What's In A Brand?

A brand is more than mere logos, slogans and fancy packaging.  It’s a cluster of ideas which—if the brand is successful—is evoked by any or all of the above. In the last Blog post, I discussed movies and their characters. But we don’t often think of the story as a brand and how that brand is transformed throughout the story.  Let’s take a closer look at those films from a brand perspective and then compare that to the cluster of ideas of well-known brands. 

It’s A Wonderful Life
George Bailey becomes more to us than a character in a story.  His brand transforms as he takes us along on his personal journey. He is not the same person in the end of the film as he was in the beginning.  He starts out as a stressed-out, almost suicidal bank executive and ends up finding peace and balance in his life.  His cluster of ideas encompasses struggle, a personal journey, and a better understanding of himself and his world.  In a way, his cluster of ideas is his personal growth and all of the elements that comprise that growth. 

The Apartment
It is not only C.C. Baxter, but every character in this film that comprise the cluster of ideas for the brand.  Each character represents something familiar to the viewer.  C.C. himself perhaps, or perhaps his boss or his love interest or his neighbor – they are all characters who are relatable to each of us.  We can see ourselves as any one of those characters and we can identify our own environment and the people who encompass it in our daily lives.  The myth creation surrounding this brand is the story of the apartment.  As the key is passed from person to person, a myth emerges about the nature of the key. C.C. is very complex yet can be seen as very simple.  He embodies what we all go through in life – trying to find a balance between who we are and who want to be. 

The Graduate
The Graduate is great example of what’s known as a creation myth.  In this context, a myth isn’t necessarily false but rather the story behind the story.  From the Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson to other movies, the cluster of ideas surrounding The Graduate becomes a brand changer.  The most obvious brand-and-viewer transformation is that people seem to recall the movie as “the story of Mrs. Robinson” rather than by its actual name and they seem to forget all about Benjamin.  The movie Rumor Has It (2005) stars Jennifer Aniston and all-star cast in which Aniston’s character learns that her family was the basis of the story The Graduate.  The cluster of ideas for this brand transcends the story and allows the viewer and the story to both become transformed by the experience.

Ford Motor Company
Ford, or rather Henry Ford himself, can be compared to George Bailey.  He went broke five times before founding Ford Motor Company.  While there are myriad of examples of famous people and brands that almost failed, Henry is a good comparison to George.  Ford’s cluster of ideas is much more than simply manufacturing cars.  Ford is synonymous with America.  Ford didn’t take a government bailout – and neither George Bailey.  They simply found a way to make it work and their customers loved them for it. 

Wal-Mart as it is known today can be compared to C.C. Baxter.  Let’s face it, they sold out.  Much like C.C. they were okay with selling out.  They were okay with all of the naysayers who think they are the big bad corporate giant who puts every small business out of business.  But they have recently begun to think, “How can build some street cred?”  They have launched a new line of grocery stores that are meant to be placed in downtowns of cities rather than in sprawling developments. The new stores, called Marketplace, require less square footage (around 40,000sq ft) and employee less people.  They want to change their image to be more consumer and business friendly. Much like C.C. Baxter, they are trying to find balance between who they’ve become and they want to be. 

I can’t think of a better brand to discuss creation myth than Facebook.   Started in a dorm room at Harvard in 2003 by Mark Zuckerberg, the myth creation for Facebook and the cluster of ideas surrounding the brand depends on who you ask.  This is, without a doubt, a brand that has transformed and has been transformed by its audience.  Facebook has impacted pulp culture more than Sergeant Pepper.   More than Elvis.  More than the Internet itself.  Facebook is verb.  Facebook has changed everything about the way people everywhere (except China) communicate with each other.  It has changed our vernacular and colloquialism.  It has impacted the user(s) on a personal level and each person’s experience with it is different, yet the brand is ubiquitous.   We are all impacted because of the incomparable and unparalleled transformation of both brand and user.  Facebook is us.  We are Facebook.


It COULD BE a Wonderful Life....if You're Open to That Sort of Thing

We love a good story.  We love a good movie.  Some movies will draw you in and stay with you; you watch them over and over and over.  They speak to you depending on where you are in life at the moment you watch them. Sometimes they speak to you because they remind you of a place you used to be in life.  Sometimes they reveal things about you which you were probably aware but not fully admitting to yourself.  Movies allow you to escape into someone else’s perils for a while to forget about yours.  To really examine a character is to really examine one’s self.   Here are three classics to help introduce you to yourself. 

