Your Brand Launch: Brand Strategy


What Any Brand Needs To Learn From Amazon’s Physical Bookstore Experience

I just spent an hour at Amazon. Not on Amazon, at Amazon.

As an author with a second book release upon me, I study book marketing up close hence I just had to make a pilgrimage to Los Angeles’ first physical Amazon bookstore. It opened two weeks ago as part of the Westfield Century City Mall‘s universally talked about staggering 1$ Billion re-model (…and we thought retail was dead).

Amazon

I was doubtful when I initially heard about Amazon going into physical storefronts thereby going back to the business model they once so successfully disrupted many years ago. Well, my doubt was quickly turned into exhilaration as Amazon did not simply open a storefront, they changed the way consumers experience products offline – with a whole lot of help from online insights.

Amazon successfully and holistically transformed what worked online into a physical brand experience. It took full advantage of its massive amounts of data, to my delight. At the AmazonBooks store, you are greeted with shelves titled ‘Highly Rated – 4.8 Stars & Above’ or ‘100 Books to Read in a Lifetime – Our Picks from the Amazon.com List.’ Not surprisingly, it works and it pulls you into a curated, and more importantly, customer-verified, experience. Do you trust that Maggie from the local bookstore has a ‘Staff Pick’ or do you trust hundreds, thousands, millions of readers just like yourself? Sorry, Maggie, I am all up for supporting local stores, but that was an easy pick.

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Not so quick though, as Amazon knows it needs to, and should, make the experience a local one. ‘Read Local – Notable and Highly Rated Los Angeles Books’ as well as top-rated books from readers in L.A. are showcased prominently. Another nice touch is Amazon’s integration with the online reader community of Goodreads, albeit logical as Amazon acquired the site in 2013. Still, seeing ‘Goodreads Most-Read Classics’ and ‘Book Club Picks from Goodreads’ adds more intrigue to the books stacked in traditional bookstore style underneath. Each of these components engages, builds trust, and keeps you in the store longer.

But let’s not paint a picture of Amazon showcasing only the proven books, by the biggest authors, on their rather limited shelf-space. You’ll see books of unknown authors, some that are rated only a few times, next to the big sellers. One book particularly stood out (Innovating by Luis Perez-Breva and Nick Fuhrer) as Amazon’s description reads ‘100% of reviewers rated this item 5 stars.’ The book only had 21 reviews in total. This makes me feel like I am discovering something, which is one of they key ingredients of a great book store.

Amazon also picks customer reviews to showcase, rather than the author’s book description, or an Amazon editorial review, which makes the experience even more personable.

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The last store curation effort that made my heart speed up was the huge shelf-space dedicated to ‘If you like this, you’ll love these.’ A key component of the Amazon.com shopping experience, seeing a book you liked on a shelf with six you never heard of next to them, suggesting that you’ll love them is a sure-fire win in any customer browsing experience.

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Besides taking away that Amazon has nailed its data integration into its retail environment – not to anyone’s surprise – what can you, as a CMO of a brand or as a startup entrepreneur learn and immediately utilize from its success?

Map your online customer brand experience, then take it offline.

It feels upside down, and precisely that is Amazon’s amazing ‘Zag’ in this instance. How do users behave on your site, what content do they read, what call-to-actions do they skip, which offerings do they spend the most time on, and so on and so forth. Study it. It’s there, you just have to start digging into it.

Then take that data and make use of it in all the ways you conduct business offline. As many of you don’t have retail stores that you can start experimenting with, you may think this is not applicable to your brand. Think again: sales presentations, prospect case study conversations, tradeshow experience designs, new product launch considerations, brand initiative ideas, brand narrative adjustments – you name it. That online journey can be a game-changer in the way you engage with your customer/consumer/member everywhere else.

Much has been said about leveraging latent data and creating actionable new data points for brands of all sizes to utilize, but the essence of what Amazon did is actually rather simple at heart: Study the trail your online users leave behind and use it to educate a new or revised, deeply educated and highly personalized offline brand experience.

What we learn from AmazonBooks is that these insights can even be used to craft a brand narrative for a new brand extension: Translating what works naturally online (‘if you like this – you may like that‘ as an example) for their brand and making it work as a novelty in an offline experience that is 100% true to Amazon’s brand essence. It’s not just connecting data for increased sales, it is doing so in a way that is intrinsically true to the core brand philosophy.

