A brand, as Donny Deutsch has often observed, is a “set of values.” It is not a tagline, a logo or a colorway, yet all those things are trade dress that communicates just what those values represent. When there’s a disconnect between the values and the reality of the consumer experience or understanding, branding goes bad in a big way.
Take, for example, American Airlines. Since 1967, AA has proudly displayed the “Silver Bird” livery designed by Massimo Vignelli. For reasons known only to its C-suite (merger? bankruptcy? labor turbulence?), the company decided to change the conversation, ditch tradition and replace “what wasn’t broke” with a new design that was received with what can charitably described as extreme dislike. Rather than seeing “innovation and progressive” values, viewers from industry analysts to Vignelli himself saw a waste of millions of dollars that succeeded merely in communicating how far this once proud airline had fallen. Moral of the story: change for its own sake will hurt, not help, your brand. Consider the history of the company or organization, do your research and make sure the new values you’re touting are credible and true.
Then, there’s the University of California dispute (astutely analyzed by AIGA), which is more a case of unfortunate communications rather than bad branding. The issue arose with the implementation of a new, streamlined monogram designed to anchor a new identity system for marketing and promotional materials. After a year of quiet and successful use, a student started a petition based on the mistaken belief that the new monogram was a replacement for the venerable old university seal. Controversy ensued, rumors spread and the new logo was dropped. This is troubling for many reasons. Apart from losing a really dynamic identity, this story illustrates that even in an intellectual environment, expertise can be undermined by an uninformed hive mentality; strategic thinking, if not clearly communicated to all the stakeholders, is overcome by subjectivity and misinformation trumps facts. Having worked on a re-brand for a public university, I know just how contentious the process can be. You can never “over-share” your thinking in cases like this.
Finally, there’s the GOP. Do they really think that “tone and manner” are at the heart of their recent defeat at the polls? Can you make a silk purse out of an elephant’s ear?
What consumers want from their brands
In a word, simplicity. At least, that’s what branding firm Siegel + Gale reports in their third annual global brand simplicity index, which analyzed and compared 500 leading brands and key industries around the world “to understand how scale and different attributes of simplicity affect consumer perceptions.” Some findings:
Who’s on top? Leading brands in the US, starting with #1: Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Google, Amazon, Netflix. Amazingly, Zappos, whose customer service is legendary, sits at #10. Top five global brands: Google, McDonalds, IKEA, C&A, Apple.
It’s ironic. The simplest global brand is Google. The least simple, Google+.
Want better word of mouth? 80% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand that delivers simpler communications and experiences.
Complication (the path of least resistance, old-think) is easy and gets in the way of innovation.
Simplicity is hard. It requires the courage to see things with fresh eyes, risk failure, re-think communications, mission and service.
Simpler brands are profitable brands. Consumers will pay more for simple (and presumably more rewarding) brand interactions than unnecessarily complicated and unpleasant ones.
True to its own recommendations, the report is beautifully designed with clear graphics, well-written content and actionable information. Nothing too clever by half. Every page is a treasure and proof that simplicity is its own reward.
What Scheherazade can teach marketers about storytelling?
Storytelling can save your (branding) life. Just ask Scheherazade whose captor and, later, consort—the king of Persia—tuned in for a 1001 nights.
Storytelling is the word du jour for communicators in every genre. In a recent Sunday's NYT, there were two wonderful pieces about the importance of narrative as a way to make sense of our world. Steve Almond ranks Jane
Austen, Nick Carraway and God(!) among literature’s great narrators. Alissa Quart calls plot-heavy television series like Girls, Downton Abbey and The Good Wife antidotes to our algorithmic- and short-attention-span-driven lives. Both of them agree that good stories value perspective (over) immediacy, depth (over) speed and emotion (over) sensation.” It’s the un-Twitter, un-Facebook, un-linked.
SpeakeasyDC, an organization which offers storytelling classes, coaching and performances, stresses that a good story must make an emotional connection between the teller and the hearer. And like any good piece of marketing communications, it must get an audience to care, pay attention and respond. Other elements to include:
A protagonist, ideally who changes or is changed by the course of the story—a plot device as old as the Iliad. How do you change the life of your user/consumer?
An arc—a beginning, a middle and an end that sets up who/where we are, the conflicts or obstacles that are overcome, a climax and a resolution. How does your product/service help your consumer prevail?
