Archive for June, 2010

The difference between a brand and a label

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010


In brands we make a very clear distinction between brands and labels. Here’s how I see it:

The difference between a brand and a label is that a brand leads, while a label follows you around.

That’s right: brands lead. Brands create opportunities for customers and lead them toward qualitatively better lives. Brands lead customers toward new shapes of self, and toward new forms of being and doing. And yes, brands lead by example.

Take the T-shirt test

Quick test: check that T-shirt you’re wearing. Is it taking you somewhere you’d never reach without it? Or is it just following you around? If it’s leading you somewhere special, and your feet just skim the ground, you’re wearing a brand. Otherwise, you’re stitched to a label.

And here’s a corollary:

Brands make things happen. Labels tag along.

Brands open doors—big ones. They help us interoperate with the universe. Labels help you sort things in a drawer.

Let’s unpack this distinction a bit.

Brands lead us on a unique journey

A brand, when properly developed, leads us on a unique journey, from high adventure to inner peace, and to a thousand points between. The brand embarks on a venture beyond the status quo. It’s going somewhere interesting, and it asks us to join the crew.

Labels bring up the rear

In contrast, labels bring up the rear. They don’t invent, innovate, incite or inspire. They’re inventory. They have their place (on a shelf), but it’s the brand that connects with customers and flies out the door.

Frankly, labels are stuck: on a garment, on a bottle or on a package. Buy the label and you’re stuck, too.

From label to brand package

Brands elevate the label to the brand package. The brand package wraps the customer, the company and the product in the brand journey. Soaring above and beyond the product, it’s the ticket to ride.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A brand application that can change the world

Sunday, June 27th, 2010


A brand application is a way for brands  to solve important problems for customers, just like a software application. The most popular brand applications these days are “apps” on portable media devices, such as smartphones. What we have in the photo above is a slightly different kind of application. It’s an innovative, inexpensive add-on unit from MIT that can perform simple, accurate eye tests using a smartphone. The unit could help people in remote areas obtain the prescriptions and the eyeglasses they need.

The unit is designed to be dead simple to use, accurate, and cheap. Here’s the full announcement from MIT.

If the device works as intended, this is a brand application that can change the world. It can help give sight to millions of sight-impaired, a tremendous boost to their lives and local productivity.

So, whose brand is this?

Whose brand is this? Well, it could be yours (assuming you work out a deal with MIT). If you want to do some good in the world, this is the kind of brand application just waiting to be picked up by a sponsor or foundation. It’s meant to be used, not sold. A company doesn’t have to be in the eyewear or ophthalmology business to adopt this device (or something similar) as a brand application. Nokia could do it. So could Google. Or Starbucks. Or Toyota. Or any other brand with global reach.

Your brand isn’t what you sell—it’s what you value.

A first step in brand strategy is to understand that your brand isn’t what you sell. Your brand is what you value. (This is a liberating realization.) You can show the world what you value through the brand applications that carry your name. Brand applications can make a tremendous difference in the world. Can they also open up cross-market and new market opportunities for the brand? Of course. Brand applications are strategic tools.

Show people what you value as a brand and they will value you. The app that carries your name could be anything. What’s important is what it does, and how that makes a difference.

Another potential brand application

I previously described a potential cheap, simple and direct brand application here.

Photo credit: MIT Media Relations

The decline and fall of MySpace

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Fred Oliveira has written a concise and cogent account of the decline and fall of MySpace: It’s too late for MySpace.

People don’t “get” MySpace anymore … because MySpace doesn’t get itself. What is it? What’s their motto? What problem are they solving? Who and what are they connecting? No one in the audience has a clue and I’m guessing (although it is an informed guess) not many in the company do either. It’s not for music, it’s definitely not for social sharing, so what is it for?

What happened to MySpace can happen to any brand. There are powerful brand lessons (and brand insights) in Fred’s post.

Highly recommended.

Update: The quote was missing from my initial post.



Brand lessons from the BP oil disaster

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010


It’s not too early to discern some strategic brand lessons from BP’s horrific oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is a global oil giant with a highly visible (and controversial) brand identity: a major oil company that’s positioned itself as “beyond petroleum.” Yet today the BP brand is smothered in oil as far as the eye can see, a symbol (and agent) of massive pollution.

