Archive for September, 2009

Steve Jobs, please crash this party

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

You’re in luck. You’ve been invited to a Windows 7 launch party. Here’s your chance to catch the full force of the Windows 7 brand, head on. They’re planning the party now. So come on in. Join the fun:

Where’s the effing brand?

If you watched this party pooper for even a minute your reaction may be the same as mine: Where’s the effing brand? And who are these people? Why are they here? This is the brand’s coming out party. The brand is the show. Who gives a flying frig about party favors?

Set the brand free

There’s a Windows 7 brand in here someplace, begging to be freed. It’s stashed away in one of the cupboards. Or behind the sugar. Or buried in the fruit. Someone with decent brand sense (like Steve Jobs) would find it in a hurry. He would drag it to daylight, amp up the vision, forge an identity and unleash it on the world. That’s what this video should do.

Facilitators get in the way

Sadly, these folks don’t have a clue as to what the brand is, or where it’s headed. The way they’re talking, a Windows 7 launch is a sleepover.

And they talk too much.  Brevity is the soul of wit, and of brands. The beauty of a brand is that it is, gloriously. The brand tells its own story. It’s immediate. Facilitators get in the way. We want the brand experience, not theirs.

Brands are binary

Truth is, brands are binary. In the brand world you’re great, or you’re garbage. There’s no in-between. These folks are launching the brand one step from the trash compactor. Go figure.


The disruptive potential of smartphones

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Jason Kottke has a nice overview of the disruptive potential of smartphones, using the iPhone as an example. He compares the current state of smartphone development to the early stages of the Internet. If correct, that comparison would leave a lot of headroom for smartphone disruption. Even if you believe that smartphones occupy a totally different market space, you may still be in the crosshairs.

Somewhere, a few coders may be planning to replace your brand with an app.


Burberry to launch social networking site

Monday, September 21st, 2009


The Financial Times reports that Burberry will soon launch its own social networking site, to be called Art of the Trench. This is a major step that all brands will be watching, because the future of brands will be written with personal platforms and social media. A Burberry social network could be a pioneering and potent force in advancing the Burberry brand, and its customers.

Brand strategy and social media

In this post I’ll take a quick look at the brand strategy and social media options available to Burberry in its new initiative. In large part, at least as I see it, the challenge for Burberry goes far beyond social media proper. It’s a challenge of brand innovation. Does Burberry intend to pour old marketing wine into this new social media bottle, or will it use social media to reinvent its brand to create new customer value? That’s the big question.

Pre-launch site and Burberry context

Here is Burberry’s pre-launch site, to give you a flavor. From reports, the new network is intended to make Burberry more attractive to customers by providing a Burberry-themed platform for social communication and interaction. Burberry already has 660,000 “friends” on Facebook to draw from.

For some Burberry context, watch the 9/16/09 “Customer of the future” Financial Times video interview with Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts here. (Actually, watch the entire set; it’s illuminating.)

Burberry customers and the site

Burberry intends the site to be a form of online brand experience for customers.

“These might not even be customers yet. Or they may be a customer for a bottle of fragrance or for eyewear. But these are the customers who need the brand experience, who need to feel the brand. That word-of-mouth spreads through their social networks and continues to be a positive conversation [about Burberry] . . . that is so powerful.”

Source:  the FT article above.

Post pictures of yourself in your Burberry trench

At this point we don’t know the full extent of Burberry’s “social networking site.” Will it operate like a slimmed-down, brand-focused Facebook, or will it be more of a (conventional) fan site. Initial reports say the Burberry network will enable Burberry customers to post photographs of themselves in their Burberry trench coats. That seems more like fan site territory, the low end of social media. (The high end is collaboration and value co-creation.)

Potential downsides of a fan site approach

To the extent that Art of the Trench becomes a fan site, (not that it would) what are the brand downsides? The biggest downside is the opportunity cost for missing the possible brand advances through a real social network, especially one focused on value creation. Beyond that, fan sites can be brand limiting unless customers themselves are allowed to show their creative modifications to brands, or brand uses. Is Burberry open to customer mods?

The brand is more than the clothing

If Art of the Trench focuses on pictures of customers in Burberry coats, one might then ask, “What’s the sustaining attraction?” The clothes are the same. And how will all those blurry amateur pics represent Burberry’s chic fashion sense, not to mention its exacting quality? Loopy pics might damage the brand. Finally, how deep is the customer “brand experience” in seeing photos of others in Burberry outfits? Might this undercut the Burberry identity so ably set forth in exquisite photos and videos of Burberry-adorned models?



