Category: Alignment

An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.


Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)


Three Steps to an Irresistible Brand

I know you may not think of Gandhi as irresistible, but bear with me. It’ll become clear shortly.

Irresistible… It may sound impossible, or at least too good to be true. And you’re not alone in thinking that, but the great brands do achieve the impossible. They get people to change behavior in much the same way that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln put themselves on the line to create monumental societal change. If you want to create  real change there’s no more consistent way to get there.

And here are the basic steps you can follow to get there yourself:

Step One: Become Self Aware
Know your unwavering core motivation then unquestionably prove its truth.

Brand-building without understanding why your organization exists is pointless. Without self-awareness your time, money and energy spent on brand is just as likely to hurt as to help reach your goals. But you need to do more than just know what makes you different and communicate it. An irresistible brand proves that you’re different. To do that you must be able to communicate your difference in a way that lines up with your real-world performance – and sheds light on the fact that your organization ‘gets it’.

In Stokefire’s world of Gandhian brands, becoming self aware is the beginning of your Gandhian pyramid development. We’re looking to bring what you think, say and do (or in brand-speak, “what motivates you, what you communicate, and how you perform”) into harmony. Any brand that has a disconnect between those three elements is a brand that capable competition can destroy – even if the competition doesn’t have a strong brand.

Proving your brand true involves communicating your unique commitment or understanding of your industry or the change you represent in a way that cannot be easily undermined. A few examples of this that we can attest to include our work for an HR firm showing that it understands the core issue in human resources, a campaign for concrete that made people care about what roads are made of, and identity work for the US Department of Defense that enabled them to be perceived differently by our allies and enemies.

The result of those campaigns? The HR firm became one of the fastest growing firms in its industry and region; the concrete industry’s single-market test campaign earned over $57 million in new transportation project, and DARPA reclaimed its rightful place at the head of military technology.

Step Two: Gain Perspective
Understand how your motivation relates to the core motivation of your competitors and of your target audience.

Perspective doesn’t come easy to people passionate about their cause. You do what you do because you’re invested in it and believe in it, so putting that aside and seeing where you’re weak and where your competitors are strong isn’t comfortable and can makes you feel fragile. The key is to understand and address the weaknesses before a brand launches and harden your identity against competitive threats or alternative solutions your audience may consider.

The perspective you need is that of your target audience, competitors and a sense of the environment at large. While you can begin to define your core identity in a vacuum, in order to refine it you’ll have to see how what you think, say, and do relates to what your customers and competitors are saying and doing – and what that might indicate about their motivations.

A brand can become a powerful tool that helps people rediscover their own core motivations and can create a wedge between their past and future actions. Those actions can relate to which products are bought or whether we believe (for instance) that slavery or oppression is just. It can even become a part of how an individual, competitor or era defines itself. In our own era we’ve seen technology brands uncover truths about thinking differently and coffee stores that can enhance one’s perceived station in life.

But these brands and those movements behind the ending of oppression didn’t just have a spiffy logo and slogan. They had enormous requirements in terms of infrastructure to create a lasting identity with consistent performance. They needed execution.

Step Three: Deliver Consistently
Deliver messaging and infrastructure that uses your proven identity as a lever to change the behavior of your target audience and competitors.

Even with an apparently compelling brand identity, if the mechanism to keep all the parts of the brand (messaging, performance, intent) doesn’t run consistently then the brand falls apart. This is why BP’s brand is so reviled – because they chose to brand themselves as “beyond petroleum” when they were still 95% invested in oil, and for the discord evident in the company’s response to their environmental disaster and their supposed commitment to being green. Any perceived disconnect between intent, message, and performance is an opening for your competition.

Infrastructure can be comprised of anything from consistently materials in support of your cause, or the people, processes and relationships that enable you to get your message out through every channel quickly and effectively. For every situation the infrastructure is going to be different, though you may find it helpful to look at the top players in your industry to see what they’re doing to stay at the top. Your infrastructure must work at least as well as theirs – and in some cases your infrastructure might be called upon to tear theirs down.

