Archive for July, 2010

If a city calls itself “Someplace Special,” what kind of special experience must it provide?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Every city or town yearns to be “someplace special,” a unique and delightful community that attracts good residents and plenty of visitors for local business and events. Sometimes, nature lends a hand. Usually, though, crafting a standout civic identity entails a careful plan, time and resources. A city tagline or motto can help in this regard, framing the city in a differentiating and productive context consistent with city goals.

Mount Dora is “Someplace Special”

It’s a bit rare, though, for a city to simply call itself “Someplace Special” as its tagline or motto. “Someplace Special” is a cliché. But that’s what the city of Mount Dora (in central Florida) has done. (See above.)

Here is how the city describes its “Someplace Special” tagline:

Formally adopted by City Council in June, 2007, “Someplace Special” is a short, alliterative, descriptive phrase that quickly and simply reflects the City’s unique culture and relaxed atmosphere which attracts visitors, residents and businesses. It remains catchy for easy memory recall in a simple phrase that can be easily utilized in a variety of marketing campaigns.

A tagline that’s vague on purpose

“Wait a second,” you might say. “Someplace Special” really doesn’t indicate how or why Mount Dora is special. In itself, the tagline is meaningless (and more than a bit time-worn). Shouldn’t the tagline distill the unique essence that is Mount Dora, that special quality that clearly sets Mount Dora apart from all other places on earth?

Well, the Mount Dora tagline is nonspecific on purpose. Back to the city’s description:

The City’s tagline is intentionally nonspecific so it may be used to communicate with every constituent of the City: residents, potential residents, visitors, business owners, potential business owners and City employees. Additionally, “Someplace Special” works well with the many diverse events the City hosts. “Someplace Special” can speak of any event, to any constituent of any age, race or gender, at any time of the year, and it may be tied in with a variety of marketing themes that arise: romantic, historical, quaintness, charm, festivals, luxury, budget and more.

An “artful, strategic and persuasive message”

The city’s identity guidelines go on to say that the “Someplace Special” tagline “enhances the value and relevance of the City’s brand and extends its reach; it compresses the overall experience of living, visiting and doing business in Mount Dora into an artful, persuasive and strategic message.”

A tagline that says little and fits every purpose

And there you have it: a tagline that says little and fits every purpose, from luxury to budget. It must confer some practical value because “Someplace Special” has been used by the city of Mount Dora for three years. I wonder, though, whether “Someplace Special” really does justice to the many qualities that do seem to make Mount Dora special. Does it point toward a unique civic character found nowhere else? Does it grab hold of potential visitors with the promise of an exclusive destination experience? Does it spark their imaginations, resonate with their deepest values and elevate Mount Dora to the top of their must-see places? And for those who do visit the city, does the tagline help focus the Mount Dora experience, intensify it into something remarkable, and extend it beyond Mount Dora so visitors carry it far and wide?

One visitor to the city said: “Mount Dora was pleasant and worth seeing once.” Perhaps he would have longed to return had his experience had more focus, more intensity, and fully engaged the values that made him tick.

Mount Dora does have special qualities

I’ve never been to Mount Dora, but from what I see on the Web Mount Dora may be far more special than its current tagline. The city (pop. 11,600) has wonderful architectural heritage with carefully preserved buildings, is rich in American values and tradition,  has nice shops (especially antiques), a beautiful lake, a picturesque lighthouse, popular events (here and here) and whimsically offers a Florida’s best “mountain-top experience” (at 189 ft. asl). It certainly has aspects of a walkable and charming historic village.

A tagline of convenience

Mount Dora’s “Someplace Special” tagline is what I would call a “tagline of convenience.” It demands so little that it’s easy to agree on, and to implement. That gives it a certain pragmatic value, which can count for a lot in a small city. Of course, using that criteria a city could just as easily call itself  “The Cat’s Meow” or “The Bee’s Knees.”

Someplace special—somehow

While Mount Dora has an abundance of special qualities, the tagline of “Someplace Special” doesn’t really obligate the city to do or be anything special. It makes no promise, commitment or pledge toward any particular kind of civic or visitor experience. It doesn’t hold the city to any special standard, vision or quality of life, nor does it project any. As it is, the city doesn’t have to do anything special to make this “special” tagline “work.”