Amazon’s user journeys helped create an offline sub-brand. It may be time to look at your brand’s online data, create your user journeys and translate them into successful offline experiences. It will re-affirm, or re-educate your brand’s essence, or perhaps it will even inspire you to launch a new brand extension.

Until then, you can find me at Amazon as on Amazon is just too one-dimensional and old-fashioned.

 


How To Share Your Brand’s Offering – Brilliant Brand Messaging Lessons From Acorns And Emojis

I entered a contest. Not a design competition, but a simple consumer contest.

And that matters because, really, who enters contests? We are all busy people. Especially a man in his early 40’s who is not bootstrapping his life, especially not aiming for a $20 gift card.* Well, I did, and here is why: While procrastinating – it happens to the best of us – in-between important and time-sensitive client workshop preparation tasks, the following E-Mail popped up in my ‘Everything Else’ area of my Inbox (yes, it accurately landed on the opposite side of my ‘Important’ E-Mails):

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They got me with the squirrel.

And the time-sensitive part.

So, nuts I went.

I went nuts not to find that silly acorn, well that too, but over the genius, or the team of geniuses, who were briefed to get people to click-through their Fall Collection of indie food products. Instead of a beautiful collage of their products, or by cramming in as many different products as they can, they created a ‘fallen acorns scavenger hunt’ thereby ensuring people had to click through a lot of their new products thereby familiarizing themselves with a variety of offerings not unlike they would scrolling through an Instagram feed.

I did click on one product (‘brand research – had to make sure it worked before I wrote about it’) and saw an acorn. That’s when my brain switched from ‘marketing technique intrigue’ straight to ‘happy acorns hunt participant.’

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If you can get the E-Mail recipient who is the least-likely to partake in a contest, even less likely to engage in reviewing products he is not interested in purchasing at the time (but will likely recall once the holidays are rolling around) to click through your E-Mail and participate in your brand in the middle of a workday, you clearly did something very right.

Back in July, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) launched their way of successfully distracting people from their work by asking them to text them an emoji. The service sends a related art piece of their vast collection in return of you texting ‘send me [insert any emoji, keyword or color of choice]’ to their number (572-51, if you are curious).

Here was my wife’s interaction at the time. I immediately tried it myself.

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Intrigued? Of course.

You are not alone. In one single week they received – hold your breath – 2 million texts of people hungry to see art that was relevant to their current mood or personal interest. For the museum, it was an answer to the question ‘How do we get people to see all the art (95% of the collection) we simply can not show on the floors of our museum?’ What they got in return was so much more than interest in art. They created brand awareness, and brand love, (and collected millions of phone numbers) via a simple idea and an auto-reply powered by good data.

It’s time for us to gamify our brand experiences, especially the ones that are being sent via E-Mail to thousands of opted-in customers like it was the case in MOUTH’s acorn hunt example. E-mail has a median return on investment (ROI) of 122% – more than four times higher than other marketing formats, including social media, direct mail, and paid search. Combine that with an audience of hungry, active users that are ready to act, and yet you plug out one templated E-Mail promoting your product after another.

Stop.

Sit back and think about why the recipient would take action.

  • Is it a question you provide a ‘must-know’ answer to?
  • Is it an ‘act-now’ (and now only) deal?
  • Is it a unique gamified experience?
  • Is it triggering intrigue, or a feeling of exclusivity, that causes actions?

Send less. Think more. Gain real engagement.

Take a step back from your analytics tools, grab a few fellow team members, a conference room, and a highlighter and take over the good old whiteboard. Your ROI will soar and your brand will thank you for not being a spam brand, but an engaging brand.

Let’s thank a bunch of acorns and emojis for that.

*Side note to that acorns hunt E-Mail example: Getting a $20 gift card for a minimum $100 order, so a 20% Off Your Next Order ‘gift’ is a rather sad incentive (why not truly give $20 gift cards?) that can quickly turn potential fan excitement to immediate bummer brand reclusive. I noticed that after my hunt was over.


What A Line Of People In Front Of A Phone Booth Taught Me About Brand Advocacy

A few weeks ago I found out about a hidden Speakeasy in walking distance from my house. Not sure how you would react to that news, but I was pretty exhilarated, to say the least. As all legit Speakeasies go, they have interesting hidden entrances. ‘Mine’ came in the form of a functioning phone booth. Once you dial the right number, the hostess picks up and asks for the daily password, and if you made reservations, you are in. Not so on a particular Sunday evening two weeks ago when there was a line of 80 people waiting in front, yes, the phone booth, to get in. I inquired with the last person in line and that was the first time I learned about ‘the coins.’

