Category: Gandhi

No, You May Not Have This Tasty, Tasty Apple.

I understand that everyone loves the Apple brand for its vibrancy, simplicity, and power. I really do. It’s a kickass brand, so it’s not surprising. But… Please don’t ask me to build you a brand ‘just like Apple’ unless Steve Jobs’ ghost is already on board to lead it. Because that’s what it’d take to make it work.

Look… Contrary to what most of the branding and advertising industry shouts at customers, the job of a great branding team is not to give you the brand that you want. Our job is to give you a brand with which you can succeed. Asking for a brand that looks like Apple may be an effective short-hand way to convey an aesthetic that you find appealing, but the whole underlying structure from which brands are actually built is overlooked in the process. Worse, the chances that what you and your staff find aesthetically appealing and what will bring a positive change in the behavior of your intended audience being the same are nearly nil.

What made Apple… well, Apple… was the insight, effort, and execution of Jobs, Wozniak, and their team. The name and logo they chose didn’t cause their success; the verbal and visible brand was a direct result of the unique qualities of the organization’s leadership expressed nearly to perfection. They changed the behavior of hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe by genuinely understanding who Apple was, delivering a product that could only come from such people, and communicating both their thinking and performance in a way that seemed to both illuminate and prove their difference. Or as I would normally put it, they used something very like Gandhi’s Pyramid. If you want to honor their brand or have similar successes then I’d advise you stop trying to copy the result of their efforts or the current state of their brand and start duplicating the effort and unique insights that led to it.

Making you look like Apple isn’t that hard. (Just ask Samsung.) But creating a lasting and valuable brand as unique and genuine as Apple from your own values and actions should actually result in a brand that in the end isn’t much like Apple at all.

 

The Painful Truth about Working With Stokefire, And How To Fail While Doing It.

Posted by Tate Linden

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

The truth about working with Stokefire? It often sucks.

I mean it.

Working with Stokefire is frequently extremely painful. Intentionally so. There’s a core belief at this firm that we can’t ensure a brand’s greatness until we have proven that it can withstand immense pressure. As our regular readers might recall, the philosophy supporting our work is structured around a quote from Gandhi, and though he may never have directly said as much, I personally believe that if Gandhi hadn’t gone through the painful challenges that he did he wouldn’t have made such an impact on the world. His philosophies would never have been tested and found to be powerful and effective. While we’re not known for putting our clients under the sorts of extreme pressures over which Gandhi triumphed, we are pretty damn good at making clients uncomfortable and even angry when it’s called for. And, for what it’s worth, it’s almost always called for.

A brand built by staying in your happy place may be fun, but it won’t help get you through the challenges that real organizations face during a crisis. My firm has had great success earning accounts that a little shop like ours “had no right to even pitch” (as one of our competitors put it) by going after that pain, and warning our prospective clients in advance that we’re here to cause harm but that the end result will be a battle tested brand that will get them where they want to go. We’ve had clients Google, Motorola, Charles Schwab, Heinz, the US Department of Defense, and the entirety of the US concrete industry. C’mon people; you must admit that our little shop in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia doesn’t seem like it should be able to even get business cards from the people that work at the agencies that land clients like those. (And candidly, we tend not to get those business cards. The people who work in the big agencies are not my biggest fans, from what I can tell.)

We don’t surprise clients with the bad stuff after they sign. No. We tell ‘em the first time we see them. Pretty much open the door and say, “You know, working with us is pretty much going to suck for you, right?” And then we tell them all the stuff they’re going to hate about working with us.

Among the things we cover are all the decisions and actions that they’ll want to make or take that we tell them in advance are off the table if they want to have a chance at a successful project. That list is about a dozen items long – and every one of the items has at some point caused more than one of our projects to end up less effective than it should have been. Clients are still able to go against the advice, but must acknowledge that in so doing our team is entitled to make changes to timeline, budget, and/or scope, or goals to compensate.

For the first time – that I can remember, anyhow – I’m sharing about half of this this list with the world, reworded in such a way that it might be Internet-ably digestible.

SIX EASY WAYS TO FAIL AT BRANDING:

Method 1: Avoid Risk, (Because Not Doing So Is So Gosh Darn Risky.)

Without risk you won’t get noticed. Without notice you can’t engage. Without engagement you can’t achieve any meaningful organizational goals, except perhaps downsizing, which you really don’t need our help with.

The most common way to avoid risk is to look at the industry and figure out what everyone else is saying and doing, and then find a designer who can mash it all together into something resembling a brand image. No need to hire a strategist because the work is already done! Go to the website of any competitor, then just cut, paste, and BAM! You just saved all sorts of time, effort, and money. Go ask for a raise.

Method 2: Insist on Consensus for the Wrong Things.

It’s critical to come to consensus about the goals for the organization and the brand, but when it comes to whether or not people like the resulting work we actually find positive consensus to be an indicator that the work isn’t as powerful as it needs to be. One thing that every great brand has in common? Someone out there absolutely hates it. We’re actually pretty pleased that most of the time there’s someone out there that truly despises our work, though often as not it’s the competition that screams the loudest.

Method 3: Keep the Decision Makers Out of the Process.

