Archive for the 'Brand Context' Category

Coming soon: Hotspot Airlines

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Brands change the context of things, and airlines are finding a new context for flying: offering a winged hotspot at 35,000 feet. The LA Times reports that airlines may earn $1.5 billion from onboard Wi-Fi by 2015.

About 45% of the nation’s commercial air fleet is equipped with in-flight wireless Internet, with several airlines, including Virgin America and AirTran, offering the service fleetwide, according to In-Stat.

The nation’s airlines collected about $155 million in 2011 from charges to use onboard Internet and are expected to collect $225 million this year, said Amy Cravens, a senior analyst for In-Stat.

Coming soon: Hotspot Airlines

Brands that help us be more productive and proactive have signal advantages over brands fashioned as stylized sales stimulants. In planning a trip we’ll be searching Kayak and the rest for Wi-Fi flights. We’re looking for Hotspot Airlines, no matter what the name and livery say on the side of the plane. And not just any Wi-Fi mind you, but high-speed Wi-Fi at reasonable cost with the least amount of airline baggage dumped into the connection.

Fly a lot of miles and earn a free Wi-Fi upgrade. That would be nice.

A new kind of airline brand experience

The prevalence of onboard Wi-Fi changes the nature of the airline brand experience. With affordable Wi-Fi a flight becomes an online experience more than an “airline” experience. We arrive at our destination totally refreshed, having engaged ourselves for hours on end aloft, rather oblivious to the sardine can that got us from point A to point B.




This young woman is a brand of America

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Jessica Beinecke is a brand of America. She’s 24 and from Ohio and she speaks fluent Mandarin, and her captivating “OMG Meiyu” English slang education videos have become an online hit in China. Jessica’s wide eyes and buoyant delivery open a portal to American culture, to the America that’s down-to-earth, self-directed, can-do, engaging, funny, inventive and equal. Slang expressions have a way of bringing that out.

Brands deliver new forms of culture

I call Jessica “a brand of America” because in their own small way her 70+ videos do what every brand should do. They deliver new forms of culture that free people from the constraints of the old. Yes, brands are more culture than commerce. (That’s why they don’t grow on spreadsheets.) The brand is transformative charm, wit, wisdom, insight, inspiration, innovation, sheer creativity and often sheer gumption that blasts the senses with new ways of being and doing.

A brand of possibilities

What comes across in Jennifer’s videos is much more than a clued-in urban vocabulary for Chinese students of English. It’s an engaging context of culture that offers new ways to see the world. It’s a  brand of expression, and as such, a brand of possibilities.

Across all cultures

Cultures can be ruts, too, and videos like these can work across all cultures to liven things up. US students need to open their eyes to other cultures, and the simple style of Jessica’s work may inspire others overseas to target the US with similar videos. Certainly couldn’t hurt.


Behind The Sartorialist brand (in a world where a teen fashion blogger gets the pub)

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The Talks has an interesting interview with Scott Schuman, creator of the immensely popular street fashion blog The Sartorialist. The interview covers the business of fashion blogs, and how a street fashion blog like The Sartorialist can succeed amid entrenched fashion magazines. Schuman makes a case for focus and integrity, and controlling the entire site experience using his own photography.

Fashion brands are fragile; fashion brands must be agile

Alas, fashion brands are fragile. Therefore, fashion brands must be agile. A fascinating part of the interview concerns Tavi Gevinson, a teenage fashion blogger (Style Rookie) whose meteoric rise and huge following gets her invited to Fashion Week “with the fashion world at her feet.” Can a teen like her steal the fashion blogging mantle from Schuman? Schuman thinks not. He sees her as just a kid “who can talk about art and stuff only in an abstract way.” In fact, he sees detects a bit of print magazine “conspiracy” behind her amazing success, as if to push serious fashion blogs to the sidelines.

Be sure to read the 60+ comments to the interview. Some readers think Scott’s remarks are right on; others are highly critical. There is a bit of brand flak, too.

