Archive for August, 2011

The brand as polymath (connecting the dots)

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Steve Crandall has written a fine piece on the role of the polymath in business, with reference to the stellar achievements of Steve Jobs at Apple.

Polymaths can connect the dots

As Steve Crandall notes, polymaths (literally those with “much learning”) have the rare ability to connect the dots, to see what’s latent and to bring it to life.

When you have a bit of understanding of divergent areas there is a fascinating crosstalk – you begin to see the world differently in an intellectual synesthesia.  As Jobs might say you “think different”.  Dots begin to connect and new questions arise that might not come to anyone without your mix of backgrounds.  Pushing further may give answers and puts you in a position to intelligently communicate with real experts in other fields perhaps trading some of your own expertise as part of the bargain.

Connecting dots in a novel way is a form of discovery and invention.  It can be a generator of serendipity and let you see farther than those with a narrower vision. It is an enormously efficient mechanism for understanding and using information.

The brand (and brand team) as polymath

A company of polymaths would be a great place to work, but it’s always seemed to me that the brand and the brand team should be Polymath Central, the cultural core, by inclination and by learning. Brands help customers interoperate with the universe, and to succeed in brands you have to hold that universe in your hand (or maybe juggle several). You have to sense what’s latent within what’s emergent. Beyond that you have to know the product, the market, the customer and 360 degrees of the cultural context, so you can grasp what’s possible to raise customers, the brand and the business to the next level, and beyond.

Salesmen sell what’s on the shelf, but the brand team knows the higher truth: To make your products fly off the shelves, give wings to your customers. The dots brands connect often go outside the box.

Take the Brand Builder Test

A polymath could easily answer the Brand Builder Test: “Explain why Capuchin, Capulet and cappuccino are heaven on the lips.” Yes, the deeper the brand the more dots we connect, and the richer realms of living we attain.


The brand as artist

Monday, August 29th, 2011

How should we think of the brand? And more importantly, how should the brand think about itself? What is it, really?

I like to think of the brand as an artist, a force that’s creatively re-shaping the world. Brands see what products can’t, and often what customers can barely imagine.

I recently came across a fine quote from George Bernard Shaw on the role of the artist, and I would apply these very words to the function of the brand. Here is what Shaw said:

“The great artist is he who goes a step beyond the demand, and, by supplying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the heritage of the race.”

—George Bernard Shaw, The Sanity of Art

Replacing “artist” with brand, and editing a bit, we have this:

A great brand goes a step beyond demand, and, by supplying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the heritage of the race.

Leonardo, Shakespeare and Picasso all added a “fresh extension of sense” to our lives. There’s no reason your brand can’t join them.



Brand strategy: Develop your brand as a joint venture with customers

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

In my view the best way to develop a brand is to create it as a joint venture between the company and its customers. In this strategy we shape the brand as a working relationship of equals in a shared context rather than a marketing relationship between separate “buyer” and “seller.” The result is a dramatic change in brand context, and greater opportunities for brands and customers alike.

Brand and customer on the same page, writing it together

In a joint venture the brand and the customer are on the same page, writing it together. Customers are not a passive “audience” for brand theater. The two are allies. They’re co-explorers. Sidekicks. They’re a team, solving mutual problems in a context of collaboration. The joint venture enables trust, feedback, idea flow, cooperation and co-creation. This stands to be a far more productive approach than the brand modeled as a “communication” between separate parties. In the latter case, brands are often reduced to a persuasion tool, a product wrapper, a pie-in-the-sky promise or campaigns to manipulate emotions.

The brand as a joint venture to create value

“OK,” you might say, “I can see where the brand might be structured as a joint venture, but what is it a joint venture of?  What’s the purpose?”

Good question. Simply stated, it’s a joint venture to create value, for both the customer and the company. As I’ve written previously, brands are a method to create value above and beyond the product proper, with the entire brand working as a customer-facing application, with all the focus, power and outcomes that applications can deliver. We shape the joint venture so that customers can add value back to the brand as they themselves advance to richer realms of living, and to new ways of being and doing. The customer is an active part of the application, too. The joint venture structure fits hand-in-glove with the brand-as-application strategy.

