Archive for the 'Brand Interactions' 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.



Never let your brand be “flummoxed”

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2 he cited Apple’s commanding lead in the “post-PC” tablet market and stated that the iPad’s competitors were “flummoxed” by the depth, quality, and speed of the iPad’s innovations, as if iPad competitors didn’t really understand what the tablet category was about.

Here are his exact words as he illustrated the iPad’s success — (about 6 minutes into the linked video):

Our competitors were just flummoxed. They went back to the drawing boards. They tore up their designs because they weren’t competitive.

It’s the brand’s job never to be flummoxed

The brand is the sensory edge of the business, and if the brand is flummoxed the business is in very deep trouble. It’s the brand’s job never to be flummoxed, or even close to it. Being flummoxed is an all caps brand FAIL.

What it means for a brand to be flummoxed

For a brand, being “flummoxed” means more than being confused, perplexed and bewildered by new market events. A brand that’s flummoxed can’t figure out what’s really going on, or what its next move should be. It has no clue to the context. It’s at a loss, conceptually and practically. Where the brand should power a company’s most perceptive vision, and sharpest focus, it is suddenly sense-less. It doesn’t know itself. And most critically, it doesn’t know its customers.

You’re flummoxed when you don’t know what game you’re in

As a brand you can’t compete if you’re using the wrong playbook for the game at hand. But you’re flummoxed when you really don’t know what game you’re in. You can’t imagine a winning strategy. You can’t grasp the new logic of moves. You can’t envision the innovations needed. You have no idea where to lead customers. You can’t see through customer eyes. This may indeed be the case if you’re a still a “PC player” in a “post-PC” world. You’re deep into netbooks (a commodity PC) while a competitor is relegating the PC to the dustbin of  history.

What can cause a brand to be flummoxed?

A brand may find itself flummoxed for many reasons, but I would argue that the paramount reason is that the brand’s concept of customer is too narrow and too shallow. Often, the brand positions customers as nothing more than “buyers”—for what the business can readily produce. Customers are treated as commodities to be sold to, not as partners in a greater brand journey where they can co-create value with the brand itself. Instead of advancing customers, the brand (in this short-sighted view) tries to capture, contain and control them. In so doing, the brand locks its own imagination into the same dead-end corral.



Photo credit:  Crunchgear

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.


Google’s automated brand can’t connect

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010


In deep space it might have been a good idea: since your business exists on computers and is accessed by computers, put your brand on computers, too. Automate it. Keep messy customers on the other side of the screen. Create an online Help Page. Fill it with FAQ’s. Cue up some Forums. Add video. List some email links but tell customers not to expect personal replies. Better yet, delegate customer service to your partners. And best of all, don’t include a phone number. Why invite time-wasting customer calls? Listening is not your business.

Then sit back and let the automated brand work its magic. No fuss. No muss. No puny humans fouling the flow.

In reality it was a bad idea

In reality—on Earth— it was a bad idea. On January 5, 2010 Google boldly announced the Nexus One “superphone,” a highly advanced iPhone competitor. The launch event was a smash, but things then went downhill. Google’s automated brand couldn’t connect with customers. Its few online circuits were promptly overloaded. So many customer questions disappeared into the ether that the New York Times asked, Hey Google, Anybody Home?

Customers called, and the brand wasn’t there.

Customers had questions—lots of them

Customers had questions—lots of them—especially about buying the Nexus One for $529 unlocked. Google made that offer a big part of the launch, raising a lot of “big first” questions, especially since the Nexus One is sold only from the Nexus One website. And—reading the fine print—it did seem that if customers bought the phone at a discounted price with a carrier (T-Mobile) contract, they might face early termination fees greater than the full price of the unlocked phone itself. Whoa! How does that work?

Searching for a brand relationship

Before shelling out hundreds of dollars for a path-breaking new smartphone many customers searched for a brand relationship from Google itself. Spending big bucks for an untested smartphone is a big risk that can only be mitigated by a highly positive brand relationship. Customers wanted a direct connection to the real Google behind the screen—to that human Google that had forever seemed so elusive. They especially wanted to feel confident that Google would support the Nexus One  in years to come, since its record of supporting its brand of phones was—at this time—precisely zero.

They searched for a brand relationship and wound up with a web page.