An excellent example of this in practice is Newt Gingrich’s disbanding of both the congressional Republican Study Committee and its counterpart on the Democratic side as unnecessary after ensuring that non-profit entities had been established to provide the needed research for the Republicans. The Democratic Party’s lack of external infrastructure to develop and communicate the brand and platform has been seen by many inside and outside the Party as a major weakness, and has allowed Republicans to pick off candidates one by one rather than having to take on a unified movement.

And A Warning: It’s Not For Everyone
It’s for the greatest of challenges.

At the start of this post I mentioned three great leaders. While they all to a large extent had their goals realized, none of them lived to enjoy the world that this enabled the rest of us to experience. Creating a truly irresistible brand takes courage. You must take big risks to achieve the biggest rewards.

Apple didn’t become the most prosperous technology firm in history by following the path of others. It did it by staying true to its core, understanding the motivation (rather than opinions) of its audience and consistently delivering products and services that connect the two over time.

Brand irresistibility takes more than courage. It takes a worthy cause – and people who are willing to take risks to move the cause forward.  Looking at America today there are dozens of movements that could benefit from taking these steps, but few that are going to do it. The Occupy movement has such potential, but without a core identity (other than “we’re not going to take it anymore!”) and without an understanding of how they are perceived from the outside (as extremists and anarchists rather than those that have had their jobs and homes taken from them) there’s no chance for infrastructure and consistency to develop and move the cause forward.

If you have any ideas about what brands or causes are likely to be taking the three steps to irresistibility in 2012 let me know. I’d love to look into them or discuss them in a post.

Don Draper Tells It Like It Is. And So Should You.

It’s come to the point that I can’t turn on the TV anymore without feeling the need to talk back to the commercials. “No, drinking your product will not make me able to dunk a basketball!” or “IF YOUR PRICES ARE SO GOOD SHOULD’NT YOU BE SHARING THEM RATHER THAN JUST SCREAMING ABOUT THEIR GENERAL LOWNESS?”

Mad Men’s writers got it right, I think:

Peggy Olsen: [Presenting an idea to Don] We thought that Samsonite is this very rare element, this mythical substance, the hardest on earth, and we see and adventurer leaping through a cave…

Don Draper: Is this a substance much like bullsh*t?

Amen, fictional brother.

One reason the campaigns we develop for our clients have been so effective is that we don’t start by trying to create something that doesn’t exist. Our very first task is to take out the shovel and dig through the piles of marketing that have built up over time so we can uncover the true foundation of the brand.

Every great and lasting brand was built on a foundation of compelling truth.

If you’re not successful yet? Start digging until the BS is gone rather than trying to throw more crap at the problem hoping to cover it up.

If you are successful at selling a lie? I suppose you should enjoy it, because I don’t know when it’ll happen, but at some point you’re going to collapse. Count on it. BP, Madoff, and Enron all thought they could get away with it – as did countless others. And all of them eventually get proven wrong.

TrueTwit, Extortion & Other Synonyms


Posted by:
Tate Linden 

Getting those annoying TrueTwit validation messages from people you follow on Twitter? So am I. And I’m not happy about it. Read on to learn how TrueTwit’s leaders have created a league of unwitting sales zombies, and wasted over 80 years of human effort, while building a badly aligned brand.

