Archive for the 'Brand Journey' Category

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.


Whip out your phone and record a brand story

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The new Apple iPhone 4 has some stellar HD video capabilities, and the following clip showcases what they can do in professional hands. It’s a pretty amazing feat for a smartphone, especially since the video was edited on the iPhone itself. (See the extra “behind the scenes” feature for details.)

Record a brand story anywhere your phone goes

How might this technology affect your brand? Well, anything worth sharing about your brand can now be told visually—and creatively—anywhere your phone goes, with decent production values. Just whip out your iPhone 4—or fairly soon, no doubt, any of its direct competitors—and assemble your brand story. But don’t delay. Your customers (and competitors) will be sharing brand stories, too.

SOURCE: “Apple of My Eye” – an iPhone 4 film – UPDATE: Behind the scenes footage included from Michael Koerbel on Vimeo.

A company’s Facebook page is its flagship store

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

If your company has a Facebook page, be advised that your Facebook page is your No. 1 flagship store. It is your brand completely laid open to the world, with at least 300 million Facebook members invited to share your space with their personal appreciations, advice, comments and perspectives. It isn’t a physical space, of course, like a usual retail flagship. It’s a flagship of your brand character, brand values and brand behavior, in an ongoing dialogue with all your Facebook “fans.”

On Facebook, a brand transacts its future

No money changes hands on a brand’s Facebook page, but what does transact is a brand-driven social and moral exchange that’s every bit as important. In effect, on Facebook every brand transacts its future. Brands are judged on Facebook across social, moral and political dimensions that may well determine a brand’s future. What is the brand’s agenda? Where is it leading the world? How is it a force for good? What are its positions on vital issues A, B and C? Does the brand listen? Does it speak with a human voice, or is it a PR bullhorn? Prepare your Facebook flagship to answer these questions. They will be asked.

Over time, a brand’s Facebook page can reveal a brand’s blind spots, program shortfalls and inefficiencies. Brand ready to listen—and to act—can translate this experience into strategic opportunities.

There are no pedestals on Facebook

There are no pedestals on Facebook. Brands are tenants on a page, co-equals with everyone else. On Facebook the brand is brought down to earth, shorn of its corporate cloak,  poked and prodded, queried, challenged, and perhaps told to shape up here and there—just like any new member of the crew. This process is called brand engagement. It’s a two-way street. Brands can’t script it. They learn from it. And what they learn can be invaluable.

It’s your flagship, but many of the flags aren’t yours

What’s unique about your flagship presence on Facebook is that many of the flags won’t be yours. They’ll belong to your “fans,”  in the shape of the eye-catching profile images that grace their comments. In very rare cases your Facebook page may be visited by individuals or pressure groups with their own causes, as the recent Nestle brand crisis so vividly demonstrated. Flying their own flags, these “fans” may try to turn your own identity against you, possibly using variations of your symbols and trademarks for their own campaigns.

Strong brands can take steps to preclude such eventualities, and can handle unexpected events  if they do occur. On the other hand, a weak or backward-facing brand may be overwhelmed by aggressive fan behavior on what it considers its proprietary Facebook turf. Worse, it may find itself in a nightmare of its own making if it reacts by dictating rules of behavior to the “fans” who share its page.

Flagship brand, Facebook culture

In the brick and mortar world a company will use its retail flagships to help build a unique brand culture, every square inch designed to amplify the brand experience.  On Facebook, a brand’s flagship presence must be built within the neutral Facebook frame, and within the Facebook culture. This is a culture that sees itself as open, egalitarian, informal, tolerant, supportive and respectful. That’s the culture your brand must embrace. Brands that come across as patronizing, arrogant, corporatist or legalistic invite a serious culture clash, which the brand can’t win.

A brand’s Facebook page is social property, not private property.

A brand’s Facebook page is social property, not private property. It can’t be structured as a walled garden where the brand promotes itself from behind the parapets. The purpose of the brand is not to privatize but to socialize, by leading its customers (and Facebook “fans”) to better ways of being and doing (that can also build the business). Brands are their outcomes. The more social the outcome, the stronger the brand. You fly your flags with verve and grace and wit and style and compassion. If your flags fly true, your Facebook fans will follow.


Animating the customer brand journey

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I use multicolored sticky notes when mapping out a customer brand journey, but even when a layout is complete, and quite useful, it’s still a static 2D display. Here’s a clever way to animate (or imagine) a customer path. This is how I see a brand journey come to life in my mind’s eye, with the customer moving from Point A to Points B, C, D and beyond.

parkour motion reel on Vimeo.

Also nice to see our old friend the flip book get a new lease on life. (If you’re a brand, your mission is to help customers escape the flip books where life [and other brands] have them trapped.)

This stop-motion movie was by Serene Teh, a design student in Singapore.


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.


