Yum’s Smooth PR Move

bahn-shop-communist-branding-featured

You’ve probably never heard of Yum Brands, but they’re the fast-food giant that owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. Last week they opened Bahn Shop, a Vietnamese-style-street-food shop in Dallas, selling the bánh mì, a popular Vietnamese sandwich that’s starting to catch on in affluent American cities.

But, Banh Shop barely opened their doors before complaints started pouring in from members of Dallas’s Vietnamese-American community. The outrage wasn’t over inauthentic recipes or bad food, it was the shop’s use of a five-pointed red star in the logo.

“Think about a German shop that sells bagels, and the logo has a swastika — what would you think?” asked Thanh Cung, president of the Vietnamese-American Community of Greater Dallas. “That’s exactly what Vietnamese people in the United States feel.”

Cung started a petition to have the red star removed from the logo, saying it evoked bitter wartime memories. Having fought against communist forces in the South Vietnamese army, Cung spent two-years in a prison labor camp at the conclusion of the war where he was starved, tortured and regularly beaten.

In response to the petition and criticism, Yum Brands acted immediately.

“We made a mistake,” said Yum Senior Vice President Jonathan Blum. “It was never our intent to offend anyone, but we see we have made a mistake and in hindsight, we should have recognized this logo could be offensive. As soon as we learned about it, we immediately took action.”

Yum not only removed the logo from the building, leaving it’s new food outpost nameless and unbranded, but they pulled menus, interior signage and employee uniforms.

Blum has even asked for Cung’s help in vetting new branding. “We will design a new logo, and would greatly appreciate your reviewing it, along with other aspects of this restaurant, before we make a final decision,” he said to the community leader via an apology letter. “We hope that you can let us know if there are any other elements in the new logo or aspects of the restaurant that could be perceived poorly.”

While Yum probably should have done a better job during brand development, they clearly responded perfectly in a potentially disastrous situation. Bad PR can be turned into good PR, if handled correctly.

Developing a Brand Story

It’s a crazy, cluttered world out there, especially when it comes to marketing and advertising. There’s more brand pollution now than ever before. With the average consumer being hit by a constant barrage of branding, advertising, messaging and hype, how does a company stand a chance at standing out and connecting with potential consumers?

Theoretically, it’s easy. Just be compelling.

When a company becomes something other than ordinary it suddenly stands out as meaningfully differentiated from others in the same market or industry. And, it’s at that point where an emotional connection is made between the company and their customers. It all happens through a relevant and compelling Brand Story.

Here’s six steps that are extremely useful in developing a compelling brand story.

1) Develop Your Back Story

Back story in fiction writing is a set of events or history invented to lend depth or believability to the main story. In branding it is the background necessary to explain the problem that must be solved for the brand. It includes an thorough assessment of the brand’s past and existing culture as well as problems and opportunities it faces in the marketplace.

“Backstories influence expectations, perceptions and, ultimately, how consumers value a product,” says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the author of New York Times bestselling books, “Predictably Irrational” and “The Upside of Irrationality.”

“Think about the experience of drinking coffee,” Ariely says. “Part of it is the actual smell and the sensation on your tongue, but the other part is what you expect it feels like to drink regular coffee versus . . . coffee that was picked in the mountains of Indonesia.”

2) Create a Brand Persona

Developing a brand persona simply means humanizing it, with a voice and values that come across as genuine and can connect with the consumer.

It’s a highly important step in the process, as brands that successfully take on human like traits are the most revered. People seek them out, become attached to them and assign human personalities to them. After all, brands are like friends, hanging out with them says something about us to the people we know and encounter.

A good example of a company who has successfully created a likable brand persona is Target. Not only has Target clearly distinguished themselves from competitors like Walmart and Kmart by skipping the whole ‘low price’ thing, but they’ve done a great job of incorporating style, design and lifestyle into content. Plus they’ve employed hip, trendy language in everything they do, which has become their friendly, fun brand voice.

3) Develop a Story Brief

A story brief serves the purpose of outlining the entire brand story in ways that promote an empathetic understanding of the brand. It should include story or narrative arc charts, which serve to establish a chronology of the plot or action. This is also the time when you’ll want to develop a strategy around the creative supporting the story and the methods for telling it.  Imagine the story brief as a detailed game plan or internal mission brief.