Why the BP disaster is a big deal for brands

The BP oil disaster is a big deal for brands because it marks a catastrophic failure of a top-tier brand. As such, it stands to have far-reaching consequences that will play out in time across all brands. At this early stage, three immediate “big deal” factors stand out to my mind:

  1. BP has become the antithesis of its proclaimed identity. It has gored its own icon. How could that happen to a billion-dollar brand?
  2. We may be witnessing the greatest sudden loss of brand trust by a company in the history of business. This is much more than a brand doing a poor job of crisis management. It appears that the BP brand took its eye off the ball and allowed the crisis to happen, a transgression no brand—or business— can afford.
  3. Events suggest that BP’s reliance on “positioning,” “messaging” and “mindshare” (an advertising approach to brands) helped decouple the brand from operational realities. The resulting BP brand was “positioned in the mind” of a campaign audience but had diminished presence in BP’s drilling operations, where it was desperately needed before and after the blowout. Current cost of this disconnect: $2 billion (and growing).

What are the long term brand consequences?

As I see it, the BP oil disaster will contribute to a reassessment of the conventional “mindshare” approach to brands that treats brands as media artifacts in a persuasion package to shape perceptions. This superficial “branding” approach can blind the brand to operational issues desperately in need of brand direction. There’s growing evidence that this is exactly what happened in BP’s case. The brand outcome is the full story. It can’t be bottled in a mindshare campaign.

Due to the enormity of BP’s brand failure I’d expect to see a new emphasis on brands  as a method of delivering operating value, rather than symbolic campaigns. In this structured brand value approach, brand principles and priorities directly drive business decisions, with a brand’s full emotional force. This is a working brand of company culture, rather than campaigns.

What went wrong with the BP brand?

What went wrong with the BP brand? The framing question, as I see it, is this: Did BP fail its brand? Or did the brand fail BP? At present, I’d say the answer is “Both.”

We also want answers to related questions: Were there critical flaws in the BP brand approach? In the brand model? In the brand strategy? In brand program execution? Was the problem weak brand leadership? Or was the brand simply marginalized, relegated to media campaigns and decoupled from essential company operations (e.g., brand practice in the oilfield) where it might have made a difference?

If the BP brand was indeed “beyond petroleum,” what precise vision and values guided BP’s oil production business, and its dedicated employees? BP’s 80-page  Code of Conduct, “Our commitment to integrity,” makes no mention of the BP brand. How is that possible?

Not surprisingly, other oil companies are distancing themselves from BP’s oilfield practices.

A note about this post

I’m writing this as events unfold, so my assessments are preliminary. I’m also aware that BP is not the only company with responsibilities in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. My focus here is on brands as a form of strategic and operational leadership, and that means a focus on BP.

With a failing brand, BP’s troubles just keep gushing

When a brand fails, everything fails, and BP’s travails certainty point to systematic brand failure. We have BP’s CEO being raked over the coals in the US Congress. BP is currently facing possible criminal charges, accusations of cover-ups, fines of up to $258 million per day, and accusations of blocking reporters from covering the story. There are also serious allegations that BP had been cutting corners on safety.

BP’s brand failings have jeopardized the credibility of the oil industry itself, and will certainly lead to greater—and more costly—industry regulation.

What’s especially troubling is that these are the kinds of breakdowns in quality that brand programs are designed to prevent. A more effective BP brand program might have saved the $20 billion that BP must now set aside in escrow to pay for environmental and community damages.

The BP brand could have been a hero and shining star in this tragic episode.  Currently, it bleeds copious amounts of trust with every passing day.

Basic brand lessons

What follows are some basic brand lessons from the BP oil disaster as I see them at the present time. 7

1. “Positioning” the brand where the core business isn’t (in BP’s case, “beyond petroleum”) puts the brand at risk.

The BP oil catastrophe may herald the end of artificial “brand positioning” as an element of brand strategy. Under its striking Helios logo BP claimed a high-profile positioning as a “green” renewable energy leader “beyond petroleum.” As such, the BP brand was aiming for a make-believe category in people’s minds, since BP’s business was petroleum for the foreseeable future. Instead of being an enlightened brand of  innovative and responsible oil production, where 99% of its business resided, BP apparently let its “beyond petroleum” positioning blind it to a disturbing pattern of  risky design practices and short-cuts over a decade of operations.

In the real world, it’s the vision and values at the operations level that position the brand—and the business—to succeed.