Archive for March, 2007

Interaction design: the new key to brands

Monday, March 26th, 2007

If we ask ourselves to identify the current movers and shakers in the world of brands, we would probably end up with a short list of design firms, ad agencies, brand consultants, celebrated product designers—such as Jonathan Ive at Apple—and a handful of top-tier corporate brand wizards.

Interaction designers: the new rock stars of brands?

They will soon have company. The emerging rock stars of brands may well be interaction designers. As brands move to digital platforms to help create customers, interaction designers will play a key role in determining which brands thrive, and which fall by the wayside. This will be especially true as more companies migrate to personal brand applications and multi-threaded brands.

Brands are interfaces and interactions

The ascent of interaction design to a critical role in brands is largely due to the changing nature of brands themselves. The new reality of brands is that they’re programs to deliver value through customer interfaces and interactions. They’re no longer the realm of top-down symbols, slogans and promises. In their new mode, brands are more social and cultural than “corporate.” They’re collaborative expressions of companies and their customers, formed in a structured process that builds the brand from the customer up.

Some definitions:

  1. A brand interface is where the brand works with customers
  2. A brand interaction is how the brand works with customers

Yes, brands work with customers. The brands that count are working brands, not display brands. They’re brands that roll up their sleeves and team with customers to get things done.

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Brands: kaizen for customers

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Brands and kaizen aren’t normally tied together in discussions of business practice, but they should be. The two are inextricably linked. Brands are the extension of kaizen into the realm of customers.

Continuous improvement

Kaizen is the Japanese manufacturing practice of “continuous improvement” or “change for the better.” It’s a disciplined, systematic approach that analyzes every step of the manufacturing process in order to improve quality, cut costs and reduce waste. (Kai = “change;” zen = “good.”)

Kaizen first grabbed the headlines back in the 1980’s because it explained, at least in part, why Japanese car makers were consistently turning out higher-quality vehicles than the iconic auto giants in Detroit. Toyota was the champion of kaizen, and its top-tier ranking today testifies to the worth of the practice.

Kaizen has now become a mainstream concept. It can even be applied to online businesses, where focused, incremental improvements to a sales or operational website can yield dramatic near-term benefits in customer experience, as economist Hal Varian recently noted. (If that NYT link is unavailable, a related summary is here.)

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Multi-threaded brands—and why we need them

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Multi-threaded brands will soon be poised to succeed traditional monolithic brands, those top-down, top-heavy icons designed to radiate a company’s “essence.” Multi-threaded brands can out-perform monolithic brands because they multiply the ways that brands can connect with customers, and they greatly multiply the forms of value that a brand can deliver.

What is a multi-threaded brand?

A multi-threaded brand is a brand that’s been “microchunked”* into multiple value streams, which are then customized and delivered to strategic customer segments, with the aim of creating value networks and communities. It is a brand that’s been decentralized, distributed and democratized, becoming the context of a “value net” or a “creation net.” ** Its purpose is to grow customers from the inside out, not to hang over their heads.

Multi-threaded brands are more “social,” and less “corporate.”

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Brand test: do you have your customer’s back?

Friday, March 16th, 2007


Some companies aren’t sure if they really have a brand, or if they are a brand. They associate brands with consumer goods, and their main market may be elsewhere.

Here’s a quick test I use that any company can grasp:

Do you have your customer’s back?

Companies will know exactly what this means, in a heartbeat. If they answer, “Of course, that’s why we’re here,” then they most certainly have a brand, and they are a brand. Their brand value just has to be brought to the surface.

If their answer is in the negative, then maybe they’re just a business with a name, or a label, or something else.

Photo: soldiersmediacenter — Flickr
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Brands move customers from Point A to Point B

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

One of the great myths about brands is that they’re supposed to be timeless, static icons. In this myth brands are fixed and immutable, casting a pure, Olympian glow from high above—or at least from the shelf.

Walk through any retail environment and you’ll note that many traditional brands still embrace this model. They’re inert, and proud of it, often reducing themselves to a symbol, slogan or promise that sits and waits for customers.

And waits.

And waits.

These days, traditional brands are doing a lot of waiting. Customers are passing them by, moving too fast to notice.

Great brands are customer wheels

Brand inertia is not the future. Newer brands have wheels. Better yet, they are wheels. They’re not icons; they’re enablers. They enable customers to get things done, to move from Point A, where things aren’t that great, toward Point B, where things are a whole lot better.

These brands grasp in a heartbeat that a worthwhile “brand experience” isn’t the package or the promise. It’s what the brand does in the real world to move customers forward. What counts is the quality of direction, the speed, and the distance that the brand delivers.

Moving customers forward

If customers can’t measure what your brand delivers—in how far and how fast they advance—your brand is one step closer to gathering dust.

A dynamic brand will enlarge a customer’s life and give him or her the tools to explore it. The best of these tools are at the tips of customer fingers and in the taps of their toes. (See photo above.) They’re immediate value, getting things in gear, popping up new horizons left and right.

Fast track brands

Online brands have a big advantage here, because they’re often enablers at the core. They’re fast track brands for fast track customers (who happen to have healthy incomes). Old brands ignore them at their peril.

(Fast track brands can cut you off at the pass.)

Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple are all good examples, and ever more “edge-ier” brands (like Pinterest) are emerging, rapidly trying to translate new digital capabilities into new vectors of customer value.

It’s the Point B that matters most

Every brand has a Point A: it’s the brand identity and all its attributes. What matters most, however, is the brand’s Point B. For the customer, Point B is Point Better-off. So we ask: Where is the brand taking its customers? How far ahead will that be? How will that Point B be a richer realm of living compared to today’s Point A.

That’s the brand question.

Photo: iessi — Flickr
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How brands create customers: Part 2

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Continued from Part 1

In this installment we continue our discussion of what it means to “create a customer.” We then begin the process of shaping brand strategies to create the customers that a business needs.

The business value of creating customers

When we create a customer we are doing much more than making a sale. In themselves, sales do not create customers. Sales create transactions. Simply ringing the cash register does not forge a customer connection, nor does it mean the customer will return. When companies pursue sales at the expense of creating customers, they run into big trouble.

In other words, the purpose of your brand is not to be a stylized sales stimulant. It’s purpose is to build strong customers, who will demand what only you can provide. Your brand can do this by enabling customers to develop skills, capabilities, values, sensibilities and attitudes that are good for them, and good for you. Your brand puts you and your customers on the same page—a page that you write together.

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