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Showing posts from August, 2011

We Sell Things They Don't Need

“When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.”
The classic definition of marketing is to represent the hammer. The marketer doesn’t invent the hammer, but s/he finds potential customers for it. Then explains why a hammer is desperately needed. Even if – especially if – it had never occurred to you that hammers could be useful.
The classic definition of branding, of course, is to create the impression – deserved or not - that one particular kind of hammer is superior to all the rest and therefore deserves a price premium.
Both of these paradigms involve thievery, which is why people hate marketers so much. * While it is theoretically possible that everyone needs a hammer, it is actually true that many people can live just fine without them. Yet it is a rare marketer that will turn a customer away – “Who are we to deny them choice?”* It is also possible that some brands deserve to charge more. But it is also pretty common for a pretty, shiny, labeled hammer to do just the same thing …

Brand magic is the tension between infrastructure and creativity

As I get older I realize more and more that creativity without structure is useless. That's what a brand is, in the end...a vital container for creativity. One that gives it form, and shape, and life and vitality. Without the container you have nothing. I used to be against the container. I used to think that containers were inherently crushing. That's not true. You can see this dynamic in an office setting of course. You can have lots of creative work to your name, but if you don't keep a portfolio, case studies and metrics then what have you accomplished really? At the moment it was great, but then's all forgotten. Sometimes I think that the sole purpose of creative awards shows is to get visual and verbal communicators to find all their work and get it organized. The awards stuff is just the icing on the cake. The nicest thing is when you find what you've done and get it all into place. The container - the infrastructure - is of course the central conce…

Sold! The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards

You know a show is good when the entire family gathers around the TV to watch. And since the point of having TV shows is to sell things, I'm thinking the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards (#VMA) was a huge success - not just for the celebrities who appeared but for three product brands in particular:1.Kia. Hip commercial, hip music, cool design. All together I would consider a brand I would never have thought of before. Terrific.2.Taco Bell. That was an appetizing, funny commercial with a strong brand image if ever I’ve seen one. The part where the guy handed out the tacos to the grandmas at the lawn party was hilarious.3.“The Hunger Games” – great promo, great idea. Sold, sold, sold.Why did the VMAs work so well?1.The choreography, the stage, the lightshow, everything was so polished and absolutely amazing. I felt like I was watching a $350-a-ticket concert for free. 2.I loved the variety of stars they put onstage – from Kim Kardashian to Katie Holmes to Tony Bennett. 3.Speaking of Ton…

My 20-Brand Checklist for Hurricane Irene

1. Spaghetti-os + Velveeta Mac & Cheese 2. OXO can opener 3. Hefty garbage bags + Charmin T.P. 4. iPod + Kindle 5. Bounty paper towels 6. Skippy peanut butter + Smuckers jelly + Pepperidge Farm bread 7. Life cereal + Fiber One 8. Uncle Ben's ready-made rice in a pouch + Quaker rice cakes 9. Deer Park water + Diet Snapple + Red Bull + Starbucks Frappuccino 10. Energizer batteries Good luck!

Why Government Must Learn To Love Social Marketing

Americans are instinctively mistrustful of the government. It is popular to laugh at what we say, and to believe that we control the media, and in general to talk about social control through "propaganda."Knowing this, and because in fact we cannot use appropriated funds for propaganda domestically, the government is nervous about marketing techniques; rightly so.Unfortunately however, the energy created by this fear dynamic has led us to toss away the baby with the bathwater.The reality is, we live in a marketing culture. It is impossible to get people’s attention unless you know something about how to engage them. And the government has lots of things to tell people – if only so that they can comply with the law and know where to get the basic services that are due to them. In addition, we have transitioned from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, as everyone knows. So while in the past it was OK to say “we spend our time processing paperwork…figuring out how to …

10 communication tips for leaders in times of disaster (#PR)