Here’s a few considerations to keep in mind when developing a story brief:

Tell a real story. Craft your brand story around people and their dreams, not around your products and business challenges or successes. “The best brand stories are irresistible, compelling and provocative,” says Mary van de Wiel, founder, CEO and global brand therapist at ZingYourBrand.com. “The most memorable brand stories tell the unexpected, speak directly to the heart or dare you to live life to the fullest.”

Keep creative simple. The look of your story should reflect the mood and tone of it, and nothing more. A polished story cluttered by elaborate effects or overwrought imagery will only present a disjointed message.

Serialize your story. Find ways and places to tell the story in glimpses. Keep people coming back to discover more.

Give your story momentum. Make it exciting. Build revelations and twists into what occurs over time. Brand stories come alive for people when they feel they are participating in it.

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Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” ― Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

How to Get Your Ideas to Spread

Here’s Seth Godin‘s TEDtalk about a world of too many options and too little time. Godin is the author of Purple Cow, as well as other de rigueur marketing guides that address marketing in the digital age.

While the video is from 2003, it is still, and maybe even more relevant relevant in a world marketplace overwrought with social media.

Godin expresses the importance of marketing mixes and consumer outreach, and emphasizes the  need to stand out in the crowd. But the main point, and what I like best, is the idea that it’s not what we produce (product or service) that has to be remarkable. WE must be remarkable. That other stuff will follow.

Rebranding Made Easy as Pie!

Of course the title of this post is ridiculous.

Rebranding is never easy. It involves a great deal of planning and strategy, a whole lot of hard work and some fantastic collaboration on a million different levels..

But, having gone through a major brand refresh and several small rebrandings, I have come up with these tips for, at the very least, making it just a little easier.

Define Objectives

The first step is defining drivers and key objectives. That means answering questions like, is this a brand refresh or a brand transformation?

Once you understand your drivers, you can focus more clearly on the objectives and deliverables.

For example, a transformation may included a new company name, logo, positioning, messaging and brand identity, whereas a refresh builds on earlier brand progress. That’s not to say that a refresh is easier. In nearly every case, a refresh is going to have a whole series of challenges built in that cannot simply be ignored and likely includes the creation of an entire brand system and architecture. Many times a refresh is needed because a company has not previously established a systematic approach to brand identity, architecture, or brand management. In that case, a color palette, graphic style,  naming convention and brand personality will need to be either created or changed.

Knowing what you need to accomplish, and clearly establishing that as a focus, will save you a lot of headaches during the next steps and the final implementation.

Determine Approach and Scope

The second key principle is agreeing on how to approach your objectives. What is the scope?  Over what time and at what cost?  Who will make decisions besides the CMO, Vice President or Marketing Director (depending on company organization)?

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Branding a Lifestyle of Engagement

Christopher Erb, VP of Brand Marketing for EA SPORTS, is responsible for driving strategy and marketing for the EA SPORTS brand and oversees a cross-functional team that focuses on consumer marketing, licensing, brand identity, and brand partnerships.

Speaking here at TEDxCincy, he explains the way EA SPORTS markets to their consumers by elevating video game releases to be bigger than highly anticipated film premieres. He pioneered applying the theatrical model of partnership and collaboration to video games which is now standard protocol within the industry.

It’s a strategy of engaging the consumer and giving them the power or choice and ownership. To be completely effective, it requires the proper deployment of social interaction in a way that creates a sense of collaboration. The personalization of a product or service, and even the marketing of these goods, breeds passion (and, ultimately, loyalty).

Anyway, enough of my summarizing and interpreting. Watch for yourself and see what you think.

Digital Brand Integration

I’m not really going to go into everything that encompasses branding except to say that it is a whole lot more than merely creating and plopping a logo on everything. If that raises questions, I suggest you refer to a few of my previous posts with regard to branding. The larger concepts you should be familiar with are the notions that good brand strategy incorporates things like relevancy, positioning and differentiation.

Differentiation is probably the most important component of these three.