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I happened to desire a cold beverage on the very night of the infamous Fernet-Branca Coin Release Party and the ones in line were all bartenders ‘in the know.’ I spent the remaining evening reading up about this phenomenon; over a cold, home made, cocktail.

Fernet-Branca, the brand of the bitter herbal liqueur that falls into the amaro family of spirits (it tastes indeed a little bit like a sophisticated version of Jägermeister), revisited the tradition of the ‘challenge coin,’ made popular by the armed forces, but later adopted by law enforcement and the trades. Basically, any group of hard working people that like to drink. So, yes, there are many groups that created their own coins. The rather simple rule of the game: You have a coin, you are in the club and you are safe. You don’t, you pay a round of shots.

Fernet took that idea and started creating their own coins, customized to cities or events where they are released in numbers as low as 100 to a group of bartenders, or others in the know. Instead of making it a silly sales promo by randomly handing it out to customers, Fernet understood the power of their facilitators, their real sales crew: the bartenders.

The coins of Fernet come with a few more rules, says Kirsten Amann, the Boston ambassador of Fernet (in an Eater article): “You have to have it on you at all times. You must be able to produce it in less than 4 steps. You’re not supposed to give it away or lose it. The only person who can replace it is the person who gave it to you.” Needless to say, the Fernet-Branca coins are rare. Very rare. You can fetch them on eBay for $150-$350 a pop. That would be a great tip for any bartender, but they rather keep them on hand than take your money for it.

And this explains a line around a phone booth on a Sunday night. Fernet releases these coins to their influencers and thereby formulates a secret handshake amongst the few. Drop a Fernet-Branca coin at a bar in a foreign city and you will gain immediate friendship, honor, belonging, and likely a free shot.

Fernet successfully understood the importance of the bartender’s role as an influencer and how their brand perception of Fernet will spread hundredfold to new customers who want a piece of the story, the intrigue and the idea that they, too, are in the know about a strange bitter liquor from Italy that most have not heard of, or haven’t had the guts to order. Creating a ‘club’ of salespeople that are not employed by your brand is a genius move. Empowering them with a free viral campaign that keeps on spreading, is beyond genius.

Let’s take a fresh look at your brand: who really are the direct influencers? Most of the time they are the ones facilitating the sale, and most of the time they are the ones that are the least equipped to share the tales of a fascinating and captivating brand aura. Now that we realized, once again, that long-term allure (branding) sells more than a ‘salesy’ product push, let’s equip your direct influencers with your version of the coin. It will likely not be a physical coin, nor a shot of Fernet, but it should start with your ‘secret handshake’ and end with a toast to common ground.

[Image sourced via http://www.usmedallions.com/products.html]


How The Narcissism of Prince Can Lead to Your (Next) Successful Brand Launch

I spend a fairly good amount of my professional life traveling the world for meetings, workshops, and lectures. My wife pities me for the early mornings, late nights, the anxiety, the unknown, the airports and the countless Uber rides. Me, on the flip side, I enjoy it thoroughly. I get to explore new cities and cultures and use the little bit of downtime I get to gain new experiences. I will always be a seeker. Just like a little boy, I am curious and still believe that the world is my oyster. It’s strange, but I firmly believe it works to my advantage as it fuels me with inspiration and, as a result, creates lasting memories.

This week brought me to Minneapolis to work with a Fortune 100 company on two brand launches, and this morning I used the time before my flight to take a ride out to the suburbs for a tour of Paisley Park. Not one of the city’s many beautiful parks, Paisley Park is the place Prince (‘The artist formerly known as,’ who passed away abruptly last April) created in order to write, record, party, host, meet and at times stay at, that is crafted precisely to only his needs and according to only his vision. I am not a ‘super fan’ by any means, but an admirer of his talent and felt like a visit to this ‘sacred’ place would make for a unique experience. And it sure did.

All logos shown are owned by the legitimate trademark holders and are shown for illustrative purposes only.

The ‘Prince,’ ‘Love Symbol #2,’ and ‘Paisley Park’ logos are all part of the Prince brand (owned by their respective trademark owners, shown for illustrative purposes only).

