Archive for the 'Brand Development' Category

FAQ: Creating your brand as a customer-focused application

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

In a previous post, Brand strategy: create your entire brand as a customer-focused application, I set forth the advantages of developing your brand as an application to move customers forward. In this FAQ I’ll answer some basic questions about this approach.

How does the application approach for brands differ from traditional brand approaches?

In the application approach the brand is a customer enabler. It incorporates dimensions of innovation that can move customers forward by making them better off. It does so as part of a joint venture with customers, an act of teaming rather than an act of selling. This is quite different from conventional brand approaches which treat brands as a structure of meaning to be communicated, or as a persuasion package to influence how customers feel and think.

Why is the application approach better?

The application approach incorporates a complete brand/customer strategy. The brand goal is to make customers better off through innovations that advance customers beyond the reach of competitors. Example: iPod and iTunes advanced customers beyond the CD, and beyond less integrated music players. They moved their customers to a new market space (category) where competitors couldn’t (easily) follow—and, where life was much, much better for customers.

The application approach also anchors the brand in company operations. We have one brand approach for company vision, values and operations that we leverage into the customer sphere. The brand is the backbone from the lowest employee to the highest customer.

What role do ad agencies play in the application approach?

They become app agencies.

Why must the brand be geared to innovation?

Gearing your brand to innovation can confer strategic advantage. Your brand helps deliver value that advances customers into new realms (markets) where competitors can’t follow. You make customers exclusively better off. If your brand can’t innovate, you are condemned to ad campaigns to make your brand “work” —while your customers are going nowhere. Eventually, the only way they can move forward is to leave.

Aren’t all brands applications of some sort?

Yes they are. Most brand programs are applications. Customer service is a common brand application. Community programs can be applications, too. These will be piecemeal and inefficient applications, however, unless the entire brand is developed as a focused application to move customers forward. The good news is that your existing brand infrastructure may facilitate the transition.

What about brand relationships?

In the application approach, a brand creates customer relationships through its structured customer interactions. These relationships become sustainable when the brand delivers value that moves customers forward. They are more strategic compared to relationships formed using the brand identity model, where what the brand “is” (or what it represents) forms the basis of relationships. Thus, a brand trying to become an “icon” is at a disadvantage to a brand developed as an application (other things being equal.) The icon is fixed. The application moves forward on customer feet. It can explore new types of brand relationships because it’s made to be iterative, collaborative and open to prototyping.

What about brand experience?

The application approach offers the best platform for creating strategic brand experiences. You will have a single, unified brand application that runs the business and makes customers better off.

Can the application approach scale the brand to new levels and new markets?

Yes. That is one of its primary benefits. It is designed to scale. And it can pivot.

Does the application approach entail a different definition of brand?

Yes. It defines the brand as a method of creating value. The brand goal is to create new forms of customer value that advance customers into new market spaces that competitors can’t reach. As a method for creating value, the brand equation is Company Potential X Customer Potential. The brand works as a single, integrated and systematic method to optimize company performance and customer performance. (A philosophical tenet of the application approach is that a company is only as good as its customers.)

Does the application approach change the context of the brand team?

Yes. The brand team acts more like developers than communicators. Instead of “building” a brand as a structure of meaning to be communicated, we develop it dynamically as an enabling platform, through strategic acts of innovation, in concert with customers. The brand team works shoulder to shoulder with product teams through product development and delivery. Ideally, the brand team leads product development. Through the brand team product development becomes customer development.



Brand strategy: Create your entire brand as a customer-focused application

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

In this and follow-up posts I’ll propose that the best way to develop brands is to design, structure and deploy them as customer-focused applications. Yes, you should create your entire brand as an application. “An application of what?” you might ask? In a nutshell, your brand is an application of your vision and values. You apply it in a brilliantly crafted program of wisdom, culture, street smarts and tools to advance your customers to richer realms of living, far beyond the reach of competitors. Your brand becomes an application for your customers to succeed, and to take you with them. Their success is your success.

Brands are customer-focused applications for getting things done

It’s always been apparent to me that brands are really customer-focused applications–for helping customers get things done–far more than they’re calculated  sets of  symbols, slogans and stories to influence how customers think or feel. (I began writing about personal brand applications way back in 2007.) As I see it, we develop brands to help customers achieve outcomes that they can’t achieve through products and services alone. Thus, a “brand”  is much more than an identity, a stylized sales stimulant, a promise or a reputation. It’s a deliverable that acts as a supra-product method of creating value, limited only by the brand imagination of the company.