HTC: making the leap from white label to brand

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

You’ll soon be hearing more about Taiwanese handset maker HTC. The company is making the leap from white label manufacturer to a brand in its own right. Marketing Week has the story.

For years HTC was best known as the maker of Windows Mobile handsets re-branded by carriers. Unfortunately, Windows Mobile has fallen far behind the iPhone and Google’s Android in mobile software innovation. For its own brand, HTC’s future probably lies more with Android as things look now. HTC’s new Android phones could equal (or better) the new Motorola Droid, assuming that HTC can use the latest version of Android that Google offers. (See this review.)

From enabling partners to enabling customers

HTC’s transition from white label manufacturer to a fully-fledged brand is a transition to a new level of business. In HTC’s case, it’s a transition from enabling mobile partners to one of enabling mobile customers directly. You can see this transition taking shape in HTC’s presentations, and in their advertising.

I may use the word “transition” to describe this change, but brand-wise, it is really a leap. Customers want that leap, too. They want the leap in value that brands can deliver.

HTC Hero

HTC’s brand challenge

HTC’s brand challenge is the two-part challenge faced by all white label handset makers. First, HTC has historically been perceived as a maker of feature phones, where product features told the story. However, brands are about customer stories, not features. Specs count, but customers multiply.

Second, the handset itself is only one-third of the mobile phone experience. The handset is tied to the experience provided by the carrier, and by the brand of operating system. As its own brand, HTC must find a way to stand taller than the carrier brand and the brand of operating system in the eyes of customers. It cannot be “a Verizon phone,” nor can it be “a Windows Mobile phone” or “an Android phone.” It must command a context that is purely and uniquely HTC, a context that works wonders for customers.

A cultural transition leap

As a brand, a new HTC will emerge from the old. The transition leap from a manufacturing culture to a brand-enabling customer culture is not easy. Old barriers must fall; new freedoms must rise. From the looks of things, HTC has already made progress along this path. The real brand connection begins when the company and its customers are on the same page, writing it together. HTC’s task is to find that page, and begin a new book.

From “handset maker” to “computer maker”

The “handset” market died in 2007 when Apple redefined the mobile world with the iPhone. The iPhone is not a “handset.” It’s an amazingly powerful computer that fits in the hand—and makes phone calls. It’s the most user-friendly computer ever designed, and now boasts 100,000 apps. For HTC to succeed as a brand, its products cannot be “handsets.” They must be computers. Indeed, they must be better computers (for the customer) than the iPhone. To reach this brand level HTC cannot simply “think outside the handset.” As a brand, HTC must live outside the handset, in a new customer context.

From product to platform

As HTC builds out its brand, the nature of its products will change. They will cease being “products” per se and will grow into platforms for the HTC brand. Building on these platforms, HTC can deliver multiple layers of value direct to customers.

HTC’s brand strategy options

In general, HTC will need to sidestep the carriers, sidestep Android and Windows Mobile, and create its own customers. To do this, HTC must change the brand game. And it must create a new kind of customer. Trying to be “the best Android phone”  or “the best Windows Mobile phone” will limit HTC’s brand potential.

Mobile brands are now platforms for customer-driven applications. The challenge is not “How many features can we offer?”  The challenge is how to enable 110% of the customer. Brands need that extra 10%. Brands are agents of discovery; they pull customers to richer worlds. A strategy canvas can help.

Brand deliverables

HTC’s Sense UI is a strong step towards personalizing the mobile phone experience. It certainly demonstrates HTC’s ability to work with the underlying OS to extend the user experience within an HTC brand vision. At a deeper brand level, HTC will need to offer highly engaging apps exclusive to HTC customers. As a brand, HTC is in the app business. The apps will build the brand in ways that hardware cannot. (For more on HTC Sense, see this highly informative interview (video).

Toward a new context of customer

As a brand, it’s entirely within HTC’s power to create a new context of mobile customer. In this context, what the phone does is less important than what it enables customers to do, and to be. As a handset maker, HTC was shipping devices. As a brand, it will be shipping culture.

Image: HTC Hero via User Honza — Wikimedia Commons

Brand layers: new context for smartphones

Sunday, July 5th, 2009


Thanks to innovations in mobile software we can now use our smartphone camera as a lens to discover new layers of context in the scene before us, ideally a relevant, personalized context that’s not visible on the surface. Two examples of this emerging technology are Wikitude and Layar.

Brand layers: shapes and shades of meaning

Since this is a blog about brands, I look at this new technology as a way to create brand layers, planes of brand sensibility (taste + intelligence + awareness) that can enhance situational user experience. Such layers can turn the smartphone into a lens that reveals new perspectives, new depth, new shapes and shades of meaning. The agent of these goodies can be a brand—if it has the smarts to be co-creating an interesting brand journey with its customers.

