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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
It may seem as though I have been suffering writer’s block so far this year, but fear not as I am knee-deep into writing my second book, which I am excited to share more about in the months to come. This is my excuse: writing has kept me from writing, but – better late than never – here I am wishing you a Happy New Year!
Besides writing during the holidays I did what most do as they start winding down: I was glued one too many hours to my Facebook timeline. Filtering through the current war in politics to find the few posts of friends that were non-political in nature turned productive once I saw my friend Chris’ hilarious post: Chris was on a plane with his wife, noting he got a free upgrade to first class, and, without hesitation, left her behind in Economy to live the good life. I was intrigued and awaited the backlash in the comments box, which sure enough came trickling in one after another at mesmerizing speeds. His reply? “I can’t hear you over the bubbles of the champagne.”
I thought it was witty, hilarious and it evoked an immediate sense of space and time. It made me recall the sound of champagne (as well as the witty POP champagne brand named after the sound of the cork popping – and for being a ‘Product Of Pommery’) and it made me recall memories of many great celebratory situations and, yes, the times I too got my flight upgrades.
I spend a lot of time writing about how new brands can stand out and connect with a target audience; strategically, visually and verbally. How your brand looks and feels is crucial, how it behaves existential, but how does your brand sound? Does your brand sound like anything, and if not, should it?
A known advertising routine for Fortune 5000 companies, sound is often times used in audio logos (‘sonic branding’ –Intel comes to mind, well, ears) which sonically enhance the moment in which a brand’s logo is being revealed, as well as memorable jingles, which are oftentimes so memorable that they turn into full-on annoying. Sounds are extremely powerful emotion-triggers. And just like it is the case with the return of print (book sales are up 3.3% in 2016, third growth year in a row), the use of branded audio is a neglected yet powerful way of brand communication and immersion. Because it is not a standard staple for new ventures to be using (yet it became quite affordable to create), it presents a great way for your startup to stand out and to further strengthen the connection points with your audience.
Start by being aware of how your product sounds when you plug it in, when the task is finished in your app, when the brand icon appears, when the videos start and end? Have you given your product, or brand, sounds, or do certain interactions with your physical product already make unique sounds of their own? If so, how can these be leveraged – packaged to be re-used – so that you can lift that moment in time when your customer is fully immersed in your brand and bring it back to other times in your brand journey?
This year, let’s look at empathy in an additional way: let’s not only listen to our audience, let’s listen to our products and make them connect with our audience sonically, creating emotional connections and stories that turn into memories.
So unless you don’t get any flashbacks when WHAM’s Last Christmas starts playing every December, and especially after this last christmas, you will agree that sound indeed is a powerful trigger of memories. Let’s make more use of it and create some sound memories with our brands.
This article was first published via Mashable.
A handful of brands keep their loyal advocates excited and engaged by using hidden design language to tell the bigger stories in a highly visual, yet subliminal manner. And that is exactly why we are drawn to them: We seek to be “in-the-know.”
Secretive design language is widely used on web sites as “Easter eggs,” within products as hidden features, as hidden offerings by food providers (In’N’Out’s secret menu or Bible citations on the packaging, for example) and even on passports as security enhancements, like Norway’s next passport design.
Utilizing design secrets to share underlying themes is a powerful brand statement — one that helps gain buzz and keeps believers lining up for more.
Very much like the speakeasy that has no sign out front and is incredibly hard to find, we are attracted to brands that challenge us intellectually and hide elements from plain sight. Seeing and connecting them makes us feel special, and that is one wonderful feeling that a brand can trigger within their audience.
Here are two ways your brand can turn to the subliminal to get its audience engaged.
Brand identities, or simply ‘logos,’ are the most common place to find hidden messages and deeper meaning at the very top of the visual brand pyramid. The arrow between the letters ‘E’ and ‘x’ in the FedEx logotype is the go-to example for subliminal messaging in logotypes, but you can find them all around you.
