Archive for April, 2007

Google reveals its disruptive brand strategy

Monday, April 30th, 2007

While brand builders usually craft brands to be as highly visible and as “hot” as possible, disruptive brands often call for a different strategy. Truth is, disruptive brands can be at their best when they’re kept to a low profile, and served very, very cold. Like the underwater mass of an iceberg they attract little notice as they glide into position. Then, when the time is right, they discretely split the seams of the reigning Titanic as it cruises past. One second they hide beneath the surface, and the next second they own the ocean. Bright lights and fanfares would only alert their intended prey.

Can Google disrupt the Microsoft brand?

Thanks to the always insightful David Berlind, we can see a potential brand disruption taking shape in the sea-change confrontation between Google and Microsoft for computing platform dominance. From a brand-builder perspective, this is largely a brand context battle about which brand will define the future context of computing. It’s the emerging Google brand context vs. the prevailing Microsoft Windows brand context. What appears on the surface is far less important than what’s going on down below.

Over several posts David outlines how Google is stealthily creating the infrastructure and applications for a powerful (hosted) brand platform that stands to cause Microsoft serious damage. In the best disruptive tradition, the Google brand is readying itself for this conflict calmly and quietly, barely causing a ripple.

For some background on disruptive brands see this previous post.

What is brand context?

Brand context is an amazing property of brands. It’s the world of opportunity that a brand presents to the customer, the real deal of possibilities that the brand conveys and incarnates, across all human dimensions. For the customer, it can be “the new you, in a better place” that only a brand can deliver. The brand context has the potential to extend the customer’s horizons, and provide a means of reaching them. It’s the opposite of artificial worlds fabricated by hype, spin and mind games. (These are properties of propaganda, not brands.)

Of course, a brand context can also be decidedly negative and restrictive. That invites disruption by a brand context that offers more freedom to customers.

The iPod offers a wondrously rich brand context of music compared to the restrictive context of CD’s. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Microsoft and the PC makers offered a superior brand context in the business world compared to the old way of working with pencil and paper. Now, it’s Google’s turn to offer a more liberating brand context of computing than that provided by a mature Windows Office.

The challenger: Google Apps

The heart of Google’s challenge is a new domain-oriented platform (and potential brand context) called Google Apps, which consists of Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Gmail, Gtalk, Google Calendar, a forthcoming presentation app, and a basic intranet structure to manage them for domain users. Google Apps is aimed not at individual web surfers but at groups such as organizations, small businesses, enterprises and schools that share a domain. As David explains, Google Apps has many features the average Googler will never see. Its strength is a hosted set of core office applications plus workgroup and application connectivity in a single, extensible package. Currently it’s free for families; other groups can get a free trial through May.

Google goes after the disruptive 10%

As David notes, Google’s objective with Google Apps is to gain market share by offering the key 10 percent of Microsoft Office features that customers use most, at a fraction of what they pay for Office. This 10 percent equates to 95 to 100 percent of the features found in Google Apps. Gee, this might just ring a bell.

The promise of Google Apps

Google Apps holds the promise of being far cheaper and easier to administer than Microsoft Windows, while being largely compatible with it. If it’s reliable, costs far less, delivers equal or better productivity, doesn’t force hardware upgrades (a la Vista), causes fewer headaches, and comes with painless updates, it may indeed usher in a computing sea change for customers.

For Google Apps, brand context is critical

The strategic task for Google Apps is to become much more than low-end disruption. It needs to represent a liberating context of computing, where organizations and individuals can wield more power over their digital platforms and tools, and thus gain more control of their destiny. When we’re talking about these kinds of holistic changes in the customer world, we’re talking about the power of brands, above and below the surface.



Should NBC “brand” a mass murderer’s tapes?

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

There’s been a pointed debate over whether NBC, and subsequently other broadcasters, should have blanketed the airwaves with the Virginia Tech shooter’s home movies and photos. What struck me, though, was that NBC apparently insisted on branding what amounted to the killer’s media kit as their own.

If you watch the videos and photos on CNN or ABC or anywhere else but on NBC you’ll see there’s a little NBC network logo affixed to the image, much like you might see on a clip from Meet the Press or any other network show. The mass murderer ‘gave’ it to NBC. So they own it. And any other network that shows it has to credit NBC by showing the NBC logo.

Given the slaughter and agony tied to these tapes, I would have thought the execs at NBC would have freed this questionable material into the public domain rather than claiming intellectual property rights to it as they might any other NBC production.

A related discussion, quoting various media sources, is found on Pete Ellertsen’s media blog.

Where is NBC’s “social brand”?

Since this is a deeply social tragedy, on so many levels, an NBC privatizing brand strategy seems way out of place. It clashes with the event, and our reactions to it. What good does it do NBC? It’s out of sync, and it certainly marks NBC as standing apart from the social media that contributed so much to recording the events of that sad day. What’s needed is not a privatizing brand but an NBC “social brand” that raises NBC to a position of leadership in dealing with the tragedy.

The brand must rise to the occasion

In other words, the brand must rise to the occasion, rather than fit the occasion to the brand. By proudly planting its peacock on the rantings of a disturbed mind, NBC shows that it still has a lot of climbing to do.


Growing brands from the customer up

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Everywhere around us, the expanding digital universe is rapidly transforming the world of brands, with new digital tools pushing aside yesterday’s symbols, slogans and “timeless” icons. In place of conventional top-down “branding” campaigns we’re seeing breakthrough brand innovation from below, with small companies, not big corporations, reinventing brands and re-defining brand building itself. They’re growing brands as organic, 1:1 collaborations in context, and in value, across multiple customer fronts.