Suspense. Scheherazade was famous for her cliffhangers. So was Dickens. So is Homeland. They keep the readers’ or viewers’ attention and propel the action forward. What can’t I live without knowing?
Good narratives are tales as old as time and as human. Good brand stories are too. My recent faves include Target, CSX and Dodge Dart. They’re visually arresting, compelling and thoughtful. No matter how often I see them, I never turn away.
Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.
There’s an art to storytelling and Ira Glass is clearly a master of the craft. In his own way, so is David Shiyang Liu, whose typographic rendering of Glass’s approach brings another layer of art to the story. An energetic, elegant and captivating little film that brings these inspiring words to life.
Orion Newsletter: Romney | Women | Political speech
Romney | Women | Political speech
newsletter | august 2012 news, not noise
America’s Comeback Team makes
And unintentionally demonstrates the power of the creative brief. “Who’s your target? What do you want them to do? And what do you need to say to get them to do what you want them to do?”
Whatever you think of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, it was an inspired and creative choice…for marketers as much as for voters. How so? It was designed to motivate, to get consumers to take a specific action (which is, after all, what advertising is all about. It wants you to do something.) For Republicans, the answer is obvious. We want you to vote and contribute to the Romney-Ryan ticket. But the very same message resonated on the other side of the aisle--Democrats, women, Independents, centrists, progressives, Medicare recipients (remember Florida, Florida, Florida), college students, veterans, the middle class and even the Catholic bishops—who were mobilized to do the very opposite for a whole bunch of reasons--to support the Obama 2012 campaign.
Need proof? Within minutes of the announcement on August 11, I received several urgent emails (Bold Progressives, MoveOn, NARAL, the Barack Obama campaign, Planned Parenthood, among others), asking for my signature on a petition or a donation to fight the good fight. More followed days later. I said yes to them all. Talk about motivation! They said what I needed to hear to take the action they wanted me to take.
As did Romney’s Freudian slip (anointing Ryan as “the next president of the United States”) and Ryan’s statement that “laws come from God and nature, not government.”
In what will probably be the most negative and hyper-partisan presidential campaign in recent history, it’s reassuring to know that the simple creative brief remains authentic, relevant and true.
I VOTE: A profile in courage
Women won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment, yet 92 years later, we’re still fighting for sovereignty over our bodies, ourselves. A stunning commercial from I Vote Nation re-caps the latest and greatest outrageous comments from Messrs. Romney, Limbaugh and Paul on contraception, rape and other assaults on women’s independence and autonomy. I VOTE is an assertive call to women's empowerment, independence and control.
Political speech and civil discourse
In their new book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Thomas Mann and Norman decry the noxious effect of (primarily Republican) ideological extremism on our system of constitutional democracy and the national interest. Bill Maher makes the same point, although more humorously, with his “in the bubble” riffs dramatizing how conservatives don’t let facts get in the way of a good bias. For liberal Democrats like me, this is all very satisfying. We have met the enemy and it is…them.
But we’re not doing ourselves—or our causes—any favors by talking to ourselves. We have our own “bubble” issues to deal with.
TM Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, would agree. Her new book, “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God,” is a tour d’horizon of how evangelicals think, what actions they take and how—by extension—they vote. Secular voters, she says, look at outcomes and “want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, have fewer bad outcomes.” Evangelical voters think about how all of us can transform ourselves so we—not outside forces like the government—can be the agents of change we seek.
To succeed with this bloc, Luhrmann recommends talking about issues in ways that show “how we could develop our moral character together as we work to rebuild our country.” It “us and us,” not “us versus them,” working for the greater good. It’s a subtle but profound difference. And just one example. But sometimes you have to get out of your own bubble to get people to believe what you want them to believe so that they do what you want them to do.
When it comes to contraception, ignorance is not bliss and magical thinking never leads to happily ever after. According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the US has one of the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the developed world. Seven in 10 pregnancies among single women in their twenties are unplanned. Thirteen percent of condoms fail before they leave the package. (Hint: don’t open the envelope with your teeth or a sharp object.) Clearly, American sex ed gets a failing grade.
So how can a young woman avoid becoming one of these unhappy statistics? More and more of them are turning to Bedsider.org, a new online birth control support network that helps women find “a birth control method that’s right for them—and stick with it—until they’re ready to have a baby.” The information is totally free and accessible via the website, mobile (in English and Spanish), text or a toll-free number.