Notably, the brand is a form of innovation rather than a belief system or persuasion package. Critically, it’s an interactive application, too, one that enables the brand to team with customers in the value creation process. As I’ll discuss  below, brand  applications are essential building blocks for brand  platforms, and for building strategic brand experiences.

What (exactly) is a brand application?

A brand application is a method (a series of steps, guidelines, interfaces, interactions, innovations and revelations) to advance customers to richer realms of living. It may accompany products and services, or it may be a framework for them. The brand is the operative vision and value stream. It lays out where the company is going, and the rewards for joining in. The brand journey marks the path.

The goal of the application approach is to make customers better off in a way that ultimately disrupts competitors. As part of the application approach we create customers (here and here) through value innovation in ways that competitors can’t match. Our customers win, and so do we.

For strategic purposes the entire brand can be developed as a unified, customer-focused application (as I propose). Within the brand itself, however, there will be many discrete brand applications. These function like brand programs. Customer service is a brand application. A warranty is a brand application. Note, though, that customer service at Zappos is the whole brand as an application.

Brands gain strategic power as applications

Brands gain strategic power when they’re developed as applications. In traditional brand approaches brands are typically a form of communications. They emerge as calculated messages and meanings to promote sales and customer loyalty. In contrast, the brand-as-application is a comprehensive, collaborative, multi-threaded and multifaceted means of helping customers change their world in reality, not “in the mind.” As an application, the brand emerges as a strategic means of action, a change agent and deliverable on par with products and services. As applications brands stand to be far more productive than a brand “essence” showcased as a glorious–yet static–identity.

Your entire brand is an application—inside and outside the company

One of the strengths of the brand application approach is that your brand becomes a coherent and consistent method of value creation inside and outside the company. You are one company, one application, one brand. The brand becomes your operating mode rather than a media construct. As an application it fuses strategic vision, employee creativity, quality, productivity, and desired customer outcomes. Brand applications lay the foundation for a company “Way” of unique vision and values. Conversely, when the brand becomes “image” instead of application, we wind up with sad examples like BP.

A big difference in brand approach

When we develop brands as applications we take a dramatically different approach than used for conventional brands. Here are the main differences:

  1. Brands are agents of transformation, a means to change the world. They’re not sets of “meanings” to program customer behavior.
  2. The brand goal is to innovate so we can advance customers into richer realms of living where our brand gains market advantage.
  3. Our brand is part of our innovation strategy. It’s a method for creating value through customers.  Brand strategy becomes innovation strategy.
  4. The brand team joins the innovation team. They pump brand intelligence into new products and services ab ovo.
  5. Customers become strategic innovation partners, not just “buyers.” They are valued for their insights, intelligence and initiative far more than for their “loyalty.”
  6. There is less need for brand symbols, slogans and stories, and no need for brand magic and miracles. Applications create new realities–an infinitely better result.
  7. There is little need to “position” the brand. The application goal is to position customers to win–in new market spaces where customers and company can prosper. The application is self-positioning.
  8. The era of the brand icon is over. Icons don’t innovate. Applications do.
  9. There is less need for ad agencies. There is more need for app agencies.
  10. The brand ceiling leaps skyward. It becomes: Company Potential  X Customer Potential. New brand avenues abound.

Innovative brands already use the application approach

The good news is that many of today’s innovative brands (young and old) already grasp what brands can accomplish as applications. In many respects their brands largely function as end-to-end applications as they focus on delivering market-leading customer experiences. They build their brands outward from their vision, values and core operating principles. Their brands begin as internal applications (operating policies and programs) to produce distinctive  products and  services. Extending brand applications to customers is a natural  follow-through of what makes the company tick. In the larger scheme of things, the brands of Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, FedEx, Costco, Nordstrom and Zappos function as applications. They advance their customers beyond the reach of competitors. They are more focused, more coherent, more disciplined  and more distinctive because of it. And customers can tell the  difference.



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.


Multi-threaded brands—and why we need them

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Multi-threaded brands will soon be poised to succeed traditional monolithic brands, those top-down, top-heavy icons designed to radiate a company’s “essence.” Multi-threaded brands can out-perform monolithic brands because they multiply the ways that brands can connect with customers, and they greatly multiply the forms of value that a brand can deliver.

What is a multi-threaded brand?

A multi-threaded brand is a brand that’s been “microchunked”* into multiple value streams, which are then customized and delivered to strategic customer segments, with the aim of creating value networks and communities. It is a brand that’s been decentralized, distributed and democratized, becoming the context of a “value net” or a “creation net.” ** Its purpose is to grow customers from the inside out, not to hang over their heads.