For more on Tavi Gevinson’s zero-to-hero success see here and here. At 15 she’s now also editor-in-chief of teen lifestyle site Rookie.

Fashion is the difference of different

I can see why Scott Schuman might be a bit peeved at the sudden fashion media success of teen Tavi G. He has put in years of work to build the leading brand of fashion blogs. As that brand he is the show. Fashion blog = The Sartorialist. For a brand in Scott’s position, anyone who threatens to steal the show threatens you, even if they’re a teenybopper in a different part of the market. The problem is that the “show” is also about culture and context, and it’s often dynamic and changing. Fashion is the difference of different. It’s bringing a different context more than just bringing a different “look.” Cultural innovation pulls the thread. (Go watch Coco Before Chanel to see what I mean.) Truth is, in many respects—and at this point—Tavi can be a bigger difference than The Sartorialist because she’s a better story. She’s a human story in contrast to the largely aesthetic story of a cool street fashion shoot. If The Sartorialist were a brand of street culture—and not just street fashion—our brand story here may well be quite different.


How a company’s board of directors can damage the company’s brand

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Can a company’s board of directors damage the company’s brand, even if the board has no stipulated brand responsibilities? I think the answer is “yes” if the board fails to execute wisely in two critical areas. First, if the board hires a CEO unable to articulate a brand vision that advances the company beyond competitors. If  the brand vision fails everyone fails: customers, employees, partners, shareholders. Second, the board can damage the brand if the board’s own actions become so controversial and/or questionable as to taint brand credibility and trust.

Types of brand damage that can occur

As I see it, the types of brand damage that can be caused by a poorly performing board of directors can include:

  1. Loss of customer confidence if board decisions make the brand appear weak, unfocused, or without clear direction. The brand assumes an element of risk.
  2. Loss of employee confidence if board decisions appear reactive and non-strategic, or if the board-appointed CEO can’t articulate a coherent brand vision of what the compan stands for, where it’s headed, and especially “Why?”
  3. Loss of investor confidence if a pattern of board decisions points to lack of unity at the top, internal politics over strategy, and/or a designated CEO who seems ill-equipped to meet expected challenges. As investors sell shares the brand loses asset value, and may approach break-up value (sold for parts).
  4. Board missteps may lead to difficulty recruiting top CEO candidates because no executive wants to work for a company with an unsteady board. Consequently, the brand may be starved of executive leadership.
  5. Board missteps may lead to loss of confidence by channel partners if the company’s brand pales in comparison to brands of competitors. Competitors are quick to seize on any apparent band weakness.

The HP board and the HP brand

Available evidence suggests that the board of directors of HP would seem to meet the two brand-negative conditions noted in the opening paragraph. The Hp board has appointed CEO’s who turned out to be a bad fit for HP, and the board’s own missteps have compounded HP’s problems. HP’s recent CEO’s have been at the flashpoint of turmoil and controversy, and so has the HP board itself, most notably in its internal spying and pretexting scandal of 2006. This week the board named Meg Whitman as HP’s seventh CEO since 1999. Ms. Whitman replaces Leo Apotheker, whose fit with HP was questioned 11 months ago when he replaced Mark Hurd. Hurd had lost the confidence of the board after a highly publicized battle over sexual harassment allegations and expense report irregularities. The board’s actions in terminating and suing Hurd also drew criticism.

Brands are designed to be seamless vessels of seamless value, but at HP seamless transitions appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

A board described as “nearly dysfunctional”

From the New York Times, on the day prior to the Meg Whitman announcement:

The mystery isn’t why Hewlett-Packard is likely to part ways with its chief executive, Léo Apotheker, after just a year in the job. It’s why he was hired in the first place.

The answer, say many involved in the process, lies squarely with the troubled Hewlett-Packard board. “It has got to be the worst board in the history of business,” Tom Perkins, a former H.P. director and a Silicon Valley legend, told me.

