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.
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.
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.
This article was originally published as part of my column in Inc.
A long time ago, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t ever touch upon politics in my writing. I broke my rule back in February when I was interviewed by The Washington Post on Hillary Clinton’s brand, comparing its legacy to that of McDonald’s. I sure broke my rule nicely. So here I go, breaking all my rules in one sentence, yet again:
There is something very sincere we can learn from Mr. Donald Trump.
Before you hit the comments field in rage, let me explain. ‘The Donald’ is quintessential branding in the making, and we can all witness it live, night after night.
I recently came back to Los Angeles from a three-week European vacation. As I left the U.S. for my trip, I started worrying that Trump would become the center of every conversation I’d have with friends and strangers alike. From answering the ‘Do Americans really like him?,’ the ‘Could he really become President of the United States?’ and, of course, the most dreaded, ‘What do you think’? In the end, the conversation only came up once, and instead of my expected response, I found myself somewhat defending the idea that is Trump. I was shocked.
It turns out I am actually fascinated by the Trump persona and brand, even though politically and intellectually I would like to remove myself rather far from his viewpoints. The fascination comes from something truly mesmerizing, something that has nothing to do with the political Trump brand. New and steadily growing ventures alike can utilize these 3 lessons I learned from Trump to turn into better brands — even if they otherwise grunt at the TV and look the other way when ‘The Donald’ disrupts their dinner:
A Donald brand is a Frank brand. It’s confusing, I know, but you cannot refrain from looking in awe at this man’s candor. If anyone, it should be Mr. Trump that reads off perfectly crafted scripts and not answer any unvetted questions, yet he walks on stage and goes off-script within seconds. Despite everything that comes out of his mouth (and much is met with regret by many on his team, not to mention his wife), it is his candor that makes him feel different, honest… a true go-getter. He defines showmanship through a very unique personality — raw and uncensored. That’s what today’s voters and consumers alike are aching for in both people and brands: being truthful and having the guts to give it to me straight. The days of scripted press releases are numbered. How can your brand make that switch? Clearly if Trump draws a crowd that way, your brand can achieve the same (without the drawbacks) if you speak your mind to an audience that thinks alike. By eliminating some, you will earn many others.
Rolling Stone quotes Gwenda Blair (Author of Donald Trump: Master Apprentice) saying “It’s all he does, the bragging and the repetition: It’s called branding, and he’s relentless at it.”‘ Over and over again you will hear the same statements about his money, the other — the bad — rich folks, and China with a bit of ‘bad Obama’ and taxes we should be getting from foreign companies sprinkled on top. Step and repeat. Fear of getting boring? Look at Nike’s Twitter bio today. What does it say? ‘#justdoit’ – and that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing new — and that’s just fine. If the message was crafted with its audience in mind and is well received by that audience, stick to it. Relentlessly. Seek your hit and start playing it like Trump.
Though we may often think of Trump as far removed from reality (and his voters), he has found an audience of blue-collar working class citizens who deeply connect with him — a man who lives with a self-proclaimed and oft-questioned 2014 income of $362 million. Herein lies the magic from a branding point of view: his life is surreal, but he translates it into a reality that his audience can relate to. It’s quite magical. Marketing in and of itself is a very surreal form of communication. You assume a lot about your audience while being stuck with the point of view of an advertiser or business. Once you hit the green light on an E-Blast, a magazine ad publication or a Facebook post, you witness surreal turning into real. The more you think like the ones on the receiving side, the more real it will become. And that’s where you need to be: part of reality as a real, honest and truthful brand.
Indeed, being uniquely and truly yourself, not worrying about the haters, repeating the best stories and the ones that connect are all part of what makes great brands.
As for Donald, he may not become the next President of the United States, but he sure makes for a grand brand spectacle we can all learn from. In moderation, of course.
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.
I saw the 90’s Britpop band Blur at the Hollywood Bowl last night (If you don’t recall them, I captured a few pivotal seconds for you).
