Archive for the 'Brand Communications' Category

A brand is only as good as its developers

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Brands are in the midst of monumental change, and a key aspect of that change is that brands are becoming digital and digitized. Brands need software developers–and good ones–or their feet will be nailed to the floor as the rest of the world moves on.

Brands in the digital era are also collaborative, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, online forums and the like, and a brand’s collaborators are also its developers. They have a hand in its future, too.

Nurturing developers to build the best brands

It thus pays for a brand to nurture its developers with capable development tools and a process that makes development (relatively) easy. For software companies–who have the inside track on brands of the future–the standard developer toolset is the SDK, the Software Development Kit. Developers need a solid SDK to create solid apps. If a software company falls short in its SDK, it risks losing its developers and potentially, its brand.

A developer’s complaint against RIM and the PlayBook

Are digital tablets important to the future of business and culture? Absolutely. It’s therefore news when a developer details a long list of factors that make developing applications for a particular tablet unnecessarily difficult. One such developer complaint surfaced this week:¬† “You Win, RIM! (An Open Letter To RIM’s Developer Relations).”¬† In it a developer cites major (and unnecessary) obstacles that block the application development path for the spiffy new RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, leaving¬† the developer to throw up his hands in despair.

The complaint is written with the passion that builds brands, or tosses them aside. Here’s how it begins:

You win. I concede defeat. I no longer want to attempt developing an app for the PlayBook. Are you happy now? Surely you must be. Considering how terribly designed the entire process is, from the registration right through to loading an app into the simulator, I can only assume that you are trying to drive developers away by inconveniencing them as much as humanly possible.

Brand touchpoints critical to developers

The entire complaint is worth reading for the light it shines on brand touchpoints critical to software development. These touchpoints are like building blocks. If they don’t fit together quickly and securely, building the desired app becomes problematic. RIM certainly knows this, too.

Did the RIM brand team vet the PlayBook SDK? It is certainly a brand-building document.

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A brand story lets the brand speak for itself

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

As I see it, the most authentic brand stories are those that let the brand speak for itself. Rather than fabricate a brand context from make believe, they tap into the vision, values, character and behavior that make the brand what it is. They’re stories organic to the brand, and can be so at an infinite variety of creative levels.

The goal of the brand story

The goal of the brand story is to reveal the identity, character and qualities of the brand, so the brand can stand forth on its own terms, and in its own terms, in a (radical) context that frees customers from the numbing constraints of convention. The brand story unfolds the essence of the brand, layer by layer, nuance by nuance, detail by detail, through the people, products, materials, processes, ideas, passions, aspirations, actions and interactions that make the brand what it is. In short, the brand story is a revelation of what makes the brand tick. This can be on one or a dozen levels.

Tartine bread

A brand story doesn’t have to follow a conventional narrative format. Sometimes it’s simply a profound insight into the brand, a glimpse or slice so deep that it sends tsunamis outward. The video below is such a brand story. It’s subject is San Francisco’s famed Tartine bread, crafted by baker Chad Robertson. Robertson has won a prestigious James Beard award and is considered to be among the best bread makers in the United States.

Note that this is not a “story” about the brand. It is the brand speaking. The best brand stories are told by the brand. In a uniquely creative way they voice the brand.

A brand story evokes and exemplifies the brand

I think this particular brand story does an excellent job of letting the brand speak for itself, at its own pace, in its own words, and in its own special context. It was produced to support a new book on home bread making from Tartine and Chronicle books, but what shines through most are the essential qualities that make Tartine “Tartine.” In this regard, the story both evokes and exemplifies the brand.


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The brand as product ingredient and catalyst

Lastly, in its low-key and relaxed way, this brand story shows how the brand itself is an essential product ingredient and catalyst. The brand is everywhere—as it should be.

Tartine Bread video credit: 4SP Films
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Digital tablets will lead to new brand magazines

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

If expectations come to pass, 2010 may indeed go down as “the year of the tablet,” with Apple’s (rumored) new tablet and similar devices re-defining—and re-powering—the printed page. Digital tablets stand to reinvent the magazine, too. Digital magazines will be deeper and richer than their paper predecessors, and they can be downloaded in seconds. One of these new magazine types will be the brand magazine, a creative communication between you and your customers. Where your website is informational, your brand magazine will be interesting.

