compass features an article about employer branding and Generation Y.

The article notes that a 2004 study by Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Institute of the Future found six basic workplace values that this generation holds. These are:

1. More loyal to the same company than Gen Xers
2. "Craves a sense of purpose and meaning"
3. "Desire access to mentors"
4. "Want to work in a tech-savvy environment"
5. "Open social networks...are important to them"
6. "Work-life balance"

How does this translate into branding?

Deloitte uses the “Develop–Deploy–Connect” model:

1. Develop people by offering "real-life learning opportunities"
2. "Deploy key individuals by working with them to identify...deep rooted skills, interest, and knowledge, and then use that information to help find the best fit"
3. "Connect them by providing the tools and guidance they need to...build networks"

The article cautions that "your em…

Switching agencies and branding

A new article in Adweek (January 14, 2008) reports that in a survey of chief marketing officers, “nearly half of marketers plan to fire at least one of their agencies and change direction,” according to the Chief Marketing Officer Council’s second annual forecast.A total of 825 chief marketing officers were surveyed. They are turning “away from traditional advertising and public relations and toward ‘customer-facing’ and lead generation programs such as event marketing and e-mail.”Nearly half of respondents, 45 percent, said they were going to change agencies in 2008. They plan to fire their Web design and development firms, direct marketing agencies, general ad agencies, and PR firms.The article quotes Dave Murray, executive vice president of the CMO Council, who said that Web “is the top priority in terms of brand, customer engagement, insight.” And chief marketing officers are sick of “a lack of innovation,” “no value-added thinking,” and “poor creative.”Not that they’re spending l…

Branding and the upcoming U.S. presidential election

The News & Observer (January 8, 2008) recently published a negative article about branding in the political arena, “Choosy voters choose to go beyond branding.” It’s about the “fusion of ‘branding’ and politics that characterizes not only the way candidates and consultants pitch campaigns to the public, but also the way many of us now see public life.” The author calls this fusion “branditics.”The author argues that “branditics” reduces the complexity of politics to simplistic messages, and says “Brands work better in grocery stores than in the White House.”The writer understands branding well: It is indeed “the process of taking something on a shelf or in an office park and transforming it into an emotional experience that pulls us in, makes us believe, inspires us to buy. A strong brand captures, compresses and conveys an organization's values, the promise of its products and the guarantee of a consistent customer experience.”However, he does not believe that potential pres…

Country branding – an instructive article on Brand Kenya

Nairobi’s Business Daily (8 January 2008) carried an excellent opinion piece on what Kenya needs to do to build a country brand, especially in the face of the current instability. “Whereas we had reached a point where Kenya was seen as a case study in political tranquility and economic stability, we are now being showcased in the international media as a war-torn economic time bomb,” writes the author, the CEO of Interbrand Sampson East Africa. “One solution to counter this is to create a strong country brand.”According to the writer, a country brand offers the following key benefits, and I strongly agree:Improves a nation’s image in general (obviously)Aligns citizen’s way of thinking about the country “and speeds up healing and reconciliation”… “builds up patriotism and pride.”Positions a nation “way above its peers”…offers a “competitive edge” as countries “compete…for tourism, inward investment and export sales.” (Maybe this is three separate benefits?) Specifi…

Why U.S. federal government agencies don’t brand themselves

In an article titled “Treasury's £2.4m on ‘image’,”U.K.’s The Sun newspaper states that England’s “Treasury chiefs have blown £2.4million in a year on image makeovers. The cash was spent on logos, branding and marketing staff to promote the work of the department and its agencies.” The article notes that the “biggest spender was the shambolic HM Revenue and Customs, notorious for losing the bank details of 25 million people. It lavished £390,000 on seven brand management staff plus £750,000 on a marketing team last year. Chancellor Alistair Darling blew another £130,000 on ‘branding manuals’ for his departments.”The article goes on in this vein, eventually quoting Tory spokesman Philip Hammond, who said: “It beggars belief that departments that are supposed to be responsible for the public purse are lavishing millions on self-promotion.”This kind of story, in a nutshell, could be a key reason why U.S. federal government agencies don’t brand themselves. They could be concerned that…

