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.

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" – A Study in Personal Branding

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see Exit Through the Gift Shop, the 2010 documentary that tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. After all, the film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Documentary Feature) and was directed by the mysterious Bansky, one of the most famous and contemptous street artists in the world (along with Shepard Fairey, who gained worldwide fame with his Barack Obama “Hope” poster).

Normally I see all the nominated films and I find street art to be absolutely enthralling. But, until this past weekend, I had somehow missed ETTGS and I am now recommending that if you missed it too…you’ve got to see it!

This film is not only interesting, exciting and well made, it is a compelling study on two levels.

One, I found it to very creatively inspirational. Sure, some people might be put off because street art to some is actually graffiti to others. But this graffiti isn’t like the stuff you find spray painted on your garage one morning. It’s a variety of things and can include sculpture, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheat pasting and poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art and flash mobbing — among other things.

Its messages arise from currents in activism and subversion and can serve as a powerful platform for reaching the public with themes that include adbusting, subvertising and other culture jamming techniques. Some street artists use what could be called “smart vandalism” as a way to raise awareness of social and political issues. Others do it solely for the fun, artist nature.


My interest in street art and street activity most likely comes from the fact that my father, a retired Denver policeman, was truly intrigued with flash mobs. Not as an opponent — but a participant! In the early days of flash mobbing, and on more than one occasion, he left the office of his new job as an investigator for the State of Colorado to participate in flash mobs. He found them to be energetic and fresh and loved to be part of the sponaneity.

On a second level, the movie is an enlightening example of how a person can totally take charge of their own personal brand. Without going into details that may ruin the movie for you, it shows how one man can reinvent himself, develop a unique personal brand and build that brand into a wholly successful opportunity. This individual uses all the basic elements of marketing/branding to capitalize on a unique situation. It is there that the film becomes a remarkable study in Branding 101. I would be surprised if it wasn’t currently being shown in college business classes around the country.

Therefore, from a creative, marketing and branding perspective, I definitely recommend the film. As a purely entertaining experience I also recommend. It’s just good fun.

Now all I need to do is decide on a street artist name for myself (*wink*).

Another Book Recommendation

I once again have turned to Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design (here it is on Amazon) when doing research for an upcoming appointment and thought I’d take a minute to mention it here.

I like this little book so much that I have actually bought two copies. Not exactly on purpose, though. My first copy, which had a whole bunch of loving notes I’d scribbled into the margins, was loaned to a neighbor I met at a block party. As it turned out she worked at a local ad agency and we got talking about marketing, design and the usual. To my complete shock, she admitted that she had never even heard of Marty Neumeier! While I don’t consider myself a name-dropping, marketing prima donna, I can’t imagine anyone in the field that hasn’t at least heard of The Brand Gap. I immediately sang the book’s praises, went home and got my copy for her, and promptly never saw it again. Needless to say, some nights when I was walking the dog by her house I thought almost seriously about slipping in a window and taking my book back. I imagined it discarded on a dusty shelf. Then I began to envision her cherishing it, like I did, and that made my little book’s journey out of my life a bit more tolerable. So, instead of stealing it back, I broke down and bought another copy, and began to fill the margins of the new book with all my notes.

What I really like about The Brand Gap is that it takes into account both the strategic and creative approaches to brand building — and clearly shows us that when a disconnect exists between the two, between “logic and magic,” it can cause an even brilliant strategy to fail where it counts most — at the point of contact with the customer. That is the brand gap.

Neumeier goes on to present a pared-down strategy for constructing a unified theory of branding—a set of five disciplines to help companies bridge the gap between brand strategy and customer experience. He also gives us:

  • The new definition of brand
  • How branding is changing the dynamics of competition
  • The three most powerful questions to ask about any brand
  • Why collaboration is the key to brand-building
  • How design determines a customer’s experience
  • How to test brand concepts quickly and cheaply
  • The importance of managing brands from the inside
  • and a really nice 220-word brand glossary
All of that, packed into 180 pages! 
I truly recommend it for brand novices and professionals alike. I know I return to it often. And it always gives me something to mull over.

How Simple Brands Really Need To Be

Here’s a great video of Steve Jobs back in the day talking about how simple branding really needs to be.

Basically, he says, it all comes down to the core values. Defining them…and sticking with them.

This is at the point where the Think Different campaign was launched. Undoubtedly one of the most successful campaigns in modern history. And the genius behind it is — it did return Apple to their core values, which were demonstrated from the very beginning in the logo design by Jean Louis Gassée, an executive at Apple Computer from 1981 to 1990.

When asked about his thoughts on the Apple logo, Gassée said:

One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.