A context of getting things done

As a joint venture we place the brand in a context of getting things done. The brand is action-oriented, not persuasion-oriented. It’s not about “aligning” customers to the brand as if they were medieval serfs to be pumped with doctrine and kept in a static universe of perpetual dependence. (That’s what your competitors try to do, and that’s what makes their brands vulnerable.) As a joint venture, the brand can envision and create new market spaces where company and customer are both significantly better off. In a joint venture the brand agenda is one of creating new customer freedoms, not imposing another set of customer controls. The brand steps up with the vision, the path and the tools to get there, as set forth in the brand journey.

Strategic objectives of the brand as joint venture

What’s the strategic objective of this joint venture?  It is to use customer insight, initiative and innovation to advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. In essence, the brand and its customers get together to gang up on competitors, especially those who aim to capture, corral and control customers using the brand as a mental and emotional silo. There’s no future for customers in that kind of brand desert. As a joint venture the brand enables customers to transcend the limitations imposed by competitors, reshaping the market, or creating entirely new market spaces where customers are better off. A classic example is how the iPod teamed with music lovers to route around the expense and restrictions of the CD format, reinventing the music industry in the process.

The joint venture and brand experience

Customers today value brands by the totality of experience they provide: before, during and after the sale, and including the behavior of the brand itself as a responsible world citizen. When we construct the brand as a joint venture we “socialize” the nature of brand experience itself, making it participative and interactive. Brand experience becomes not what the brand “does” for customers, but what customers and the brand create jointly in pursuit of common goals. In short, we co-create brand experience, giving it two potent drivers instead of one.

Strategic advantages from the brand as a joint venture

As a joint venture the brand delivers the following strategic advantages to company and customers alike:

  1. It unites them—creatively and pragmatically—in a common context, with a common goal. Each gains a market ally.
  2. It replaces “buyer-seller” (and brand as persuasion) with team effort—and brand as mutual enabler.
  3. It creates new avenues and opportunities to circumvent (or disrupt) incumbent brands.
  4. It’s a team of equals where the end product (a customer who’s strategically better off) helps advance the brand to market spaces where competitors can’t follow.
  5. It’s a full-blooded, and full-bodied, collaboration in context, content and in value. It facilitates brand innovation, especially non-linear brand breakthroughs.
  6. The joint venture is not confined to today’s products. It’s geared to an arc (or narrative) of customer development. The brand isn’t selling a product. It’s developing a customer. (Personally I’d say it’s “creating a customer,” but let’s give Steve Blank proper credit.)
  7. The joint venture not fence customers in. It’s a platform (or innovation engine) to develop new brand frontiers.

Further reading

As further reading on developing the brand as a joint venture with customers:





Your brand is what you put into your product, not add-on “branding”

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

If there’s one general rule for brands it would seem to be this: Your brand is what you put into your product, not something you add on to your product when it’s ready to ship. If you create a product and then try to dial up some “branding” to make it appear special and unique, and “emotional,” you’ve already lost the brand strategy war. You’ve reduced your brand to a media exercise. Instead of being a direct drive to create value and create customers, your brand as “branding” is busy creating “impressions,” “likes” and other media metrics. While that may be good business for publishers and ad agencies, you and your customers deserve more.

The brand as a method to create value

Strategically, we want our brands to advance our customers beyond the reach of competitors. Being strategic, we design this process so our customers will also be able to add value back to the brand, through their initiative, insight and innovation. Our goal is to partner with customers to make competitors irrelevant in the new context we’re jointly creating. (Two against one being strategically superior to one on one.)

This means that your brand is much more than a communication tacked on to the product with bells and whistles. It’s a method to create value, a creative discipline far closer to innovation than to the fluff stuff of advertising or PR. Specifically, it’s a method of engagement that advances customers where competitors can’t follow. For example, Apple makes some wonderful products in the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad, but Apple’s real brand power lies in the systematic and seamless experience that it delivers to customers: an integrated operating system, iTunes, apps, App Store, Apple Store and perhaps soon the iCloud, all of which combine to take Apple customers to a new level of being and doing. Once Apple has advanced customers to this level, why would they settle for anything less?

Reference posts

Here are a few reference posts that expand on the ideas above: