8 posts categorized "Branding"

11/07/2013 Hold A Workshop

A recent notice about Champlain College’s new branding and positioning caught my attention. More specifically, it brought me back to a brand retreat I attended there in 2011.

The retreat/workshop was primarily for Trustees and other Very Important People. I got a free pass from the then Dean of Communications & Creative Media, the brilliant Jeff Rutenbeck, mostly because I sat on his advisory board.

The main part of the retreat was to go over the initial branding study and to discuss the Champlain culture and positioning. We listened a lot. Then the workshop portion of the event started. We broke into sub-groups at our table for smaller discussions. We were then tasked with coming up with, on our own, some statement that captured the essence of Champlain College and the changes it was going through.

To be honest, what I heard about competing in higher education sounded at odds with the very forward thinking parts of the college I was involved with. New groups like the Emergent Media Center and the Gaming Division were truly groundbreaking in college education. The branding felt at odds with what I was experiencing. So, in small part capture that, and also probably to provoke, I wrote this description of Champlain College:

Radically Pragmatic

I wanted in some way to capture the dynamic tension I was feeling through this process and that the college, in some way, seemed to struggle with. I have to admit, I was going through an “Oxymoron Phase.” At the time, I was trying to get a travel client to embrace the brand concept of “Active Relaxation,” to no avail. But I liked the contradictions inherent in describing a brand this way. It felt real.

So imagine my surprise when I finally went to this page and saw this phrase at the start of the positioning. Who knows, maybe 7 or 8 other people had the same idea and it came out of years of engaged discussion.

What I do know is that the phrase made it up on the wall of the brand workshop. And somehow made it out of the workshop to the positioning.

The real point of this story is this: If you and your brand are struggling with an issue, ask your customers and constituents. Engage them in active participation. Allow them to help. Hold a workshop, or something like it. 

You’ll be surprised at the value that comes out of it.

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04/22/2010 Opacity and Disinformation as Brand Pillars

We see so many articles today on the need for transparency and honesty in brands that we almost believe that most businesses actually act that way now. With that in mind, it's amazing to witness a brand up close whose brand pillars seem to include the opposite. The brand I'm thinking about is Entergy and it's company Vermont Yankee.

Vermont Yankee, the only nuclear power plant in the area, is up for relicensing. It's a touchy subject here in environmentally focused (that's crunchy and green to some) Vermont. On the one hand, nuclear power has always been the bane of the environmentalists, although even Greenpeace is rethinking that one. On the other hand, reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use to reduce global warming is THE burning issue today.  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Enter Entergy. Last fall it launched a campaign titled IAmVY.com where it showcased some of its people, including a number of very talented and articulate engineers.  They talked about the great jobs Vermont Yankee provided and how safe they believed nuclear power was. One woman in particular stated that Vermont Yankee would tell people the "facts." If people wanted to believe the facts was up to them. The message was clear: You could believe what Vermont Yankee told you, or you were a dope.

Within a month of the campaign launch, it turned out that Vermont Yankee had hidden information from the legislature and had a serious Tritium leak on its hands. Entergy quickly replaced the site with another, removing the most offensive videos. So much for facts and openness.

Then, in the last few weeks, the Vermont Yankee PR person wrote Op-Ed pieces for all of the local papers without identifying himself as a Vermont Yankee employee. He may have thought he was speaking as a private person, but when he's talking about his job and his employer, he'd have to assume everyone else is an idiot to believe there was no conflict of interest.

The pace of information these days should preclude brands acting in this way.  It's one thing to think you can get away with opacity and disinformation. It's another to keep doing it after you've been exposed again and again. But somehow, that's what Entergy and Vermont Yankee keep on doing.

It's too bad they don't have a communications policy like the social media policies developed by brands like Intel or Coca Cola. It might not stop the lies and subterfuge, but it might make employees think twice.

The bigger question for us when we see brands acting in a consistently dishonest manner is: If they're doing this for the little stuff, what big stuff are they not telling us about or blatantly lying about? Once we head down that road, the sky's the limit.

Brands, like people, are only as good as their word. And for Entergy's Vermont Yankee, its word is MUD.
07/21/2009 LendingTree: Rebranding vs. Change

LendingTree is in the news today. It's rebranded itself, with the help of Boston advertising firm Mullen. LendingTree, described as a mortgage Web site operator, saw its fortunes dip in our mortgage-backed melt down. But, with Mullen's help, it's rising again, with its call of "You to the rescue." And, of course, central to all of this are TV commercials with actors dressed up like super heroes.

Which raises the biggest question: How has LendingTree truly changed?


