Gaining early user feedback? Don’t assume they love it; assume they loathe it.
Like so many of us, I was looking for a better way to find mutually available times for meeting requests; an easier way to manage my calendar with third parties. I tested a plug in that promised to do just that, but as I was at the height of my frustration with the product (a few computer crashes later), I received a message from the startup checking in on me. I was delighted as I had tons of feedback to share. Here is how their message read:
My first reaction: How pretentious!
I do not like it, do not feel it has potential (at my current state of frustration at least), and surely won’t be thinking about added features if the core was not working to my expectations. Where was my fourth option?
d. I do not like my experience with your product. (Please advise us as to why)
If you reach a frustrated user and you give them a chance to speak up about why they greatly dislike your product, you will:
a. learn and in consequence have a chance to better your offering
b. have a chance to keep the customer
c. potentially turn loathe into love
As for this plug in, I waved it good-bye upon receipt of that E-Mail. As for your next launch, I am just glad that you will share the love while inquiring about the hate.
This was one of many topics I was asked about by a croatian startup site prior to the speech I gave two nights ago at the University of Zagreb for the Founder Institute. The interview was published in croatian, which you can peruse here if you speak the language (and want to analyze and help me understand why the Backstreet Boys invaded my Brand Atmosphere), but for the rest of you, here it is:
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.
A couple of weeks ago, Bob Garlick, host of Business Book Talk (poking through below), contacted me to schedule an interview about our book ‘How to Launch a Brand.’ With Bob sitting in Vancouver and myself in Los Angeles, I was immediately taken by surprise as there was no script that he shared with me, no canned answers to prep, no warmup chatter and no edits were made to our conversation.
The result is an honest and stimulating conversation between two individuals with a keen interest in design, branding and entrepreneurship, which I’d like to share with you. Below audio not only gives you a peek into our book, but also covers topics such as misconceptions of branding, brand strategy, how brands need to be different than 15 years ago and how to connect with your customers through branding:
(Can’t see above audio player in your E-Mail? Please listen to the audio via our site)
Now that I crossed the bridge by posting audio (how adventurous), I might as well share a quick video in which I further define ‘brand’ specifically for startups, filmed at a mentoring session (how advantageous) at the Founder Institute in San Diego two weeks ago.
I was 8 when I purchased my first Depeche Mode record. I was fooling myself. I did not make this (rather big at the time) purchase because of their music; instead it was the first colored vinyl record I have seen and I fell for the surprise and sheer beauty of it. It was different. A couple of colored Depeche Mode records later I actually started enjoying their innovative electronic sound, because that too was different. And as all of the b(r)and touch points started lining up for me over the years, I turned into a fan.
When I was 18 I took my first step into entrepreneurship by organizing, designing and hosting a concert After-Party in Austria making my first $20,000 (and since had the opportunity of sharing a drink or two with the band on several occasions). The band’s visual design language was mainly crafted by photographer/director Anton Corbijn, who I cite as a major reason I turned to study Graphic Design, enabling me to do what I am doing today. Corbijn also later served as a key inspiration for my photography. Needless to say, my interest in this band for the past 30 years has a deep and personal meaning as it helped inform and somehow shape my own identity.
Over the past weeks I have watched the band perform on its current tour (yes, they are still around) and it gave me time to reflect and think about the sheer power, and design-driven innovation of this band, and how any new brand could benefit from it.
Generally, any band launches a new ‘sub-brand’ every 2-4 years. They call it an album release, but really it is a sub-brand with many objectives that need to be met. The design language needs to introduce a new era of the band that conveys the purpose, signifies change and disruption (‘growth’), yet remains close to the brand’s manifesto. It needs to be able to gain new followers while giving the loyal brand enthusiasts enough nostalgia to hold on to. And of course it requires to be highly adaptable, inspiring the visuals and merchandise for a world tour (a major financial reason for the introduction of the sub-brand) and single releases while being simple enough to turn into an avatar or a fan’s tattoo. Not a short list of brand launch objectives.