1. Get in front of the camera, surrounded by people, and send a reassuring message immediately. Put it on YouTube and Facebook. 2. Set up an event-specific website and Twitter hashtag to follow. Aggregate info from various key sources. 3. Stream updates constantly over a dedicated radio channel that people know about. 4. Establish an emergency people can call and text for automated updates. 5. Set up a number people can subscribe to for text updates. 6. Follow up with people when it is over and ask how they are. 7. Assess outreach tools afterward - which were most effective? Which not? 8. Ask employees for suggestions regarding improving crisis plans for the future. 9. Do something light to help people calm down - scale this appropriately for size and complexity of audience. 10. Post photos, messages, Tweets, etc. in an online archive so people can refer to it later. This has an operational use (after action review) as well as a human one (memory book). Good luck!

Citizen service reform --> from the simple to the radical

A friend of mine had to get something done because the government told her to.
The problem is, she didn't know how to follow the instructions because she is elderly and the type on the government form was too small.
She got some help and did what she was supposed to, but then had trouble following up.
This is because there are a lot of phone numbers listed on the website, but none of them are apparently right for her.
There is a message somewhere online about her particular situation, but since she is elderly and the type is small and hard to find, she wouldn't have known it was there unless it was pointed out to her.
How can we help this person and others like her to get what they need from the government? 
I call this "citizen service" rather than "customer service" to distinguish that the government is not a business (though I do think it should be run like one).
From my perspective three three things have to happen - from the short to the medium to the long te…

Shopping to soothe the pain of loss.

When I was five years old I learned to ride my bicycle. My Zayde, may he rest in peace, held onto the back while I sped off. I felt safe knowing that he was behind me and that if I fell he would catch me. I fell over and over again of course. But then he was there. And it wasn't so bad. That year I remember being happy. I had a big Raggedy Ann themed birthday party with all my friends. It wasn't the biggest deal in the world, but to me it was amazing. One day that year I came home from school and my mother motioned to me to sit down on the couch. "Pack your things," she said. "Daddy got another job and we are leaving." I was stunned but I did what she said.  That was the house where I fed the birds with my dad. We used to stand in the doorway that led to the backyard from the kitchen. We tossed crumbs out on to the porch. The birds ate them. I felt the loss of my house acutely that summer. After that we moved somewhere else and my dad traveled for business a lot. …

Beyond Brand Transparency by Dannielle Blumenthal - now on

Well, my new book is out on Amazon's Kindle Store. It's the best of four years of blogging together with 365 inspirational thoughts about the future of brand strategy.In the end, like my grandmother always said, it boils down to one basic idea: Be a mensch. I hope you like the book but more importantly I hope you comment on it. I have published books before, but it is unbelievably exciting to have the power of the publishing pen in your own hands. Good luck - go forward - and as you conquer, be kind. Have a great day, Dannielle Blumenthal P.S. Book cover image by stevendepolo (Flickr Creative Commons)

The coming brand war over business collaboration - and how Microsoft, Google, and Facebook can play to win

Companies that "think brand first" stand a greater chance of success than those who don't. It's a nice theory that also happens to be fact - and this fact has been proven over and over again. (See accompanying graphic from Brand Asset Consulting, favorably comparing the performance of strong brands with the overall S&P 500.)If everybody knows that strong brands do better than weak ones or generics, why does anybody ever deviate from the principles that make brands strong?  The answer I think is not that they ever forget about the brand.  Rather, brand screwups think incorrectly about their brand, in a few respects: * First, they lack a fundamental understanding of what a brand is (an internal organizing principle of the business as well as an external communication tool). So they treat brand just like advertising and change it up when it gets boring. * Second, if they do understand that brand = business principle, they don't know exactly what that principle is su…

The Creepy Dairy Queen Guy & Other Commercials So Bad I Have To Laugh

There was a TV commercial on the other day for water. I'm guessing it's Aquafina, I can't find the ad. If I'm wrong, correct me. (Can't be that good of an ad to start with if I don't even remember who it's for. But anyway.)A bunch of girls in sports uniforms are standing around on the grass. In front of them is a water cooler. Their gym teacher hands them a bunch of colored water (presumably sugar-water drinks). Somehow they decide that regular water is going to taste better than the colored water. I watched that along with the family and we all had the same reaction: "What a stupid commercial!" They made the sugar water look so good, why would anyone have the plain? It's just one of so many marketing fails I just can't believe anyone spends their money on. Look at the Dairy Queen ads for Blizzards. You don't have to sell me on Nutter Butter blended with vanilla ice cream - I am there! But what is with that weird guy who is hawking them? …