While I must admit that the business model TrueTwit uses is brilliant, it’s also pretty damn creepy.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You click follow to track someone interesting on Twitter
  2. You immediately receive this direct message: “SoAndSo uses TrueTwit validation service. To validate click here: […]
  3. If you click the link soon after you get it you’ll be sent to a page with a huge 18 word ad for TrueTwit, followed by a paid Google ad, followed by a slim 32 words telling you how to validate, followed by 47 words telling you that if you inflict the service (for free!) on your own followers you’ll never see this annoying message again, followed by 70 words telling you how awesome their paid service is. Some paraphrasing may have occurred above, of course. Only then do you actually get to enter the two captcha words to prove you’re human.
  4. If you don’t click the message shortly after you receive it you may get the same two ads as above and a message saying “Sorry, but it appears the person you followed may no longer be following you.” That means that the user (or more likely TrueTwit) classified you as not worth following back. Opportunity to make a connection is lost.
I am not a subscriber of the service and I’m not willing to waste the time of my select few followers or my own money to try it out, so I don’t know every detail about how it works from the inside. And while the website has a FAQ sheet it doesn’t give the kinds of details I want to hear about. Honestly I don’t really have questions, though. They’re more a seething pile of visceral responses to the business practices I see being used by TrueTwit. Stuff like…
  1. By far the most egregious issue is that TrueTwit says it has the technology to automatically ensure that human users are identified and don’t need to go through the validation process at all. It’s a formula that the paying users are able to utilize. Fine. But for the non-paying users there is no legitimate ‘validation’ reason to make a human follower go through ten validations in a row to prove they’re human. The only reason to require it is to annoy the Hell out of the follower and get them to sign up and annoy others – or buy the service.
  2. While I do get Twitter spam occasionally, most spam I receive is from TrueTwit. And worse, it’s exactly the sort of bot spam that the service is supposed to prevent. If I want to get rid of it all I have to do is agree to do everything TrueTwit wants me to do or pay them money. Sounds an awful lot like a protection racket, since the only thing I’m trying to do is have them stop wasting my time – and potentially billable hours – to prove something they already know (see my first complaint) – that I’m human.
  3. By having the basic TrueTwit service automate the validation process via DMs it turns its non-paying users into the very bots that it claims it is trying to eliminate.
  4. TrueTwit isn’t a validation service at all. The DM spam sends the follower to a page with 32 words telling people how to validate buried on a page with three links to sign up for the service, a paid ad, and 135 words trying to get me to do something other than what the link said they were going to give me? Just counting the words alone that’s worse than a 4 to 1 ratio of advertising copy to information. TrueTwit isn’t in the validation business – it’s in the ad business.
  5. The basic service preys on selfish people who value their own time over the time of those who choose to follow them. They’re fed up with all the spam and shut it of for themselves, making the rest of their new followers similarly annoyed, spreading this time-wasting ad service like, sadly, a virus.
  6. TrueTwit admits that the service doesn’t actually stop human spammers – saying “If a spammer is human they will get through. The point of TrueTwit is to eliminate automated spam software from grabbing your attention.” Which is exactly what TrueTwit basic is doing to the world. Worse, all it takes is a human to click the link and validate so that their automatic tweets can hit your stream, so a human can dig through piles of TrueTwit DMs at about 15 seconds each to validate and then auto-spam at will.
  7. Want to break the system? Pay $20 and spam as a “validated” user. While TrueTwit can terminate a user for any reason, they don’t specify Twitter spam (only listing email) or unwanted DMs as a cause. And most of the limitations under “USER CONDUCT” as currently written only apply to international users. So if you’re American and want to send unlimited tweets without having to validate through the annoying TrueTwit service then you’re home free!
  8. As great as TrueTwit’s (Google owned) reCaptcha is, it has been hacked as recently as 2011, and has allowed bots to bypass the security check, so the whole thing is pretty much not as (overly) advertised.
TrueTwit turns its users into bots for no reason other than increasing its own advertising reach and increasing income. The validation it provides is intrusive, wasteful, and ineffective.
If they want to be useful I think there’s a simple fix. Stop spamming mandatory site links to everyone. Let some of the more advanced services trickle down to the free service and change how your validation works. How about:
  1. If someone has just validated on your site then let that validation stand for a period of time for all the people they follow – even if it’s just an hour that’s better than nothing. Perhaps let your validated and trusted users decide how long that period should be – give them a range and make it easy to find and adjust. After all – they’re human and your service is not.
  2. Once a Twitter account is validated within that specific time-frame you can have your auto-DM (still spam, mind you) indicate that the follow was approved by TrueTwit automatically and if they want to know more they can click the link. That turns you into a service rather than an obstacle.
  3. Consider using your algorithms to keep specific accounts validated for longer periods. New accounts may need to re-validate frequently, while established accounts with tens of thousands of followers and low spam profiles might only need validation once a week – or perhaps never.
The real reason this is so annoying for me is that it is an example of organizational leadership completely out of alignment. What they think, say, and do in the name of the organization is a mess.
TrueTwit says: “What if you could know for sure that your followers are truly human and not some cyborg?” But TrueTwit does: send cyborgian links to actual humans who universally don’t want them.
TrueTwit says: “Avoid Twitter spam” but does send the same Direct (DM) Twitter message advertising the TrueTwit service from multiple TrueTwit users to a single follower multiple times in a single day.
All of this makes it seem that the motivation (what TrueTwit thinks) is to get free advertising or lots of money – or both – by breaking the rules they say they enforce.
That’s not a recipe for long term success and respect. Unless you maybe the mob, in which case you are totally awesome and I have no complaints at all with your methods. (And it has just dawned on me that since there’s not a single indication of who runs the service on the website and no owner attribution on whois this could conceivably be run by them. So… apologies if that’s the case. I like my kneecaps and shall retract this post if that’s what it takes to keep them.)
I’ll share you with the saddest part of all. On the right side of TrueTwit’s Welcome Page there’s a statistics sheet that currently shows over 4.2 million verified followers. We’re looking at about a minute to read and digest the page copy and enter the Captcha codes – assuming we get them right the first time. If my math is right (and it probably isn’t) that’s more than 80 years of lost human effort. More than a literal lifetime wasted responding to an automated process that never had to happen in the first place.
It’s time to practice what you preach, TrueTwit. Stop causing the problem you say you’re here to solve. Trust us to willingly advertise services that we like instead of forcing your message down our throats with Sisyphean cyborgs.
Love the name, by the way. After looking into the organization in such detail I find it somewhat descriptive.