A form of Personal Brand Application

I’d consider the brand layer a form of Personal Brand Application. It may be a web-based mashup of sorts, but what counts is the intelligence and passion that drive it. These are the key ingredients to make it relevant to the user.

Travel apps are a natural for brand layers, but you don’t have to be in the travel business to offer such a layer. Every brand is in the customer business. Find a unique way to bind customers to you in a creative context that fills a need. Think how Absolut made itself into a “brand of art.”

Magazines as brand layers?

It may be that magazines and other forms of declining print media renew themselves as brand layers, creating new value on digital devices by adding contextual layers to otherwise “flat” environments.

Not billboards and a sales pitch

Given where brands are today, I’d say that maybe the top five percent of brands could develop effective brand layers on smartphones.  Brand layers are culture. They’re not sales, marketing, PR, “image,” or some kind of compressed “brand theater.” The last thing you want from a brand layer is cheesy billboards and a sales pitch cluttering a three-inch screen.

“Augmented reality” is in its infancy

This new technology of “augmented reality” on smartphones is in its infancy. We have no way of knowing if these first steps will be the next steps.

The measure of success

The best brand layers will sync the cultural intelligence of the brand with the cultural needs of the user. It’d be nice to download a layer when exploring Beacon Hill—or ambling through Père Lachaise. A good layer means that a particular brand and I are on the same page, writing it together.

Photo:  Wikitude

Visualizing the brand journey

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Every brand is a journey. Through the brand, customers can discover new aspects of themselves, new strengths, new abilities, new ways of being and doing. The quality of that journey—how enlightening, how enriching, how transforming—is a function of the brand vision, and the brand imagination behind it. A superficial brand might take customers as far as the cash register. A deeply engaging brand takes customers to a whole new world.

A journey beyond brand patterns

Too many brands are built to industry patterns of what a brand should be, or to preconceptions of how docile  “consumers” should behave. Patterns are made to be copied, and such brands soon look and act like one another. They express a desire to sell to one-dimensional buyers. The result of all these copies isn’t “choice.” It’s boredom. And that’s where the brand journey steps in.

Brand builders create the brand journey

It’s the job of brand builders to plot the customer journey that their brand provides. What truths can the brand journey reveal? What frontiers does the journey explore? What depths does it plumb? What’s the spirit? The tone? The texture? All these questions, and many more, dance across the brand builder’s map. In a brand journey we explore the art of positioning the customer, not the brand.

The brand journey is a creative act

The brand journey is a creative act: for the brand, and for customers. It can’t be extracted from business routine. It isn’t scaled up from transactions. And it isn’t mapped out by third-party campaigns. The journey is first person and it’s immersive. It begins by asking a set of questions critical to the immersive brand itself.

Brand journeys are joint ventures

Brand journeys are joint ventures where brands and customers interact to advance one another. They’re dialogs tuned to new experience and to emergent truths. As they unfold they connect customers to themselves, and to one another, sometimes through the brand, and sometimes beyond it. Interesting brand journeys ask questions: Why take the journey at all? The brand will have the answer. Absorbing journeys take risks. Anything is possible.

Develop a “journey reel” for your brand

Thanks to recent advances digital imaging, a brand can now visually represent the kind of unique journey it offers. This can take the form of the “journey reel,” a metaphoric and interpretive expression of the brand journey using the powers of motion video, animation and digital imagery. The journey reel lays out the kinds of adventures and experiences (and mysteries) that await. The journey reel itself is part of that experience.

Not a sales pitch

A journey reel is not a promo or a sales pitch. It’s neither selling nor telling. It’s the expression of a brand’s self awareness, its culture, drive and direction, and where it might take customers. It’s the brand identity set in motion, running on customer feet.

Visual elements of a journey reel

What might a journey reel look like? There are some themes and visual cues in this short animation demo reel by Alphonse Swinehart. I stumbled across this by accident, and it is not about brands per se, and certainly not intended as a journey reel. But its creativity is provocative. (A brazen brand might do a flip book, but that’s another story.)

Journey reels promise to be a new art form, compact and compelling. As I come across expressive elements that might work in a journey reel context, I’ll post them here.

A series of reels rather than one

A journey reel must start somewhere, but a brand that’s going places with its customers will not let the journey reel stop. It will conceive its journey reels as a series, or as sets, building one upon the other.

The journey reel is personal, portable and persistent

I’d imagine that the best channels for journey reels would be those most intimate and personal to customers. That means an iPhone, iTouch, PDA or something similar, downloaded from the Net. A journey reel is made to accompany the customer: portable, personal and persistent. And it’s made to be shared.

Brand journeys mixed and remixed

Of course, customers can record their journeys, too. Brand journeys become customer journeys. All can be playing on digital devices around the world, shared, mixed and remixed in a matter of minutes. When your brand connects, brand journeys mingle.

Map image: Martin Waldseemuller