Branding vs. the Flash Mob

In recent times we have seen the rise of the "headless" organized crime group where leaders, if they exist, are more like ringleaders who "activate" group members. The group is driven by ideology - a reverse form of brand:* Al Qaeda - "extreme interpretation of Islam combined with claims of a global plot against Muslims" * Wikileaks - "exposing despicable and underhanded actions of governments (and businesses) the world over" * Anonymous/Lulz - "Internet freedom" * Flash mobs - "a random act with the sole purpose of confusing others" Because these groups move so quickly and often so invisibly it is difficult for traditional law enforcement methods to counter them. By the time the police show up, the flash mob is gone. What to do? Basically, use the same tactics these groups are using - to counter them. Really we are talking about brand-based distributed leadership as a tool for law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security, fo…

Restore the American Dream (Our BRAND) To Restore The Economy: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on Piers Morgan (August 17, 2011)

When I was a brand consultant I quickly learned to divide branding into the good and the bad. * Good branding is where you involve the workforce to achieve a collective mission in a way that is economically, socially, and psychologically profitable to all stakeholders involved.  * Bad branding is where you put lipstick on a pig and soak innocent people for their money. I have often thought that good branding applies not only to business but to any organization or any person seeking to achieve a goal.
On the CNN interview show "Piers Morgan Tonight" last night (August 17, 2011) Howard Schultz talked about how he is urging the business community to take matters into their own hands with respect to the economic recovery. He shared some thoughts (actually he is furious at Washington) on how to turn the economy around. Though he didn't say it, he basically espoused the principles behind the Starbucks company, which I consider to be the #1 brand in the world. Schultz really gets i…

25 Signs of a Successful Personal Brand

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize. So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with in…

25 Signs of a Successful Personal Brand

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.

Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize.
So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:
1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with in…

You Don't Exist & The Economy Doesn't Either

Yesterday one of my kids said to her friend: ""Excuse me, you interrupted me. I'd like to finish what I was saying."The friend had been talking over her, around her, up and down ignoring her, for an hour. But she responded as if my kid had no basis for irritation. She said, with a bit of an edge, "So-rry! Like if you want to say something, just go ahead and say it." Obviously that would be a difficult thing to do if you can't get a word in edgewise.It was a snippet of a conversation that had been ongoing all day. But when I thought about it a bit, it occurred to me that just in that day alone, both professionally and personally, both in real life and in the worlds of media, politics and pop culture, I could think of about half a dozen other examples of people being edged out of a conversation by skillful manipulators of body language, word tone, and the English language itself. And it occurred to me that when people are constantly talking past each o…

19 Tips for Engaging A Geographically Dispersed Workforce (Employee Communications)

I know, I know, it would have been cleaner with 20. Feel free to add the last one... 1. Work within the culture, not against it.2. Keep your message consistent across channels/platforms. 3. Customize your external message to an internal audience. 4. Use technology to facilitate human interaction, not replace it. 5. Treat technology as a necessity not an option. 6. Use technology strategically—filter information to the right people at the right time. 7. Don’t over-write—short and simple is best online, where people scan and don’t read. 8. Longer documents should be in deeper links that people can print if they need to. 9. Use technology to inform your employees of an issue before the media does. 10. Customize delivery of information according to employee usage habits—email, online, handheld device, etc. 11. Keep print materials available—just use them sparingly. 12. Use multiple and overlapping channels to communicate—not just one. 13. Collaborate extensively to achieve buy-in. 14. Keep technology …

