Archive for June, 2007

Web principles for creating customers

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Do your brand programs increasingly depend on user-facing websites to create customers and build brand relationships? If so, the web principles recently adopted by the BBC (no slouch in the communications department) may be useful.

A while back Tom Loosemore included the principles on his blog. While these are obviously intended for a media organization, they provide a solid framework for any company.

These web principles can serve as brand-building principles. They can help you build a web fabric to join with customers, explore mutual interests and solve mutual problems. The focus is on advancing the customer, not tooting your own horn.

The BBC’s Fifteen Web Principles

1. Build web products that meet audience needs: anticipate needs not yet fully articulated by audiences, then meet them with products that set new standards. (nicked from Google)

2. The very best websites do one thing really, really well: do less, but execute perfectly. (again, nicked from Google, with a tip of the hat to Jason Fried)

3. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves: link to other high-quality sites instead. Your users will thank you. Use other people’s content and tools to enhance your site, and vice versa.

4. Fall forward, fast: make many small bets, iterate wildly, back successes, kill failures, fast.

5. Treat the entire web as a creative canvas: don’t restrict your creativity to your own site.

6. The web is a conversation. Join in: Adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.

7. Any website is only as good as its worst page:
Ensure best practice editorial processes are adopted and adhered to.

8. Make sure all your content can be linked to, forever.

9. Remember your granny won’t ever use “Second Life”: She may come online soon, with very different needs from early-adopters.

10. Maximise routes to content: Develop as many aggregations of content about people, places, topics, channels, networks & time as possible. Optimise your site to rank high in Google.

11. Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one-size-fits-all: Users should always know they’re on one of your websites, even if they all look very different. Most importantly of all, they know they won’t ever get lost.

12. Accessibility is not an optional extra: Sites designed that way from the ground up work better for all users

13. Let people paste your content on the walls of their virtual homes: Encourage users to take nuggets of content away with them, with links back to your site

14. Link to discussions on the web, don’t host them: Only host web-based discussions where there is a clear rationale

15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent: After all, it’s your users’ data. Best respect it.

BBC logo: courtesy BBC

Ford cuts cord on Jaguar, Land Rover brands

Monday, June 18th, 2007

The Wall Street Journal and other sources report that Ford is exploring the sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover units as a way to trim money-losing operations. Ford spent billions of dollars to acquire the two car makers in 1989 and 2000 respectively, spent hundreds of millions more to upgrade and market them, but never figured out how to create new customers for the famed marques.

Why didn’t these expensive and highly visible acquisitions pan out for Ford? Here are some thoughts from a brand value perspective.

Brands are married, not “bought”

Brands flourish as shared passions between maker and buyer. Customers marry a cherished brand more than they “buy” it. It’s an emotional plunge. If a new corporate owner doesn’t have a deep and abiding passion for what makes the product and its customers tick—the living connections that infuse every aspect of the brand relationship—the new corporate brand marriage may be dysfunctional, or even sterile. Brands are a joining, from top to bottom. So, perhaps Ford’s biggest mistake was its approach to “buy” the brands in the first place, when a more physical relationship was called for. It arrived with spreadsheets instead of silk sheets.

Intensify the brand, or lose the brand

Great brands like Jaguar and Land Rover live by their own logic and passion. They create customers in their own image. This is a process of brand intensity, a reduction to pristine elements of heightened existence. If a new corporate owner makes a brand more of what it is, unleashing potential locked within, then the brand can thrive anew, as in BMW’s glorious resurrection of the Mini. But if a new corporate owner believes that buying a famed brand is nothing more than buying a selling point, the brand can lose its vision—for itself and its customers. Customers—always the brand canaries—will sense this in a heartbeat.

The interior feels low rent and, insignificant as it might sound, the electric aerial is a joke on a car costing in excess of £60,000. Jaguar needs to look forward and to change its focus. I know many point the finger of blame firmly at Jaguar’s Ford parent company, but the Blue Oval has poured money into the firm but the excuses always seem to be the same – ‘wait until you see what’s coming next’. Jaguar has tantalised us frequently in recent years with concepts promising new directions, svelte styling and innovation like the R-D6 concept . . . a big diesel GT four-door coupé. Did they build it? Nope.

Brand dilution dilutes customers

When you marry into aristocracy, as Ford did with Jaguar and Land Rover, you join the world of dukes and duchesses. You leave Dearborn far behind. This means producing marques that are extravagant in what they do, at a price to match, rather than diluted, entry-level lines churned out for sorties to Wal-Mart. Even though Ford made tremendous improvements in Jaguar quality and reliability, one of its lasting legacies will be its platform sharing strategies that put drivetrain and suspension components from mass-market Fords into the Jaguar brand. While this was highly cost-effective, it was hardly brand-effective.

Maybe “luxury brand” was the wrong category

Ford bought Jaguar and Land Rover to gain share in the automotive “luxury brand” market, but I’m wondering if categorizing these two marques as “luxury brands” may have been one of Ford’s strategic mistakes. It landed Ford in a nest of “Red Ocean” conundrums, from which they never really escaped. In their glory days these marques were high performance brands that originally appealed to high performance customers—unmistakable individuals who were going places with verve and energy (on-road and off-road). They were expansive brands. Dragging in the feather bed “luxury” label led Ford to aim the vehicles at the early adopter Geritol set. No wonder movers and shakers stayed away.

These are brands that under a different charter might have reinvented a high performance context, with a new breed of high-performance customers to match.