Interviews with several current and former directors and people close to them involved in the search that resulted in the hiring of Mr. Apotheker reveal a board that, while composed of many accomplished individuals, as a group was rife with animosities, suspicion, distrust, personal ambitions and jockeying for power that rendered it nearly dysfunctional.

A board that didn’t interview the CEO that it named

As noted in the previous link, the HP board unanimously voted to appoint Apotheker as  CEO  in September, 2010, but only the four board members on the search committee had interviewed him. The remaining eight board members had no interest in meeting him for a face-to-face interview. This is disturbing from a brand perspective. One might ask: What was the board thinking? This was a candidate for the highest position at HP, a man who would define and execute  HP’s vision, values and strategy going forward. Certainly he was a man critical to the success of the HP brand. How can you not look him in the eye, size him up, plumb his vision and values, measure him against the challenges confronting HP, and determine first hand if he is fit to be a successor to the esteemed William Hewlett and David Packard?

“Jarring strategy shifts” and a stock price plunge

Eleven months after the HP board unanimously agreed on Apotheker’s appointment, the CEO was sent packing. Apparently, Apotheker had no clue of his impending termination. The HP stock price had plunged a stunning 47% during his short tenure, during which he had proposed “jarring strategy shifts.” These included:

  1. Proposing to sell or spin off HP’s core PC  business—which accounted for a third of HP’s revenue—without any plan in place at the time of announcement. This raised numerous strategy questions, sent investors reeling, and sent the stock price downward.
  2. First touting HP’s entry into fast-growing tablet market using WebOS software (from Mark Hurd’s $1.2 billion Palm acquisition), and then several months later abruptly cancelling it, and proposing to exit the WebOS line of business.
  3. Announcing the acquisition of software company Autonomy for $10.3 billion, without clearly defining how the acquisition would contribute to HP’s market growth and revenue. In addition, the price paid for Autonomy was questioned as being too high.

Saving HP from a brand of confusion

HP is a brand of . . . what? Brands provide clarity of company purpose. When brands are mismanaged the result can be a brand of confusion, where the company may struggle to fit a category, but falls short of a brand that can command a context. HP is an established brand and certainly not “broken,” but Apotheker’s recent announcements raised more questions than answers—and brands are answers. Apotheker’s legacy to incoming CEO Whitman is a gnawing sense of confusion regarding HP’s new direction. What’s the new context of HP? Is HP pulling out of consumer markets? How does Autonomy take HP to the next level? And how do proposed radical changes translate to the bottom line?  What’s the vision, and the plan? As her first order of business Whitman needs to erase any potential brand confusion from the minds of employees, customers and investors.




The difference between a brand and a label

Monday, September 19th, 2011

What’s the difference between a brand and a label? Here’s a short answer that works for me.

What’s the difference between a brand and a label?

A brand leads, while a label follows you around.



Your brand is your killer app

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Companies often dream of producing a game-changing “killer app” that can wow customers, create new markets and vanquish competitors. What most companies don’t realize is that they already have a potential killer app in house, under their control, ready to be launched. Their potential killer app is their brand—if they choose to use its formidable powers as an application to create customers and open new markets.

Brands as applications

Yes, brands are applications. As applications they can apply the full context of a company’s products and services—practical, creative, emotional, moral and spiritual— to lead customers to richer realms of living. Brands developed as applications (in the real world) are far more productive than brands developed as communications in the make-believe worlds of media campaigns. Instead of relying on symbols, slogans, gestures and promises, brand applications roll up their sleeves and help customers get to where they’re going. Applications get things done. They’re methods of creating customer value, direct and focused, fully integrated to produce strategic customer outcomes. Current sales is one of those outcomes, but platform hegemony with an exclusive new class of customers is the goal.

Creating the brand as killer app

To create your brand as a killer app I suggest you start with two previous posts in this blog:

  1. Brand strategy: Create your entire brand as a customer-focused application
  2. FAQ: Creating your brand as a customer-focused application

They will get you started with the right framework and strategic view.