It seemed as though they were as surprised to be on stage as were the fans seeing them tour. It was rather special. Not that I am a fan by any means – I was always leaning towards Oasis. Furthermore I belong to the 1% that appreciate their latest work more than their hits, which made watching a 90’s hit band and their fans solely interacting based on their hits a rather interesting experience.
Fans went nuts and sang along word for word to songs that were really not all that great. There was a feverish sparkle in their eyes. They were filled with joy. There may have been some tears. It was a spectacle watching the spectators.
None of this was about the band at all. It wasn’t about the songs that stuck with them since adolescence. Maybe it was about colorful cassette tapes and the smell of vinyl records, about cool band t-shirts and cherished ex-boyfriends. It was indeed about the memories the audience associated with the songs, about the times they were listening to Blur all the time.
It was all about them, not about the band that they cheered for. Everyone celebrated moments they once had, and together they added a new moment to it. Life, as we know, is about a collection of moments after all.
Remember the Kodak Moment? Today it is Shot on iPhone 6. A spectacular way to connect a very special moment that was captured to your brand. Only the most amazing moments are worthy that brand association. Remember the time you ran your very first marathon and were handed a Gatorade at the finish line? A moment you won’t forget. You are drinking Gatorade after your workouts ever since, not quite knowing why.
As a new, or young brand, make it your goal to be part of memories. Or even better: Be a facilitator of those moments. Be the brand that cheers.
On my way to the car after the concert last night I encountered a young homeless man on the sidewalk. His sign read: ‘Begging sucks. Compassion doesn’t.’
Marketing sucks. Being part of special moments doesn’t.
A little while ago I was driving through Venice (California) and noticed a surf shop that must have recently gotten broken into.
I was mesmerized and quickly snapped a picture out of the car:
To me these 4 simple words so masterfully describe how we help our clients derive their company’s true soul. What we are really doing is determining the ‘vibe’. A vibe that you can fully embody and that others can fully embrace. A vibe that one day turns into your norm and that you spread with ease. A vibe that if competitors come in, they can no longer simply steal.
How poppin makes receiving a stapler in the mail exciting? It’s their vibe.
That vibe is the foundation to their brand.
“Can’t Steal Our Vibe.” Street culture poetry that every company transitioning into a brand can learn from.
If all fails, if all gets stolen, what does your brand still own? What is that foundation that you can rebuild upon with ease, because it is based on passion and emotions and not products and numbers?
Creator, the beautiful online magazine of wework, the highly inspirational community of creators, published an original article by yours truly yesterday, so I thought sharing is caring. It goes something like this:
If I say “Coca-Cola,” you probably see the cursive typeface, red and white colors, curved bottles, and polar bears, right? That’s because Coca-Cola has spent decades building its brand with precise imagery, a consistent logo, and steadfast messaging.
While Coca-Cola is the quintessential timeless brand, many entrepreneurs have a tough time replicating its success because they’re drawn to the latest fads. Unfortunately, that’s not the key ingredient for enduring the test of time.
Styles change, but your company’s name and logo should not. You need to get it right from the beginning so you won’t confuse your target audience. It’s imperative that you create a brand that reflects your company’s values and is based on a shared passion with your target audience.
The brand that stays top of mind with consumers is the one that was built with “soul,” is driven by passion, and is marketed truthfully and consistently. A brand like Coca-Cola is truly timeless. Despite shifting marketing and advertising efforts, the brand is always surrounded by its unmistakable logotype and color scheme.
So how do you build a timeless brand? Here are five tips to get started:
When you solidify your brand from the start, you can focus on stabilizing it and investing in it. A brand that’s in unison with its identity remains relevant over time, and every party involved knows why the brand looks, walks, and talks a certain way. Base your brand on your unique offering, and connect with your audience meaningfully—you’ll be well on your way to developing a timeless brand.