EVENT: “Branding? Meet Gandhi.” with Tate Linden


Be a part of Tate’s first-ever public discussion on the topic of kickass Gandhian brands. One day you might even tell your grand-kids you were there. (Note: said telling is far more likely to occur if you already have grand-kids, and if they just so happen to be visiting around October 4th.)


Topic: Gandhi’s Secrets to a Successful Brand
Presenter: Tate Linden, President & Chief Creative of Stokefire Branding and Advertising
Sponsors: The DC chapter of ASTD and the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network.
Cost: Free! (Thanks sponsors!)
Date: October 4, 2011, 7 to 9 PM
Location: Bethesda Regional Library – 7400 Arlington Rd. Bethesda, MD 20814.


Only about ten seats remaining.
Call Peggy Linden, Coaching SIG Leader at 301-424-0860 or send her an email.

About The Session:

Organizational brands large and small struggle and fail every day. Many chalk this up to bad luck or poor timing, but that’s a cop-out. In most cases the situations leading to failure can be recognized and turned around before it’s too late. In this session you’ll learn to recognize and decode the warning signs, and to understand the steps needed to fix the problems. Tate Linden may be conveying the information, but it’s Gandhi’s words on alignment and perception that are the foundation of the session.

By the end of his 1 hour interactive session you will:

  1. Understand what a brand identity is and why it matters to the success of every organization, be it a sole proprietorship or industry titan.
  2. Easily recognize the three signs of brand misalignment and three indicators of weak brand elements – and the negative consequences of each.
  3. Learn why a critical ingredient in brand success is provided by the audience, not the branded organization.
  4. Know where and how to effectively focus your efforts to build a solid foundation for your own brand’s success.
Tate’s discussion starts after brief introductions from the attendees, and following his discussion there will be Q&A and networking.