As shown by Amazon’s “delivering a smile and products from A-Z” and Baskin-Robbins’ “31 flavors,” key messages are often hidden within a logo. Today’s clever tech startups that understand the power of brand story telling are right on their heels.
A brand’s identity needs to say many things, and graphic designers go beyond the obvious to achieve all, or at least most, of the objectives, having to pull out some visual tricks to fit them all in. Once the audience finds out about a hidden element in the brand identity, it feels more connected to the brand itself, as if it’s part of their secret.
We love sharing that secret with others. Today, we call that virality. Your logo alone can get people talking about the deeper meaning behind your brand.
Your Brand Atmosphere is your visual foot print. It is what your audience sees when they get in touch with your brand image. It’s everything from your collateral and online presence to trade show booths and your email signature. Brand Atmosphere represents another opportunity to tap into the power of hidden design language.
When my brand consultancy was asked to create the visual image for Martian Ranch and Vineyard a few years ago, we were thrilled to learn that the name actually stemmed from the founding couple’s sons, Martin and Ian. Cleverly, they put the two words together to formulate a name for their next big offering, the winery Martian.
Given the name, the client’s directive from the get-go was to craft a Martian character to grace the wine labels and represent the Martian brand. My agency, however, did not love the thought of being greeted by a Martian, not with a $22-$35 bottle of biodynamic California wine and a brand that stands for much more than what the name implies.
Ensuring a happy ending, or a happy landing so to speak, we allowed the Martian to make its way into the brand’s design, but we restricted its appearances in a refined manner. When a consumer opens the bottle, for example, Martians are dancing around the cork, drinking in a festive manner.
Then, when a site visitor goes to Martian’s landing page (no pun intended) for longer than 30 seconds, a tiny Martian character beams itself onto the site. It shares random thoughts like “Reality is a nice place, but I would not want to live there.” Needless to say, the Martian hunt was on and the buzz quickly spread, one glass at a time. All it took was one extra layer being subliminally added to the design language.
You need to dig deep into the core values of your brand. Is it humor, like Martian, or is it choice, like Baskin-Robbins? Incorporating hidden design language that speaks in unison with your brand values is useful and cost effective; you’re already going to pay to develop your brand’s identity and visual atmosphere.
Let the cleverness of your brand speak quietly, and you will hear the echo from your audience.
…was the advice I gave an entrepreneur last week. Wait, did I just really say this out loud? Yes, and here is why:
Like many entrepreneurs at the early (very early) stage, he was at a point where he needed to have a brand presence, just enough to get him through meetings looking legit. A business card in hand, a Powerpoint design to show and a web site to link back to. He was at a point where he needed to discuss his new venture in a professional manner with potential collaborators to further shape his concept. There was no outside investment and the core of the company strategy could sway depending on these initial meetings. It was not a time to invest in brand design, it would put the cart in front of the horse. So what to do?
There was no way for him to create the brand design the right way, so instead of applying any kind of distinct design language (making it memorable), he thought to make it “meh.” Make it bland, make it colorless.
I sincerely agreed. In this very rare case you actually do not want your brand image to stick in your customers minds.
People should be educated about what you do and who you are, but you should not create a memorable brand design and language around a very early stage concept if you know it will all change, very soon. Once the startup strategy is formulated, the brand can be shaped.
So go out there and have them call your number rather than recall your brand image.
When the City of Santa Monica asked me to speak on a small television show helping startups shape their ventures, I immediately agreed. We have been working with the city for 6 consecutive years, and I see them as an extraordinary group of innovative people running a city nothing short of amazing; of course I would show support.
Being on the show was tons of fun, or perhaps thrilling is a better word, mainly because it was a big experiment (a ‘pilot’), and I was part of getting it through Episode #1. Yes, I was a guinea pig, no doubt about it. The dream of television being a place of perfection, endless cuts and edits to make it just perfect were quickly replaced that day by a single take, no rehearsal, no presenter notes, yet a live audience and a few cameras pointing towards me.