Developer ecosystems build mobile brands

Monday, September 14th, 2009

iphone apps

Apple’s iPhone has raised the bar for mobile brands in many ways, but perhaps Apple’s biggest iPhone brand advance is its ecosystem of developers to keep new mobile apps coming at a furious rate. To compete with the iPhone you now have to have your own app store and a powerful developer ecosystem crafting waves of irresistible apps. That’s a fairly high hurdle. Palm, Nokia, Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Google (Android) are all chasing Apple in the brand ecosystem race.

Brands are moving from the showcase to the commons

I would argue that what is happening in mobile brands today presages what will happen to brands in general as mobile apps become the currency of culture. Going forward, the true measure of a brand will be how it transitions from the showcase to the commons, as brands use mobile platforms to enrich and extend social networks. As I’ve noted previously, brands will be recast as applications, as unique ways for customers to get things done. Brand creativity, imagination, moral sense and powers of expression will be embedded in the apps, not imprisoned in a package or an ad. The more these apps surge forth from the ecosystem, the more universal the brand.

Your brand ecosystem is a big part of your identity

In the mobile universe, your brand ecosystem now makes up a large part of your identity. Customers know you, experience you, and view you through your ecosystem. It tells the world how alive you are, and where you’re going. You can’t really be a “smartphone” without one.

Palm: a slow launch for the brand ecosystem

Palm still faces major brand ecosystem challenges for its new Palm Pre smartphone. It is paying the price in reduced sales. Eric Savitz at Barron’s reports on market research that says Pre sales will likely fall below estimates, raising questions about Palm’s ability to compete with Apple and RIM (BlackBerry). A key factor is Palm’s slow development of competitive apps for the Pre, and the slow roll-out of  the Palm Pre Application Catalog. These are critical ecosystem issues.

The Palm Pre software development kit (SDK) was released to developers a month after the Pre was launched.

Your brand ecosystem keeps your brand fresh

As the flood of iPhone apps demonstrates, your brand ecosystem helps you innovate, too, keeping your brand fresh. There’s something new every day.

For Palm, this is another critical issue, as noted by the Globe and Mail:

“[Lack of apps] is going to be a huge Achilles heal for Palm,” said Carmi Levy senior vice-president, strategic consulting with AR Communications. “What it’s done is compromised the company’s ability to capitalize on the bump that you usually get when you launch a new device. So there’s huge amount of publicity surrounding the launch and then a couple months later things settle down because you’re not getting headlines like you used to get. It’s during that critical phase that application availability drives attention.”

Apple has changed the brand game in mobile

Apple, of course, has changed the brand game in mobile. Customers now expect handsets to be slick mini-computers, with the ease of use and applications of advanced computer technology. Handsets are now exemplars of innovation, not ham-fisted compromises. That places the mobile game clearly on Apple’s turf. It makes the brand ecosystem element all the more critical for Palm and other mobile players. To out-brand Apple you have to out-app Apple—somehow.

Image: Apple iPhone

Store brands poised to rival “name” brands

Friday, September 4th, 2009


Consumer Reports has performed a series of tests comparing store brands with name brands in 29 categories of foods. They concluded that store brands more than held their own in terms of quality and value.

The inherent power of store brands

This isn’t big news, really. In previous posts we’ve discussed the inherent power of store brands and their many (potential) advantages over manufacturer’s brands. See our posts on Costco, Trader Joe’s (here, here and here), and Whole Foods (here and here).

Retailers define the customer experience. A strong store brand is on the same page as its customers–and it’s a page they’re writing together. Store brands should be the rule, rather than the exception.

Test results

From Consumer Reports:

In blind tests, our trained tasters compared a big national brand with a store brand in 29 food categories. Store and national brands tasted about equally good 19 times. Four times, the store brand won; six times, the national brand won.

What’s more, the store-brand foods we tested cost an average of 27 percent less than big-name counterparts—about what you’d find across all product categories, industry experts told us.

The retailer as the customer’s agent

In recent years the creative thrust of retailers has been to create their own customers through their own brand identities and brand relationships. Retailers position themselves as agents of customers, rather than agents of far-off factories. (That’s the secret of Costco, Trader Joe’s, and many others, in a nutshell.)

Old retail: the shelf. New retail: the platform

What we’re seeing in retail generally, and in grocery retailing specifically, is a transition from a shelf-focused business to a platform-focused business. In other words, it’s not the can; it’s the customer. When the store becomes a customer platform it can then discover its own brand potential, connecting with customers in many new dimensions, and moving them to new market spaces that competitor’s can reach.