10 Brands & 5 Ways To Stop Government Squabbling

Right now government has a bit of a brand problem in that people think we're not only lazy, but a bit crazy as well. (Or maybe just dysfunctional.) After all a normal organization, confronted by the threat of collapse, would fight for its own survival. Whereas we seem only to eat our own.What most people don't understand is that 1) government workers actually work pretty hard and care a lot, too and 2) the dysfunction that you see is caused primarily by passionate ideological differences about how best to help our country prosper. Perhaps the worst brand problem government has is the perception that we "live off the people." This one has got to go. For again, the reality is that we don't really have an effective metric for social stewardship - or at least not one that is clearly visible and understandable to all. Meaning, we don't really know when we're winning, except that we can talk about what percentage of money goes directly to operations as opposed t…

5 Personal Branding Tips for a Stock Market Crash

Now obviously isn't the time for niceties so I'll just jump in here with some simple advice. Avoiding the cliches in favor of fresh thinking.1. Divide & conquer on price: In a price-sensitive economy you can't ignore the price wars completely. So establish a value-level brand, a midlevel brand, and a premium brand. Let's say you're a consultant: There are things you do that cost a ton of money, and others you basically give away. If Think Banana Republic, Gap (needs fixing, I know), and Old Navy. 2. Convert from "Mechanical Turk" to "Angie's List": If what you do can be automated, get out of it. Quickly, elevate yourself from a worker to a service provider like no other. Do you answer the phones? Add something to that job that makes an executive's life easier. Run a plumbing business? Walk the dog as a freebie and now you are a "home life support specialist." Wake up and brand yourself differently now. 3. Find a second job or…

Add Your Vision Of The Future To This Huge Google Doc

Mine's The Brandularity - what's yours?

Saving The Economy From Drowning In Tweets

Welcome to the Twitter-land. Here, we think in semi-sentences, taglines, slogans, logos, and links that lead to bullet points. We communicate by other things too: short emails, instant messages and texts. Oh, also, "likes" and "awesomes." We're not complicated people: Who has time? No, everyone's running on a treadmill of some kind. And when they need information, "Give me the high points, please." If it can't fit in 140 characters then we aren't interested. Used to be that people had time to think. I saw someone sitting on a rock in the countryside last weekend. Fishing, the old fashioned way. With a fishing rod and a line. The fisherman sat there the whole time we were there. Not moving. I found it hard to believe. Didn't he have a project to finish, an errand to run, some paperwork to take care of? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that we are headed toward negative economic times pretty fast.  I think we could get out of …

Common-Sense Insight On Innovation: Roy Luebke

This semester, my marketing class at University of Maryland University College had the privilege of hearing guest speaker Roy Luebke, an innovation and strategy consultant, talk about innovation. We were able to ask a few questions of Mr. Luebke, and he was kind enough to give permission for the answers to be shared. I wrote the subheads; the rest is directly quoted. #1 - Culture Blocks Innovation"A firm’s culture is the number 1 barrier to innovation. Keep in mind that most people in an organization are focused on operational efficiency. Anything new upsets that efficiency and causes people to do more work to introduce the new product/service/business model. It disrupts their efficiency. Also, studies have shown that upwards of 80% of people do not like change and will actively work to undermine change. "Senior leaders may want change, but the structure that is in place will resist the change. Leaders need to enable middle managers to make the changes. It is a balance th…

Three Reasons Great Brands Live or Die on Corporate Culture

Many people are under the mistaken impression that brand-building is about selling things. Not only! Branding is for every situation where you want to bring people together to create and deliver value to an external stakeholder. Branding is for business, government, hospital, sports team, high school, church and synagogue and mosque and Buddhist temple - everything. The thing about branding is that it creates value where there was none before. This is hard for people to grasp. But it's very true. And the value comes from a meeting of the minds between employees and the people they serve. Not to torture you with Kabbalah, but we create reality in the mind. We approach situations with a mental framework. And when a group of people get together and build a brand, they turn zero dollars into a reality that can be worth billions. A reality that is worth so much because other people, customers, are drawn to it and want to buy in. Look at the military. Serving is not about the paycheck at a…