McDonald's goes after Starbucks, Starbucks freaks out

Today’s Wall Street Journal (January 7, 2008) reports that McDonald’s is looking Starbucks square in the eye and going after its core customer.“Starting this year, the company's nearly 14,000 U.S. locations will install coffee bars with ‘baristas’ serving cappuccinos, lattes, mochas and the Frappe, similar to Starbucks' ice-blended Frappuccino.”Greedy McDonald’s forecasts $1 billion in annual sales from the program.The move is a good sign and a bad sign for Starbucks. It’s a good sign in that it recognizes just how mainstream “upscale coffee” has become—it validates Starbucks’ position as a key purveyor of that type of drink.It’s bad for Starbucks for the very same reason—it shows how commoditized the Starbucks experience is—the very thing that Starbucks chairman (now CEO) Howard Schultz warned about in his famous leaked memo of February 2007. It is sort of shocking that things have gotten to this point. Starbucks was supposed to be the polar opposite of a commodity purveyor o…

Customer service, social media, and branding--why brand makers should never, never give up trying

In an article for Brandweek, blogger Shel Holtz talks about the proliferation of “social media” (online participatory sites), including social networking sites and blogs. He cites a study showing that “22% of U.S. consumers are using social networking sites, a 5% increase in just one year.” What’s more, “19% use blogs, a 13% spike. And use of these channels has doubled among people over 55.”What this means, says Holtz, is that consumers are more often “experiencing your brand in places where you have no control. What’s more, they’re making purchase decisions based on those experiences.” It’s true: people are going online to learn about brands from bloggers, people who leave testimonials on e-commerce websites, friends, and family. Interestingly, they are NOT learning much about brands from company-sponsored websites. So the situation, for brands, is pretty dire: let’s not even talk about co-creation! We’re approaching a situation of customer-creation.

Holtz pairs this with the fact tha…

Sneak preview: new John Wiley book on branding

In a week, I will be interviewed for a book on aligning the internal and the external brand. The book, which is as yet untitled, is being published by John Wiley. The author of the book is Dr. Claudia Fisher, founder, Lemontree Brand Strategy. With Claudia's permission, reprinted below is the text of the interview and my early written responses to the questions.
1. Aligning internal and external brand activities is supposedly common sense. However, if one observes brand reality out there, this does not appear to be so.Do you think this is a topic of importance/ relevance/ interest? Yes, it is critical. If the internal and the external brand are not aligned the result is a fragmented brand and that is not sustainable in the marketplace. Why do you think alignment is so challenging? Because organizational leaders often do not receive upward feedback, they do not understand that employees are every bit as much stakeholders as external customers. They don…

Word of mouth marketing and "cheeseheads"

First, an item from Brandweek’s December 31 edition: word-of-mouth marketing is “projected to hit $1.3 billion this year, up almost 33% from $981 million in 2006,” and “spending is expected to triple by 2011.” This is due to “the explosion of communications on the Internet” and “the acceptance of WOM as a separate discipline beyond ads and public relations.”This makes sense to me. In an era where the consumer is taking increasing control over marketing, it pays to spend money to facilitate WOM. What the article doesn’t explain, though, is what all this money is being spent on if word of mouth is mostly done for free, by consumers leaving feedback on e-commerce sites, social networking sites, and blogs. True, there is a mention of a company that “leverages relationships with artists in underground New York scenes to build buzz.” But that’s just an isolated case. I would like to know more about how companies are paying to generate WOM. Speaking of WOM, Wisconsin is generating some buzz …

In defense of brands

The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald yesterday ran an article, “Twelve steps to a brand-free life,” by an individual who a short time ago beat his obsession with consumer labels and shopping. The author had been an avid fan of brands like Adidas and Apple, “to the point that I could not contemplate buying products made by their rivals.” He relied on brands “to increase my confidence at meetings (BlackBerry) or my status at the bar (Ralph Lauren).” He used to “escape the office to shop.”This person, on deciding to “destroy my previously branded life,” set up “a public bonfire in central London, fuelled by my possessions. Twenty years of designer shopping went up in smoke.” The author says that “I have struggled to live my life brand-free ever since.” However, this is difficult because brands and their messages are everywhere.The author states that “The message behind every brand is we will feel better for consuming more” but “consumer culture has transformed our lives for the worse. W…