Here are some tricks of the trade that I witnessed following a b(r)and over this peculiar long period of time. The least my strange addiction can do is help you create a better brand. Here’s what you can learn and instantly implement during your new brand introduction:
Your new brand is put in place to do something that has not been done before, or at least not in this particular configuration. Make sure your Brand Atmosphere shows that you are here to disrupt.
Ensure your brand identity stands out, is meaningful and relevant, but always keep it extremely simple to allow for easy application by brand adopters, employees, vendors and of course your groupies.
If you innovate through your brand marketing, people will notice, and that’s the first step to create a following. The more unique, the more interest it will generate and the more press your brand will receive in return. Yes, unique design will lead to sales.
“Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm,” is the chorus of the band’s biggest hit, which you may recognize. Music art relies on imagery and imagery alone. In a world of infographics, A.D.D. and information overload, your new brand should adopt that mantra and say less with more…imagery.
Nearly a given for any band leader, it also holds true for your brand launch. If you strategically infuse a brand character into your launch, it will instantly make your brand more likable. That persona could be the CEO (‘Richard Branson‘), a fictional character (‘Mr. Clean‘) or a spokesperson hire (‘The most interesting man in the world‘) that embodies what your brand stands for.
5 b(r)and takeaways that I firmly believe will make your brand stronger at launch. Now look at your own small obsessions and find out why it makes you say ‘I am with the brand,’ then share your findings with us.
Just Do It? Not so fast we say.
When introducing a disruptive, innovative or different type of product or service to the market, your tagline presents a huge opportunity to convey not how the new brand makes you feel, but instead what it actually does.
Using a descriptor in place of a traditional tagline can get you further, faster at the time of your launch. You can, and should, over time transition into a tagline that dives deeper into the emotions consumers should feel when using your product or service. For Nike, a descriptor may have been something along the lines of “Peak Performance Running Shoes Driven by Design,” and as the brand gained traction, it would have eventually changed to the famous three words “Just do it.”
Our brand consultancy nearly launched with the tagline “We know brands before they exist” (which I felt was clever), but decided to hold off and use it only in company presentations instead. As our offering is highly specialized and unique, we now clearly spell out what we are in business for: “Naming, Identity, and Digital Design for Brand Launches.” It enables us to immediately set expectations with our target audience whereas a clever tagline would have been just another piece leading to the actual answer your target is seeking: What is this new brand doing exactly and is it what I am in the market for?
An additional startup benefit? If you choose the descriptor path, there is no need to get overly creative; just clearly spell out what your brand delivers to its user in the simplest, shortest way possible. It’s not sexy, but they will be grateful, and so will you when looking at your incoming leads.
Granted, the subject of creative agency clients wanting to make their logos as large as possible to ‘get more bang for the buck’ and to ensure people ‘will notice’ their logo on their brand marketing efforts has been beaten to death and plentiful poked fun at (The Product, The Song, Etc). With new brand introductions this notion feels more in line with reality than any other marketing efforts as you have not only an urge to see your (often first, but definitely brand new) logo large, but you are also under a lot of pressure to ensure the customer notices and recalls your new identity design and brand name.
Above: Still from the hilarious ‘Make Your Logo Bigger‘ ‘infomercial’ (2007)
Instead of opting for the ginormous logo though, introduce your brand identity as part of a visually strong and unique design language. Brand is much more than a logo. Of course it is also much more than color and layout, but unique colors with specific application manners (Eg: a vertical bar or a cropped circle of consistently same proportions, within the same locations across all initial communications) not only creates brand design consistency but it makes your marketing efforts be truly your brand.
More so than an existing brand you need to penetrate the market (however small that penetration effort is, may it only be an e-marketing campaign and your web site) with a very unique and consistent design and color approach to get your new brand into consumer’s minds. Upon creation of that distinct visual brand language, step and repeat is the best way to stay in your consumer’s heads in the first phases of your brand introduction. You can slowly minimize the branded aspect and introduce campaigns over the course of time.