Apparently the Web site changed. It's a good Web site with lots of financial tools that walks you step-by-step through different scenarios. And then leads you to apply. The site has a friendly design and is easy to use. So far so good.

LendingTree is on Twitter. Not that much on, to be honest, and they seem to talk mostly about the Web site, the TV commercials and the articles written about Mullen. Hmmm.

If consumers don't have as much trust in financial institutions because many of them have acted irresponsibly and perhaps criminally, is rebranding with a big TV campaign, a new Web site and a Twitter account enough? Should the tag line change from "You to the rescue" to "Ag Agency to the rescue?" http://twitter.com/lendingtree

Actually, it's not even the first time in the last few years LendingTree switched from it's old tag line "When banks compete, you win" in a new ad campaign. Back in September 2007, it saw the writing on the wall and started running ads about "smart borrowing."

Where I'm going with all of this is that the way LendingTree works or connects with its customers doesn't seem to have changed at all. The façade has changed. The "message" has changed. But what I can't see are any substantial operational or customer service changes, things that would tell a consumer that this financial institution is not one of the bad guys, that it doesn't say it's on your side, it proves it.

Tools are great and the ads are cute but what are they really doing to improve their customer engagement with personal connections? Not much, from what I can see. Not in social media and barely on its own site. For example, whereas financial institutions such as Bank of America make Live Chat a big part of their online experience, the chat on LendingTree is pretty hard to find. Something that simple sends a message.

With Mullen founder Edward Boches  so active on Twitter, I somehow expected a place like Mullen to lead with connections to real people and using the medium to build relationships. Maybe that's phase 2. Or maybe it's too difficult to pull off, so ads and a new Web site were the way to go.

Whether it increases trust in LendingTree is the big question. Hopefully, new TV ads won't be enough.
05/01/2009 The Worst Copy of the Month – Temple Spa

I was in a hotel a couple of weeks ago. Not a big fancy hotel, but a basic hotel with clean rooms and LCD TVs. The place had switched from one big chain to another.

 In the bathroom were the usual small tubes of suds and the like but this time the hotel had included a little brochure. It hoped to promote the products of shampoos and conditioners, I guess, either to sell more outside the hotel, or to show how fancy things could get in the shower.  The brand of bathroom shwag was Temple Spa.

Here’s how the brochure talked about the brand:
“TEMPLE SPA is a seriously cool, total lifestyle brand for men and women: a fusion of product, philosophy and spa.

The word Temple is used to describe the body as a SACRED PLACE. It also has become the language of the contemporary scene, those that are on the road to self-preservation and the well-being of the body and soul.”

ShampooSmallI couldn’t help but think that some how someone switched the planning brief for the brochure copy. I don’t remember when I’ve seen that much BS outside of an agency’s walls, and I wonder who Temple Spa thinks it will convince with this.

No where is there any proof why this is a “seriously cool, total lifestyle brand” or why it has “become the language of the contemporary scene.” I’m not even sure what that last phrase means.

Rather than talking about what’s behind the brand and why it exists, Temple Spa just tries to show how cool it is.

All I can say is that if they didn’t already have a toilet in the room, they’d have to provide sick bags with this copy.

Congratulations Temple Spa, you’ve just earned the worst copy of the month award.

12/16/2008 What Story Are You Telling Online?

I’m in the middle of a couple of projects where we’re running into the same issue: How do we tell our story effectively and emotionally on a Web site? It sounds like it should be an easy question to answer, if we do our jobs correctly, but because the Web is such a mix of disparate elements our challenge is that much greater.

Good organization, says the information architect. We need logical flows, personas and smart conversion paths. Great design, says the creative director, with killer photography. No clutter, says the print art director. Flash interactivity, says the interactive designer. Results, says the account manager. Business growth, says the client.

Well, yes, and, it depends. For an e-commerce site you want to make it as easy and logical as possible to find goods and buy them. Chalk one up for IA. But is that it? I think all e-commerce architects should read Paco Underhill’s classic “Why We Buy.” In classic retail, it’s not only about speed; it’s about slowing people down as well. There are some great lessons that we Web folk can learn from offline.

Flash is great, just look at the engagement on TheFWA sites. But what happens when clients can’t afford one of those sites? Face it, HTML is pretty square and more standardized by the minute, despite all the things we can do with CSS.

And what happens when you’re not really “selling” anything online except your business? Sites tend to resemble the brochures they replace, relying on long copy, good design and some pictures. I don’t think those are always effective tools for telling a story.

If you’re not reading David Armano’s blog “Logic + Emotion” you should start. I think he’s one of the digital thought leaders that understand the dynamic tension in digital. Our work needs to have a logical structure. And it needs to touch us emotionally. We have to strike that balance to tell stories, and we need to keep pushing on the medium.