Differentiation means being different. That stretches across your advertising, products, delivery, packaging and customer service. It means that your company or product will be memorable to you consumer. To accomplish this, everything that you do should be unique, yet consistent. Of course that includes the company name and logo, but it also goes so much further.

I am currently working for a company that is carving out a niche in a crowded market. What makes us different? Our one-of-a-kind customer service. It comes across in everything we do. Someone might say we don’t have the best website, the coolest advertising or the best product (which we know is definitely not true!), but no one will say that we are not completely customer-focused.

Focus is how you maintain your differentiation. It is the consistency in messaging, identity and actions. Focus is the method for staying on track and living up to your unique brand promise (which is how you plan and deliver being different). It can be difficult at times. It’s like slipping off a diet or reverting to old habits. But, truly successful companies are the ones who are disciplined and skilled at staying focused.

The method for delivering this focused differentiation is communication, and in this day and age, that more often than not comes in the form of digital communications or digital marketing. And, Digital Brand Integration is the art and science of creating consistent messaging across numerous digital channels and retaining consistency, even if there are several people working with the brand.

Companies now have to think about a wide array of touch-points where they will either present one-side (or more traditional marketing) communications or actually interact with their consumers. These touch-points include things like affiliate marketing, social media, rich media, email campaigns, search (organic and paid), feed services (e.g. Twitter), Blogs and PR engines. In most cases there will be anywhere from a couple people to a dozen handling marketing on these avenues.

Being successful means integrating the aforementioned brand promise and maintaining strict focus. It’s not easy, especially if you have either a very large, or very small team.

Large teams usually result in mixed messaging because of a typical decentralization of control. It is extremely critical for large team leadership to have real-world experience in the digital arena. This will ensure there is a breadth of knowledge and understanding as to how messaging and focus can be adhered to across all channels. I was recently involved with a company whose marketing leadership had no clear-cut understanding of digital marketing and to say that the brand promise and messaging was murky at best, is a complete understatement.

Small teams are normally overwhelmed and succumb to the process of spreading themselves too thin to retain any sense of focus. I personally believe a small team would be in a far better position to limit their digital marketing efforts, concentrating on perfecting their focus, than to wade off the deep end and try to take on everything at once. Narrowing their reach, with better focus, will be tremendously better for the brand. And, it will create strong launch-off points for growing successful additional digital reach.

Brand building today relies heavily on Digital Brand Integration. It’s walking the walk and talking the talk. It represents the consistency and fulfillment of the differentiation promise, and consumers today are very savvy when it comes to either seeing or seeing through promises.

Microsoft’s New Windows 8 Logo: Yawn!

Microsoft commissioned Pentagram, one of the most well-known, and largest, design agencies in the world, to redesign the logo for the upcoming release of Windows 8.

This is what they came up with:

Microsoft Windows 8 Logo

Before I dive in with my comments, ket’s go back to the basics and look at a couple of other redesign attempts.

Logos, being associated with products or brands really took shape in the late nineteenth century. The first logo, as we might recognize one today, was the bright red Bass Brewery logo. It consisted of stylized lettering and and, what might have been considered abstract at the time, a triangle poised over the company name. That triangle portion of the logo, which may have seemed odd back then, is what is called an ideogram, a sign, icon of symbol that graphically represents the brand in a way that alleviates the need of actual words or names. Think of the Apple logo. That’s an ideogram that is extremely recognizable in any language and culture. One could say the same for the current Windows logo.

Microsoft Windows 7 Logo

When Bass came out with their logo it was new and innovative, now if you don’t have a catchy and memorable logo you could truly jeopardize the potential success of your business. That being said, logo design is not easy. That’s why companies hire agencies like Pentagram to do the heavy lifting. In most cases they have people on staff whose brains are jam packed with everything that one would ever need to know about building a successful brand and designing memorable logos or brand marks. After all, the logo is the visual image that will embody everything that the organization is, stands for, wants to be and promises. And, the logo will foster immediate recognition, and hopefully build upon the feeling of loyalty, amongst customers.

Because logos are so important, especially in our modern, visual world, redesigning them frequently is not only counterproductive, but in some cases foolish.