Customers notice if you don’t connect the brand dots

Customers connect the brand dots. They notice when you don’t. A path-breaking product from a new vendor has a lot of dots to connect if it wants to build the trust that builds markets. Apple has 284 Apple stores. In Google’s case, customers may have wondered how they could trust Google when it didn’t see fit to include a phone number for customer service on its site—when Google was proclaiming itself a major player in the phone business. Perhaps customers thought: You’re selling expensive super cool phones, but you don’t have a phone number to call. Hello?

Nexus One customer service complaints

Launching a forward-focused, highly innovative product on the shoulders of an automated brand is guaranteed to let customers down. Many customers apparently bailed on the Google brand when they couldn’t get answers from Google’s Nexus One Help Page. Immediately following the Nexus One launch, reports of customer dissatisfaction were all over the Web. A sampling:

  1. Google Nexus One leaves customers sour Wired
  2. Nexus One a test of Google’s customer service CNET
  3. Google faces deluge of Nexus One complaints PC World
  4. Google, Nexus One and the customer service risk ZD Net
  5. Google’s Nexus One issues threaten its push to shake up mobile Wall St. Journal

The brand is not an algorithm

It’s tempting to think that we can reduce a brand to a simple, repeatable formula, and then activate it in finitum. Unfortunately, a brand is not an algorithm. It can’t be automated. It’s a living customer connection, vital, emotional, and changeable, drawing a large part of its life from customers.

Brands, in fact, are the opposite of algorithms. They’re interactive structures of discovery, far more culture than commerce. They’re made to innovate, to explore and to create new forms of value with customers as partners. At their edges they reinvent themselves daily. That’s how they can create new classes of customers that drive the business forward, into new market spaces. A fixed brand agenda to contain customers or to lock them in place is a prescription for failure.

There is no “beta” in brands

While Google is famed for it’s innumerable “beta” releases of free software, where it could formally shift risk to customers, those days are over. While there may be lots of “beta” in product development, there is no “beta” in brands. The grown-up Google is judged by its brand.

A slow start for Nexus One sales?

Wired and the Wall Street Journal have reported hat sales of Nexus One are off to a slow start. If true, part of the reason may be Google’s failure to advance its brand with personally engaging customer service. Without such personal engagement, customer questions, doubts and fears can easily become a decision that says, “Too risky. No thanks.” A weak or reluctant Google brand will mean that the Nexus One may never achieve its potential sales volume and market share.

Google as a brand of trust

In an abbreviated sense, we can identify three phases in the evolution of Google’s brand:

1. A work in progress —  The “beta” years, now history.

2. It just works — The current phase of high-performance automation

3. Google works for you — The next phase of brand trust

This next phase will be Google’s greatest challenge to date. It entails a Google brand built on relationships, not algorithms. It means Google must excel as a brand of trust, connecting with customers beyond the machine interface.

Nexus One as a brand wake-up call

Google’s customer service shortfalls with Nexus One are in fact a wake-up call for the Google brand. While Google has done a masterful job advancing customers with highly-integrated information services, it has reached a point where trust in Google is now every bit as vital as Google’s software brilliance. Google can’t automate the next step.

Photo credit: Iitmuse — Flickr

How the digital tablet could change media brands

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Sometimes the very form of a brand can become its limiting factor. The world leaps ahead on other innovations, and the old form factor/brand begins to languish. It can’t sync with the new.

The digital tablet may revive traditional media brands

If being out of sync was part of old media’s problem vs. Internet upstarts, new digital tablet technologies may breathe new life into old publications. Conceivably, new digital tablets could lead to new and better forms of storytelling, and new ways for traditional media brands to connect with customers.

A Time Inc. digital magazine concept

Take a look at this Time Inc. magazine concept on a digital tablet:

Of course, not many of us look forward to swiping pages of Sports Illustrated on the flipped around screen of a laptop tablet, as shown here. We want the convenience, immediacy and intimacy of a smaller digital tablet we can easily read on the couch or the train, freely flowing text, pictures and context with our fingertips.

That same tablet might contain all of our media subscriptions, our personal library, and maybe even our textbooks for a new form factor of college.

For more on what Time Inc. is contemplating with this new format see TechCrunch. And Wonderfactory.