Besides being an amazing musician, dancer, singer and overall creative artist, Prince was also an overachiever, a perfectionist, and a narcissist. He was an entrepreneur extraordinaire and a meticulous brand creator.

At the end of an amazing tour through his digs – he dubbed it Paisley for the ever changing nature of paisley design patterns, a metaphor for his creativity, and Park for it being his playground – I left feeling equally moved and inspired. When on premise, Prince was found recording new material more often than doing anything else. Many nights of the week he had gatherings, many were free to attend for the ones ‘in the know.’ Some he unexpectedly popped in to perform a quick impromptu jam session for the few lucky people in attendance. Some were 3-plus hour long sets for 2,000 attendees in a full stadium-gig setting (Yes, this ‘park,’ his house, is ginormous). Most started between 1:00 and 2:00 AM. One night when he serenaded Madonna, who was in town for a tour stop, there were only 8 people in attendance. As our tour guide, Shawn, said, “I guess people have day jobs and 2:00 AM shows don’t fit too well into that routine.”

Prince’s recording studio was centered around a mike and a chair. He sat while singing because most of the times he was operating everything else all by himself, simultaneously. Guitar, piano, synths, you name it. When he walked into the entrance hall of Paisley Park, his eyes were looking down upon him from the ceiling in the form of a big painting.

He also created a room for each of his finished albums. There are, obviously, quite a lot of these rooms. Like shrines, these rooms are filled with video footage of concerts and interviews of that era, costumes he wore during that tour, specific instruments played, artwork for the album and tour, and walls covered floor to ceiling with images of him during that era. These rooms were not created for the museum, they were part of his living life. He walked by them every day he spent at Paisley Park.

You can only imagine the significance he saw in each project and the pressure he (not even thinking about the fans, critics, and record labels) put upon himself with any new project, knowing that ‘at its conclusion I will designate a room to it, which shall outlive me once this turns into a museum.’ The kind of attention to every project detail had to be meticulous: From concept, compositions, lyrics, artwork, theme, costumes, performance, production, band, dance moves to PR, the list goes on and on.

At the onset of your next new project, and may it be the first – your startup perhaps, envision that room Prince dedicated to each of his projects and ask yourself how the room for your project should look two years after successful launch:

  • Is it deserving of ‘a room’?

If not, how can you make it more deserving?

  • Will it be loved and admired by the ones you cater to?

If not, how can you create more empathy?

  • What is the unique experience?

If it lacks, go back to map the customer journey and create enough delight and ‘moments of memories’ along the way.

  • How does it fit into the house (of your brand, or brands, if applicable)?

If it doesn’t, maybe that is a pivot or a step into a new era, but ensure you can see past this step to plan for consistent growth and a unified future brand experience.

  • What lasting impact will it have?

Is that the impact you seek – is it impactful enough?

  • Does it push the company forward enough? Or in the case of a startup, does it push you towards your ‘true north’ vision for the brand?

If not, experiment more to push your industry’s boundaries.

You don’t have to be an obsessive, genius rock star in order to do that. Nor a narcissist. You just have to have enough foresight to envision, in order to connect, the dots. But you have to list out all those potential dots, and envisioning that room is one great way of doing so.

How will it look? Are you impressed?

Once you are, perhaps you should throw a brand release party – sounds so much better than a launch party now doesn’t it?

Applause will be a given, encores optional.


Suggested Tweet

“You have to have enough foresight to envision, in order to connect, the dots for your brand launch.”



How To Ensure Continuous Brand Affection As Your Tech Startup Approaches Financial Glory

[This article was originally published on Forbes on 04/07/17]

We’ve heard a lot about tech IPOs in recent weeks thanks to an instant picture-taking app from Venice Beach going public. Tech companies, some worth as much as small countries, leave many open questions for investors, users and brand managers alike.

As a brand strategist known for my work with tech startups, I was recently interviewed on CGTN on the topic of how these big evaluations and IPOs may negatively affect a brand and its loyal brand advocates:

In preparation for the show, I wrote down tips on how to deal with the associated brand risks for when your tech startup finally hits the jackpot. You never know: A merger, massive round of funding or even the mighty IPO might just happen to you next.

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1. Show Your Users It’s Still About Them

Many consumers (or “users”) question high valuations, especially those of tech companies whose products they use on a daily basis. It is difficult to grasp the financial value in broader economic and strategic terms with tech companies that don’t show big profits, yet are worth billions of dollars. This often makes younger consumers belittle and ridicule apps they used to love. It changes perception.

