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.
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:
If not, how can you make it more deserving?
If not, how can you create more empathy?
If it lacks, go back to map the customer journey and create enough delight and ‘moments of memories’ along the way.
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.
Is that the impact you seek – is it impactful enough?
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.
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.
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:
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.
See grain. Go against it.
In a wonderful promotion that goes straight to the heart of its brand, outdoors consumer product brand REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) decided to remain closed this Black Friday. It will instead pay its employees to spend the day outside. An idea that is so nuts for a big retailer, that will lose important revenue on the biggest revenue generating day of the year, that would never go past any Board of Directors or Shareholders…that it makes for the perfect promotion for REI to pull off.
That is the question I always ask startups as I help define their brand strategy. What is it that makes you so unique and how can you leverage your uniqueness to gain hearts?
REI is a co-op. It is owned by its members, its shoppers, by all of us. If anyone, they are uniquely able to ‘#optoutside.’ A genius move that goes deep into the heart of the outdoors brand and its loyal audience: “While the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we hope to see you in the great outdoors.” Opt Outside. The revenue that they will (likely) lose that day, they are gaining in lifelong, renewed, love by its members. A love that is worth every penny (used solely as a metaphor) of their Black Friday losses. Money can’t buy what this strategy will give back to their brand.
What is your takeaway?
Well, what is your startup uniquely able to do? Define and follow it to connect with your audience in deeper, more meaningful and plenty of profitable ways. Oh, one more detail: Have the courage to execute upon it.
What is your brand personality? Hint: It’s not your personality. It’s not your team’s vibe. It’s not the look and feel of your product. It might not even be what you had in mind when starting your company.
It’s time to define what your brand’s personality actually is, and I am glad to share ‘the secret sauce’ with you.
A brand’s personality is derived from keywords that best describe your brand’s character as if your brand was a person. You think about how your brand wants to be perceived by your target audience – how it wants to make them feel. Who is your brand as a person? Is (s)he helpful, clever, feisty, glamorous? Below graphic from our bestselling book How to Launch a Brand describes this process, and can help you get started on this simple, fun and extremely powerful early branding exercise, which is best done together with your team:
After compiling your list of keywords, associate each keyword with one or more brand personality archetypes. See the archetypes we like using, together with example keywords, below:
At the end of that exercise you will see which three personality archetypes have the most keywords associated with them. Those are the personality traits your brand needs to fully represent from here on out in all of its visual and verbal communications. This simple yet very meaningful exercise should assist in defining the company name, the brand identity design as well as the brand atmosphere.
Looking at Target as an example most of us are familiar with, it quickly becomes obvious that we see Target first and foremost as a Friend, a Mother and a Dreamer. What is your brand’s personality? Get your team together in a room, put your therapist hat on and find out!
Really? Tapas-style? You don’t say!
Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater Kinney and Portlandia fame) responded to this all-too-common restaurant dilemma in a recent Rolling Stone article, “I always want to tell them, ‘I’ve eaten at a restaurant before. Unless I have to order in Esperanto, I think I’ll be able to get the hang of it…'”
Just like with restaurants hopping on the bandwagon a little late looking like fools, your venture will easily fall into the same trap, may it be through ‘our gamification aspect’, ‘our delightful experience’, the ‘unique social component’ etc. It’s still tapas to the rest of us, because we do not see how your product will make us feel differently.
Ask yourself if you have found your true differently yet. To give you a head start, write a brand memorial speech. Once complete, it should make you feel the same way Carrie Brownstein felt when she heard the punk-rock style riot grrrl for the first time: ‘This is the sound my heart would make if I could amplify it.”
Listen to the heart of your startup, then amplify it so we can all hear it, and believe in it! And next time your waiter starts his differently speech, read him this post aloud.
…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.
Imagine you own a well established, sophisticated Mexican restaurant in a wealthy neighborhood that is frequented by out-of-towners as much as by locals and has been receiving rave reviews for years. You made a good living and decide to buy the Irish pub a few doors down the street, on the same block.
So far so good.
Your logical next move is to announce to your customers that you now run another great establishment, serving different cuisine and drinks, same quality, same owner, just a few doors down. Have a pint after your dinner!
And this is where a perfectly logical move is costing you customers instead of gaining them, because you thought of your customers instead of like them.
This is not a fictional story. I was reminded of that anecdote when I talked with a client last week about how he must hone in on his target audience and focus on a singular message that speaks to his specific offerings and their specific needs. Sounds so simple, but as you can see, it is not. The temptation to reach out to your customers, or to widen your offering or your clientele, often leaves the most important part of branding left behind: Empathy.
Don’t think of your customer, think like them. If you would, you would never dilute your established authentic Mexican restaurant brand (which is about an authentic and cultural food experience) with Irish pub chatter (which is about pints in quantity rather than quality). While dining at said restaurant, I saw a tabletop advertising their ‘other’ completely unrelated venture and it turned me off in an instant. So much so that I started coming in only once every month instead of once a week. If the owner would have thought about why people loved her restaurant, she would have ensured to separate the two businesses (A Brand Architecture exercise would have made that crystal clear), their respective audience and outreach.
This particular venture experienced organic growth, and that often leads to brand disasters. Thinking like your customer is the single most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur while establishing your brand, and the one that entrepreneurs tend to be doing the least. Next time you communicate on behalf of your brand, ask yourself: Is the whole enchilada worth the pint?
It’s not quite as harsh as it sounds, but yes, I would like for you to imagine your new venture’s death. Here is why.
Not a proprietary exercise to my consultancy, writing a memorial speech for your brand during the Brand Foundation stage is a cruel, yet crucial step in defining your brand’s lasting values, and has been a staple in early brand development for many brand strategists. Given that those speeches are short, to the point, and always focus on only the best one has to say about the deceased, it is a great opportunity to dig deeper (did not mean for this pun to happen) into the soul and its bigger, social purpose. A brand can only leave a lasting positive impact if it cared to make a difference in people’s lives.
This is why a memorial speech is an extremely fruitful, imaginative, and most of the times rather entertaining exercise to be doing at the very onset of your brand development; and you can rarely say that about a memorial speech.
Over time we uncovered a secondary, but equally important finding during the exercise: The realization that you need to ponder about how your venture will die. And that uncovers the real long term vision for your brand: Will it be bought by Costco, improved upon and distributed to the masses? Will it become part of Marissa Mayer’s tech portfolio, giving you a nice financial push (and we don’t quite know what Yahoo! might do with it)? What is your dream, way past your 5 or 10 year business plan? If it has to end, how would you want it to end? That insight will help shape the overall business and brand strategy.
And here you thought I wanted to harm your newborn venture, while I want to do the exact opposite – watch it grow through planned retirement towards a happy ending.