Wednesday, 16 August 2017

From Brand Image to Brand = Image

I've got to the stage in my career where I expect there are far more planners who have come after me than have come before me. But one planner who came before me and is still active thinking, writing, strategising and planning is Paul Feldwick. Paul was one of the early BMP Planners in the 1970s and worked for BMP/DDB right up until 2005. I can thoroughly recommend his books and articles to young and not-so-young planners: they are classics. I still refer to What is Brand Equity Anyway? and much enjoyed Paul's most recent book, The Anatomy of Humbug. Most refreshing and intelligent after all those 25 Secrets Of Highly Successful Halfwits And How You Can Join Them business books.

On Paul's website are links to more articles, including one originally published in Admap March 2014, entitled, simply Brand = Image.  This is a provocative title, as 'Brand Image' has become a dirty word - or phrase - for those of us in the industry. Why have something as ethereal as an image when you can have an Experience or a Platform?

Anyway, the article starts with the creation of what was to become the Nike logo, which earned its creator all of $35 initially. The point is made that maybe it's neither necessary nor desirable to start building a brand from a 'brand essence' definition in words. Many brands start with a visual image, which becomes imbued with meaning via the stakeholders of that brand.

Why does this work? Let me drag out my ancient copy of Man and his Symbols (see illustration above.) In this, Carl Jung states:

What we call a symbol is a term, name or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. It implies something vague, unknown or hidden from us.

Many brand symbols or logos seem to arise by chance - Paul Feldwick cites the Dulux Dog and the Andrex Puppy - rather than via a conscious process. Chance, yes, but intuition and serendipity also play a role. I have written about a couple of my favourite brand symbols here and here.

Paul talks about the strength of images: they are polyvalent, meaning they carry a multitude of meaning.

I wonder, especially in this global world, whether brands would do better to find a 'one symbol equity' rather than a 'one word equity.'

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Cluetrain comes of age

The Cluetrain Manifesto first surfed onto the internet (as you did then) in 1999, meaning that this famous piece of business literature has now come of age. A somewhat Lutherean piece, with its 95 theses, the manifesto explored the impact of the internet on marketing and corporate communications. The idea running through is that online conversations - the new 'markets' - would make traditional marketing tools and techniques obsolete.

The manifesto has a 'Brave New World'  (in the original Shakespearian sense) feel about it, in its celebration of the human voice. This tonality is a far cry from the cute cats, grotesque gifs, saccharine  motivational quotes, Trump memes and rants that made up my Facebook stream this morning. But let me think back to 1999. It was probably four or five years since I'd first gone online, my Homepage was Yahoo! and my social media activity consisted of something called the Wedding Forum (later Baby Forum) which was a kind of forerunner of Mumsnet. The internet was not for everyone in those days - we were surfing and stumbling, certainly not being fed.

So how is the Cluetrain Manifesto looking on its 18th birthday? I had a re-read, and was inspired all over again by many of the 95 theses. Some of these are basic truths that have nothing to do with the internet, and are just as relevant today as they were in 1999, and probably 1899 too:

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. 
23. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
24. Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position. 
86. When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job. 

But I do think the authors over-emphasised the potential 'smartness' of the majority. 'Informed' covers a multitude of sins. Informed by whom? With truth or alternative facts? With what you choose to listen to? 

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. 

And more worryingly, it is the 'new' internet corporations that are taking the mantle of the 20th century bad boys, speaking in contrived voices (the chummy dude Californian tone Facebook adopts is just as contrived as the old-style corporate pomposity) , gathering data, invading privacy, controlling newsfeeds, bullying and manipulating.

15. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman. 

Another example, perhaps, of where Huxley got it right?

So, Happy Birthday, Cluetrain Manifesto - and let's see how things look in another 18 years. I do wonder what effect bots, Alexa and AI will have on the belief in the 'human voice.'

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ads are made by fools like me

Back in the 20th century, Ogden Nash wrote a parody of Joyce Kilmer's famous poem, 'Trees' in which he stated:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all. 

And in a recent article in Campaign, writer and director Paul Burke also celebrates the billboard, or poster and bemoans its current state. He lays the blame partly on the renaming of the poster into 'out of home media' or 'OOH' for short (although very few examples these days elicit OOHs, it seems.) And partly on the clients, of course.

He has a good point, I think. But I wonder if there are other reasons for the demise of the poster. One of them may be the disappearance of what used to be called commercial artists, who weren't necessarily ideas people in the sense that modern art directors were, but who certainly had the craft and skill to touch people's souls through their art as any of the posters on this post will show.

And then there's the other thing. Certainly in urban areas, very few people are looking up at trees or indeed billboards these days. Their focus is on their device. I wonder what Ogden Nash would have made of that? I'd certainly rather be looking up at any of these billboards in its full size glory than down at most of the rubbish that floats across my smart phone screen, like so many falling leaves.







Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Shudder

Three cheers for Sheryl Sandberg!A while ago, I wrote about how the harmless qualitative market research technique of 'brands as people' seemed to have erupted into a full-scale industry - 'people as brands.' I let out a quiet 'hooray!' as I read this article which quotes Ms Sandberg's answer to the question of how business people should manage their personal brands.

You don't have a brand.

She also added the expression made her shudder. Me too.