About the Presenter:

Tate has over 15 years experience advising, managing and developing brands for the likes of Discovery Communications, Heinz, Charles Schwab, ADP, and the US Department of Defense. He’s also an in-demand speaker for audiences from 10 to 1500, with recent appearances for the US Congress, HOW Design Conference, ASAE Great Ideas, and the ACCE annual conference. He’s in the midst of writing a book and developing workshops that show in detail how and why to incorporate Gandhian philosophies into organizational identities.

About Time You Pull Over And Ask For Directions:

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LEGO’s Beautiful Failure

Posted by:
Tate Linden

“When people look at LEGO, they see an innovative company; they’ve come to expect great things from it. So when LEGO put out its first official iPhone application, and people get excited, it just continues, and builds on, that brand affinity.” —  Jason Apaliski, Associate Creative Director, then from Pereira & O’Dell. Quoted in Communication Arts Interactive Annual 17.

It’s a nice sentiment, and an easily believed one, but I think it may be untrue. To build on brand affinity you have to connect with what makes the brand appealing, and with LEGO that’s more than just the look and sound of the blocks. With LEGO’s successful line of video games the look and sound of the blocks are an afterthought, not the reason for success. It’s the interactivity, nearly endless options, and creative play that take top billing. If they weren’t then the epitome of LEGO success would just be a bunch of randomly falling bricks on a screen. (I’m fairly certain a falling LEGO bricks app would not be particularly successful, but don’t quote me on that.)

Mr. Apaliski says, “Our challenge was to extend the brand to something that wasn’t just for creative people.” and the application (still available here for free) indeed gives non-creatives a chance to interact non-creatively with the visual and audible aspects of LEGO. The application lets you take pictures using the iPhone camera or images saved on the phone and convert them into flat LEGO images. It’s a nice way for people who already love LEGOs to bring that affinity with them.

But it doesn’t give you any of the joy of interacting with the LEGO brand if you aren’t already a fanatic.

I wonder what the team at LEGO believes is at the core of the brand. Here’s what a Google search turned up from fans and other folks around the Internets:

  • “[The] freedom to create and build”
  • “Being able to express something that I see in my head so that other people can see it”
  • “Combinability is the very essence of LEGO”
  • At the essence of LEGO are”products [that] can be assembled and re-assembled into something else: building blocks of the imagination
Those seem a lot closer than what LEGO’s own CEO came up with as related to the essence of LEGO:
  1. When it’s advertised, does it make a child say ‘I want this’?
  2. Once he opens the box, does it make him go ‘I want more of this’?
  3. One month later, does he come back to the toy, rebuild it and still play with it? Or does he put it on the shelf and forget about it?

To me what Jørgen Vig Knudstorp has identified isn’t the essence of LEGO at all. It would be at the core of any toy company trying to stay popular and relevant for the long term. He’s identified symptoms of having a great child-focused product that is advertised effectively, is collectible, and is addictive or multidimensional.  To Jørgen it seems that the essence of LEGO is exactly the same essence found in Barbie, G.I. Joe, Play-Doh, and Hot Wheels. Each of these brands has successfully advertised, up-sold, and addicted kids and adults around the globe using the formula. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just not different. And it’s not what truly attracts people to the toy.

There’s an essence beneath the advertising and playability that is missed. There’s something about structured but limitless creativity here that none of the other toys have. If LEGO’s leaders can’t define why people will select LEGO over the other iconic brands then they can’t work on making that aspect more visible and attractive. They won’t know what to put in front of the prospective user or buyer to make them want to play.

And that insight, folks, is what’s missing in the LEGO Photo app. It’s a beautiful idea, but entirely ineffective at getting anyone to buy more LEGOs. It absolutely deserves an award for visual creativity, but it doesn’t serve as a tangible business driver.

And it should have. And could have.