Developing the full context of your brand

Developing the full context of your brands means that you have to envision how your brand can create (and co-create) value in multiple dimensions: practical, creative, emotional, moral and spiritual. Chances are, you already have some ideas about what these dimensions are. Of course, it pays to think big. (Brands never think small.) With your brand as a killer app you will seriously re-position the customer to win. You will also change the game by changing the customer. Yes, the full context of your brand means a newer and fuller context for the customer.

Practical steps

As practical steps, you might begin by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is holding our customers back?
  2. Where do they want to go—and how can we help them get there?
  3. How can our brand advance customers beyond the reach of competitors?
  4. How can we create customers that add value back to the brand?
  5. How can our customers become our strongest competitive weapon?

The above questions are from my post called Strategy for an “immersive” brand. Killer apps are immersive.





Brand challenge: how to re-imagine J.C. Penny

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Ron Johnson, the Senior VP of Apple’s esteemed retail operations, is leaving Apple to be CEO of J.C. Penny. Johnson came to Apple from Target, so he’s no stranger to the world of traditional retail. Since J.C. Penny is already in the midst of a long rebound from its darker days a decade ago, Johnson can fine tune what’s in progress or he might think big and consider J.C. Penny a platform to reinvent the department store itself.  (He was certainly in the reinvention business at Apple, and at Target before then.)

Reinventing the department store—and its customers

If Johnson chooses the latter course he faces an enormous brand challenge: how to reinvent J.C. Penny in a new context of value, and to do so in a way that reinvents department store customers as well–all without grossly upsetting proven price points.

To quote Johnson from the J.C. Penny news release:

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help J. C. Penney re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the Department Store.”

That’s the perspective it will take. Department stores can be much more than “departments” of inventory. I was in Galleries Lafayette in Paris recently and I was amazed at how energized it made me feel. It was a department store where the departments were not in-store boundaries but deeper human adventures. Each department stood for something inside the customer. Let’s see J.C. Penny do some of that.

The department store as a customer-focused application

From his decade at Apple and its apps Johnson might consider the J.C. Penny brand to be a customer-focused application itself, one that creates a new class of value, and new customers to match. That’s a key method of integrating the product, innovation and customers along a central brand axis.


Update: Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson on developing the Apple retail experience.

Photo credit:  Azt3r1x — Wikimedia Commons

Brands, storytelling and product development

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Writing in UX Magazine Sarah Doody recently discussed Why we need storytellers at the heart of product development. In my comments to Sarah’s insightful post I tried to take a step back (or up?) to frame both product development and storytelling in the context of brand strategy.

Here is what I said (with subheads now added for emphasis):

Product storytelling is a part of brand strategy


Thanks for this very informative post. What you call “product storytelling” is also part of brand strategy, and the function of “product storyteller” is usually performed by a brand strategist, or a brand developer. Just to clarify, the brand mission is to create the customers that drive the business forward. The process of “creating customers” involves leading customers on a brand journey that advances customers to richer realms of living. Customers need new perspectives and new experiences to discover these realms (through the product and the brand), hence the importance of storytelling.

Storytelling is not “spinning tales”

Of course, by “storytelling” we don’t mean “spinning tales.” Storytelling is not promotion. It’s a shared story from a shared journey, co-created between the product and customers. In the best of stories, the company and its customers are on the same page, writing it together.

The brand is an application to create value

People often assume that brands are some kind of window dressing or meta context applied when a product is ready for market. Actually, the most critical brand decisions are made during product development. The brand is an application to create value that should be fully embedded into the product from the get-go. UX is a very big part of this value, of course. A brand developer should be working side-by-side with product developers to ensure that the chosen product strategy is also the best customer strategy.

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[Now back to this blog]

The brand as story enabler

From a brand perspective, the bottom line is that the brand enables customers to create and tell their own stories. The brand isn’t in the business of telling stories as a form of persuasion. It’s a platform for customer stories, where brand experience and brand interactions enable customers to explore and share new contexts of being and doing.