Archive for the 'Brand Quality' Category

The Hollywood “brand” at work

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

From Roger Ebert:

Digital projectors have been force-fed to theaters by an industry hungry for the premium prices it can charge for 3D films. As I’ve been arguing for a long time, this amounts to charging you more for an inferior picture. The winners are the manufacturers of the expensive machines, and the film distributors. The hapless theaters still depend on concession sales to such a degree that a modern American theater can be described as a value-added popcorn stand.

If we define “brand” as a fully complete, delivered experience, i.e., what the customer takes away in his/her emotions and senses, then the emerging  Hollywood “brand” looks to be increasingly constrictive and manipulative. The movie-going “quality of experience” becomes that of a stick-up with FX.


Building a restaurant brand—from the kitchen out

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley has been acclaimed as one of the finest restaurants in the United States, and in the world. It has achieved this rare distinction not by “branding” campaigns but by the extraordinary dishes that the restaurant serves to its guests. The brand is built from the kitchen out.

Thanks to a recent behind-the-scenes report in the San Francisco Chronicle, we can glimpse how the vision and values in the French Laundry kitchen translate into a world-class restaurant brand.

The brand as a method of achieving excellence

Some of my takeaways from the article:

  1. The French Laundry “brand” is a method of achieving excellence
  2. The brand tolerates no compromises in the pursuit of quality
  3. The brand is a culinary collaboration, a total team effort
  4. The brand is a shared discipline
  5. The brand doesn’t coast. It continually pushes the edge of creativity and innovation.

The French Laundry website has more information on the restaurant’s mission and values, and its menus.


Brand lessons from the BP oil disaster

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010


It’s not too early to discern some strategic brand lessons from BP’s horrific oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is a global oil giant with a highly visible (and controversial) brand identity: a major oil company that’s positioned itself as “beyond petroleum.” Yet today the BP brand is smothered in oil as far as the eye can see, a symbol (and agent) of massive pollution.

Why the BP disaster is a big deal for brands

The BP oil disaster is a big deal for brands because it marks a catastrophic failure of a top-tier brand. As such, it stands to have far-reaching consequences that will play out in time across all brands. At this early stage, three immediate “big deal” factors stand out to my mind:

  1. BP has become the antithesis of its proclaimed identity. It has gored its own icon. How could that happen to a billion-dollar brand?
  2. We may be witnessing the greatest sudden loss of brand trust by a company in the history of business. This is much more than a brand doing a poor job of crisis management. It appears that the BP brand took its eye off the ball and allowed the crisis to happen, a transgression no brand—or business— can afford.
  3. Events suggest that BP’s reliance on “positioning,” “messaging” and “mindshare” (an advertising approach to brands) helped decouple the brand from operational realities. The resulting BP brand was “positioned in the mind” of a campaign audience but had diminished presence in BP’s drilling operations, where it was desperately needed before and after the blowout. Current cost of this disconnect: $2 billion (and growing).

What are the long term brand consequences?

As I see it, the BP oil disaster will contribute to a reassessment of the conventional “mindshare” approach to brands that treats brands as media artifacts in a persuasion package to shape perceptions. This superficial “branding” approach can blind the brand to operational issues desperately in need of brand direction. There’s growing evidence that this is exactly what happened in BP’s case. The brand outcome is the full story. It can’t be bottled in a mindshare campaign.

Due to the enormity of BP’s brand failure I’d expect to see a new emphasis on brands  as a method of delivering operating value, rather than symbolic campaigns. In this structured brand value approach, brand principles and priorities directly drive business decisions, with a brand’s full emotional force. This is a working brand of company culture, rather than campaigns.

What went wrong with the BP brand?

What went wrong with the BP brand? The framing question, as I see it, is this: Did BP fail its brand? Or did the brand fail BP? At present, I’d say the answer is “Both.”

We also want answers to related questions: Were there critical flaws in the BP brand approach? In the brand model? In the brand strategy? In brand program execution? Was the problem weak brand leadership? Or was the brand simply marginalized, relegated to media campaigns and decoupled from essential company operations (e.g., brand practice in the oilfield) where it might have made a difference?