Did it make for my best speech ever? Absolutely not.
Is this short video a great way for startups to learn about how not to screw up their branding? Absolutely.
FINIEN created the brand for a remodeled hotel in beautiful Lake Tahoe. Within the simple, yet highly adaptable mark, we focused on the elements of the lake as well as the mountains: the key attractions that draw visitors to this area every year. The brand image was carried through all Brand Atmosphere Touch Points.
To find out, ask yourself this simple question:
What Is Your Brand’s Scent?
I am not referring to the overwhelming perfume infused air you have to walk through when entering an Abercrombie & Fitch store (a scented brand environment). I am talking about the metaphoric scent your brand emits to attract, distract, or utterly confuse your audience.
During a delightful call with Stuart MacDonald (Freshbooks’ CMO) earlier this week, Stuart used the word ‘scent’ when we talked about branding. It really hit home. Like animals, we are attracted to scents, in the literal and metaphoric fashion. Nike emits the scent of inspiration and innovation for athletes, Oprah the scent of belonging and community.
When thinking about your brand, and why customers will be attracted to it, think about what scent your brand has. It will make you think beyond logo, beyond copy, beyond imagery and campaigns. You will have to take a step back and start to interact with your brand from afar, as if it was the very first time you ever ‘smelled it’. I hope it smells like roses, unless roses are not really your brand.
The closer you will get to your brand, the stronger and more intense (= focused) the scent will get, and once you are deeply immersed in it you will realize if you are in fact emitting the right scent altogether. It’s powerful. Try it today and let me know how it educated your actions.
Ask yourself: Am I about to launch a product/service, or a brand?
How would you know?
You may not have a direct competitor yet, but you soon will. When the innovative, new and unique wears off, competitors will offer your product at a lower cost. How will you keep your customers from choosing their product instead? What will it be that will make your offering stick? Too many startups have to re-invent, re-brand and re-connect once they find traction – at a high cost.
If you have a unique offering combined with ‘the stick’ – the set of true differentiators, the emotional connectors that deliver from the inside out, consistently on message (visually and verbally) and on target – you know you have a brand. Having that foundational special ingredient is like a survival formula for your startup, it will make customers come sooner, faster and stay around even if they could save a few bucks elsewhere later on.
@i_mdoughboy tweeted the following last week about my consultancy’s process chart (see below): Guess where the value is? Here’s a hint – the graphic is eerily similar to a bullseye.
Imagine you are a gifted craftsman that has mastered a unique design that you developed over the course of years just to sell very few and at a high price as you don’t have the audience nor infrastructure. You created something truly unique that only you offer. After years of work, but only a few units sold, you see your design offered at a fraction of the cost at a large retail chain. It happens daily. Examples are too many to give, from apps to shoes to frozen yogurts, and all across B2B services. The only real life insurance you can have, besides a unique product/service to start out with, and its correlating trademarks, is to have that ‘stick’, those emotional brand differentiators that spread across product, service and your Brand Atmosphere. Those are hard to replicate.
If they like your product/service, they might come and purchase it.
If they love your brand, they will come and purchase it, return to it, and stay with it.
(Only read further if this hits home and you are an entrepreneur that is looking for their offering’s ‘stick’)
Avoiding the trap is hard to do for startups, being strapped thin on time and money, hence they often launch blindly, solely focusing on the uniqueness of their offering and not that of their brand. We saw this as a huge issue facing early stage entrepreneurs. Over the course of the last 6 months (based on our 12 years of experience running a branding and design agency, and with the help of writing a book on the subject) we were able to create an affordable ‘overnight’ remedy to avoid that trap. This is a huge reveal for us, which I am thrilled to share with you via this post: Meet our Resonaid™ Brand Foundation workshop, where I spend a full day with you, one-on-one working through a proven, proprietary process to find the path for your new brand to emotionally connect with your customers from the get-go and for the long term. I have one date left available this month and a few in April. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about this customized workshop to find the brand ‘stick’ for your startup.