On top of that, it happens that millennials, especially teenagers, are not known for being brand loyal. If they are your power users, communicate your shared values with them, because a billion-dollar valuation is likely not a value they will automatically cling on to. Now, they won’t delete your app unless the brand itself shows obvious signs of change, but once it does, then they’ll jump ship with the simple swipe of a fingertip.

Be ready to over communicate to your users during the time of IPO. Don’t solely focus on talking to the press. Instead, ensure your users hear from you in your proven and authentic tone. During these times of press storms, “surprise and delight” the ones who made you successful in the first place. They need to – and deserve to – hear from you.

When Google filed its IPO back in 2004, it integrated mathematical (aka “geek”) humor all the way into their filing papers. The value of the offering was equivalent to the mathematical constant e (2,718,281,828). It was a great way to be true to its brand aura even during this risky and otherwise very dry period, giving brand advocates buzz to share.

2. Reinstate And Reignite Your Company Culture

IPOs of young companies easily result in company culture breakdowns. With significant growth and financial backing often comes a hiring spree with leadership changes, added levels of management, and plenty of processes, not to mention the formation of a board of directors. This is the time of internal employee joy – and fear.

Now that the financial success is taken care of, go back in time and think about what type of company you wanted to create in the first place. Have you reached the goal of birthing your dream company, beyond in financial terms? What culture did you want to create? How did you want to inspire your staff? Write down those values at this very important moment in your brand’s history and have your marketing and communications team draft a plan to reinstate them into the company at this time of change. Understandably, during times of an IPO, they are all slammed and are already working overtime. That indeed makes this additional project even more important; they will thank you later.

Being a true brand that is met with admiration is all about trust and authenticity, both of which have to come from the top in order to trickle down from the brand to its users.

3. Don’t Instantaneously Disrupt The Experience You Meticulously Crafted Over Years

An app is both an extremely personal as well as an extremely emotional experience. Users focus on their own tasks and the app is mainly a facilitator in their lives, from booking a room, to taking a picture, to sharing their world with others in their circle. This personal experience is never about the company that created the app; it’s about the user and other users. An app is not a fashion brand that users wear like a badge of belonging; instead, most tech brands are functional extensions of daily lives and the user content a reflection of their own personalities.

The sudden press surrounding an IPO, a high evaluation, a huge financial investment boost or a merger will create a fear of change in their experience with the app and a fear of a change in the integrity of the brand. With money often comes corruption, or so your users have heard. Make sure they know where you are heading with the company and why all of this talk about a big financial boost will result in an even better personal experience for them.

 As you approach that next big financial step, remember that no one ever loved a unicorn for its valuation; they love unicorns for their magic. Keep that brand magic as it will save your company in the long term.

How To Avoid Your Uber Brand Mishap

Ride-hailing app Uber had a rough couple of months, to say the least.

I for one have been an über Uber brand advocate from day one and have had a lot of defensive conversations (with cab drivers, my parents, and other naysayers alike) on behalf of the brand I so loved.

Loved, because there is love no more.

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The other week, as I was on a flight to Austin to hold one of my many Resonaid brand foundation workshops with a startup, I was contacted by the Los Angeles Times on my thoughts about Uber’s brand troubles. I conducted the interview from the plane, which made me feel uber-productive (and quite special, I must admit), and was greeted by the following ginormous quote in the LA Times later that very same day:

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One thing leads to the next and I was interviewed by Canadian TV station CBC the day upon my arrival back in L.A. on the same topic (you can read that story here). Now that I am rather well-versed on the subject of Uber brand bashing (*sigh*), I want us all to understand the one fundamental key branding lesson from their mishap so your startup can avoid following Uber’s path:

Uber came in to disrupt a commodity and monopoly service, the cab industry. Today it may be taking their place and share the same fate with the very companies that used to be the enemy. By focusing solely on the next round of funding and speedy economic growth, the company seems to have left behind what matters the most, what literally drives their business: People.

First, the people who actually make Uber a functional business model, its drivers. Continuously lowering of wages and surpassing employee laws turned into a burden for the early Uber drivers, the ones that actually loved the brand the most, as they are now being forced to leave Uber or work hours that may seem unsafe for drivers and passengers alike.

The effect this has on passengers has been noticeable over the past 6 months: The brand experience of a cool, novel, inexpensive service in nice cars with fun and educated young drivers that cared about making your ride enjoyable changed completely. Today, the only brand attribute left is ‘cheap’ and the Uber brand took a massive hit because of greed and a one-track mind that left the life force of a functioning company behind.