Bedsider loves women and respects their intelligence. We recently spoke with Lawrence Swiader, the program’s senior director of digital media, about his creative direction/ design strategy, which is key to the initiative’s success. “With the right communications tools—what we call ‘instructional design’—you can effect desired behavioral change,” he said. “Our goal is to normalize the conversation about contraception, to make women comfortable enough to ask questions and get information they need to make an informed choice. Bedsider is there to educate and empower women so they can decide what works for them.”
Bedsider gives birth control “a makeover” and serves up information in a “sexy, friendly, even funny” tone and manner that resonate with women millennials. With attractive visuals, engaging videos and other content (some user-generated), regular text reminders or emails, widgets, apps and a highly intuitive, inviting website, Bedsider materials reach out and embrace visitors, break down barriers and dispel myths so that women “can love their bodies, have fun, find their best method of birth control and stick with it.”
Introduced in November 2011, Bedsider.org was developed by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and IDEO, a global design firm. A three-year multimedia PSA campaign, which includes social media, traditional print and broadcast advertising and collateral, was launched in partnership with the Ad Council and created pro bono by Euro RSCG in New York. A branded entertainment and strong earned media component round out the communications toolbox.
Real, relatable, responsive, ever-ready, Bedsider promises “sex is a lot more fun when you’re not worried about getting pregnant before you’re ready.” And results from an early pilot assessment indicate this birth control rebrand is working: 78% of those who used Bedsider have been trying harder to avoid unprotected sex. And eight in ten said that since they started using Bedsider they have been more careful about using contraception.
For Swiader, Bedsider.org tells a bigger truth. “It’s not just about birth control. It’s about a better life.”
In sickness and in health, yes, there’s an app for that
Bedsider.org is just one of many organizations using apps to reach out and engage users in the healthcare space. ZocDoc, Force Therapeutics and DailyFeats are all using mobile technology—apps, text messaging, remote communications—to make it easier to find providers, monitor health status (blood pressure, weight, calorie consumption, glucose readings, etc.) and develop healthy habits. Indeed, these wireless-enabled devices are among some of the most exciting developments in healthcare, although many practitioners are debating how to best balance high-tech tools with traditionally high-touch medical care. Among the players: Reebok, working with tech partner MC10, will be launching a wearable device later this year, a smart-sensing sticker integrated with apparel, footwear and equipment designed to optimize athletic performance and injury prevention. These and others in the pipeline promise to be real game changers in how healthcare is delivered (and marketed) and may also change the doctor-patient relationship on a very basic level. It remains to be seen if it’s for better or for worse.
Where does it hurt? Finding and fixing marketing pain points
What does healthcare and marketing have it common? The very first encounter in each starts with taking a history: in marketing’s case, probing a company’s organizational health, its users, its challenges and goals. A good history will identify the pain points (e.g. increased competitive activity, insufficient resources, underperforming web site, industry changes) that strategic and creative marketing can, if not completely change, help find the appropriate positioning, media-selection or advertising/communications cure. Some of the questions we typically ask are:
What’s on your desk right now?
What keeps you/your clients/stakeholders up at night?
What need do you fill that no one else can meet?
Who is your competition (entities? attitudes? perceptions?)
How are you different/better?
What are the challenges facing your organization?
What is unique about your history and growth?
What are your greatest strengths?
What is the primary objective of your marketing?
What would your ideal marketing materials look like?
What are the key messages you want to communicate?
Is your website working as hard as it can?
How are you perceived by your members/clients/consumers?
How are you perceived versus competitors?
How would you like to be perceived?
Does your company or organization need a check up? Take two aspirin, then call us in the morning for a free brand audit and prescription for advertising, copywriting or strategic planning that will take the pain away.
Orion Newsletter: Madwomen | Naming rights | Content Q&A
Madwomen | Naming rights | Content Q&A
newsletter | april 2012 news, not noise
The Madwoman’s Tale: Life on Madison Ave. in the 60s and Beyond
Long before Peggy Olson made her first entrance on the “Madmen” soundstage, there were the real-life women copywriters, account executives and market researchers, making a name for themselves and changing the world of work as they—and their male bosses—knew it. Advertising copywriter, creative director and ad agency principal, Jane Maas, brings them to life as she tells their stories—and her own—in her just-published memoir, Mad Women: TheOther Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond.