It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946

George Bailey is, by all accounts, a good guy.  What that means is that he is adores his wife and family, is successful, and is generally pleasant.  When his father dies, George takes over the Savings and Loan that his father ran.  His uncle misplaced a $5,000 deposit (in the time period of the movie that was lot of money) and George feels helpless.  More importantly he feels hopeless.  In his utter desperation, he attempts to kill himself by jumping off a bridge.  Then an angel named Clarence appears with a specific purpose – to show George that his life has meaning. 

The angel takes George on a journey to show him the positive impact his life has had on those around him.  His brother nearly drowns in childhood and George saved his life; then saw his brother become war hero.  We watch as George’s life is revealed to him, showing him specifically all the people he helped.  He consistently sacrifices his own self in order to help someone else.  As he embarks on this journey, he begins to become to transformed from someone whose own life was at stake to someone who becomes filled with an overwhelming desire to live.  And live with fervor he does.

He is kind and compassionate to the less fortunate and then in his hour of crisis the entire town came together to save him.  A long-lost friend pledges to wire George the $5,000. The entire town comes together and each person pledges money.  George realizes that he should not go through with suicide because his life is meaningful, he is beloved, and life truly does have a purpose.  The dynamic and complex aspect of the character that transfers energy to the story is that sometimes we are all faced with what initially appears to be a dire situation.  But if we take the time to understand and assess the situation, we just might find that things have a way of working out.  It can be a wonderful life if we just allow ourselves to be open to the positive side of things and embrace life for all it has to offer.  We also learn that we touch every person’s life with whom we come into contact.  And sometimes, they change us more than we impact them. 

The Apartment, 1960

Many people constantly struggle with their own internal noise and spend their whole lives trying to answer questions like: Did I sell out? My life is not what I thought it could be. Am I a bad parent? Maybe I should hit the gym today.  C.C. Baxter is the embodiment of all of these questions and more.  He is somewhat quirky, somewhat hilarious, somewhat driven to succeed, and somewhat na├»ve. 

C.C.  is a low-level employee at an insurance company.  He works every day from 8:50 A.M. to 5:20 P.M.  at the same desk, surrounded by the same people, and rides the same elevator day-in and day-out to the 19th Floor.  He has some ambition to rise to middle management but he is one of many in a faceless, nameless pool of similar employees.  The biggest thing at stake for him is to be promoted and he will do anything to get there – even sell out.  He actually has no qualms with selling out and sees it as just the way things are.  The one thing he does have going for him is that he is male is a male-dominated, “old boys club” world.  The one thing working against him in his environment is that he isn’t part of the cool kids or the in crowd. 

In order to fit in among the popular guys at the office and in an attempt to get that coveted promotion, C.C. essentially makes a deal with the devil.  He is single and has an apartment in the city.  Most of the upper management (who are all men) are married men who actively and openly have myriad of sorted affairs with women.  However, they need a place to take their mistresses. So C.C. allows the men to use his apartment.  They systematically pass the key to his apartment around the office while C.C. keeps a detailed schedule of the rotation.  Whenever C.C. feels the squeeze or just wants his apartment to himself, he tries to tell the guys the apartment is not available for a particular evening.  They always respond by reminding him that his numbers look good and the human resources department will be making promotion recommendations any day, insinuating that he will get a promotion if he allows them to continue using the apartment.   He is somewhat irritated yet allows them to sort of bully him because he believes they will put in a good word for him to upper management. 

All is going swimmingly until the company president wants a piece of the action.  C.C. allows the president to use the apartment and he thinks surely now he will get that promotion – to middle management.  However, this is when he begins to change – for the better!

He realizes that his love interest, Fran, is the boss’s mistress. The complex and dynamic aspect of the character that transfers energy to the story is when the boss’s mistress attempts suicide over their failed relationship – in the apartment.  C.C. plays nurse and gets her get back on her feet.  He even tells the world that her attempted suicide was his fault, protects the boss, and even takes a punch!  The boss is so thankful for this that he promotes C.C. – twice - giving him an office on the coveted 27th Floor and access to the executive bathroom.  C.C. Baxter has sold out. 