Burberry and Facebook make “Art of the Trench”

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Burberry’s Art of the Trench social media site is now live. When Burberry announced the site a few months ago, I discussed Burberry’s brand options in creating the site. Now we can examine the site close up. Initially, the site consists of hundreds of top quality fashion shots of models/people in Burberry trench coats. You click on the photos you like, register your approval, enter a comment, or share the photo with a friend. You can even submit your own Burberry trench photo for consideration—assuming it meets the very high standards of the site.

Burberry/Facebook collaboration

Art of the Trench appears to be a collaboration between Burberry and Facebook, with a Burberry front end and Facebook back end. Burberry defines the brand identity and manages the “content,” while Facebook (apparently) handles key parts of the social software side. It’s as if the Burberry brand has absorbed a large segment of Burberry’s existing Facebook page. Quite seamlessly, too.

As far as I can tell, you must be a Facebook member (and sign up with Facebook Connect) to comment or submit photos to Art of the Trench.

Burberry’s brand options

In my previous post on Art of the Trench I noted that Burberry could opt for a fan site, at the lowest level of social media, or could aim higher, toward an interactive brand platform geared toward collaboration and co-creation with Burberry customers. Fan sites are marketing and PR tools. Co-creation sites are innovation tools. With the latter approach, Burberry could explore the trench as a deeper part of culture, with an eye to creating new customers in new market spaces.

A fan site

It appears that Burberry has settled for a fan site. The site’s stated purpose is “to celebrate the Burberry trench coat” as “a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” To my eye the site currently seems more of a “celebration” of Burberry rather than a discovery or exploration—where Burberry might lead its customers on a unique brand journey.

As a fan site, Art of the Trench works as a rolling ad/PR campaign, where Burberry provides photographs of attractive people in stylish Burberry trench coats. As noted above, fans can click on images they like, make comments, or share photos with others. Over time, the site may have value as a means of generating customer feedback. The highly visual layout would seem to work well with an international audience, which Burberry certainly has.

Low involvement

The Art of the Trench does not seem to encourage high levels of user interaction. I did not see the word “interactive” on the site. (I may have missed it.) Burberry states that it wants customers to be “involved,” but the level of involvement seems constrained. As a fan, one’s role is mostly to “celebrate” Burberry. Only positive clicks (“I like it”) are allowed. There doesn’t appear to be any mention that fans are part of any Burberry team.

Submit your own photo—but don’t expect too much

A key “social” feature of Art of the Trench is that users can submit their own photos. A photo must be portrait orientation, outdoor, with the submitter or a friend wearing a Burberry trench.  However, fans who submit photos should not set their hopes too high. From Burberry’s content guidelines:

We will use our absolute discretion when selecting photographs for inclusion on the Site. Please do not email us asking why your photograph has not been selected. You should expect only a very few photographs are likely to be selected. We hope you will not be disappointed if your photograph does not make it.

I’m assuming Burberry would reject unsuitable photos with a polite “thank you” note, as befits a classy company.

Burberry and the brand dilemma

Sooner or later every brand finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. It needs an iron fist to manage its brand identity, yet it also needs an open hand to join with its customers, since it has no future without them. Every brand vacillates, vibrates ping-pongs between these two poles. Some years back Burberry had its brand hijacked by Chavs, with devastating results, so it’s no surprise to see Burberry today in a mode of absolute and total control.

The questions: Is the “open hand” fan site of Art of the Trench sufficient to create and retain customers? Can Burberry get by with customers who are “involved,” but not really “interactive” with the brand?

The potential weakness of Burberry’s approach

The potential weakness of Burberry’s Art of the Trench approach is that it’s a brand stage, and not a brand platform. It can style and pose before its fans, but it cannot leverage them strategically. Burberry’s biggest threat is that a competitor will change the brand game and leverage its customers in ways that an iron-fisted Burberry cannot. The challenger doesn’t have to create a better (or more fashionable) trench coat to do this. It needs to create a different (and deeper) customer context of the trench. Social media, the open hand par excellence, may be the lever.

For brands, there’s also the possibility that sites like Art of the Trench may in fact look backward, rather than forward. The future may belong to personal brand applications, where the brand is a direct drive, with no need to be staged.