I met with Jane the other week in her apartment overlooking the East River--about two miles from the center of the Madison Avenue/ad agency universe. (Full disclosure: she has been my mentor since we worked together at the now defunct Muller Jordan Weiss.) Tearing myself away from the captivating view, I asked her if life was truly as depicted on the show. “Yes. And no,” she said. “Mad Men gets a lot of things right—three-martini lunches, rampant sex and sexual harassment—although that term hadn’t been invented yet.” (The excessive smoking on the show, which I had always dismissed as a stylistic conceit, was in fact a fact of life.) “But,” she added, “it gets some things wrong, too.” Hence, this book.
Maas came to advertising via an unusual route. A scriptwriter and contestant interviewer on “Name That Tune” (which gave her a unique perspective on how men and women really think), she suddenly found herself out of a job when it, like many game shows at the time, was exposed as a fraud. “I knew there was such a thing as advertising because there were advertisers on the show. So I prepared a book of spec ads, took it to Ogilvy & Mather and was hired that very day.” The rest is history. She began in the industry equivalent of the mailroom—not as a secretary, but as a copywriter confined to the gender ghetto of women’s products. Packaged-good brands like Dove for Dishes, Maxim Coffee, Good Seasons Salad Dressings. Ironically, two of her campaigns, for Dove and Maxim, won the National Organization of Women’s “Most Demeaning to Women” prize two year’s running. “A record!” she laughed. Happily, she is now best known for the “I Love New York” campaign and outsmarting the “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley.
Rich with behind-the-scenes anecdotes, “Madwomen” has been described by Jane’s good friend, author Philip Roth, as a sociological study of a time that was at once medieval (in attitudes about women) and contemporary (tracing the evolution of an art form). The one constant? Women, now as then, are still conflicted when it comes to careers and children. This is a story Jane knows well and unflinchingly describes the roads not taken when it came to her family.
Mostly, the book is great fun. Gossipy and insightful, it captures the glamour of another time and the passion that still infuses every great campaign. I’m no fan of “Mad Men” (heretical, I know) but I loved “Madwomen.” Hear Jane in her own words on Studio360.
Search terms and naming rights
SEO is the GPS of the Internet. Without the right keywords driving search, your brand can literally get lost in cyberspace. But when the most critical keyword is your name and a deep-pockets challenger is threatening to take it away, more than search—or shelf space at the grocery store—is at stake. That’s what Pretzel Crisps, a snack food produced by family-owned Princeton Vanguard, contends as it seeks to protect its trademark and over $100 million in sales against Frito Lay, which is contesting the name and the right to use it. Pepsi (Frito Lay’s parent company) argues that “Pretzel Crisp” is a generic and therefore not subject to protection. The controversy has now landed before the US Patent and Trademark Office but it’s clear that whatever the decision, naming rights are more important than ever in connecting the brand to the consumer’s brain and marketer’s bottom line. More on the Pretzel Crisp case.
5 tips to better content
Want more effective content? Start with a stronger foundation: a “creative brief” that outlines the five basic questions every piece of marketing communications must answer—whether your messages are limited to 140-character tweets or crafted for long-form collateral.
1. Who’s your target? Hint: it’s not you. It’s your consumers/users/supporters. What are their demographics, attitudes, habits, cultural affinities? What keeps them up at night? What are their needs (known and unknown) and what can you do to satisfy them? Create a persona. Give him or her a name, a look, a life. (If you’re so inclined, Pinterest can offer a useful platform for organizing visual information like this.) The more intimately you know your prospects, the more effectively you can craft the messages that resonate and compel them to act.
2.What do you want them to do? Buy, subscribe, donate, refer, support, post to Facebook, re-tweet, click, sign up? This is your objective, your communications end-game. Make it clear and easily measurable so that you can refine your messaging accordingly if you find you’re not meeting what you define as success.
3.Who is your competition? Who else is in your space? Not just other entities, but attitudes and perceptions that might get in the way of supporting your brand. How are you better/different? A competitive audit is the first step toward understanding the perceptual landscape and creating your own unique and distinct positioning.
4. What are your brand characteristics? Why do they matter? It’s not enough to promote the attributes of your brand. What matters is why they are important to your users and the benefits they confer. (See #1.)
5. What is your brand promise? This is the hardest question to answer. It is the benefit of greatest interest to your consumers—the one thing that will motivate your target to choose you versus Brand X.
In a complex and crowded media environment where everything from the latest app to the newest news headline is competing with your communications for attention, these are questions you can’t afford to ignore. See how we’ve put the creative brief to work for our clients here.