Digital brand leverage: the shape of brands to come

It appears likely that the future of brands will be driven by digital brand leverage—in the form of direct links between value creators (or content creators) and customers, bypassing intermediate brand structures, and middlemen. What makes this possible are two recent developments: 1) digital technologies that facilitate close interaction between companies and their customers; and 2) collaborative brand practices that unify companies and customers through a shared vision and mission.



How great brands change the game

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

How do great brands change the game? One thing is certain: they don’t start with the game. They understand, perhaps intuitively, that the current game has reached its limits. The rules constrain the players—both the customer, and the brand. Stick to those rules and you’ll be bound to the same few moves, on the same hard bench, in the same small park, for a long time to come.

To change the game, change the customer

Great brands change the game by changing the customer. They redefine the customer and the customer’s world, elevating the customer to a completely new context. In this new context the old game suddenly becomes irrelevant, along with all the companies, products and brands wedded to it. It isn’t the new brand that spells the difference as much as it’s the new customer that the brand creates. He or she is delighted to leave the old game behind.

If you want to really change the game, you can liberate the customer.



How to build a brand on top of the fridge

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Who says brand building has to be a big production, with a cast of thousands and a budget of millions? It all comes down to three basic elements:

  1. Respect the customer
  2. Build a better product
  3. Make your creative engagement with the customer truly creative.

For some tips on the latter, check out Miranda July.


The glorious (non-linear) essence of brands

Monday, April 9th, 2007

As brand builders, we’re sometimes tempted to believe that our brands are linear, that they’re straight-line beams of context and content that we project upon the world, with the power to bind customers to them. In this view, customers themselves become a linear function of the brand, perfectly aligned and predictable. They’re a blank slate that we illuminate, and guide.

A dialectic of meaning that’s gloriously non-linear

Of course, that’s not the real world at all. In the real world brands are a dialectic of meaning that’s gloriously non-linear. They derive much of their energy, imagination and innovation from customers, in ways that are perfectly unpredictable. You may plot your brand roadmap as a row of brightly colored cones, but non-linear customers will carve their own routes over, around and through them, creating new brand realities (and value) as they go.

Non-linear brands stay fresh

This non-linear essence of brands is a good thing, too. It adds a vital, open edge to brands and brand programs. It keeps markets fresh, brands fresh, and companies fresh because it forces brands to stay on their toes, to interact with customers as equals, to listen and learn, and to grow as customers grow.

Brands are enablers

Brands are at their best when they enable customers to be more, and to do more, through the brand. The more productive we can make our customers, the farther and faster they’ll travel–beyond the reach of competitors. This is the direct opposite of a brand silo that tries to lock customers in place with an agenda of capture, contain and control. That’s a prescription for an empty silo when the world moves on.

Customers carve brand meanings as they go

Take a close look at those shoes in the pic above. That’s a customer navigating your brand, about as non-linear as you can get. Customers take your brand where they’re going, not where you’re going. They carve new meanings as they go, wondering only if you have the drive to keep up.

A few non-linear notes on brands:

  1. A brand is not a message—it’s a means. It’s how the customer escapes the mundane, the mediocre and the monotony of the straight and narrow. Brands confer the right to play.
  2. Your brand is not what you project. It’s what the customer does with it. In other words, you provide the wheels, but the customer does the wheelies.
  3. Great brands don’t hog the show. They leave plenty of headroom for the customer. Over-scripted brands can slow things down to an omnipresent, oppressive you—who just gets in the way.
  4. Brands run on customer feet. Your brand will only go as far as your customers. Since the brand goal is to advance your customers where competitors can’t follow, it’s sound brand strategy to add wheels to their feet. Or blades. Or wings. Or float them to a cloud.
  5. A brand’s customers are its greatest competitive weapon. Structure your brand programs to help customers add value back to the brand. (That’s strategic.) Give customers the tools to innovate, and to speed your brand forward. Their wheelies today can become new markets tomorrow, leaving competitors in the dust.

Design your brand as a creative engagement

In short, design your brand as a creative engagement with customers. It’s a free-form riff, not a ball and chain with your name attached. Your brand is a way for customers to invent themselves, and through the brand dialectic, to re-invent you.

Photo: — (via Wikimedia)


Updated: 6/13/11


Building personal brand applications

Friday, April 6th, 2007


As I discussed in a previous post, companies are increasingly turning to digital brand platforms, programs and applications to augment brand interactions and brand experience, and to deliver new forms of customer value. In this post I want to focus on a new type of digital brand application which I call (in my best generic English) personal brand applications.

[UPDATE] See new post: Building your brand — there’s an app for that

Also see:

What are personal brand applications?

Personal brand applications are software applications that deliver unique brand value to customers in ways that are personal, portable and persistent. Their intent is to form a brand partnership with the customer, with a depth of interaction far beyond conventional channels of brand communication. They become the customer’s virtual sidekick, mentor, confidant and guide. They watch the customer’s back, they go where the customer goes, and they are “always on.”

As a complement to other brand programs, personal brand applications are a new way for brands to connect with customers 24/7. They are 1:1, direct and immediate. They have the potential to forge deep brand connections that can transcend the influence of advertising, packaging, “branding” and similar old-school brand modalities.