A context for Mount Dora

A signal weakness of taglines like “Someplace Special” is that they don’t provide a differentiating and productive context for cities and towns. Mount Dora, however, seems tailor-made for such a context based on the experiences that it does provide. To name just a few:

  1. Local heritage (100 years) and story
  2. Retail that connects present and past
  3. Preservation
  4. Outstanding architecture
  5. Village charm
  6. Respect for traditional American values
  7. Community values that only a small town culture can provide
  8. Respect for art, craft and craftsmanship

Many of these elements are in short or shrinking supply in today’s America. In Mount Dora they’re plentiful and real, and they constitute real (and rare) value. They work together, too. A tagline challenge would be to crystallize these elements in a short and remarkable metaphor or phrase that clearly specifies and evokes the uniqueness that Mount Dora represents.

Social media lends a hand

Social media may help point a way forward for Mount Dora. Mount Dora’s Twitter page already seems to be extending the context of Mount Dora beyond the non-specific “Someplace Special” formalized by the city. The Twitter page describes the city as “A super quaint, 100 year old, lakeside, hilltop, New England town in Central Florida.” There’s energy in that description and a sense of what the city might offer, albeit very loosely focused.

Local business lends a hand

The Mount Dora Village Merchants and Business Association is on to something (in my view) when they frame Mount Dora as a “village.” Villages are rare. A village experience is very rare. The Association extends “Someplace Special” too, by adding that Mount Dora is “Someplace Special to play, shop, dine, stay ….” Unfortunately, this extension, while fine for business, doesn’t really specify the singular experience that Mount Dora as a village represents. The extension could refer to any city, including nearby Orlando.

(The Merchants site does refer to Mount Dora’s “Southern charm,” which is surely true, but that’s somewhat at odds with the Twitter page description of Mount Dora as a “New England town.” Which is it?)

Identity is exclusivity, not one size fits all

Mount Dora’s Twitter page includes a nonstop stream of local events, deals and promotions. That’s commendable, but my question would be this: how can the city identity rise above the various promotions and events that flood the local calendar. It’s as if the Mount Dora  identity is being reduced to a directory, a calendar, and a list of features. Moreover, a city that tries to be “everything for everybody” is never someplace special. It’s a strip mall. Identity is exclusivity, not one size fits all.

A context, not a “theme”

Should Mount Dora (and cities like it) ever consider a more differentiating and productive tagline they would want to focus on their real context, and not on a pre-packaged or concocted “theme.” Themes are a dime a dozen. And they’re facades. The context of a city is real, and irreplaceable. Its roots are in the city’s character, and in its residents, in their past and present, and in their aspirations. Such a context can  be leveraged, too, and that can mean development opportunities downstream.

A context city: Carmel-by-the Sea

A famous context city is California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea. It manages to be a world renowned tourist destination while remaining true to its roots, genuine through and through. And being “genuine through and through” is a major reason why it’s a tourist destination.

Image: City of Mount Dora

Strong brands let everyone sleep well at night

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

stockholm night

A strong, well-managed brand will let all of its stakeholders sleep well at night: customers, employees, shareholders, partners, the public, and Mother Nature. They can all sleep soundly when the brand does its job.

Strong brands have a unique and wondrous power to deliver value—and to mitigate risk—throughout their entire ecosystem. Let’s see how each brand stakeholder in the ecosystem benefits from the brand:


Strong brands offer superior quality, comprehensive warranties and responsive customer service. They are accountable to their customers for their products and services, and this translates into market offerings that customers can trust. Customers know that the brand has their back. And knowing this, they can drift into pleasant dreams.


Companies with strong brands are the best places to work. The brand sets clear standards, and brand principles infuse operations at every level. Everyone is accountable up and down the line. A unified vision and mission focuses the work, making everyone more productive. Fulfilling work leads to fulfilling sleep.


Strong brands take care of business (and shareholders) in ways that optimize operations and mitigate risk. They build equity above and beyond product offerings. The operating brand principle: “The closer you look, the better we look,” is something shareholders can take to the bank. And sleep on.


Strong brands make the partnership stronger. They can be trusted to do the right thing. It’s weak brands that cause the 3 a.m. wake-up calls.

The Public

Brands are a public trust. Strong brands earn that trust by being accountable to the public for their products, services and corporate actions. The public sleeps well knowing that the brand will stand up for what’s right as much as it stands out on its own behalf.

Mother Nature

Strong brands take care of Mother Nature. She has no money, no purchase intent, and no brand loyalty whatsoever, but her strength is brand strength. Mother Nature sleeps soundly because strong brands know that any wasteland is a dead zone for brands, too.