Burberry’s Twitter page (@Burberry) announces the Art of The Trench mission as, “A living celebration of the trench coat and the people who wear it.” That’s an all-inclusive statement that some might interpret as going beyond the Burberry brand proper. It could work wonderfully for Burberry, but I sense that the site is focused exclusively on the Burberry brand.


Twitter and brand strategy

Thursday, May 7th, 2009


For brand builders, the current media frenzy about Twitter can only mean one thing: either it’s the last stage of massive fad fever before Twitter implodes, like Oprah’s latest diet, or Twitter actually enables people to enrich their lives in new dimensions–in which case brands better pay attention.

My bet is that it’s more of the latter than the former. There are revolutionary brand platforms waiting to be be built on Twitter—but only if brands take a strategic approach to Twitter, one predicated on creating customers through innovation and value delivered. This means moving beyond the routine marketing and PR uses of Twitter that make up most brand uses at the moment.

Twitter is an innovation challenge for brands

Twitter is a form of networked communications that’s fast, direct and highly granular, with the power to link individuals and groups through their immediate experiences. As such, Twitter stands as an innovation challenge for brands, which have typically been built on non-collaborative broadcast models. To leverage Twitter’s potential we’ll need to create new structures of brand interaction, new forms of brand value, new brand relationships and new Twitterized brand platforms. All this will require new brand strategies to incorporate Twitter’s unique strengths.

Don’t pour old wine into this new bottle

For brands, the last thing we want to do is to pour old wine into the new Twitter bottle. That would cripple its potential. Approaching Twitter as just another marketing, advertising and PR outlet, as a linear descendant of direct mail, email and blogs,  is poor brand strategy— as we’ll discuss below.

Twitter changes the context of brands

Twitter is important because it can change the context of brands, from one-sided inducement and persuasion (in the classic model) to a two-way street of shared experience, shared values and shared discovery. In the big picture of things, brands are collaborations in context. Twitter enables brands to create more collaboration, and more context.

Structurally, Twitter has the potential to turn brands inside out, transforming brands from symbols and icons to a seedbed of customer innovation, where what customers co-create with the brand returns more value than the purchase price. In this process, Twitter can grow customer value in a non-linear dance, which is much more agile and adaptive than regimented brand campaigns from the top.

Non-strategic brand uses of Twitter

To date, most brands have used Twitter for standard marketing, sales, promotion and publicity purposes. For the most part, this really has been putting old wine in new bottles.

  1. Companies can” listen in” to Twitter via keyword scanning tools to monitor how their brands are being mentioned. Simple enough. Most companies already monitor the Internet for this purpose.
  2. Brands can monitor Twitter to discover customer problems, and can respond promptly and directly, as needed. A quick, useful response can also help personalize the brand, faster than email or blogs. However, reactively chasing random Tweets across the Twitterverse is not exactly a brand building strategy. Some examples and caveats here.
  3. Brands can try to generate “followers” on Twitter, stringing them along via short messages. It isn’t clear yet how such a following ever becomes a brand community. (A key question: what are “followers” actually following? And why have followers when you could have co-creators?)
  4. Some brands use their Twitter connections to send out marketing and sales messages, as if Twitter were just another form of direct mail, or spam. This is counterproductive.
  5. Some brands may be tempted to use fake Twitter personas to gin up publicity. This tosses Twitter authenticity out the window. Some attempts in this direction have been egregiously lame.

Twitter’s “celebrity mode” certainly won’t last long.  Nielsen reports high rates of Twitter defection after initial celeb-fueled excitement. Twitter’s value lies deeper than the glitterati.

For an overview of standard marketing and PR uses of Twitter, see two Mashable posts here and here.



Potential brand interfaces for the future

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Brands are interfaces to new ways of being and doing, and brand builders always keep an eye out for new advances in interface technology.

Here are 10 futuristic user interfaces for your consideration. These are for the emerging age of brands where brands will be personal, portable and persistent. Of course, they’re not specifically intended for brands. It’s up to brand builders to seize their potential.

Brand interfaces that intensify user participation

For my money, I always look for interfaces that deepen and intensify user participation, where a (creative) brand can be an enabler of new forms of experience, expression and insight.

The above image is from the future of internet search series at petitinvention, a good source of visionary interfaces.