New ride-hailing services that care about more than simply profit (ranging from a company offering female drivers for female riders – to a nonprofit that pays its drivers well) will gain momentum quickly as the Uber brand perception is changing with scandals continuing to hit the mainstream press.

Uber may be getting disrupted by empathy.

The key takeaway for your startup is to never sway away too far from the one key brand rule Uber broke by their single-minded product rather than brand focus:

People first and profit will follow.


How To Go From Brand Affection To Product Sales In 2.2 Seconds

Everyone is preaching not to be ‘salesy.‘ It became a holy rule of marketing: Brands, earn your trust, then quietly suggest your latest products. Funny how that works, or rather how it does not work, as brands have been so hit over their heads by that ‘don’t be salesy’ mantra that they forgot to actually sell products once brand trust has been earned.

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We write February 2nd, the day I paid a good amount of money to partake in the Porsche Experience Center. It was there I learned that it takes 2.2 seconds for the 2014 Porsche Spyder to go from 0-60 mph (in case you were wondering where my ‘clickbaitish’ blog post title was derived from). Not that I am into race cars nor that the Porsche brand gets my heart pounding. No, Porsche opened this race track close to where I live and being fascinated by brand experiences (and being known for enjoying higher speeds) I figured I should get my adrenaline going by racing a Porsche 911 Targa 4S (to be brand-correct) around a track, spinning it in a circle on a wet surface at full throttle and sliding uncontrollably through black ice; all while a professional (a ‘Porsche Drive Coach’) was sitting next to me praying for his dear life, as he should. That, after all, is what I paid him for.

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Pictured: Me and my ‘Porsche Drive Coach’ before the fun began

As was to be expected, I got fully engulfed in the Porsche brand from the moment I stepped into the facilities: While usually exiting through the gift shop, here you spend most of your time in it as it serves as the bridge to the ‘Speedster Café’ with its popular outside terrace where one can watch the cars zip on by and start one’s own experience. From Porsche exhaust speaker systems, Porsche office chairs, Porsche cookie stamps ($39, in case you fancy some) to GT3 rear spoiler book shelves, the imagination for branded products seemed endless. In the main entrance hall one can check out vintage Porsches and the actual race cars driven to victories during important historic contests. All Porsche, all the way.

After hitting the pedal for 90 minutes, exhilarated by the driving and brand experience, we took a seat at the fine dining restaurant, named ‘917,’ where we quickly got served some bread and 911 butter. Wait, what? Yes indeed, here is the 911 butter, and it was rather tasty:

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Pictured: Porsche 911 Butter

As I sat there breaking bread with the Porsche brand I told my wife something that would have made the Brand Manager cringe: “You know, despite how awesome this was, and how I am getting brainwashed by the brand and loving every second of it, I still do not feel an urge to ever own a Porsche. Why is that?”

Here is why, and it is a global marketing and branding disease I see all across the brand landscape: We show off our overall brand aura while potential customers are leaving trade shows and flagship stores empty-handed because we miss out on making it personal and relatable. If you are a high-end brand like Porsche that charges for a brand experience, one comes to understand that you do not want to come across as being ‘salesy,’ yet from the minute I stepped into the experience I was offered brand tchotchkes and branded butter. Why not go all the way and capture my emotions by transforming a well-crafted dream of a powerful brand into something that can become my reality: Show me the car options, show me the e-hybrid, the technology and the things that I care about now that I got re-assured by your great brand image and legacy, and I felt how much fun it was to drive your cars.

Brands, if we have an actively engaged and fully ‘brandwashed’ potential customer, please, for crying out loud, let’s craft a dream of ownership, not a bubble of a brand ethos that will burst the minute (s)he is not fully engaged anymore. Let’s see how our product could fit into their world – outside of our world.

Any brand, may it be a Porsche or a startup, needs to be sensitive to crafting experiences that tell a story; a story that fits into a unique individual’s life. Like therapy, let the consumer do the talking, but ensure you deliver the platform and take the steps to listen. Follow the ‘here is our most amazing product’ with ‘…and here are products that would work for your individual needs.’ Don’t sell a brand mythos alone, make them experience their own personal benefits first hand.