However, when good people sell out they sometimes regret the decision.  Sometimes when we get to the top (at the cost of our own integrity, principles, and energy), we realize that the view from the top is not necessarily what it is cracked up to be.  C.C.’s boss asks him for the apartment key – again – and C.C. has finally had enough. He refuses and quits the job that he worked so hard to get.  He once seemed resolved to selling out and now seems relieved that it’s over.  He is a good man and has chosen personal integrity over professional gain.  And makes us laugh through his entire journey.

The Graduate, 1967
When Benjamin Braddock graduates from college, he is so much like a lot of people his age.  He is without direction, without a job, and living with his parents.  He has a melancholy demeanor and despite his father’s best attempts at getting him off his rear end and into something passionate, Ben is just lost.  The night of his graduation party he is approached by the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson.  She flirts with him aggressively. She is twice his age.  He is a little mortified….and a little turned on. 

Ben is able to elude Mrs. Robinson for a while however he eventually calls her and asks if he can buy her a drink.  This leads to a summer-long torrid affair.  Ironically, the affair is just what Ben needed to gain some perspective about his life.  He goes into the relationship a virgin – in every sense of the word – and emerges as a changed man at the ripe old age of twenty-one.  

As the summer of being lost, without direction, without a job, and without enthusiasm continues, Ben gets pressure from his parents to go on a date with Elaine Robinson who is Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.  Ben begrudgingly agrees.  Surprisingly to Ben, he falls head-over-feet for Elaine.  This sends the drunken, unstable Mrs. Robinson into a rage. She tells everyone that Ben raped her.  Ben flees town and chases after Elaine when she returns to college in the fall.  The movie ends with Ben and Elaine ending up together.   

Benjamin Braddock is so much like people his age.  He is searching for who he is and what he believes and what he stands for.   He wants to do something with his life but he isn’t in a real hurry to do it.  He discovers the difference between sex and love and screws up along the way. Ultimately he decides that following his own path is difficult, scary, and full of misplaced energy however it is the only way to find yourself and to be happy with who you are.  When in the pursuit of creating yourself, stupid decisions are excusable as long as you learn and grow from them.

So, which are you?  Are you George Bailey, faced with the impossible and unable to see the good in yourself and your life?  Are you C.C. Baxter, so driven by desires to succeed that you almost sell out (or have you sold out already but you’re ok with that)?  Or are you Benjamin Braddock, struggling with your own identity and doing something a little against the grain? 


Build Trust - Be Transparent

The building of a responsible brand cannot be based on simple intuition, changing market preferences, and corporate self-promotion. To be successful, the building of a responsible brand requires systematic planning and coordinated actions, not mere advertising. Transparency is of the utmost importance, especially when building relationships, maintaining relationships, or during a crisis.

To that end, a successful brand should have a crisis management plan in place.  In my opinion, it is not the role of the CEO to Blog in order to tell the brand’s story – leave that for the communications department. However, for a brand to appear transparent, the CEO should some sort of presence online.  An effective crisis management plan clearly defines who should be speaking to the public in certain situations.  For example, this week’s lesson discussed how to avoid being the next Enron.  In the case of Enron (or to a less dramatic extent something like Google or BP), the CEO should be Blogging and talking directly to the public to maintain a favorable public opinion.  I think this is more in line with public relations strategies than direct marketing, but it should be developed as a standard operating procedure.

Let’s dive deeper.  Google constantly comes under fire for privacy issues.  It would tremendously effective if Sergy Brin or Larry Page would Blog openly to discuss Google’s privacy issues, especially when they’re making headlines.  Remember BP? They were literally silent for a very long time and it left consumers angered and confused.  What about GM and the bailout money?  While they did eventually release a fantastic commercial when Ed Whitacre took over, they, like BP, were largely silent during the hearings. The spot (seen here) is GM’s attempt at transparency. 

Included in relationship marketing are not only buyer/seller exchanges but also business partnerships, strategic alliances, and cooperative marketing networks with a consistent effort over time. Looking at it from this perspective then, a CEO could be Blogging on a regular basis – again for transparency. In my organization, the City of Wheeling, the City Manager nor the Mayor ever Blog because that’s my job. However other cities, namely Columbus, Ohio, have a strong mayoral presence online.  Columbus’s mayor has his own Facebook page and YouTube channel which he personally updates regularly.  He uses the YouTube channel (see here) to answer questions that he receives via e-mail or from the Facebook page.  I think this is a tremendous service to the taxpayers and shows that he is not only transparent, but also accessible.