Photo: SaCaSeA — Flickr

Concepts in the flow of brands

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

First gradually, and now suddenly, brands are migrating to the social sphere as methods of creating value. In this process they increasingly share concepts and processes with other innovation and design disciplines that are breaking new ground.

UX design, service design and design thinking

Sylvain Cottong has put together a nice overview of UX design, service design and design thinking and how they inter-relate. His presentation on SlideShare contains many classic diagrams from these fields, and some I hadn’t seen before. The presentation makes a good reference source for brand builders. At some point the best of these and other disciplines will be wrapped in a (meta) brand methodology, based (naturally) on the art of creating customers.

View more documents from Sylvain Cottong.
Hat tip: Red Jotter

Service design: a robust way to build brands

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

It appears that brand builders have a powerful new process to help them build strong brand relationships. The design methodology called service design gives every indication of being a robust methodology for delivering high levels of brand value. In fact, as a method of value delivery it may be more effective than traditional brand practices based on communications and persuasion.

Service design and the evolution of brands

The service design approach meshes nicely with the process of how a brand creates customers. It also fits rather neatly into the final stage of the three-phase evolution of brands. In that model we see brands begin as marks, proprietary symbols originally branded on shipping casks. The second phase is an age of brands as media, where mass media advertising and messaging drove brand development. In the present era brands are emerging as a means, as strategic enablers that help customers (and companies) move to the next level in their planned growth.

Service design and “brands as a service”

As a design discipline, service design focuses on maximizing positive user experiences through high-value touchpoints. Brands use much the same methodology. In fact, we could design a brand as a service of value innovation, aimed to unlock more value than a product alone could provide. To be sure, every brand also needs a well-constructed identity and a command of relevant metaphors, but beyond that it’s largely a mutual value creation effort between company and customer. As a service the brand rolls up its sleeves to do meaningful work, delivering results customers can use.

The creative context of service design

At its most rudimentary levels, service design is about helping companies and organizations deliver better services. That’s valuable in itself, but conventional services are often conceived too narrowly, as little more than interactive tasks. They’re prosaic by intent, often because companies lack the vision to leverage them creatively (and strategically).

There’s no reason we can’t design services in a more creative context, in which new realms of expression and proactive behaviors open up to customers and to companies alike. We could define the service as a means of discovery. (It’s part of a shared brand journey.) A service (like a brand) is a collaboration in context. Reinvent the context. Shape it to enable the customer to be more, and to do more. Free it to deliver new layers of meaning in addition to those of its elementary functions.

Service design is more strategic than traditional brand myths and symbols

Because service design is customer-focused and results-oriented, it contains more strategic potential than traditional brand myths and symbols. Brands built on symbols, myths and stories are not strategic. They’re customer dead ends. Their usual goal is to end innovation and lock customers in place. In so doing, however, they often lock the company in the same corral, creating innovation advantages for competitors. In contrast, service design can easily incorporate strategic brand goals into its processes, advancing customers into new market spaces that competitors can’t reach.

A brand is how you experience a company

There is significant overlap between brands as enablers and the goals of service design. For instance, check out this interview with Peter Fossick, who teaches service design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Everything is moving toward service design. Design is becoming more intangible, less about product and more about the experience of the product. Look at Vélib’, the bicycle rental program in Paris. The technology is ancient–it’s a bicycle, after all–but the program is so brilliant thanks to the service architecture. I’m not saying we’ll stop inventing new products. I’m just saying that designing the experience of the product is becoming just as fundamental as the product itself.

Include the experience of trust in a product offering and you are well on the way toward building a brand.

Service design: creating the customer platform

Professor Fossick also makes this interesting observation about Apple:

You know, Apple really had an enormously difficult time with hardware in the nineties and earlier this decade. They seemed to be focusing too much on product, without considering the product experience. Then–whop!–iTunes, really even more so than the iPod, changes all that. That’s not a music player. It’s a design of the user’s interaction with sound.

One might even argue that in spite of the vaunted product design ethos at Apple, the core of the Apple brand is the (software) service to customers that Apple delivers–first in the Mac OS, then  iTunes and now with the iPhone and its wondrous apps. This enabling service creates a platform of customer experience that makes everything else possible.

Also see: Interaction design: the new key to brands

Hat tip: John Schneider (Twitter @johnfschneider)