What’s in a brand magazine?

Think of your brand magazine as the diary, notebook and map of your shared brand journey with customers. An interesting brand (i.e., a truth-seeking brand) will attract the truth-seeking writers and designers to make a tablet-enabled brand magazine possible. There’s no room here for PR fluff, recycled ads or sales pitches. That’s what your block-headed competitors do, and that’s also why 99% of brands will be constitutionally incapable of producing brand magazines of their own. They aren’t interesting. You are.

You and your customers, interacting with the world

Your brand magazine details how you and your customers interact with the world in a creative dialectic. The tablet concept below shows how a new interactive tablet format might work. The deep insights behind your brand can flow freely to customers, be mediated by customer experience, and return all the richer. In the tablet universe articles become engagements, which become explorations, which become epiphanies, large and small. Brand epiphanies are what we’re after.


Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

The above concept was developed by Bonnier R&D in conjunction with BERG. More information on the concept here.

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Brand signal vs. brand noise

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

When you’re managing a brand, you always want to know how much of your brand is signal, and how much is simply noise. This signal to noise ratio is a good indicator of the effectiveness of your brand platforms and programs. Lots of signal is good. Lots of noise is not so good.

Use the right brand model

The first step in identifying brand signal and brand noise is to use the right brand model.

Old-school brand practitioners who still model their brands as “communications”—like some kind of broadcast beam—might be tempted to send the customer a survey: “Hey, do I sound cool or crappy?”

Unfortunately, this approach has two drawbacks:

  1. Brands aren’t “communications”
  2. Customers won’t understand the context, and will give unhelpful responses

For our purposes, then, the traditional “message model” of brands is a non-starter.

What counts is what the customer does with the brand

For signal to noise assessments, I prefer a different brand model, as illustrated above. In my view this is much closer to the way brands succeed in the real world. As shown, the brand is the violin, and the customer is the player. (Hope you didn’t think it was the other way around! The notion of the brand “playing the customer” gets things absolutely backwards, and explains a lot of wasted brand dollars.)

What we want to discover is what the customer does with the brand. Does he or she make music, or a dreadful howl? The effective brand “signal” or “noise” comes from the customer, using what the brand provides.

The brand is a tool for customer expression

The above model comes with several sets of parameters:

  1. The brand is a tool for customer expression
  2. The brand has the potential to add value to the customer’s life
  3. Signal vs. noise is a result of brand/customer interaction

As noted above, the value of your brand lies in what the customer does with it. If the customer consumes your brand and promptly forgets it, your brand is effectively static. If your brand is out of tune, worn out or worn down, customers will grind out a few discordant notes and stop playing, relegating you to the attic. If your brand supercharges your customer’s life, opening new avenues of expression, then your brand is really rockin’.

The brand as enabler

In this model we can see that the brand is an enabler. This contrasts with other brand models which conceive the brand as a message, a controller, a prod, a godhead, or an illusion. Being an enabler gives you tremendous freedom in leading customers where competitors can’t follow.

And since we’re modeling brand interactions, we can add several observations about the duties of the brand. Within this model:

  1. It’s your job to teach the customer how to play
  2. It’s your job to suggest new tunes
  3. You are not so much a “conductor,” as you are a “toe-tapper in residence.”
  4. The purpose of this brand/customer interaction is to attract new listeners, and new players. The point is to get them all making music with you.

The value of this model is that it makes it easy to distinguish brand signal from brand noise. You can tell how well your brand is doing by listening to the customer

It’s that simple.

Brand signal is music that makes a market

Using this model, I define brand signal as music that makes a market. It’s music that’s good for your business, not some waste-of-time ditty. And it’s good for the customer, too. The music you make with customers should send competing brands to the back of the stage, if not into the frigid alley outside.

How can you tell if what you hear is music—and not an ear-piercing screech? Well, you’re in brands because you’re smart enough to know. You’ve got creative chops. Expressive chops. And customer chops.

Photo: meganne_soh, Flickr
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