Not enough Dylan Thomas

Brands are the poetry of products, and poets can give us insight into the workings of brands. Dylan Thomas’s line, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is a wonderful metaphor for a brand at work, with the customer as the flower. Ford might have read up on Thomas, and worked on a new force and fuse for Jaguar and Land Rover, to create a new customer flowering. Instead they seem to have spent their money on bouquets at the florist.

Photo: Jaguar XK 150 by evercool — Flickr

Upward strategies for nonprofit brands

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Nonprofit brands are definitely on the rise. Their ascent may have been a bit tentative at first, as they explored the best brand approaches for their organizations, but they’re finding effective ways to create and deliver brand value, and to build brand communities. As they move upward, they’re also bringing new fundraising options into view.


In this post I’ll discuss strategic brand approaches for nonprofit organizations. The time is ripe for such a discussion because many nonprofits have reached a “phase one” of brand development, where they’ve largely focused on building brand identities to aid in promotion and fundraising. They’re now ready to move to a more value-rich level of brand development using brand platforms and programs, and interactive brand communities. Freezing their brands at the identity level carries considerable downside risk.

Topics I’ll discuss include:

  1. Moving beyond brand identity
  2. The brand strategy imperative
  3. Building value-based brand programs
  4. The importance of brand context
  5. Brand partnership opportunities
  6. Leveraging the brand community

Three strategy areas for nonprofits

In general, nonprofit strategies fall into three areas:

  1. Strategies for mission effectiveness
  2. Strategies for fundraising
  3. Strategies for partnering and opportunity development

A nonprofit’s brand strategy can favorably impact all three areas. Historically, nonprofit brand development (as identity) has often been geared to fundraising, PR and publicity. This is probably the weakest use of brand and brand value. Brand programs produce their greatest results when they’re integrated into mission effectiveness (as collaboration tools) and into partnering and opportunity development (as value innovation.)

Moving beyond brand identity

In the nonprofit world the term “brand” has often been understood rather narrowly to mean “brand identity.” In this approach, nonprofits that seek to “build their brand” usually seek only an identity package designed to set them apart and make them more attractive to potential donors, sponsors or partners. This will typically include a memorable name, a distinctive logo or mark, a design guide to insure visual, symbolic and thematic consistency in all communications (including a website high in donor appeal), and perhaps a punchy slogan or tag line for positioning.

Once a nonprofit has its identity package in hand it usually considers its brand “done,” and is off and running with promotional campaigns.



USDA fights brand innovation in beef

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

It’s not a good sign when a government agency fights brand innovation. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case as the US Department of Agriculture tries to block a US beef producer from bringing to market a higher quality brand of beef.

The headline of the AP story tells it like it is: US government fights to keep meatpackers from testing all slaughtered cattle for mad cow.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

In March a federal judge ruled that Creekstone had the right to perform additional mad cow testing, effective June 1. The Bush administration and the USDA have appealed that ruling, preventing Creekstone from doing the testing at this time.

Adding value to the brand

Yes, Creekstone Farms wants to add value to its brand by implementing a testing program to provide increased assurance to customers that its meat products are disease free. It would be the first meat producer in the US to do so.

Creekstone specializes in corn-fed, hormone-free Angus beef. Its proposed testing is consistent with the comprehensive quality programs that already underlie its brand approach. The terms “premium” and “quality” are a key part of the Creekstone brand. Creekstone’s actions indicate that it takes these terms seriously—that they’re much more than packaging fluff.

Building brand quality

Creekstone does not want to invent new tests for mad cow disease (technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE). It simply wants to apply the current highly restricted federal tests for BSE to its lines of beef products, so it can brand its beef as tested.

Here is Creekstone’s reply to the USDA:

In refusing to allow Creekstone Farms to respond to its customers’ preference for beef from animals that have been tested for BSE, the USDA is doggedly pursuing a course that scientists, consumer groups, trade associations and business, and members of Congress regard as a bad policy. While Creekstone Farms has taken a lead role in this effort, it is not alone in believing that the government should not prevent private companies from voluntarily testing cattle for BSE.

Raising the brand bar

Creekstone’s battle with the USDA is part of a larger struggle of innovative brands to create new markets by raising the brand bar. Often pitted against such brand innovation initiatives are larger corporations with a vested interest in the status quo, their lobbying groups, and federal agencies or parties influenced by those groups. Some deeper background on the Creekstone saga is here.

Raising the brand bar is one of the remaining innovation avenues open to US firms globally, enabling them to compete effectively in world markets through brand value delivered. This is a natural strength of US companies, arising in large part from an individualistic, entrepreneurial drive to pack more customer focus, value and quality into new products and services. Smaller companies such as Creekstone often lead in these initiatives.

Creekstone as a value-based brand

As a value-based brand, Creekstone has a sharp focus on quality. Here is a snippet from it’s full-page Quality Commitment:

What makes Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef superior? It’s our commitment to Quality. From the cattle we procure all the way through to our state of the art processing, we are committed to producing the highest quality beef in America.

  • USDA Certification
  • Verifiable Black Angus Genetics
  • Humane Animal Treatment
  • High Quality Corn-Based Feed
  • State Of The Art Processing
  • Two USDA Certified Beef Programs – Premium and Natural

Or lowering the brand bar

If the USDA (as currently directed by the Bush administration) is successful in lowering the brand bar in agricultural products, what’s to prevent similar government actions from legislating mediocrity in other business sectors, from automobiles to aircraft to computers? What discriminating customer (or foreign country) would want American products then?

When America loses brand leadership, what’s left?