I have a number of reasons for rejecting the idea. First of all, I agree that stuffing yourself into a soap-powder-shaped box tends to be somewhat restricting:

When we are packaged, we're ineffective and inauthentic.

And human beings are so much more gloriously complicated and full of - emotion, conscious and unconscious thought, life, reason, intelligence - all those things no product or service can ever have.

And finally, because I just loathe all those snake-oil merchants who go around peddling their platforms and wares. Take an area I know a little about: authors. There are over 23 millions hits on Google in reply to 'author branding.' And so many of the articles and services offered include 'And Why You Need It' in the title.

So much time and energy is wasted by authors fretting about their 'author brand' and working with these charlatans instead of getting on and doing what they are good at.

Think about any human being who could possibly be considered 'a brand.' Einstein, The Queen, Salvador Dali, Che Guevara - take your pick.

Did they spend hours with a snake-oil salesman 'discovering their personal brand'?

Did they heck!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Speed Queen

Procter & Gamble are still sending me Victoria magazine, with its yoga for the over 50s, handy household tips, myths about bladder weakness, menopause horror stories and patronising advice on how to use Facebook. I've blogged before about how dreadfully depressing this all is.

As a complete contrast, here's part of a smashing brand campaign from Renault celebrating 40 years in Formula 1. It features Irish rally driver Rosemary Smith, who is pushing 80 (years, not mph - she's way faster than that!). In the Swinging 60s, girls dreamed of being fashion designers and boys dreamed of being racing car drivers, Rosemary Smith did both - and in this film she fulfills another dream - and so becomes the oldest person to drive an 800 bhp Formula 1 racing car. There are some super photos of Rosemary in action in all her 1960s glory, and the film conveys her zest for life - past, present and future.

Bravo to Renault for this campaign, and standing up to the potential criticism that they make cars for little old ladies. I wonder - is this maybe a crafty admission on Renault's part that yes, they do - and they're both happy and proud to do so?



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blimey, did I really say that?

I'm reading a delightful novel at the moment: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story is that of a Russian aristocrat who is placed under indefinite house arrest by the Communists in the 1920s for writing a subversive poem. And that house arrest is in one of the grandest hotels in Moscow. The story rambles around the hotel with the Count, the eccentric characters he meets and the absurd situations in which he finds himself.

One such is the Second Meeting of the First Congress of the Moscow Branch of the All-Russian Union of Railway Workers. The Union's Charter is under discussion, particularly the 7th sentence of the 2nd paragraph, which concludes with what we marketeers (shhhh!) might call a Mission:

"... to facilitate communication and trade across the provinces."

And, oh dear, does the word 'facilitate' ever come in for some stick! Far too tepid and prim to suggest pounding steel and rippling manly muscles and shovelling coal! Some alternatives are suggested, such as to spur, to propel and to empower, which all come into hot debate. Eventually:

"... a suggestion came from a shy-looking lad in the tenth row that perhaps 'to facilitate' could be replaced with 'to enable and ensure.' This pairing, the lad explained (while his cheeks grew red as a raspberry), might encompass not only the laying of rails and the manning of engines, but the ongoing maintenance of the system ..."

And so, after more hot debate, the alternative is adopted.

If that one amused you, you may also find that this tickles your fancy, too. Perfect for collecting a few meaningless phrases to throw into the next strategy meeting. And I don't think many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say we've never used this kind of lingo.

I'm convinced that when researchers from the future find some of our strategy documents, they'll be as bemused as if those documents were in Russian - or Ancient Greek.

Talking of which ...


Friday, 7 July 2017

Local (retail) hero



Now and again you think of a brand that gets it just right. A couple of weeks ago I visited the flagship store of a retailer just down the road from us, and thought: Jawohl!

Quite often, the shining examples of hero brands that get regurgitated again and again in Powerpoints are brands that we marketers blab on about about, but don't actually use or experience. Or they are from some funky new techy category, enabled by mobile blah blah.

Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG  is none of these. It's a German workwear retailer, a family firm that was founded in 1948 and still run by the son and grandsons of the original Engelbert. Norbert, Steffen and Henning, should you be interested.

The story goes back even further, as the great-grandfather Strauss was a trader in brooms and brushes. It was his son Engelbert who founded the firm and soon added gloves and protective workwear to his wares. In the 60s and 70s, he started mail order and a catalogue and there are still people in the local area who recall 'Engelbert Strauss in his van selling brooms.'

The 90s saw two giant leaps for the company - opening their headquarters and logistics centre and starting e-commerce in 1998. And in the 21st century they have come on in leaps and bounds to become the well-loved workwear/outdoor brand, successful company and award-winning employer that they are today.

It's maybe because Engelbert Strauss started in mail order that omnichannel thinking has come naturally to them. The workwear stores are a fairly recent development and these embody the idea of 'retail experience' at its best. Design is at the heart of the brand - look at the neat little details like saws on the end of the zippers - and this shows in the design of the stores.

Everything is themed around the joy of handwork from the installations of tools on the walls:


to the children's play area:


The company claim also comes to life in the provisions for co-workers, which include a fitness centre, Wellness area, their own trattoria, ice cream vendors and cafe complete with chill-out music.

What is the claim? Enjoy work. 

Well, I'll try to.