Thursday, 19 November 2009

Building a Participatory Brand that transcends Commerce

The Client Ask
At the beginning of (almost) every client engagement (for the past fifteen years) when we ask clients (high-level) what they’re hoping to accomplish—the response is always akin to wanting something “breakthrough”, “compelling”, and “game-changing”.   We’ve also heard “Cool”, “Apple-esque” and a slew of other descriptors.

We get it.  Everyone wants to be the next big thing.  Brands like Apple have established deep, lasting bonds with their customers and are archetypal emotional brands.  It's not just intimate with its customers; it is loved.  Who doesn’t want this?  It’s important to note that it wasn’t always like this for Apple.  Apple took a financial tailspin during the mid-1990s.   Its products were lackluster, it’s branding a mess, and the company looked in danger of going out of business.

What did Apple do?  They decided to rebrand.  Apple abandoned the old rainbow-hued Apple logo in favor of a minimalist monochrome one, gave its sleek computers a funky, colorful look, and streamlined the messages in its advertising.  They architected a brand that transcends commerce and evokes an emotional response.

Building an iconic brand
How did they do this?  A few ways.  Apple has a simple and unique visual (and verbal) vocabulary, expressed consistently across all product design and advertising.  Apple also projects a humanistic corporate culture (and a strong corporate ethic), characterized by support of good causes (and involvement in the community). Its founding mission was “power to the people through technology”, and has also established an emotional connection with its cult-like customers.

Apple's brand is one big tribe, and purchasing an Apple product makes you a member. Building this tribe takes several forms, from building trust to establishing a community around a product or service. Apple capitalizes upon the fact that people want and cherish a "human touch" and to feel like they're a part of something bigger (as it gives a sense of security and grounding).

BUT, all that aside—the one single thing that has allowed Apple (and some notable others like Nike and Harley-Davidson) to achieve what they have from a brand-equity standpoint is that they are no longer selling products. They are selling brands, which evoke a subtle mix of people's hopes, dreams and aspirations. Benetton used images of racial harmony to sell clothes, while Apple used great leaders -- Cesar Chavez, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama -- to persuade people that a Macintosh might also allow them to "Think Different."  People are drawn to these brands simply because they are selling their own ideas back to them, they are selling the most powerful ideas that we have in our culture such as transcendence and community -- even democracy itself.  Apple today is an ideology, a value set, and a symbol of counterculture -- rebellious, free thinking and creative.

What we have learned from all of this is simply that brands are more important than products. Products have limited life cycles, but brands -- if managed well -- last forever.  Ryan Bigge, writing in Adbusters, said: "Our dreams and desires for a better world are no longer articulated by JFK’s, nor generated through personal epiphanies -- they are now the intellectual currency of Pepsi, American Apparel, and Diesel. We used to have movements for change -- now we have products. Brands befriend us, console us and inspire us”.

Apple’s Secret Sauce
So, you want brand equity like Apple has?  Here’s the secret.  Make the purchasing of your product and/or service the equivalent of belonging to an elite club. Hip, righteous “outsiderism” with an ample dose of rebellion against injustice. 

If you’re looking for additional information on building an emotional, transcendent brand like Apple, read

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Brave New World: Social Media and the Economy of Trust

If Facebook were a country, it would have the sixth largest population in the world.  It's hard to imagine, but what's clear is that the Internet (and Social media communications specifically) are changing the way we do business, primarily by extending a platform for real dialogue with our consumers. Traditional “Push” marketing is also being replaced with collaborative, conversational and content-driven communications that effectively put consumers back in the driver’s seat---effectively making “trust” the most valuable online currency.

Social media has changed the marketing game forever. Online word of mouth and the powerful influence of peer groups have already made many traditional business strategies obsolete.  Why? Simply because advertising is less effective at influencing consumers than are the opinions of their peers, making direct-to-consumer marketing messages less valuable each day.  The bottom line is that you must stop pushing your message out and start pulling your customers in. 
Traditional "outbound" marketing methods like cold-calling, email blasts, advertising, and direct mail are increasingly less effective because people are getting better at blocking these interruptions out using Caller ID, spam protection, TiVo, etc. People are now increasingly turning to Google, social media, and blogs to find products, services, and direction. If you're a marketer or business owner, the big question is whether you'll keep up with those changes?   
Need some help navigating this Brave New World?  We’re here to help.  Visit

Monday, 16 November 2009

Social Media | Q&A

What are the most common mistakes brands make when it comes to social media?
Many Marketers suffer from the "me too" syndrome. If a competitor is doing something special, they feel the pressure to do the same -- even if it is out of sync with their brand or their customers. This pressure comes from the marketer's bosses, the social media specialists, the analysts, the advertising agencies and the media.  It is therefore extremely important to recognize that as a brand, you can only participate successfully when you have permission to do so with your customers (or have a way to create that permission). Along those lines, it's important to start with strategy and do something that makes sense for your brand, is in alignment with your business objectives and resonates with your customers.

What's the key difference between Social Media marketing online and via mobile?
Social media marketing can take place on any digital platform or device.   Digital is digital.  However, mobile as a specific platform has the added benefit of increasingly being location-aware.  This allows information to be served to the user with more relevance and context.  On the flip side, mobile platforms don't allow for experiences as rich as others, but it doesn't mean they still can't be immersive and incredibly social avenues.
 Bottom line is that you’ll need to start with a social strategy and then examine how it translates to different platforms and devices -- whether that be your company Web site, a platform like Facebook, or a device like an iPhone or Blackberry. 

Are Facebook and Twitter the only properties that really matter for social media marketing?
Absolutely not! Facebook and Twitter are both certainly the tip of the spear, but I've seen many companies have significant success with the other social platforms, their own community sites and even mobile-specific social solutions. It all depends on your specific business objectives, what your competitors are doing, where your customers are spending their time and how you want to differentiate yourself with what ideas. The blogosphere, for example, cannot be ignored. Bottom line though is that you’ll need to evaluate the various social platforms and select based upon those best positioned to help you achieve your business and marketing objectives.

Is "earned" media more important than paid media in the social realm?
Building authentic relationships that provide meaningful value exchanges with customers, (and especially those customers that influence others), is most important. That can happen in a variety of ways, whether through paid or earned media, or with those efforts working collaboratively. In the social realm, there's nothing better than true engagement between customers and brands.  That said, earned media is more important, although it is hard to always earn the attention, (and that's where paid and even owned media help jump start any engagement.)

Goodbuzz™ encourages you to submit all of your questions.