PS: Yes, there is a great book entitled ‘Made To Stick.’ You should pick it up, it discusses why some ideas thrive while others die. Rather appropriate in this context.
When I was 8 years old I started ‘a publishing house’. I named it Buttersemmelweich Verlag. A real memorable name, right? It translates to ButterBreadSoft Publishing Co. It only published a single magazine, but over the course of several years. It was called SNOOPY. Go here for a stunning visual I dug out from the family archives just for you. Please note the Nike logos on Snoopy’s shoes, a sign of innocence lost and a hint of my future in branding. Perhaps the Charles M. Schulz Museum (which I can highly recommend a visit to) will sue me for the 6 issues I sold – yes, the young entrepreneur that I was I actually asked my family members to pay for my work. Just like a retainer, each issue I drew and wrote was copied 6 times (by my mum) and always sold out (to my mum Etc). As I grew a year older the name of the magazine was changed to JoeCool, an obvious transition, and I brought on ‘a partner’ as one ought to do, especially since I could not use the typewriter yet. My fascination with magazines grew over the years. As a young communication designer I felt the need to be on the forefront of pop culture, to be informed about as many topics as I possibly could in a swift and constant manner, while being surrounded by the freshest fonts and layouts. Since the internet has not quite been as giving back then as it is today, buying as many magazine subscriptions as possible was my goal. I have since adjusted my subscriptions, but have not kicked the habit. Needless to say, I have seen (and over the years also professionally designed) plenty of magazines.
As I descended into the current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek a couple of evenings ago, I was shocked before I could even flip to Page 2. The cover was bad. It was so bad that it was actually appalling to me. Judge for yourself:
I was shocked, not a bit intrigued, only shocked, and a little sad as Bloomberg Businessweek has been pushing its design steadily after its acquisition in 2009. Conceptual, socially challenging and often shocking cover designs were part of their re-branding. But this cover is just shockingly bad.
How did it happen and why would you care?
Bloomberg Businessweek shares the story on how the covers were conceived in each issue, on Page 2, right next to the index, a prime location for any magazine. So here it goes:
Yes, indeed they talk about ripping off MC Escher – and may I add that the original design (above) also has a touch of Spy vs Spy ‘borrowing.’ Alright, I registered that as a bizarre strategy statement, but going from a solid conceptual and surely intriguing (yet copied) design to a horrendous – ‘at least it’s got big colorful letters’ – solution makes it obvious that the chosen design option only made it to the cover in a rush to meet print-deadlines (imagine how long the Escher illustration must have taken to create?).
As the reader, a consumer, the target audience, do you see the problem? Sharing both designs and the decision criteria is a very bad brand decision. If the cover design is genius, Bloomberg Businessweek’s story on how it was made is only killing the magic. No room left for imagination. Even worse, we can see how bad the other cover design option was, making the amazing design option that much less great as we want to feel designs go from good to better to great. If the design is really bad (as it is in the current issue) and the option that did not make it would have been significantly better (as was the case in the current issue), the reader is upset and disappointed by Bloomberg Businessweek’s choice. This is obviously not good for a brand and I see this as an open letter to Bloomberg Businessweek to change its strategy and to use this Page 2 real estate for something that works for, instead of against, its brand.
As an entrepreneur, never share your design options with your audience at large. It’s tempting as they are the ones that will need to buy (into) it. If you really don’t trust your brand or design consultants, have a small and narrow focus group, if you must, but do not share design options with your entire audience. Not during, and definitely not once they have been made. Most everyone who did not go through design college tends to screw this up big time. Look at Marissa Mayer’s big fail when introducing the public to Yahoo!’s logo re-design last year. Everyone got excited, everyone had their favorites, and then…a universally disappointing final choice.
The habit of sharing creative options is one of over sharing, or TMI as one would text. Don’t fall into this invitingly open trap as your audience’s TMI feeling would very quickly morph into an OMG and a WTF (Excuse my language) expression on your end. Spare yourself, and your brand that pain.