When I came home after my day at the race tracks, I immediately went to the Audi website to ensure they still sell the model I am currently driving, just to feel a bit of reassurance as my lease will be coming to a close soon. And I will drive that Audi as if it was a Porsche, now that I learned how to hit the pedal the right way. Thanks for that, Porsche.

As to you startups, find your engaged target and be salesy; it won’t hurt your brand, but it might just make a new customer happy.


A Personal Journey Through Brand Development And Entrepreneurship [Podcast]

When 

About this podcast:

On the show, Fabian takes a deep dive into the meaning of a brand and what it takes to prepare for a brand launch. He shares what entrepreneurs get wrong 99% of the time when it comes to branding. As a result, he offers a step-by-step guide for those entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping but know brand development really matters far beyond a product or service they offer. In addition to discussing company branding, Fabian also shares his thoughts on personal branding, how technology affects a brand and why you should align with the right people.


3 Intrinsic Branding Lessons All Startups Should Learn – From The Store Next Door

This article was originally published on Forbes on 11/25/16.

As a brand strategist, I mostly work with new businesses on establishing themselves as brands – as quickly and as honestly as possible. With the growing awareness for Small Business Saturday, I felt it was time to analyze how small businesses brand themselves in an organic grassroots manner – and how startups can learn from these businesses that are rooted in localism and fueled by brand advocates.

FINIEN_SmallBusiness

Our view of what a small business is has changed over the past decade. The financial crisis of 2008 led to uncertainty and unemployment, which led to people crafting and cooking again and, not so coincidentally, preferring local eateries and buying artisanal products. Many of these products were passionately created by people who had just one product and little to no business background. The best (and often only) way for them to market was by talking to their neighbors. At the same time, a new generation was becoming fed up by corporate America.

To gain insight on all matters local, I sought the opinion of a fellow local entrepreneur who is an expert on the subject, DW Ferrell. I met Ferrell locally when we shared the stage as panelists at the California Women’s Conference a few years ago, and his name popped in my head automatically when I started thinking about this topic. Ferrell was a retail strategist for major brands and shopping centers before veering in the complete opposite direction. He is co-founder of a social enterprise startup, a campaign community and platform marketplace for local makers and merchants that works to accelerate the local marketplace. Needless to say, he lives and breathes this subject matter.

I translated our lengthy and insightful conversation into three key lessons on how a local mindset can propel your startup into a meaningful and dynamic brand that remains true to itself:

1. Think Community First

Having the right mindset is key. Most brands have a community manager who, more often than not, turns into a social media PR machine who spends half their time nurturing social followers, and the other half putting out social fires. But that’s not the community we’re referring to. Successful local businesses are deeply involved with the city and its initiatives, with community events and planning. They want to contribute as much to the community as they are benefiting from it. If startups apply this desire to connect with their followers, share experiences, build upon them and use their shared values for the greater good, their brands will win big.

The next time you make a sale, think about what you can give in return (besides the product). If the customer isn’t expecting anything additional, a small unexpected gesture will lead to them seeing you as a friend, and that’s the basis of any relationship. When you repeat that step and that thinking, you create a community.

2. Define Your Vernacular

Just like any brand, a small local business stands for something and has to create meaningful values. These values need to embody the values of not only their customers and clients, but also the community and their contributions to it. “It isn’t enough to follow traditional brand marketing principles that are based on ‘push marketing.’ Instead, you and the company have to intentionally ‘live the story’ that embodies the brand’s values,” Ferrell said during our conversation. As Ferrell asks, “How will you align profit and purpose? How will your model support your mission?”

You have to create your vernacular and define your terms. When you define it and share it publicly with your community, you can ensure that you have the right community, as members will celebrate your values if they share your views. Furthermore, this forces you to hold yourself accountable. You’re saying: This is our ideal, our identity. Does it resonate with you? Great. We now need to be true to you, because you are behind us.

3. See Your Competition As An Advertisement

Your “biggest” competitor is not your enemy.

This lesson may be a bit tough to swallow, but you are nothing without a supportive network. And when you launch locally, that very network includes your competitors. In the small business world, the local coffee shop supports the other local coffee shop to leverage their unity and create a network that only has one enemy – in this example, Starbucks. If the small ones stick together they generate more word of mouth about each other and hence sales while forming a support system as a side effect.

The only thing that will hold you back from that handshake with your competitor is fear. And as Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Stop fearing; instead, cross-pollinate. “Cross-market” would be the correct term, but let’s keep this local and share the love.