In the referenced article, Mr. Apaliski spoke of giving non-creative types the ability to use their ideas instead of their creativity. But any iPhone app that applies a filter to a photo does that. What LEGO brings to the table should be more tangible. LEGO’s product (and associated experience) crosses the line between imagination and reality with ease, but this app gives access to neither.

We already know that people can turn LEGOs into art – and folks like Sean Kenney do it for between $450 and $1695. So why wouldn’t we help someone with an iPhone do something similar but on a budget? Give people a way to transition from the virtual world to the real one – to embrace and share the possibilities that only LEGO can provide. How? Well, how about these for starters:

  1. A simple Email Me The Parts List button so the user could sort through their stash at home or bring it to the lego shop so they can build the picture themselves.
  2. Custom-packed and shipped Let Me LEGO Artwork boxes from that allow people to send a kit of custom parts and instructions (or perhaps without) for self-assembly. Maybe even include backing board and glue.
  3. For the creatively lazy you can have the high-end LEGO-Made Artwork for the sorts of prices Sean Kenney is charging – or allow him to fulfill for the brand. (Though at this level I’m fairly certain that some sort of human screening would be required or everyone will be asking for copyrighted works and naked people.)

Successfully executed that’s an app that’s not just a nifty advertisement to be tried and discarded by all but the most diehard fans, but creates an entirely new revenue stream, helps the product sell itself through viral distribution, and even off the walls of our living-rooms as well. Better still (for LEGO’s bottom line), once LEGOs are part of a glued piece of art it takes them out of circulation, meaning that if the buyers want to play with more they’ll have to buy more.

I’m pretty sure that the essence of LEGO is different for every user – and that’s the joy of the medium and maybe even the brand. It is what you make of it. And what you can make of it is constantly being pushed beyond what you thought possible. By creating an app that didn’t let us do or experience the one thing that LEGO encourages – the making – LEGO has failed (albeit beautifully) to deliver on the promise of the brand.




What Makes People Want To Follow A Brand? An Infographic Explanatory Attempt

Posted by:
Tate Linden


According to Get Satisfaction if you’re following us it’s probably because of our special offers, an existing client relationship, our sparkling wit and humor, because your friends are doing it, to get news, or the infamous and infuriating “other”. But as cool-looking as the infographic may be, I wonder…

Do the multiple choice responses above really answer the question, “what makes people want to follow a brand?”

I suppose it does if you’re interested in the narrowly defined social media definition of ‘follow’ coupled with the most broad definition of ‘brand’. The largest group of followers identified ‘special offers’ as the reason for clicking the follow button. Thanks to organizations such as Groupon and LivingSocial ‘special offers’ is now nearly synonymous with ‘discounts’. To my mind there’s a huge difference between following a brand and following discounts. Wouldn’t a true brand follower (stepping outside of the limited social media context here) follow a brand irrespective of deals or discounts?

I think perhaps the question actually being answered here is “what makes people want to follow a Twitter account representing an organization.” Once we look at it in that context the vast majority of answers start to make more sense. Being a current customer, looking for discounts, copying your friends, or being entertained are all legitimate reasons to follow a Twitter handle. But which of these actually drives engagement to the point of being a true brand adherent? Only five percent of respondents said they were interested in service, support, or product news – which seems to be the only response that has the hallmark of someone who truly follows a brand in spirit. (Yes, I’m being picky and suggesting that just indicating that you’re a current customer isn’t enough to be considered as anything other than taking a test-drive.)

Counting your social media followers is a fine activity, as is trying to figure out why they’re following you. You’ve gotta have some kind of metrics. But trying to equate a follower on Twitter with a follower of a brand is folly. Even tracking stuff like amplification probability and true reach (as provided by klout) doesn’t measure the one thing that matters in the long term.