If the BP brand was indeed “beyond petroleum,” what precise vision and values guided BP’s oil production business, and its dedicated employees? BP’s 80-page  Code of Conduct, “Our commitment to integrity,” makes no mention of the BP brand. How is that possible?

Not surprisingly, other oil companies are distancing themselves from BP’s oilfield practices.

A note about this post

I’m writing this as events unfold, so my assessments are preliminary. I’m also aware that BP is not the only company with responsibilities in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. My focus here is on brands as a form of strategic and operational leadership, and that means a focus on BP.

With a failing brand, BP’s troubles just keep gushing

When a brand fails, everything fails, and BP’s travails certainty point to systematic brand failure. We have BP’s CEO being raked over the coals in the US Congress. BP is currently facing possible criminal charges, accusations of cover-ups, fines of up to $258 million per day, and accusations of blocking reporters from covering the story. There are also serious allegations that BP had been cutting corners on safety.

BP’s brand failings have jeopardized the credibility of the oil industry itself, and will certainly lead to greater—and more costly—industry regulation.

What’s especially troubling is that these are the kinds of breakdowns in quality that brand programs are designed to prevent. A more effective BP brand program might have saved the $20 billion that BP must now set aside in escrow to pay for environmental and community damages.

The BP brand could have been a hero and shining star in this tragic episode.  Currently, it bleeds copious amounts of trust with every passing day.

Basic brand lessons

What follows are some basic brand lessons from the BP oil disaster as I see them at the present time. 7

1. “Positioning” the brand where the core business isn’t (in BP’s case, “beyond petroleum”) puts the brand at risk.

The BP oil catastrophe may herald the end of artificial “brand positioning” as an element of brand strategy. Under its striking Helios logo BP claimed a high-profile positioning as a “green” renewable energy leader “beyond petroleum.” As such, the BP brand was aiming for a make-believe category in people’s minds, since BP’s business was petroleum for the foreseeable future. Instead of being an enlightened brand of  innovative and responsible oil production, where 99% of its business resided, BP apparently let its “beyond petroleum” positioning blind it to a disturbing pattern of  risky design practices and short-cuts over a decade of operations.

In the real world, it’s the vision and values at the operations level that position the brand—and the business—to succeed.



The brand is in the details

Friday, August 14th, 2009

zune hd

Behind every great brand is a critical, creative force that holds the brand to the qualities that set it apart. This force won’t tolerate mediocrity, half-ass execution, or excuses. It’s a force that radically differentiates the brand from the commodity approach of “good enough.” The “good enough” approach leads to products strewn across discount aisles, or piled in remainder bins.

Commodities are “good enough.” Brands are special.

Commodities are “good enough.” That’s why they’re commodities. Brands are special. And when it comes to delivering a special user experience, at the personal level of touch and feel and interaction, small details become amazingly large.

Details make the brand

As a case in point of details that make the brand, we might consider the new Zune HD, pictured above. See where I’ve outlined the word “marketplace.” The review site RantsAndStuff noticed that the full word “marketplace” doesn’t fit on the screen. The final “e” is truncated. Yep. Chopped in half. Read their article for their comments and the comments of others on how this “little” detail makes a big difference.

One excerpt:

It’s the little things like this that make me wonder what else did they not pay that much attention to. They couldn’t have dropped the menu font just a tad to make it fit on the screen? I know I’m nitpicking but shouldn’t someone at Microsoft also be nitpicking this kind of thing?

Of course, brand details are not really “nits.” Brand details are the brand.

In Microsoft’s defense (sort of)

In Microsoft’s defense, the new Zune HD  hasn’t been officially released yet, so flaws we see now can still be fixed. Engadget checked it out, with a video, too. So did TechFlash on 8/13. Official release date is September 15, 2009.

The question remains, however: Why send out a pre-release PR picture of a flawed product? First impressions are brand impressions. Why advertise your flaws? It’s not a good sign when the builders of a brand are less attentive than prospective customers.

Photo: Microsoft (with my highlight added)