…was the subject line of an E-Mail I received a few days ago. Needless to say, I was intrigued to read on:
“I called my company “(Name Withheld)”, but you told me it was horrible. For that reason I wanted to reach out and say THANK YOU!”
He listened and he turned the page and now he is grateful for my frank advice just as much as for him listening and acting upon it. This is how I want to start off the New Brand Post for 2015 as it sums up what is key to branding a new venture, and what I want you to keep upfront and center this year.
When you start a new venture, or initiate a new product offering, you tend to know best. You know your product best, you know your audience best, you know your marketplace best. You know your road map best. So, naturally, you are closing off quickly. Why? Because you know best.
Truth is, you just can’t be great at everything. I am not. No one is.
The moment you let go of that notion is the moment you open up to greatness. As a person, as a founder and as a brand.
Successful brands are built in collaboration with – and powered by insights from – specialists within their domain. The ones that are great at a certain thing, just like you are at your thing. It takes money and/or time, but for the ones who ‘get it,‘ like the one who wrote me above E-Mail, it will make for a better, if not great, brand.
This year be open, listen, absorb and analyze every step along the way as it relates to tasks like naming, brand identity, online presence, brand positioning, the same way you analyze, and more often than not over-analyze, each feature of your product or service offering. Branding is the first feature your target audience will be exposed to. It better click the right way, right away.
I had a fun time chatting at the Techweek panel two weeks ago about branding and marketing for startups (Amazing location, can’t beat that view). As panels go, it’s always a bit awkward and one can never predict the outcome. In my case, I was surprised that I could not stop talking about Topgolf. And I am not even a golfer. Here’s why:
Topgolf is a chain of golf entertainment centers that cater to the very audience (Millennials, 18-34) that every other golf-related business is afraid of, because data, major news outlets (WSJ, Businessweek, Forbes) and Dick’s Sporting Goods’ golf layoff story has taught us that they just don’t care about golfing anymore. Topgolf created a cool environment that is about having a drink, a great time socially, and lastly about golfing. They flipped the things that made golf unattractive for Millennials and made them into a social media love fest, a place that demands you taking pictures and videos. You actually want to show off that you are golfing with friends. Pretty remarkable.
In the beginning though it seems like Topgolf (as most startups would have done) was driven by data, so they went after families and pros, based on a recent article in Inc. Data and ‘insights’ often turn into a safe zone for leaders to base their decisions on (like hiring IBM to feel job security in the old days – A.K.A. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and it often leads to mediocre brand strategy and marketing results. I don’t believe it takes half as much data as it takes brains and guts to define your perfect target audience to market to.
If everyone says ‘don’t go there,’ perhaps they just did not take the right path.
The expression life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans was penned in the 50’s. Most of us know the phrase thanks to John Lennon, who adopted it in the magnificent song ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ from 1980, hence making it his. He was the real Mad Men, wasn’t he? Copy, paste, claim, fame. OK, we all know that there was a lot more magic to his genius. Back to another genius who is crafting things: You.
You, as a founder, are so busy doing and planning that you have lost touch with the genius, the beauty, the joy inside that very thing that you are so busy creating. Stop and smell the roses. I mean, really smell them, for once, or once again. You might realize you don’t even know what the beauty of it all is anymore, so you will have to step back to re-define what it means to you; now, today, not when you first had the idea and started the avalanche with a snowball.
Smelling the roses will re-birth your venture’s branding process. Define what kind of roses they are, the beauty of them with all their perfect imperfections (another great songwriter’s lyrics, but not John Legend’s words either), how they smell and how you had imagined them to smell. Without you being overly aware of it (or noticing it for the first time), how could you remind your teammates (who are busy building the brand while you are reading this) of the brand essence, the scent your potential customers are longing to smell?
Once you stopped and resurfaced and redefined, or simply reenergized that very reason behind the madness that is your venture, you will tell them. They are ready to hear it, they love hearing soulful words directly from the source. Tools create followers, you create believers.