Success in social media shouldn’t be measured in audience size or amplification probability. It should be measured in the same way that success of real brands should be measured – by tracking the brand’s ability to change the behavior of the target audience. A large audience helps increase the spread of your message, but if your message sucks or your brand elements are out of alignment (see: Gandhi’s Pyramid) all it will do is make your inadequacies apparent to more people who you’ll then need to reeducate if you ever invest in getting your brand right, or help you lose the clients you already have.

Two final thoughts:

1) I am very impressed with the research collected by getsatisfaction and this post isn’t meant to disparage their talented team in any way. What they uncovered is true when we limit ourselves to the social media universe. Unfortunately the vocabulary they (and most of us) use to distinguish a follower who defined themselves by clicking a single ‘FOLLOW’ button to receive a coupon from a follower who has spent a lifetime collecting brand memorabilia has a lot of overlap – and it probably shouldn’t. We’re running into this blurring of the two “fan” states more and more these days.

2) If your organization is focused on churn-and-burn tactics that depend on being at the leading edge of a trend and you aren’t needing to build or maintain a long-term client relationship then disregard all of the stuff I wrote above. Get in, get followers, be humorous, offer discounts, make scads of money and get out quick. Just don’t ask me how to do that without also selling your soul, because I don’t know. And, truthfully, if I did (even if I had to sell my soul in the deal, perhaps) chances are good I’d be trying to convince you that the answer was just a click (and three easy payments) away.

Here’s the original infographic-o’-coolness:

Defining Brand Strategy – with Gandhi?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

This post follows on my post from last week in which I introduced a basic brand philosophy, but neglected to define all the terms. Thanks to those of you who asked that I back up and give a bit more context before moving forward.

I use two of Gandhi’s famous quotes as the basis for Stokefire’s system of understanding how and why organizations or causes succeed or fail, and what can be done to fix them. I began working more seriously with his ideas (with the very capable help of my team) as I was preparing to speak to members of Congress about why Republicans consistently represented not only their own brand, but also defined the Democrats, while the Dems could neither represent themselves nor define their opponents.

A Definition of Terms

  1. Gandhi’s Trinity or Gandhi’s Pyramid: The three distinct elements that together result in the happiness mentioned in Gandhi’s quote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
  2. Do: Whatever it is that your organization gets paid to deliver, whether it’s a product, service, or cause, is your ‘do’. Within an organization you likely have a larger ‘do’ that encompasses what is offered to external clients, and smaller ‘do’s for internal departments such as HR, Payroll, and the like that are tasked with ensuring that the organization can survive to provide the intended service. My focus will most often be on the larger externally oriented definition, but lessons can usually be applied to either.
  3. Say: The sum total of externally viewable organizational communications. This includes almost any sort of communication that can be perceived by the senses. Verbal and visual are obvious, so you’ve got marketing, advertising, design, logo, and PR covered. But we can communicate using scent, non-verbal sound, touch, and taste as well. If the purpose of the experience is to communicate with the audience outside of the use of the product or service then chances are good that you’re dealing with ‘say’. Most importantly, any internal ‘confidential’ communication is also part of ‘say’. As you will see shortly, what we say is a window into what we think – so if we’re keeping secrets they’re going to be seen as more representative and believable than what we intentionally distribute to the world.
  4. Think: Perhaps a better word for this is ‘intent’. This is the true motivation or cause behind an organization. For those outside of the organization’s leadership circle, ‘think’ is typically only deduced by analyzing what is said and done and computing the probable cause. It takes a truthful and well communicated motivation to succeed for the long term. But it is only under extreme pressure that the true motivation can be proven. Intense positive or negative pressure reveals what is most important because in those periods we tend to embrace what we hold most dear.
  5. Perception of Intent: Somewhat related to Gandhi’s Pyramid, a second quote from Gandhi helps to explain this idea: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
    Since our true intent (or our ‘think’) is usually not provable it becomes critically important in competitive situations to understand how our motivations are perceived by our audience. Perception of Intent is almost completely unrelated to truth or genuine motivation. It is affected by the biases of the originators, deliverers, and receivers of the intended message, and can be easily manipulated (to the detriment of the originator) when the elements of Gandhi’s Pyramid aren’t in harmony.