One question is whether storytelling, usually consisting of a beginning, middle and end, works with non-linear interactivity. My answer is: look at video or computer games. It becomes a short beginning and end with, sometimes, a never-ending middle. It morphs and changes as you engage with it.

And then there are some who use classic storytelling online, like the Girl Effect. That was so simple and so well done that it was striking. Yes, it was like a long commercial, but it was more than that. It did a great job at telling a story. And provided tools for people to extend the story.

Whew, this was a long post. But we have a big challenge. We digital folk need to become better storytellers. The good thing is, we have a lot of tools to work with.

11/26/2008 A Sweet Site

I’ve just been playing around on Premiyum’s new Web site. Premiyum is a new luxury chocolate product by Swedish candy maker Karamelkungen. I love sites like this: playful, well designed and not overloading me with unnecessary information.

Premiyum.se starts by rearranging its chocolate candies in various formations to highlight different times to give them: from when you want to cheer someone up to a great holiday gift. The Assortment section is great: I loved playing around with the different candies.  It’s only 8 AM but after clicking through I’m jonesing for some chocolate.

Best of all was the send to a friend.  I think that was the easiest and most elegant send to a friend form I’ve ever seen. The mad libs of forms, actually.

And what is it with the Swedes? You only have to look at all the great work on FWA to see that they’re overrepresented in this industry. Looking at this site makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking leaving Sweden back in the 90’s just before their online boom hit.

It’s all John McCain’s fault. If he had won, we’d be moving back.

10/22/2008 MITX Awards

MITX announced its finalists in its 2008 Interactive Awards competition. This is the 5th year I’ve judged in the competition and while I've competed for the past 7 years. The MITX awards have always been, in my opinion, one of the better award competitions in the interactive space.

13thAnnual This year I judged the Best Brand and Best Integrated Campaigns. I noticed two big differences this year.

First, the level of entries was the highest I’ve seen in any of the competitions I've judged (and I judge a number of them, including WebAwards and W3 Awards).  That’s saying a lot for MITX where in years past shops Barbarian Group and Zugara dominated the awards.

Second, I was surprised and delighted to see such a wide range of entries in the Integrated Campaign category. Yes, the big agencies had a number of entries, but there were also some great smaller shops and client entries. It showed that, across the board, everyone took the idea of digital centric campaigns seriously.

What’s less clear, though, is what an “integrated campaign” actually consists of.  In the old agency days, integrated meant that everything, whatever it was, had to look exactly the same. Repetition, however, does not equal integration. Now, it looks like shops deem integration to mean that you have a clear media mix of offline and online marketing. Integration means lots of touch points including digital.

I think a better definition would be that each medium adds it’s unique engagement opportunity to your marketing dialogue. Kind of like the sum is greater than all of its parts.

Take an example of a campaign that lets people upload their own picture and voice recording online. Wouldn't a good integrated print or outdoor execution include some type of mirror so you could start seeing yourself as you would in the final conversion? Wouldn’t the mobile integration ask you to record the message and then download the background music as a ringtone?

To me, integration is a finely tuned machine, all working in unison, but with each part doing something unique that makes the whole better.

I would love to see those campaigns.

09/10/2008 A Microsoft TV Ad – Not that there’s anything wrong with that

The Web is awash and agog at the new Microsoft TV commercial starring Bill Gates with co-star Jerry Seinfeld. Or vice versa. Some hate it, some love it, and some don’t get it.

Face it: watching Jerry Seinfeld is never boring. I used to think the same thing about Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the cool agency behind the new ad campaign.

But for all their coolness and cult of Alex, for all of their alternative media and online focus, what CPB ended up delivering was same old, same old. I mean, what’s up in Colorado?

A TV commercial? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but where’s the customer engagement, the personalization, the conversation?

Use the biggest star you can find and see if his shine can rub off on Bill Gates? How traditional. From this group, with a deep-pocketed client, I was hoping and expecting something more along the lines of Subservient Chicken.

Personally, I’ll take Ms. Dewey over Jerry any day. One of the better Microsoft campaigns. Much more fun and engaging, with results, too.

Maybe CPB thinks they’ll see a slew of user-generated content like the I’m A Mac ad has generated on YouTube, like this one for a WII and this one for comic books. Don’t hold your breath.

Right now, CPB seems to be happy that their generating buzz and conversation. I wonder if generating and measuring negative comments was one of the business goals of the campaign. Doesn’t Microsoft already have enough of that?

A huge, missed opportunity to change the top down CONTROL of Microsoft and deliver more KAOS and personal engagement.

For you Seinfeld fanatics: Didn’t Jerry’s apartment always have one Mac or another in the corner on the desk?

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