Photo credit:  Spring | Sweden — Flickr

Brands as a form of wayfinding

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

A brand, when properly constructed, helps its customers interoperate with the universe. Yes, it works at that level, and on those many, many levels in between. Let’s not forget that the genius of brands is that they have no limits. The value of brands is that through them, customers have no limits.

So yes, brands are big picture tools, for very big spaces. They help customers get from A to B, and to worlds beyond.

Wayfinding should be baked into brands

Brands negate the void, and the abyss. The best brands are a form of cultural orientation, and leadership. They certainly lead us on a directed brand journey of their own invention. Thus, some element of wayfinding should be baked into brands.

Brands might embrace new forms of signs and signage, directional cues as cultural cues, at all sorts of scale and resolution, the more personal the better.

Personal brand applications will have a key role to play in these developments. They can transform brands into a mobile sense, leading customers into (and through) new terrains. (A brand has no future if all it can do is lead customers in circles.)

A Slate series on signage

Slate has a nice series on signage and wayfinding beginning with The secret language of signs. It’s rudimentary signage, and for starters, not a bad place to begin.

Map the world and your customers will follow

In its series Slate has interesting examples of hand drawn maps, and how they can provide more meaningful/useful/human information than conventional maps. Yep, in brands we’re also in the mapping business.

How does your brand map the world? The universe? Customer want to know.


Some customers are hard to please

Monday, July 19th, 2010

“You want the cooler, the six-pack and Wi-Fi for your iPhone?”


New Brand Glossary: update 4

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Every so often I review and update my New Brand Glossary, adding terms from recent posts, or filling in apparent gaps between terms. This version is Update 4 to the original glossary, first published in 2006.

Why create a new brand glossary?

Brands are long overdue for a glossary of new concepts, terms and definitions tuned to an age of collaborative, bottom-up brands, where companies use brands to team with customers to innovate and create new forms of customer value.

This brand glossary is different

You’ll note little similarity between the terms and definitions here and those of conventional brand practice. That’s because most conventional brand approaches are campaigns to contain and control customers, rather than create them. In so doing they condemn themselves to run in circles, unable to innovate themselves (and their customers) out of a self-imposed corral.

Specific problems with traditional brand glossaries

Traditional brand glossaries often seem archaic and shallow today because they’re predicated on a narrow vision of brands as top-down, stylized sales stimulants. Traditional brand glossaries are typically written from an ad agency perspective, where “brand” is an emotional tool for persuading customers. Traditional glossaries usually assume a passive customer “audience” for brand messaging campaigns, where the brand aspires to be a “belief system” that serves the company’s interests. In this view, brands aim to be timeless (static) “icons” worshiped by “consumers,” who are positioned as little more than sheep with credit.

Traditional brand glossaries are therefore largely glossaries of control. The brands they describe really don’t do much for customers—except to keep them in place.

A glossary of brand innovation

In contrast to the traditional brand glossary, this is a glossary of value-based brands and of brand innovation. It contains concepts, terms and definitions for a new era of brands designed to foment new business by creating new customer opportunities. The essence of these brands is collaboration, not control. These brands create proactive new customers who leave old brands—and old companies—far behind.

Where I can’t stretch old brand concepts to fit new realities, I invent new concepts and new terms. Many of these concepts and terms are the subjects of full web posts in the Brands Create Customers weblog. (Check out the Key Posts section for examples).

This glossary is very much a work in progress. Your insights and comments are welcome, as is the dialog we can create.


Architecture of Participation

A brand model that favors customer interaction and initiative through the brand, leading to bottom-up innovation and new market growth. It stands in sharp contrast to the top-down, command-and-control architectures of legacy brands. Companies choose an architecture of participation when they desire to team with customers to build new markets.


Brands are tools that enable customers to interoperate with the universe. The genius of brands is that they have no limits. The value of brands is that through them, customers have no limits.

Brands encompass many dimensions. The following definitions touch upon key parameters:

Brand (Core Definition)
Brands are avenues of value innovation in a creative engagement between companies and their customers.

Brand (1)
A brand is vertically integrated value.

Brand (2)
Your brand is one of your capabilities. It extends your ability to deliver open-ended value to customers. When properly executed, it accelerates customers to a new realm of fulfillment which you create, and which only you can sustain.

Brand (3)
Brand is a non-commodity experience. It can grow from a product or service, a company’s character, or from artful wrappers that sharpen customer perceptions. The essence of non-commodity experience is passion. Your brand has to have it.

Brand (4)
Strategically, the way you value your customer defines your brand. A brand that treats its customers as commodities (purely to be sold to) wastes much of its potential.

