Archive for February, 2006

The product is the package

Monday, February 27th, 2006

When it isn’t, you get this.

Hat tip to tingilinde.

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Why brands are not add-ons

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Laura Ries set off a mini-firestorm recently when she wrote that a company’s success depended more on its “brands” than on a company’s own products and people. Her exact words were, “Building strong brands is the key to success, in our opinion, not better products or better people.”

This is a strange, almost antediluvian view of brands. Companies and products are considered to be identical in essence and in output, no matter how they operate or how hard they innovate. Only “brands” make a difference. They’re like a value add-on. And only when a “brand” is applied do customers take notice and sales take off.

This concept of “brand” decouples brands from the real factors of company integrity, product/service quality and employee commitment. In fact, it pretty much divorces brand success from a company’s core competence, and its edge competence. The brand is thus external to the business. It’s sort of pasted on, or applied like a fancy wrapper. Basically, it can be nothing more than effective make-believe, the end-product of advertising and PR campaigns. In this view, brands are not an organic expression of the company.

Frankly, (and thankfully) brand models like this withered away decades ago. Not only do they diminish a company and its employees, they also demean customers, who are increasingly integrated into proactive brand practice.

Tom Asaker rightfully takes issue with Laura’s remarks, and his readers join in. Laura’s response doesn’t help.

As I see it, the real danger in this approach is that it pulls brands away from the core of a company. Brands are not add-ons. Brand building is a value creating process at the heart of a company, integrating R&D, design, products and customers. From the brand core come value innovation and customer creation. Both are central to a company’s mission and capabilities.

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Brands play catch-up at Google

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Always observant Michael Parekh offers a first-person account of the latest “Oops” beta release from Google, this time involving Google’s Web Page Creator.

The new service has been launched, but isn’t ready for service. When you try to create an account, it returns a “Google — Oops!” message. The message says: “Due to heavy demand, we are unable to offer new accounts for today. If you’d like to be added to our waiting list, please enter your email address.”

Associating one’s brand with “Oops” isn’t exactly good business practice. For Google, this is yet another instance of violating the rule: in brands, there is no beta.

These things do add up. They condition customers to be leery of first generation products, and eventually, to be leery of the company that semi-launches them.

As Search Engine Journal concluded about Google:

. . . they’re going to have to come up with a new technique of Beta testing which keeps users eager to have a chance of working with the system, but not having that system exceed capacity after 6 hours.

The question customers will ask: “Is it beta, or half-baked?”

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Coming to a brand near you

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

World’s first feature film made with cell phone cameras. Soon to be in movie houses, DVD, television, online, and (naturally) on cell phones.

For a fraction of what you’d pay for a product placement, you could use this innovation to have a whole slew of mini movies made–by customers. You become their platform for expression. Let them tell your stories. Just keep the clips short, punchy, powerful. And make the awards . . . fun.

Who will be the first second BitTorrent powered brand?

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Where the brand team chills

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Om Malik reports on the increasing use of indi-cafes in San Francisco as mobile office space for entrepreneurs. The right cafe is the perfect environment for social thinking, thought linking, wheeling and dealing.

If cafes are the cauldrons of thought, the brand team better be there, too. Brands are not after-the-fact. They are part and parcel of product innovation ab ovo.

One of our favorites is Caffe Trieste in Berkeley. (The brand team brew of choice is, of course, double espresso.)

UPDATE: If a Starbucks isn’t on your mobile office agenda, find a local cafe alternative on Delocator.

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Brands play catch-up at McDonald’s

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Before we talk about McDonald’s, we have to talk about motives.

Businesses typically operate by managing two complementary motives: the brand motive, and the profit motive. The two run parallel. They form the track that leads a company to its destination.

The brand motive is to do things right for customers. The profit motive is to charge what you can. Good companies align the two, through thick and thin, across changing market landscapes.

Once in a while, though, a company’s brand motive and its profit motive can get out of whack. That apparently happened at McDonald’s, which is now being sued for allegedly not informing customers that wheat and dairy products are added to French fries. The suit claims the ingredients may be harmful to persons who are glucose intolerant or lactose intolerant.

McDonald’s, of course, is no HO gauge outfit. They serve 50 million meals a day, in 120 countries. On that scale, keeping things aligned isn’t easy.

But it has to be done. We’re talking people, not patties. Or, you could look at it this way:

  1. Brand motive = serving people
  2. Profit motive = serving patties

At McDonald’s, the brand motive might have said to the profit motive, “Dude, listen up! Taking an extra step to take care of customers will pay dividends far in excess of any negative fallout from ingredient purists. Ingredient purists don’t eat at McDonalds’s–or any other fast-food joint–anyway.”

Bottom line: customers eat burgers by the billions, but they also crave honesty. They respect you when you serve it.

Maybe we’ll see the issue discussed in McDonald’s new blog.

McDonald’s current ingredient listing.

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Ben Franklin: brand mentor

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Ben Franklin was a man of vision and great common sense.
One of his sayings has particular relevance for brand programs.

The quote: “Well done is better than well said.”

Since brands are programs to create value, these words hit the mark.

It’s what your brands do that counts. All else is merely show. Flash may flutter eyelids, but it’s deeds that flutter the Benjamins.

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Brands play catch-up at Microsoft (2)

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Here’s what Walt Mossberg has to say about Microsoft’s Office Live offering in his column of February 23:

Confusingly, Office Live has nothing to do with Microsoft Office, the company’s productivity software suite. It doesn’t include Web-based versions of Office programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

If the way you name your products leaves customers confused, don’t expect them to line up at the sales counter any time soon. (It’s never a good sign when your own employees have reservations about a naming scheme.)

As we’ve said before, and will no doubt say again: in brands there is no beta.

And just for fun, don’t miss the web site that Walt created using Office Live tools.

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