Take into the consideration the Tropicana logo and carton redesign fiasco back in 2009.

Tropicana Carton Redesign

The people at Pepsi, who own Tropicana, wanted a fresh new look so they hired marketing genius Peter Arnell to tackle the issue. Arnell’s firm came up with the carton above on the right. It was cool and different and made the Tropicana brand look more modern on the shelves. The problem was, people hated the new look. Consumers complained in huge numbers about the redesign in letters, e-mail messages and telephone calls, literally inudating the Pepsi offices. Many described the new packaging as ugly or stupid, and said it resembled a generic bargain or store brand. One email writer went so far to say, “Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice? Because I do, and the new cartons stink.”

Pepsi backpedaled quickly, as Arnell adamantly stood by the new design, and returned the old carton design to store shelves.

A similar story follows the redesign in 2010 of the Gap logo.

Gap Logo Redesign

Almost immediately after announcing the new logo consumers took to the social airwaves and revolted. More than 2,000 comments were posted on Facebook criticizing the decision to dump the old, well-known identity. On Twitter, an account was set up in protest that quickly collected 5,000 followers, and a Make your own Gap Logo website saw over 14,000 parody versions submitted.

Gap’s vice president of corporate communications, Bill Chandler, started the backpedaling within days, saying that they weren’t actually committed to the new logo, but were “open to new ideas.” He went on to explain that it was really about getting people involved in a crowdsourcing event, where the average joe might design their new logo. Of course this seemed illogical considering they’d likely spent a great deal of money having Trey Laird and his New York firm Laird and Partners design the logo with the box protruding from the p. It then proved to be untrue when Gap slipped back to the old logo.

As we see, logo redesign is tricky. And with consumers who are more aware, informed and involved than ever before it could result in a backlash or worse…brand loss.

I personally think the new Windows 8 logo is terrible and can’t even fathom in my mind what Microsoft paid Pentagram to come up with something that is so lacking in character. Microsoft says it’s a return to their roots and insists it is representative of the sleek overhaul to their operating system and new Metro user interface (which, ironically, is a departure from windows).

I think it looks dull and uninspired, much the way I think Microsoft’s OS has been headed over the last couple iterations.

Once again it’s as if Microsoft is in a fit to emulate Apple, and the ingenuity of Apple’s interfaces, and they’ve rushed along again to become something they aren’t or can never be.

The new logo is just another foray in that same vein. Yawn.

Developing a Brand Strategy

Over the past week I have been working on a brand strategy for a client. It is the first step in creating a larger marketing plan, and traditionally where I begin. After all, if you don’t know what your brand stands for, then you really can’t market anything.

With every client I start out at the same point, emphasizing that a brand is not just a logo or a color scheme. I make sure they understand a brand is much more. It is every experience a customer may have with a company. It needs to be functional and emotional; intrinsic and original; active and intentional. Leading brands are championed by everyone and, therefore, meet compelling needs, create a premium, inspire loyalty and insulate against the competition. And more than anything else, leading brands are responsive. They respond to customers, competitors, the market and any other influence that can have an effect on the brand experience.

Creating a brand, and the strategy around it, is rife with challenges. Sometimes the biggest challenge is within the particular company itself. I have met with a lot of clients, as well as leaders at large, successful companies, who don’t get branding.

Why don’t they get it?

Because branding is anything but tangible. The process of building a brand can be extremely abstract and metaphysical. It’s the part of business development where perception reigns supreme. Consumers are not rational. They follow their instincts and are driven by a hundred different factors at once. Successful branding has to be one step ahead of consumer perception. And the leading brands are very adept at this.

Branding is a Business Process

Where some chief executives and business owners can’t see themselves spending more than a few minutes picking logo colors (the full extent of their brand strategy), others know that branding is a business process.

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Twitter to Have Brand Pages

Twitter has announced a major redesign today that includes a big makeover for the public-facing profile page. The new look will take the profile in a direction that more closely resembles Facebook and Google+, with most of the user information moved to the upper left corner. That only makes sense considering that eye tracking studies have always shown that portion of a webpage to be the hot zone, the part of a page that is viewed first and with most intensity.Twitter saysthe changes will put “you and your interests front and center,” and will be “your opportunity to introduce yourself to the world [and] stay close to everything you care about.”

