Tag: "analysis"

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.

Syfy? I Don’t Buy It.

No, really, I don’t.  I get it for free with basic cable.

Oh, and also I don’t understand the choice of name.

Sure, it has positives.  The name selection is of the type that gets a TON of free press, even landing prestigious mentions on the Thingnamer Blog and lesser known publications like the New York Times.  The name ties in to current trends such as text-typing where semi-intuitive abbreviations are used in place of the actual words – (OMG 4Rls!)

The problem I have with the new brand isn’t the name itself (okay, that too…) but more that the reasons for the rebrand seem disingenuous.  The stated reason for the rebrand was the understanding that “the Sci Fi name is limiting.”  This statement is from the current head of the channel.  The previous channel leader said

“We couldn’t own Sci Fi; it’s a genre,”
 “But we can own Syfy.”

Let’s have this conversation out loud, why don’t we?  If the “Sci Fi name is limiting” then isn’t “Syfy” equally limiting?  And is it really possible to own the Syfy brand as anything other than a visual mark?  Don’t the audible connotations (heck, it’s the same word, isn’t it?) have precisely the same connotations no matter which way it is spelled?

Next issue? How about this statement:

The testing we’ve done has been incredibly positive.

Based on the response to the announcement I’d say the testing wasn’t complete.  Of course, I’d rather not perform this sort of testing to begin with.  Coke (and New Coke) learned the lesson about testing long ago.  Until the brand gets into the wild you never know how it will be received – even if you invest millions in testing.  The focus grouping industry is there mostly to make executives feel like they have justification to move forward with a mainstream idea.

Here’s the real deal, folks.  The SYFY brand is going to be just fine for the next few years.  NBC and GE have enough money to throw at it so that if they want to become a household brand they can do so and this name won’t hold them back.  The four letter name has some interesting design possibilities to develop the brand.  You can almost picture it with the I(heart)NY or DKNY arrangement.  The name is just risky enough to appear edgy and to get press around the event.

Think about this… How many of us have ever talked about the Sci Fi channel?  Ever?  I’m certainly on that list prior to today.  And now I’ll probably keep an eye on them and read their press releases to see if they actually can execute the new brand. 

A few years from now this name probably will be changed again. 
Text-type abbreviations will fade (because they’re so 2008?) and be replaced with some strange
Minority-Report-esque way of communicating and the Syfy brand will look
dated (a bad thing for a channel focused on the future) but until that
time they’ll do just fine. 

Where Landor fell down was not with the name but with the talking points for the executives.  A strong branding firm doesn’t let the executives make fools of themselves with nonsensical justification for the rebranding. This is a lot like Lexicon (a peer branding firm) that allowed Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer to suggest they chose the name Zune because it sounded cool.  No capably led organization would ever change its name from the correct spelling to a made-up homophone of the same word because the original word “is limiting.”  That’s crazy talk. 

Am I in the minority with my lack of complete hatred for the name?



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