Keeping the decision makers out of the creative and strategic process is like making a baker’s favorite cake without access to the baker, and without access to the baker’s closet of ingredients or recipes. No matter what you come up with there’s little chance that that the baker will approve it because the result won’t match the recipe to which you never had access in the first place. If a decision maker is too busy or important to participate then they should delegate authority to someone who has the time and interest required to get it right.

Method 4: Demand that the Purpose of the Organization or Brand Include the Word, “AND.”

“And” is the bane of singularly effective brands and strategies. The moment you require a proverbial bullet to hit both the primary target and a second (or third, or twelfth) one you’ve made what should’ve been a relatively straight-forward shot into one that is effectively impossible. This is not to say you can’t hit all the targets, but the chances are better that you’ll end up winging them rather than nailing the center of any.

Method 5: Change Requirements or Assumptions Upon Which Work Was Based But Leave The Resulting Work Unchanged.

It’s like telling that aforementioned cook to prepare a meal for a meat-lover, then upon delivery of the delectable meat-infused foods being told that they made a typo and meant to say that the eater was vegan. There is no option except to restart from the step right before the assumption was made. The moment the assumptions in place are changed the work that resulted from the old ones either must be thrown out, or used for some other purpose. No matter how delicious that TurDuckEn may be, the first instinct should never be, “Well, maybe we can still use it if we just add more vegetables.”

Method 6: Keep the Project Hidden from Staff, Clients, and Stakeholders Until It’s Done.

Done right, the result of a strategic rebranding process should seem like you’ve scraped off a battered (or poorly chosen) coat of paint to reveal the beautifully crafted bones of the original structure that had been hidden before. That’s very hard to do if you don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the people who helped to build it in the first place, and those that live there now. Imagine coming home and finding someone you don’t know has repainted and repositioned everything in your home without asking for your permission or input, and then stuck you with the bill. Oh. And they appear to reeeeealy like pink. It’s likely you’ll find that the work covered up everything you loved about your home. That’s what happens when an employee comes in one day with new logos and mottos spread all over the office. It’s seen as “just another marketing thing” instead of what should be a powerful tool for helping the organization get where it needs to go.

No matter how risky you might think trying to engage existing staff or clients in the process might be, that’s nothing compared to the backlash that can occur when you try to sneak one over on them, or aren’t completely transparent with the reason for a change.

You may notice that almost all of these methods that lead to failure involve some sort of attempt to overtly or covertly avoid risk. Having leadership stay out of the process means that they’re not to be blamed for the direction the project has taken, requiring consensus spreads blame so that individuals can duck risk, having multiple goals means there’s no risk of alienating anyone, allowing assumptions to change without consequence means no one will have to risk their employment by asking for more funding, and keeping stakeholders in the dark means that we don’t risk blowing the project schedule by letting in rabble that could turn the whole thing to a muddled mess.

We’re not unique when it comes to recognizing that risk is a critical ingredient in a successful brand. Most agencies acknowledge this now – but I think the extent to which we’ve codified the ways risk avoidance can creep back into a supposedly risky position is less common. If you’ve got stories to share on risk avoidance or acceptance gone wrong I’d love to hear about ‘em.

When it comes to branding and strategy choices, I’m finding that almost every time the right choice for the client is the one that makes them the most nervous. Not in an “anyone who would do this is an idiot” way, but in a “can we really do that? Because no one in our industry would ever in a million years try something like it” sense. Which is kind of the point. Any retrenching towards what’s comfortable and familiar results in an avalanche of undone decisions that turn brand positioning and strategy into a mishmash of platitudes that no one finds objectionable and never gets mentioned outside of annual executive strategy sessions.

_____

That’s it…I’m out of practice on this whole blogging thing, but I’ve got some more stuff I’d like to share in the coming days and weeks, so here’s to hoping I can continue to bring it back to life.  Thanks to my Twitter followers who helped nudge me back on the hamster wheel. You can find me being my own bad self at @Thingnamer or tune into to the business-esque chatterings of the team (and me) at @Stokefire.

 

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.

Learning the Lingo While Teaching

Posted By:
Tate Linden


Quick update!

Last week I spoke to a great group of coaches and organizational developers about my developing book applying Gandhi’s wisdom to branding. His quote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” seemed to make sense to everyone, but when I used it in practice to reference the thinking, saying and doing of an organization’s leadership everyone was left scratching their heads.

What I learned from the experience is that there’s too much awkwardness and wiggle room in explaining someone’s reason for doing or saying something as “their thinking”, or worse, “their THINK”. I spent half the session doing verbal gymnastics to make “think” stay within the model I was discussing instead of using the Think/Say/Do model as way to introduce the conceptual and them immediately applying more business- or brand-appropriate language.

Leaders speak of their intent or motivation, and since that’s who I’m speaking with and about there’s no reason to make them try to learn some buzz-wordy “my THINK is X” phrasing when all we’re talking about is what gets us out of bed in the morning. What really surprised me, though, was that until now I’d been so absorbed in the development and application of the philosophy that I’d completely ignored how awkward it was to discuss.

Many thanks to the ASTD and CBODN members who helped me discover the problem and watched me work through it in real time. Both cool and humbling to experience.

(And if you want to buy the post image on a tee? Gandhi just might approve.)

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

Posted by:
Tate Linden

source: http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2011/06/29/what-makes-people-follow-brands/?view=socialstudies

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:

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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