That’s all great, but from a marketing standpoint the real news of the day is Twitter’s decision to introduce brand pages.

While companies have been able to make use of a presence on Twitter, until today those branded profile pages have only served to push content to followers and respond to customer service requests. The pages are hardly destination unto themselves since company pages are really no different from user pages.

Twitter will now, however, give companies a way to showcase their brand. New branded pages will allow marketers to not only customize headers so that logos and taglines are featured prominently, but give them the ability to select a particular tweeted message that visitors see when they first come to the page. This, Twitter says, will help you “highlight your most engaging and important content and better connect with your target audience.” Highlighted tweets will also appear auto-expanded, so visitors can see the photo or video content that is linked from the tweet.

For entertainment companies and big budget marketers this could be a real enhancement to Twitter presences. Think about what it could be like when visiting the Disney Twitter page…now they’ll be able to feature video clips of upcoming movies right on their profile.

And for little company’s…what a great opportunity to highlight videos, links and other calls-to-action that can better drive traffic to your site.

AdAge points out in their article discussing the changes today that while one aspect of this decision to have branded pages is Twitter’s attempt to take on Facebook, another component could be Twitter’s attempt to make their own advertising products more appealing.

Either way, Twitter isn’t going away anytime soon, and branded pages will only make sure of that.

While they’re not available just yet, watch for the new branded pages. The big launch partners include American Express, Best Buy, Bing, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Dell, Disney, General Electric, Hewlitt-Packard, Intel, JetBlue, Kia, McDonald’s, Nike, PepsiCo, Staples, Verizon Wireless, NYSE Euronext, Heineken, Subway and Paramount Pictures.

Then it will be your company’s turn to jump on the bandwagon.

Lululemon’s Marketing Lulu

Lululemon Athletica Inc., the yoga-inspired athletic apparel company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and commonly known as just Lululemon, pulled a marketing lulu recently by putting “Who is John Galt?” on their shopping bags.

Along with the shopping bags, they feature praise to author Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged on their website and blog. 

The blog states [rather defensively] that the whole idea came from Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson, who from an early age embraced the ideals of the book and found influence by the lesson that if we all pursue our own self-interest, the world can be a better place.

I’m not sure it is entirely necessary for me to give a complete recap of Atlas Shrugged, but let’s just say it is the most extensive statement of objectivism found in any of Rand’s works of fiction. Objectivism being the pure rationalization of selfishness in the form of individual rights over a community of rights, private property over any form of collective or government owned property, and the free market as the singular driving force behind personal happiness. 

It is truly a mix of conservative and libertarian ideals and in some circles (the Tea Party, for example) the novel is considered a bible. I say that factually and without making any political judgements or taking a stand on either side of the political spectrum. Rand, and Atlas Shrugged, are conservative and both are extremely politicized.

The lulu in Lululemon’s decision to embrace Rand is the fact that many people who practice yoga do not aspire to a political belief that champion objectivism. They are, instead, on what would be considered the other end of the political spectrum.

I’m not saying that a company can’t have a particular voice, or that a CEO can’t express particular values. But, embracing Ayn Rand when you are a yoga clothier is an almost perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you. From a marketing standpoint it is, well, to put it bluntly…myopically moronic!

Of course Lululemon is in damage control mode now, although the discussion on their blog is crafted to look anything but. They are back-pedaling and trying to twist it so that the average, liberal (unread) yogi is supposed to think that individual selfishness (as a good in and of itself) is suddenly a yogic way of thinking. After all, meditation is a singular and solitary thing, right? Therefore, the practice of yoga is about finding oneself and one’s sole purpose through exercise…and ultimately selfish manipulation of the free market.

Seems a stretch to me, and there are a lot of Lululemon shoppers who agree or are just plain outraged.

I suppose the one saving grace, for Lululemon anyway, is that most of their apparel is completely out of the price range of those who would probably be the angriest. Upper class yogis, I guess they figure, might not find the whole Ayn Rand connection all that offensive.

But, in the long run, the big lesson in this is:

Sometimes the CEO should just leave the marketing to the CMO.