So You’re An Expert! Oh, yea? Says who?

Ok, so sales are increasing, forecast looks good, data from your CRM is showing clients are happy, and you’ve got this Twitter thing down.  You (or someone in your office) updates the Blog and posts engaging things about the company on Facebook.  You are clearly an expert in your field.  But do your customers think so?  What about your competition’s customers – do they view you as an expert?  Here are some ways to stand out in very loud, very crowded online market place. 

Steve Rubel, EVP of Global Strategy and Insights for Edelman, gave a presentation at Mashable Connect 2011 in which he discussed how to be considered an authority on your subject when everyone is simply overloaded with information every waking (and resting) moment of the day.  Rubel discusses the media cloverleaf (seen below) as the way we release information and the way the consumer receives it.  I am a big fan of customer-centricity and firmly believe in the power of two-way communication with the audience.  But how do we stand out in among this inundation of media and furthermore how do we actually get someone to engage in dialogue about our brand?  Rubel gives five pointers to help us along.
1. Elevate the Experts
Let others (not you) become experts on your brand – even that means your current customers.  Have someone else discuss why your product or service is changing their life. Use video, testimonials, and a variety of subject matter.  Look to Cisco Together as an example of a company who does this well.

2. Curate to Connect
Separate the art from the junk. 

3. Dazzle with Data
Use pictures and images.  People do not spend a lot of time reading but rather they “browse” or skim through your web site or Blog (except for this one, of course).  So use images and graphs to make your point more easily.  Ever hear of the back of the napkin? 

4. Put Pubs on Hubs
Publish your company’s content to places like Slideshare and Scribd.

5. Ask & Answer
Be a source of knowledge! Position yourself as an expert!! 

See Rubel’s entire article here!


Facebook Will Find You Anywhere....and so will Marketers

When I was an undergrad, I remember our TV Prod class discussing "HD" as the future of TV production.  It seems almost ridiculous now (since it was only a  few years ago) and now the entire media department at my alma mater is nearly unrecognizable with 25 AVID editing stations and a studio that outshines the local CBS affiliate. Recently, Santa visited my house and brought us an awesome 47" Flat Screen HDTV.  We promptly upgraded our cable package so we can take advantage of those HD channels. My husband said, "my wife can hook it all up; it was her major".  I looked at him and said, "Cathode Ray tube".  I really am fascinated by our new TV.  There is a USB port and something that looks like I can connect my computer to it and there are all these wonderful places to plug stuff into.  The first time we turned it on we both stood there in our living room totally mesmerized, "'trout mouth", and we didn't blink for an hour.  I looked at my husband and said, "It's as if I have never watched TV before." 

Emerging television technology is one of those things that I get totally geeked out about as a marketer.  While I'm on the fence about 3-D technology, it is very interesting.  Windows 7 allows us to synchronize our laptops with other devices, including our TVs. However, for me, Google is the current champ sitting on top. 

Using a keyboard, Google TV allows the user to search anything from news and sports to entertainment and social media - all seemlessly. (ABCNews.com).  The user cannot tell the difference between scrolling cable channels or browsing the internet.  For example, there is a search bar at the top of the TV.  The user types in a word.  The browser searches TV (cable channels) and the Internet for related content.  The user can also access Twitter (for example) and get those updates on their TV as they are watching TV.  I could be working on this very post on our TVs by accessing this web site while simultaneously watching TV. 

While this technology is truly still emerging, I find pros and cons.  On the downside, we are already so overly-stimulated and inundated with messages and media and Facebook and now TweetDeck that to think there is yet another avenue for clutter makes my head spin.  I mean, Americans are already known for our lack of ability to relax and now Twitter can find me on my couch! YIKES!
However, it is super cool and I cannot wait to check it out.  Especially because I am a person who typically does not watch much TV (hence the fact that I the last person on Earth to get HD service).  As a marketer, the possibilities are endless AND this idea of merging all media or at least blurring the lines between them all peaks my creativity into how we will communicate with our audience.  It is imperative for our industry to become standardized with IMC philosophies to keep our messages consistent and to effectively communicate with our customers - to build relationships with them! Thoughts??