Brand (5)
Brands are programs to achieve company growth through customer growth. As programs they invoke two critical perspectives: 1) “the customer inside the product,” and 2) “the customer inside the company.” Weak brands distance the customer. Strong brands open their arms.

Brand API’s

Brand API’s are application program interfaces. They provide convenient latch points for customers to grab onto brands and advance themselves through the brand. The best API’s help convert customer initiative into better brand content, context and value.

To see a brand API in action, visit Apple’s App Store.

Brand Character

Functionally, brand character is the spine of a company. It’s evident when a company is accountable to the values that make it stand tall. This means accountability in action, not on paper. Brand character draws a line that moral weakness cannot cross.

Companies with character create brands with character. Brands with character lead.

Brand Chain

The brand chain begins where the classic supply chain ends. While the supply chain is made up of value-adding inputs leading to the product, the brand chain begins with product development and heads toward the customer. Through brand platforms and programs it delivers multiple forms of downstream value. The brand chain consists of creative brand interactions between customer and company, customer and product, and between customers themselves.

Brand Context

Brand context is the unique world of opportunity that a brand presents to customers. It’s the real deal of possibilities that the brand incarnates, and enables, across all human dimensions: creative, social, personal, emotional, spiritual and moral.

Brand context is human texture. It’s the opposite of artificial worlds fabricated by hype, spin, and distortion. (These are aspects of propaganda, not brands.)

A brand’s context is only as “relevant” as the customer opportunities it creates.



Did BP fail its brand? Or did the brand fail BP?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010


In a previous post, Brand lessons from the BP oil disaster, I framed my discussion by asking: Did BP fail its brand; or did the brand fail BP? In this post I’ll explore these two failure modes in greater depth. A brand failure like BP’s might arise from using the wrong brand model, which no amount of execution can save, or by employing a correct brand model but failing to implement it properly, especially at the management level.

What caused the BP brand to go off track?

I’m looking for causal factors that might explain why the BP brand went off track, resulting in the blowout disaster and massive pollution. Future hearings, investigations and court cases should provide us with much more data than available now. This is a preliminary snapshot, nothing more. My goal is to posit some basic brand rules applicable to all brands, in whatever business or organization. I’m using BP as a provisional case study.

(And to those who might argue, “You know, you really can’t separate brand strategy, brand model and brand execution” I’d say I agree philosophically, but I’m forcing such a separation here for analysis purposes.)

How can a brand “fail the company?”

The brand itself can fail the company when it’s the wrong brand approach for the business. This is a brand model/brand strategy issue, as I see it, in which a brand can fail the company in two ways. The first is when the brand model can’t advance the company and its customers beyond the reach of competitors. The brand doesn’t create competitive advantage, and the business suffers as a result. In the second (and far more serious) case, the brand fails to optimize internal operations, and in so doing actually increases business risk. The result may be a quality breakdown, or even a business breakdown. In both the first and second cases, a company has the wrong brand model for the job.

The perils of an “image campaign”

My “sense” is that brands most often fail the company when the brand is positioned as a stylized sales stimulant, in an “image campaign” of advertising and promotion. The resulting brand isn’t part of the meat and bones of the business. When stressed the core business can founder, with notable weak points being innovation and quality.

Signs that a brand might fail the company

Here are some specific signs (as I see them) where a brand might be in danger of failing the company:

  1. The “brand” is defined as a media campaign that promotes the brand identity. It exists as part of the company’s persuasion and promotion package. (E.g., “Beyond Petroleum.”)
  2. The brand doesn’t state what it values, and why. (And the brand is no guide to what’s right and what’s wrong inside the company.)
  3. The brand makes no commitments.
  4. The brand doesn’t define a clear chain of accountability.
  5. The brand is largely decoupled from day-to-day operations. As a brand, it’s mostly symbols and slogans. It is not a working brand.
  6. The brand relies heavily on myths and make believe, further divorcing it from day-to-day realities. (The brand also plays little role in innovation, quality and value creation.)
  7. There’s nothing visceral in the brand for employees (and customers). It has a “Wizard of Oz” feel to it. Lots of smoke and mirrors, and a very big curtain.

How can a company “fail the brand?”

Let’s now look at the other side of the question: How can a company “fail the brand?” Here we assume a brand that’s properly structured within an effective brand strategy. The brand is OK, but the company prevents it from achieving its objectives.