Multi-threaded brands are more “social,” and less “corporate.”



A new role for brands—at the core of business

Friday, June 30th, 2006

The time has come to recognize a new role for brands—and the brand team—at the core of business. As shown in the Brand Core Model below, brand building is moving to a crucial position at the strategic center of business operations. At this vital confluence of company, product and customer, the brand team provides the vision and the platforms to create new forms of value, and to create and grow the customers that will drive the business forward.

And that, folks, is a big deal.

Brand Core Model

Creating value at the core

The Brand Core Model illustrates how brands have moved from symbols and slogans at the periphery of business to a value-creating activity at the heart of the enterprise. Brand practice belongs at the company core because the brand logic of creating customers shapes the allied fields of marketing, product development and customer development. From this central position, the brand team emerges as a key player in determining how customers are created, and how customers can be grown into new market opportunities.

Brand as the hub of a value network

Within the brand-centric enterprise, the brand is the core of a value creation process and the hub of a value network, feeding the innovation pipeline within the company, and between the company and its customers. This new brand environment differs radically from that of traditional brands. The brands produced are action-based. They’ve moved beyond the symbols, gestures and identities of conventional brand campaigns. These new brands are digitally enabled platforms and programs of value innovation. They pump value through the company, into the customer, and back again, gaining power and reach via network effects. While old brands beg for attention, these new brands join their customers as allies, directly adding pop and pulse to their lives.

Brands move from periphery to core

For most companies, this will be a dramatic new role for brands and the brand team. It marks the progress of brands from a communication layer on the periphery of business to a value innovation engine at the core.

In this process, brands are finally emerging as a strategic business practice in their own right. They’re no longer a subset of marketing, advertising, design, packaging or communications. Brand strategy can drive the business. Brand practice brings its own vision, platform logic, customer creation process, methodology, tools and resources.

Brands reinvented

From their new locus, brands are situated to reinvent themselves, sloughing off antiquated, top-down approaches for a new fusion of culture, technology and social software. They’re free to morph to customer needs, large or small, from a panorama of the possible to pocket-size, a pin, or a pixel. As we’ve said before: “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.”

A new role for the brand team

The Brand Core Model illustrates the central importance of the brand team. Through a collaborative process, the brand team brings together company vision, business priorities, platform logic and freewheeling creativity, all focused on creating and growing customers. The role of the team is to guide and augment value innovation through the company, and then through the customer, insuring that resulting customer growth can return new forms of value back to the business.

Yes, this is a new and different brand team. Instead of creating perceptions, their mission is to create customers. Their patron saint makes high demands, and pays high rewards.

Brand central: how it works

The Brand Core Model illustrates how innovation and value are co-created by groups inside and outside the company, mediated by the brand. The brand provides a collaborative framework for value innovation, cutting across internal divisions and other boundaries, and speeding innovation to market.

Looking at the diagram, here’s how I see things working:

At the intersection of Company and Product, the brand shapes Marketing by defining the platforms and programs that will create and grow the customers to grow the business. Brand platforms and programs become the structure for marketing imagination.

At the intersection of Product and Customer, the brand shapes Innovation in three ways: 1) by providing clear brand platform and customer platform direction to R&D, product development and engineering; 2) by helping develop cost-effective, high-value prototypes, and 3) by enlisting customer initiative and intelligence to augment the innovation process.

At the intersection of Customer and Company, the brand shapes Value by using collaborative methods and value networks to establish an exclusive context of mutual (company/customer) value. This helps synchronize brand platform deliverables with customer platform needs. Because the brand is committed to creating customer freedoms, it does not lead to backwater pools where innovation stagnates in an attempt to contain customers.

At the core—and at the edge

While the new locus of brand is at the core of a company, the brand team operates at the edge. Yep, brands are an edge force. The brand team leads. That means they thrive at the far edge of the customer, leading the customer, along the untamed frontiers of the market. Your brand team is a large part of your edge competence. You want them cracking open new worlds, not tending a hearth. They have a home, to be sure, but like all great explorers they’d rather be hacking the wilds.


1. This diagram is hardly etched in pixels, let alone stone. It’s how I currently see things coming together. As I drill into different layers, I’m sure I’ll find inconsistencies that will result in changes to the global model. All comments are much appreciated.

2. For reference, see earlier discussions of brand platforms and the brand team mission here and here.