After 17 or so years of introducing brand identities, I can attest that this approach works well while using a completely normal sized logo. Guaranteed.
Once you have established a solid brand platform, name, and identity design, you are ready to breathe life into your brand by expanding it through tangible materials and experiences. At FINIEN, we call these your Brand Atmosphere® Touch Points. Each company has unique needs in terms of developing branded elements for print, display, digital, and environment.
Regardless of which ones your strategy calls for, remember that all brands should focus on how their Brand Platform is integrated into each touch point through consistency in visual cues and messaging. Seemingly small details in layout and design can have a huge impact on your brand’s cohesiveness and success.
“Design choices like color, layout, and font, can compel the right audience to buy when they are used correctly—or repel your audience from buying when they are not,” states Maria Ross, author of Branding Basics (2010). Furthermore, these design choices will speak volumes about the values of your brand. “Visual expression often reveals the unspoken intentions behind corporate strategy” (2007) confirm both Uli Mayor-johanssen and Klaus-peter Johanssen in World Branding. How do your business cards, storefronts, and social media outlets harmonize to tell a larger story about your brand?
Here are 3 points to pin to your desk and to follow religiously when at this stage in your (next) brand launch process:
Cohesive/Holistic/Systematic: Call it what you want. Your brand and all of the elements that make up your brand need to visually speak the same language and communicate the same message. It will make or break a Brand Atmosphere.
Don’t try to be on all social media platforms at the outset. Strategize where it is most relevant for your brand to exist and apply a cohesive look-and-feel and brand voice to those channels first. You can always expand to other channels as time allows and needs arise. Also focus on only a few select traditional marketing pieces to get your brand started. Ensure that these pieces communicate the essence of your brand and are well designed.
Each touch point associated with your brand has the power to diminish or enhance your Brand Atmosphere. Never rush through creating your touch points, and do sweat the small stuff.
Adapted from our bestselling book “How To Launch a Brand.”
I have a ritual where I take a bath Wednesday nights (there may be a glass of wine involved, yes) to ponder what I will write about in the New Brand Post the following day. I have a flexible editorial calendar I work with, but it has holes and can be arranged to my liking or to encompass spontaneous thoughts. Last night I realized how insane and equally wonderful it is to write what hundreds of people expect in their mailboxes every Friday morning (sign up if you haven’t) just the day before. As daring as it may sound, strangely I never encounter “writer’s block.”
When a dear friend of mine first convinced me to start using Twitter, I told him that I was not sure I had enough brand-related content to share with the world. 3,654 tweets later (follow our new account) I realize I have a lot to share. If you create a brand that has soul, it will have a voice. If you are passionate about the subject, you will always have something to say. If you create a new brand and feel like you might not have enough content, analyze your Brand Platform and go soul searching again. If you can not find the soul of your new brand, don’t launch it. It’s that simple. Today’s consumer listens, absorbs, and responds. You will be part of an open conversation and as a new brand you need to be the one starting it.
Arrogant Bastard Ale found its soul, reflected it in its name and hence has no problem voicing and monetizing on it. The highly controversial cover design of the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine is a timely example of the power of brand and consumer voice. You can sometimes push it and might at times abuse it (as I see it being the case in RS magazine). As a new brand you need to clearly establish what you will focus your conversation on and how you will speak not only to, but more importantly with your audience. Use your Brand Platform as your brand launch manifesto and brand voice guide. Share a synopsis of it with your extended team, and refer back to it religiously. Pin it to your wall and stare at it every time you (or your content manager) start writing content or engaging with your audience. As much as consumers will buy into your new product or service, they will just as much buy into your brand voice. If Arrogant Bastard suddenly writes a cute statement or Rolling Stone Magazine publishes a boring cover, the brand voice fails the brand’s soul and the brand as a whole will subsequently, over time, lose its power. Make sure your new brand’s voice is consistent. Consistent with your brand’s soul, and hopefully consistently engaging.