Signs where a company is in danger of failing its brand

Here are some specific signs (as I see them) where a company might be in danger of failing its brand:

  1. Management believes that the brand’s sole purpose is to make the company look good. The brand has no internal value beyond the “image appeal” it can generate externally.
  2. Management positions itself above the brand. It doesn’t exemplify brand values in its actions, nor does it lead the brand by example.
  3. No one in management is accountable to the brand. (Or accountable to brand values.)
  4. The brand does not fuel the corporate culture. It’s decoupled from business decisions.
  5. The brand is treated as a form of communication, rather than a method of optimizing operations. It’s kept as a messaging layer.
  6. The brand team (if there is one) has no authority. It’s marginalized into a feel-good adjunct of marketing and corporate PR.
  7. Management treats the brand as a financial “asset.” In this accounting mode the brand loses its position as a core value-set and tool for best practices.

And in BP’s case, perhaps “both”

In my previous post on BP (link above) I suggested that, based on preliminary indications, BP’s brand failure in the Deepwater Horizon blowout was probably a combination of both failure modes: a brand that failed the company, and BP management that failed the brand. Maybe more of the first than the second,. In time more facts will help clarify what actually transpired prior to the blowout, and may reveal other brand issues as well.

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue — Flickr


Brand innovation: App Inventor for Android

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

In an example of brand innovation Google Labs has released App Inventor for Android, a desktop (browser) application intended to make creating Android apps fast and easy. According to Google, no programming knowledge is required. One simply drags and drops blocks of pre-packaged code into a composing screen, and the app is generated.

At this point the App Inventor is fairly rudimentary, and the demo apps appear somewhat simple. Wait a few months, however, and we all might be surprised with the apps that  result. One observer calls App Inventor “a game changer.”

An excellent example of brand innovation

I see App Inventor as an excellent example of brand innovation. With App Inventor Google is putting more power in the hands of Android users. It’s enabling them to do more of what they want with Android, shaping apps to their personal or particular needs. These will be apps in the pure context of the customer, and as such they can build significant brand depth. They’re also at the edge of the brand ecosystem, and that gives the brand new territory to enter and explore. That’s what personal brand applications are all about.

Personal Apps or Corporate Apps?

Google provides an example of a personal Android app in the video below, but there’s nothing stopping businesses from developing their own Android apps for sales, marketing or operations. A delivery business might find use for such an app, because one of the functions is geo-location. And if the Android OS powers the (rumored) Google tablet, these apps may work on the Google tablet, too. That could open up more possibilities.

Types of applications possible

Quoting from Google Labs:

Because App Inventor provides access to a GPS-location sensor, you can build apps that know where you are. You can build an app to help you remember where you parked your car, an app that shows the location of your friends or colleagues at a concert or conference, or your own custom tour app of your school, workplace, or a museum.
You can write apps that use the phone features of an Android phone. You can write an app that periodically texts “missing you” to your loved ones, or an app “No Text While Driving” that responds to all texts automatically with “sorry, I’m driving and will contact you later”. You can even have the app read the incoming texts aloud to you (though this might lure you into responding).

App Inventor in education

App Inventor may have important educational uses. See the video here from the University of San Francisco.

Google video and demo app

Here is an introductory video from Google showing the app development process and a completed app:


Brands that live in the past eventually stay there

Monday, July 12th, 2010

One thing fairly certain about brands is that brands that live in the past eventually stay there. Brands innovate, or die. In other words, your brand is not your legacy. Your brand is your tomorrow. It’s your brand innovation that writes your future. Backward-facing brands are kaput.

Apple’s brand story: wildfire innovation

Apple understands this principle and innovates like wildfire, advancing its customers to new realms of value: iPod, iPhone and now iPad. Each step forward explodes the limitations of legacy approaches. In their place Apple enables new ways of being and doing, in new contexts where customers are better-off. That’s what brands are supposed to do.

Microsoft: chained to a legacy brand

In contrast to Apple’s ardent innovation, Microsoft is chained to a legacy brand, its brand of market power stemming from the desktop monopoly that Microsoft forged in the 1990’s. Microsoft drags this legacy everywhere, like an anchor, in a vain hope of installing the past on the future.

Unfortunately, Microsoft can’t make its old brand form fit the new multi-platform world. The Microsoft brand, initially a liberating force in corporate America, now creeps like a pall. It’s heritage hangs likes a curse. There’s brand failure everywhere, most recently with the Microsoft Kin, a highly-touted mobile phone scrapped just two months after launch.

These failures weigh heavily on Microsoft employees, the makers of Microsoft’s future. Their comments on the Kin debacle in Mini-Microsoft describe a backward-facing brand in full dysfunction.