Archive for the 'The Brand Team' Category

Travails of the brand trade

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

The hardest part about being a brand builder is that you’re a 3D person in a 2D world.

Business is a spreadsheet. It’s a march of X and Y, where 2D thinking is the rule.

Brands are the drama of deep spaces. They hear birds fly, feel tired leaves turn, watch clouds change mountains. And just to make things interesting, they reveal this for, and through, customers.

Business can be out of touch with nature, and with customers, and can lack perspective on itself. It often comes up a dimension short.

Brands restore that dimension. They’re the distance to be touched, the seasons greeted, and life everlasting, underfoot. And they add the customer to this picture. And business, too.

Photo: jurvetson, Flickr

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.


“Design thinking” and the brand team

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Going forward, brand teams will need a whole new set of processes. They’ll be creating and growing customers to produce strategic value. That’s a non-trivial challenge. Strategy as Design (pdf) by Jeanne Liedtka addresses some of the key process issues from a general business perspective.

A quote:

Design offers a different approach and suggests processes that are more widely participative, more dialogue-based, issue-rather-than-calendar-driven, conflict-using rather than conflict-avoiding, all aimed at invention and learning, rather than control.

If we were to take design’s lead,we would involve more members of the organization in two-way strategic conversations.We would view the process as one of iteration and experimentation, and pay sequential attention to idea generation and evaluation in a way that attends first to possibilities before moving onto constraints. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we would recognize that good designs succeed by persuading, and great designs by inspiring.

Since one of the first tasks of the brand team is to “design a customer,” all of these elements (and many more) will come into play.


Tip to brand team: prototype, iterate, tweak

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Over at the Adobe Design Center website, Khoi Vinh has an interesting interview with Jason Fried of 37signals on lightweight but effective methods to create successful software collaboration products.

Since brands are code, and also collaborations in context, the methods 37signals employs may serve as a model for brand teams racing to develop and deploy agile brand programs. This would be especially true for collaboration-driven brands with high levels of customer interaction.

Generalists instead of specialists
37signals has been turning out highly innovative products using a very small staff. Jason explains how they do it using generalists instead of legions of specialists. In place of grandiose planning and processes, they usually jump in and start prototyping, maximizing feedback, tweaking and iterating as they go. They feel this frees up creative output and produces better results sooner.

Jason Fried:

. . . we used to go through lengthy processes, draw lots of abstract diagrams, spend lots of time on documentation. But what we realized was that that made the “process” better but it rarely made the product better. So we decided that we’d be better off staying as close to real for as long as possible during a project than approaching real towards the end. You never know what’s real until you see real, and often times it’s too late.

For the coming age of agile brands, this seems like sound advice.


Where the brand team chills

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Om Malik reports on the increasing use of indi-cafes in San Francisco as mobile office space for entrepreneurs. The right cafe is the perfect environment for social thinking, thought linking, wheeling and dealing.

If cafes are the cauldrons of thought, the brand team better be there, too. Brands are not after-the-fact. They are part and parcel of product innovation ab ovo.

One of our favorites is Caffe Trieste in Berkeley. (The brand team brew of choice is, of course, double espresso.)

UPDATE: If a Starbucks isn’t on your mobile office agenda, find a local cafe alternative on Delocator.


The brand team mission

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

What should the brand team be doing? What’s their mission? Their charter?

The brand team plays a pivotal role in how your business creates value for customers. To clarify the team’s mission, you want a mission statement that’s brief, results-oriented and forward-focused. More often than not, the brand team is pushing the edge. They’re defining your tomorrows, not perpetuating your past. Their charter needs to give them working room, and breathing room.

Here’s how I see it:

Marching orders for the brand team:
Open eyes, open minds, open markets. Create value. Create customers.

That’s it. Short and sweet.

Is it like most conventional brand team mission statements? Nope. Not at all.

It’s aim is to lead the business through brands. That’s where the brand team belongs.


A “brand team” in name only at Ford

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

The January 23 Wall Street Journal (sub required) has an illuminating report of Ford Motor Company’s operations shakeup and marketing overhaul. Among the far-reaching Ford initiatives was a specially-tasked “brand team,” which was charged with “figuring out what consumers Ford could get and who they couldn’t.” As part of its tasking, the team watched “a video of Americana images like a Bruce Springsteen album cover, cotton fields, open roads in the heartland and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team set to “Little Pink Houses,” by John Cougar Mellencamp.”

It’s hard to understand how this is a “brand team” in any productive sense. It looks more like a sales team dressed in an ad campaign.

The mission of a brand team is to create more customer value. At Ford, this would mean building better cars and packing more Ford experience into the art of driving. It’s never a good sign when a “brand team” is asked to focus on “images” instead of delivering value customers can use.

Brands are not artificial constructs broadcast from on-high. They’re deep collaborations, especially with customers.

Maybe Ford’s narrow approach was dictated by the very nature of Ford itself. Per the Journal: “Ford management culture remains very much the top down, militaristic institution created in the 1950s . . ..”

If that’s the case, Ford’s brand revival will be even more difficult.