Those are the key aspects within the developing philosophy.

But why define these terms at all?

Because I believe that all successes and failures can be attributed to either a lack of alignment between, or insufficient strength within, items two through four (‘think’, ‘say’, or ‘do’). It is this weakness that, in competitive situations, enables competitors or the media to manipulate Perception of Intent (item 5) and impact the likelihood of success.

Anything I’ve missed? Let me know.

All I Need To Know (About Branding) I Learned From Gandhi – Part 1

Posted by:
Tate Linden (who is, incidentally, not pictured below.)

Virtually everything I believe – inside and outside of branding- can be summed up in two quotes by Gandhi. Today I’ll focus on the first of the two:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Whether applying this to a person or to a brand (the latter of which, in my view, is basically a reflection of an organization’s leadership) the statement holds true. This state of happiness and harmony is a critical ingredient in the establishment an maintenance of a lasting identity.

The Pursuit of Happiness

It sounds corny, but happiness – as Gandhi defined it –  is to me the foundation upon which a successful and resilient brand is built. Having your thinking, saying, and doing in harmony means that your genuine motivation is effectively communicated and that you deliver the results that you promise. As long as it’s genuine, this transparent alignment can do something traditional ‘manufactured’ identities can’t; it can weather virtually any scandal and recover from market weakness faster than competitors. A happy brand is difficult to tear apart because everything it says and does is attached solidly to its true purpose.  Putting pressure on it just reveals more stability and strength.

But every unhappy brand I’ve found – the ones that fall apart under stress – have a problem with either the relationship between thinking, saying, and doing, or within at least one of the three individual components.

Indicators of Unhappiness

An unhappy identity is one of the most common things in the world. I’d argue that just about every identity is unhappy at some level. Don’t think so? Consider these brand-oriented insults and what they mean in terms of alignment:

“Those guys are sellouts” or “they have no soul” means that thinking and doing are out of alignment.

“They’re all talk” or “they’re inconsistent” is an indicator that saying and doing are out of alignment.

“They’re just telling you what you want to hear” or “they’re slick” shows thinking and saying are out of alignment.

These three indicators speak to an identity’s inability to hold up under stress. Without pressure these problems aren’t really an issue. It’s only when there’s a powerful alternative solution or some sort of crisis that alignment issues become visible. And visible alignment issues seem to be universally bad.

What’s the Result of Misalignment?

Misalignment of brand is very similar to misalignment of a military’s armored defenses. Any cracks or irregularities can be exploited. In a competitive market, or in situations where one entity is trying to convince another to do something, any misalignment makes the ability to produce a desired change much harder.

Misalignment is the beginning of failure. It’s the weakness to which you’ll be able to track back almost every lost opportunity you’ve had in the past or will have in the future. It’s that feeling we get when we know something isn’t right but can’t quite put it into words. Maybe Gandhi’s concept of happiness gives us what we were missing before.

But this concept of alignment really only seems to come into play once an opportunity exists. A big part of success is getting noticed – and all of the problems stemming from misalignment seem to assume that a relationship of some sort already exists. Misalignment only matters once the spotlight is shining on you, but if you’re not center stage the flaws don’t matter.

Supposing we’ve solved all of our alignment issues, though. We want that spotlight and fixing flaws doesn’t mean people will pay attention. We need something else.

So Where Does the Attention Come From?

That’s the topic of my next post, but *spoiler alert* it’s got a lot to do with the strengths or weaknesses of each element of Gandhi’s trinity of thinking, saying and doing. From there? We’ll go down the rabbit hole of intent and perception. Because Mr. G has a lot to say on that topic, too.

Until then… what do you think? Is it worth exploring more deeply? Do you have any examples where this theory of alignment is either proven or unproven in the real world?

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