When Something Isn’t Broke, Fix It: Restarting Your Brand At Its Height

This article was originally published on Forbes on 10/20/16.

Do you know that feeling when you are so inspired by something that you’re left speechless, puzzled and somewhat confused? Perhaps you’ve experienced it from a natural wonder, an incredible speech, a mind-blowing innovation you read about, or simply something your newborn does. Well, I had that moment while watching Netflix.

I know that sounds peculiar, but when I watched the first episode of Netflix’s second season of “Chef’s Table,” the show that dives deep into a specific renowned chef’s way of thinking, it took me a day or so to sort everything I learned into nuggets of insight. The episode starred American superstar chef Grant Achatz. But it wasn’t the balloon cheese dessert, the fact that he overcame cancer (stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth) and was known for years as “the chef who couldn’t taste,” or his quest to reinvent meals daily that inspired me. It was his relentless creative drive that left me speechless.

His quest to transform something (food, in his case) into an emotional experience is remarkable; this is also why I do what I do at my brand consultancy. When I work with startup entrepreneurs on deriving their new venture’s philosophy and shaping their brand’s strategy, voice and image, triggering emotions is key to this journey – and to my own overall personal happiness.

The fact that Achatz would have considered his first restaurant a failure unless it would quickly turn into one of the very best in the country (it achieved that goal, being named the second best in the U.S.) was insane – insane in an inspiring way. What really struck me though was the fact that at the height of his restaurant’s success, he decided to close it and reinvent it from the ground up with new interiors and a completely new menu. For a three-star Michelin restaurant, that is as risky of a business move as there is. Digesting this indisputably progressive way of thinking, and translating it to other brands, got me excited.

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Who else would a brand reinvention this sudden and complete apply to? And why? To find out, I pose a few questions that will help guide you down the path of boldly diving into ice cold branding waters, in case that disruption applies to your business.

1. What Is Your Brand’s DNA?

Knowing what your brand stands for, its single most important objective, and the values that are at the core of it are the most crucial ingredients of branding, ones that I spend ample time crafting with my clients. If that DNA of your brand ends up being best described by the word “innovation,” you are intrinsically forced to implement that thinking across the board.

If that drive for change and reinvention also drives you as the founder, you can not sit back and put success on autopilot. You must constantly go back and rethink, “How would you do this from scratch today?” If the house were to burn down today, figuratively speaking, how would you piece it back together? Likely, you would not literally piece it back together. Instead, you would rethink its purpose, location and foundation from the ground up and opportunities would pile up in front of you.

2. What Is Hiding Behind The Outward-Facing Success Of Your Brand?

No one is perfect and no brand is purely a glimmering success. You know it and I know it: There’s baggage hidden in the drawers of every operation.

Creating a list of even the smallest things that require fixing may soon turn into a notebook full of ideas and opportunities. These may turn a call for complete reinvention into an outcry for action; action to turn into the best your brand could possibly be. If you hear that inner call, you can’t forget it.

3. Is Another Brand Too Close For Comfort?

Are there startups that are knocking on your industry’s door? Competitors that are racing to take your place? The likelihood of this answer being “yes” is high, but I encounter two types of entrepreneurs: The ones who proactively act upon that knock on the door and the ones who push forward, resting on their share of the market.

In Achatz’s case, the knock came from another Chicago restaurant that just earned a three-star Michelin rating, giving him a local head-to-head competitor for the very first time. That was enough to make him act upon it.

When you see the first signs of competitors racing to take your place, it may be best to completely switch course. That is, “when everybody zigs, zag,” as author Marty Neumeier advises companies do in order to outsmart their competitors by taking a bold move to differentiate.

4. Do You Wake Up With The “Now What” Syndrome?

Many successful founders secretly wish they would not have been quite as successful with their first venture, as they sometimes feel trapped by the success they have created. They build their company into a comfortable and successful venture, then they don’t see a way out while they have many other entrepreneurial passions and ideas. Hiring another CEO feels daunting.

Most of the time it is solely the founders who are imposing that limitation on themselves. If you are one of them and you have many thoughts that would answer the question “now what?” a brand revamp might not only outsmart your competitors, surprise and delight your customers, but also reinvigorate your own life. That is something that should be on top of your list at all times.

Congratulations on your brand’s success – now please start over.

Crazy? Perhaps.

A genius move for the right type of entrepreneur and brand? Most definitely.